It had started out as a quiet morning. I was doing some reading when Mary’s phone rang. It was our next-door neighbor, and I could hear the panic in her voice as she spoke with Mary. I was quickly handed the phone and before I could get a word out, she frantically screams, I need you to come over, my dog has brought a squirrel in the house. I quickly grabbed a small box and spade and headed over to her house, trying to formulate a mental plan of how I was going to get the squirrel out. When I arrive, the door is open, panic is on her face and she is screaming, “he’s taken it upstairs, he’s taken it to my daughters’ room.” I headed up the stairs, trying to navigate a home I had never been in, reluctantly looking for a dog and a squirrel. Finally finding the room, I’m confronted with a dog laying on her daughters’ bed with the squirrel in his mouth. Needless to say, it’s not a pretty picture and its evident the dog is not letting go of the squirrel. Our neighbor is now screaming at decibels that are near fire alarm level, I realize the box and spade are not an option and somehow, I’ve got to get the dog to take the squirrel outside. By the grace of God, the word “treat” comes to mind and as soon as I say it, I have the dog’s attention. He quickly bolts off the bed and follows me down the stairs and out the door. Success! The squirrel has left the house and I am forever a hero to our neighbor. Later, reflecting on the event I thought how the event mirrors how we should react when something unpleasing to God gets in our life. We should have the same panic and same attitude. Get it out and get it out now! No option! No compromise!
Stop the rush! Enjoy the journey! Too often we are so hurried to get to our destination that we miss invaluable experiences along the way. Recently we took a day trip, no particular destination, our only goal, to find a good lunch place. After finding a good taco joint, we meandered home. We had the rest of the afternoon, so nothing was off limits. We went by a church where we were nearly elected 20 years ago. We were amazed by the church updates but more so by the growth of the area. A restaurant that had set in the middle of a wheat field was now surrounded by urban growth. Continuing the journey home, we saw a sign that said Henryville, the name intrigued us, so we got off to explore. It was a wasted ten minutes, but from here forward we won’t wonder about what is in Henryville. Later, we saw two signs near Scottsville, one said Midwest’s largest McDonalds and the other was about goat milk and soap. So, we got off, we drove past the McDonald’s and wasn’t impressed. The goat farm was about a 2-acre area that was closed for the day, but we saw enough to understood we hadn’t missed much and didn’t have to come back. One might say we wasted a day, but we look at it differently. The “enjoy the journey” moment caused us to reflect on how God shapes our lives even when we’re not totally aware. It made us ask questions we would have likely never asked? What would life looked life if we had been elected there? What would have happened in Fishers, would there be a church at 11616 today? How would our family and ministry be different? All questions that got asked because we stopped the rush and enjoyed the moment. A simple suggestion today. Get off the hamster wheel once in a while and enjoy the journey. At the very least you’ll learn you don’t have to stop at Henryville.
It doesn’t make sense. Ever said that? What doesn’t make sense today, might tomorrow or in a week, and most likely will in a year or two. Larnelle Harris sang a song entitled, In it After All. The first verse says, “All of those moments I spent crying, when something inside of me was dying, I didn’t know that You heard me each time I called, you had a reason for those trials, it seems I grew stronger every mile, now I know You were in it after all.” How true those words were a week after Easter. Friday brought panic, Saturday brought silence and Sunday brought joy, but time brought clarity. On Friday and Saturday nothing made sense and on Sunday they were too overwhelmed with the unimaginable, but the further they got away from Easter Sunday the more the whole event made3 sense. The disciple’s tears are now dry, their shattered hopes are being put back together and their faith is stronger. They have seen Him, touched Him and had dinner with Him. Soon their brokenness will become boldness. Time does amazing things when we allow God to do His work in us. What we feel is meant to destroy us often is the foundation that allows us the stand when future storms come our way. A cross and a crucifixion can change the composition of your life if you allow it. Without the cross there is no ascension, no upper room and no eternal hope. What are you walking through that doesn’t make sense? Give it some time. Just as the pain of the disciples was a part of the process to bring them power, what you are going through has purpose too. Just give it some time.
Silence. It can be awkward, difficult and confusing. It’s the feeling a widow or widower has the first night after the love of their life has breathed their last breath and they are all alone. It’s the feeling parents experience when they have had a house full of kids, watched them grow from infant to adult, taken them to band, cheered them on in their sports, had them around the dinner table and the last one has left the home and you now come home to an empty house. As a spouse, have you ever got the silent treatment? Often, you’re not sure why, and silently you are asking, did I leave my socks on the table again? Did I say something I wasn’t supposed to at the dinner party? The silence lets you know something is definitely wrong. It’s a first date or walking into a meeting where no one knows anyone and there’s that awkward moment when no one knows what to say or do. Whatever the scenario, silence begs for something to happen, anything. A friend to call the widow. A grandchild to enter the scene of a parent. Or a spouse thinking, please, let me know what I did to create this silence. That is what Saturday was like for those lived through Jesus’ Passion Week. They will survive the hurt, the actions and events of Friday and once they understand, experience and grasp the miraculous resurrection on Sunday, they will celebrate, but the silence of Saturday is overwhelming. On Saturday is when we deal with our own failures of yesterday. On Saturday is when we feel the chill of darkness, that it won, and we lost. On Saturday we live in the real possibility that our Hope is dead, and life will never be the same. On Saturday we feel as though God has failed us. Living in a Saturday? Take heart in Easter! That as impossible as things might feel today, you may be just be a few hours or days away from a life changing moment, an Easter, a moment that makes your life better than you could ever imagine!
We tend to set low expectations for God. It happens when we attempt to make our plans, God’s plans. Palm Sunday is a textbook example. As people lined the street that morning, one might sense an atmosphere of high expectation. Palm branches, rugs and cloaks covered the street. Screams and cheers of Hosannah are heard along the parade route. Jesus had spoke of His kingdom, and their assumption on this day, was that He was bringing His kingdom to earth. They knew the significance of a person riding into Jerusalem on a colt; an honor given only to dignitaries. In their eyes, Jesus’ Triumphal entry was the answer to years of hopes and prayers. The oppression, abuse and rule of the Roman government was going to end, Jesus, the man of miracles, was about to set up His earthly kingdom. No more Roman rule. No more taxes to Caesar. Little did they realize how trivial their expectations were. Palm Sunday was not about a day of freedom from Rome, but about a day that would set-in motion freedom from sin, death, hell and the grave. Palm Sunday was not about God solving earthly problems, but eternal issues. Still today we undervalue our expectations for God. Israel wants deliverance from Pharaoh, God gives them a new culture and land. The lame man at the Gate Beautiful wants money, God uses His disciples to give him a miracle. Too often we get frustrated when God doesn’t answer our prayers our way. We tend to focus and pray longing for earthly issues to be solved, while God is focused on our eternal destination. Palm Sunday. I invite you to see God’s big picture; to see God and His will differently. To pray differently. Surrender your small expectations for His big plans.
A seismic world altering moment was just two weeks away. Yet, at this moment, after bringing Lazarus back to life, no one can fathom what is about to take place. The tears of joy are too overwhelming and the miracle to great. His disciples are convinced that Jesus is going to set up an earthly kingdom and can’t wait to see their place of importance. Not only had Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but healed ten lepers of their leprosy. Jesus is immensely popular. Yet, in two weeks, the disciples will deny Him, the crowd turn on Him and He will take his last earthly breath. A lot can happen in two weeks, more than we could ever imagine. The point? Whatever you are walking through, whatever is overwhelming you, know that it can change in so quickly. In an instant, a man blind sees, a woman with a blood issue for 12 years is healed and a cripple from birth walks. Needing a miracle? Looking for a glimmer of hope? Pray one more prayer. Believe one more day. Look no further than the possibilities in Jesus. Keep believing. Keep expecting. You may be just a few days or weeks from a mind-blowing, life altering, forever changing encounter.
In Acts 19 there is a story that we as Christians should take note of. The dialogue opens with a few men acting as if they know Jesus and have His power, trying to cast out an evil spirit. Hindsight allows us to see the sham that is taking place. Speaking to the evil spirit that possesses the man, the powerless man says, “I solemnly implore and charge you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” The phrasing of the man reeks of something missing. The response of the evil spirit to the powerless Christian imposter says it all. The spirit says, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” With that question the spirit physically attacks the man. The spiritually empty man runs from the house in fear with wounds and stripped naked. This story shouts a warning to people who profess to know Jesus but have no relationship with Him. Its people who act the part and say the right words, but their life is more symbolism than substance. Know this, those living symbolic Christianity eventually get exposed. You may not be assaulted or stripped naked physically, but an empty life eventually becomes visible to those around you. Paul warns Timothy of this in 2 Timothy 3 when he tells him to watch out for those “who have a form of godliness but deny its power.” Today I challenge you to be more than professing Christians, to be a person who has the true power of God. What does it require? An authentic relationship with Jesus and the power of the Spirit that was promised by Jesus before His ascension and experienced by the early followers in the book of Acts. Who are you? A professing Christian or a Christian who is living in the power of the Spirit. Regardless of what you say, your life will expose the truth.
Today, we reflect back and celebrate 17 years since Life inception. Churches don’t start at garage sales, but this one did. The garage sale thrusted us into a ladies Bible study and a once-a-week VBS. After a year and a few meetings at the Goddard School on 116th, Life launched on March 7, 2004. Mary and I had little pastoral training, but lots of faith, and though Gentry and Risa were seven and five, they seemed to have just as much faith. We lived on, and still do, the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5; “if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.” With this as our mantra and faith that believed anything was possible, we went after Fishers with abandonment. We introduced people to Bagels and Bunnies, crazy VBS’s and the first Breakfast with Santa. We were in every parade, had booths at Fishers Freedom Festivals and in 2007, brought the Strawberry Festival to Fishers. If we could imagine it, we would try it. As much as we worked, we prayed, fasted and reached for broken people in need of Jesus with even more fierceness. The past few years have been challenging; a few losses, some hurts, and this past year was especially hard as everything came to a grinding halt, but we’ve stayed in the fight. Let’s hope the Bible numerologist have it right. They say the number seventeen symbolizes complete victory. If there has ever been a moment when it would be good to see complete victory, it’s now. Today, we reflect back, but only with hearts that look forward in faith. We’ve planted, watered and today we are anticipating that God will bring an indescribable increase and victory!
His name is Judah. He comes from good stock. David and Keah Cuautle have been with us at Life from its inception. Wednesday, after bible study Judah ran up to me, we fist bump, and he says, ‘my name is in the Bible.” Walking down the aisle we continue to talk and sensing he is really wanting to connect; I sat down and continued the conversation. He continues telling me about his name, he lets me know that the tribe he is named after, nearly wiped out the entire tribe of Dan. He was very impressed by this fact. I asked, “did you know Judah led Israel into battle? You’re a leader.” His response was classic. He said, “well, I don’t know about that, not too many people seem to listen to me.” I followed up with, “when you’re at school and it’s time for recess and you suggest something, do people do it?” Now seeming rather frustrated and agitated, he responds with, “well I’m always telling people what to do but no one seems to listen.” I couldn’t resist, it just came out, I said, “welcome to leadership Judah, welcome to leadership.” By this point he was finished and off to another person. I hear his next conversation and it starts the same way, “hi, my name is Judah, my name is in the bible…” So, what’s my point? Don’t miss important people and moments. I nearly missed the moment, but a small voice said, stop and listen. I’m glad I did. He got to share something very important about himself with me and I got a reminder of the challenges of leadership. Simply put, don’t miss big moments that seem small, you might miss something important.
Monday was a glorious day. In fact, it’s been a pretty good month. Snow, snow and more snow. As I write, over a foot of snow is still on the ground. There are great spiritual lessons in snow. First, snow has no prejudice. It falls everywhere and on everyone. Doesn’t matter your economic, religious or social status. Snow falls. Second, snow covers everything. It covers average and beautiful landscaped yards. Snow covers sidewalks and streets, leaves that weren’t raked and branches that have fallen. Snow finds every knuck and covers every cranny. Finally, the obvious, snow makes everything white. Gray, green, brown, regardless the color, snow turns it white. Isaiah says, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” What an amazing word picture when we put into context what a snow does. Jesus’ blood, like snow, has no prejudice. It covers everyone. No bias, no discrimination. Second, like snow, Jesus’ blood covers everything, no issue is beyond his blood. Whether a lie, a moral failure or something worse, Jesus’s blood covers it. Finally, Jesus’ red blood turns our sins white. We become justified and clean. He gives us a clean slate. His blood takes our sins and makes them as distant as the east is from the west. The old song says, thank God for the blood, thank God for the blood, it washes white as snow. I’m glad I can live in the power of His work and not in my futile efforts to save myself. Maybe that’s why I love snow so much, because it reminds me that His blood makes my life look like a fresh snow.
It’s hard to imagine that a mere hundred years ago, 90% of Americans were farmers. Today that number is 2%. The transformation becomes even more impactive when we assess how the cultural shift has impacted our lives. A hundred years ago electricity and lights were luxuries, only a few had ever seen a car, and the idea of air travel was a fantasy. Winter would slow nearly everyone. Fields would go dormant, cold and snow blew in, and life would slow. Winter was a time to pause; to read, reflect and bond with our spouse and kids. As culture shifted, we lost our pace. Gone was the winter pause and in its place came a harried pace, high anxiety and little time to pause or spend quality time with our spouse or kids. Today, the average couple spends 23 seconds in meaningful conversation, and most of our kids grow up in daycare centers. We are seeing and feeling the effects of a society that is stuck on turbo and in desperate need of a pause. In the book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Jon Mark Comer list 20 things we should do to hit the pause button. Here are ten on this Valentine’s Day to help you regain your pace and reconnect with those who are most important.
- Intentionally drive in the slow lane at the speed limit. Eliminate the hurry.
- Get rid of all unnecessary apps. Only use your phone for essential purposes.
- Put your smart device to bed when kids go to bed.
- Don’t let news and social media set your emotional equilibrium.
- Regain time by only viewing social media on a desktop computer.
- Walk slower. One of the best ways to slow down our body is to slow our pace.
- Don’t sell your time to TV. Grab a book regularly. Go for walks
- Take a day once in a while and intentionally embrace silence.
- Pray and meditate on scripture and the things of God.
- Cook your own food and take time to enjoy dinners around the table.
In Matthew 7 Jesus speaks of two men who built houses. One dug deep and built on rock, while the other carelessly built his home on sand. Inevitably, a storm came and both houses were battered. Once the storm passed, the house built on rock was standing, while the house built on sand was destroyed. Jesus’ premise. Storms come to everyone. Those who build on strong foundations survive. It’s critical that we have a strong relationship with God to survive storms. Because storms come, God had the Hebrew people wear scriptures on their clothing to remind them of important principles, and He instituted the Passover as a reminder of how He provided their escape from Egypt. Now it’s 2021 and we face new challenges. Spiritual darkness is rampant, many are distorting God’s Word and we’re living in a world that is on information overload. How do we survive? Build your life on a strong foundation. Jesus called himself the chief cornerstone and said His Word was forever settled in heaven. That’s where we must start; by getting back to the basics and owning our relationship with Jesus and His Word. That is what The Search is about, finding ownership and getting understanding of God’s Word. Worship is energetic and emotionally charged, but like a good meal, it quickly dissipates, and we wait for the next refill. Inspirational messages are wonderful, they lift our faith, inspires us to love, show mercy, and embrace grace, but we need more. We need substance, foundation, structure. How does that happen? We must read God’s Word, understand, study, pray and live it. The Search. This is where it begins. This is where we take ownership, this is where we start building a strong foundation. This is where we say as David did, “your word have I hid in my heart.”
This past week in Tampa, Mary and I were enjoying a balcony breakfast of fruit and oatmeal. As we were eating, I threw three or four small blueberries off the balcony onto the parking lot below. I had hoped that a few of the birds might swoop down and snatch them up, but after a few minutes, nothing had happened, and we had kind of forgot about them. Suddenly, without warning birds came from everywhere. We’re not talking three or four birds, but 20 or 25 birds. My immediate thought was wow! Those three or four berries caused this? I was quite proud. It was a few seconds later that I realized it wasn’t my three or four berries, it was bread from above. Someone above us was throwing handfuls of bread off their balcony, and the birds weren’t drawn to my berries, but to the bread from above. What a moment of truth! Often, we feel like our work accomplishes so much; that our efforts, talents and skills make all the difference when actually, it’s His bread from above. God says cast the nets on the other side of the boat, we simply obey, and Jesus nearly sinks our boats with blessings. It’s not our fishing ability, but His blessing. Paul says it well when he says, “some plant, others water, but it is God that gives the increase.” What Paul was telling us is what we experienced that morning at breakfast. The possibility and the power is in God. That it is God that makes the difference. That God loves to take our empty vessels and small lunches and fill them and multiply them. The psalmist understood this when he said, “if it had not been for the Lord who was on our side.” God, let us regularly be reminded that it is because you are with us and for us that we are blessed and favored.
John 4 is where we find Jesus setting his sights on helping a fragile and apprehensive Samaritan woman. The story opens as Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well, alone. He has sent His disciples to get bread. The setting is important, because if he isn’t alone, He likely doesn’t have a chance to have a conversation with the woman. It’s not that the woman isn’t broken, she is. It’s just that she is jaded and skeptical because of the bruises of life. She’s been hurt by five different husbands and the man that’s now a part of her life isn’t her husband. As the conversation begins, Jesus faces an emotional wall that is as high and thick as a prison wall. Trying to break through the icy stare, Jesus asks for water. He is met with a why? Why are you, a Jew, asking me, a Samaritan for a glass of water. Don’t you know your type doesn’t talk to people like me. When Jesus offers her water she skeptically asks, how are you going to give me water, you have nothing to draw with. When Jesus explains it’s spiritual water, she judgingly questions, are you greater than our father Jacob? Every attempt Jesus makes to help her is met with a jaded and calloused response. Jesus conversation with the Samaritan woman reminds me of the difficulty we run into when we try to share the good news; the news that Jesus can bless and impact their life. It’s met with the same skepticism and jaded response. Why? They’ been hurt and they don’t trust. How do we overcome their pain? The same way Jesus did. Keep loving, showing compassion and offering mercy. Hopefully, at some moment, the walls crack, the heart softens, and the love of God comes pouring over their heart like a spring shower.
Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “for I know the plans I have for you… plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” If we take this verse literally, God has a specific plan for our life, and it is for good and is to give us a future that is filled with hope. If God has a plan for us, what hinders it from coming to pass? Satan, people, situations or circumstances? No. The biggest issue impeding God’s plan from happening in our life is us. Jesus lets us know His ultimate goal for all humanity in Luke 19:10 when he said, “I came to seek and save those who are lost.” That’s it. That’s the reason He robed himself in flesh, lived with the humanity He created, died on a cross, resurrected and ascended into heaven, so that everyone can be saved. But is that it? Is that His only plan for our lives? No, I believe God has a specific plan for each of us, but how? It begins by getting in alignment with God’s Spirit, getting in the flow of His purpose. For that to happen it requires that we have a hunger for His will to be accomplished in our life. It requires continually humbling, submitting and yielding to His leadership. It means being led by the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. It means as John said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Regularly, daily, we must pray that prayer. God let Your plans, Your will increase and let mine decrease. Help me to yield my plans, ideas and concepts to yours. What awaits? Joy. Happiness. Calm. Diminishing fear and anxiety. A peace that passes all understanding. Get in the flow. Get in alignment with His Spirit and His plan. It will be life changing.
What do we do when there is a forecast of an impending snowstorm? We head to the grocery store. We load up on bread, milk, eggs and other essentials. We top off the car with fuel, head home with a trunk full of groceries, prepared for the storm. Wake up to a forecast that says rain and we grab a jacket and an umbrella. Being prepared is vital to surviving a storm, whether rain, snow or the storms of life. Why fast? Because storms are coming. It’s not a maybe or possibility, it’s not the question of if, but when will the storms hit. This year there will be unexpected job losses, sickness, emotional hurt, life disappointments and difficulties we don’t anticipate. Knowing storms are in the future, what do we do? We prepare. We pray. We fast. We make our relationship with God a priority. That’s how we prepare spiritually. Jesus went into the wilderness, full of the Spirit, but comes out in the power of the Spirit. What happened in the wilderness? He was tempted. He fasted. He came out ready for all the challenges lie ahead. Paul was converted on the Damascus Road, but before he ever preached a message, God sent him to an Arabian desert. What happened in the desert? He prayed and fasted. He was being prepared for the impending storms; shipwrecks, stonings, beatings, persecution and jail, all storms that lay in front of Paul. How did he survive? Spiritual preparation. What does 2021 hold? God only knows, but one thing I do know, there will be storms. Are you preparing? How we prepare today will determine how we handle the storms and if we will survive. Fast today because storms are coming.
It’s over! Now that it is, it’s important that we take a final look back and make some assessments. There’s been some casualties, some losses but more than anything, change. The way we live life is different. We wear mask. We avoid contact with others. We work from home. We do carryout. The list goes on and on. The way we do church is different too. We’ve sacrificed a lot, probably too much. No hugs. Very little expressive worship. Sermons end and we go home. Some have found it convenient to stay home. The trip that didn’t seem so long, now is, and we watch, if it is convenient. For others, what once was important doesn’t seem as important now, the Spirit outpouring and doctrine became irrelevant, so they attend a “nice” church. Some can pass people in the isle at the grocery store, Target or even set in restaurants, but church, even with social spacing, is too dangerous of a place to attend. We’ve given up a lot. But of all the things we’ve given up, one of the most dangerous is the altar. It’s what the adversary is always after, our altar. So much happens at an altar. We rejoice, repent, find encouragement, get deliverance and worship at altars. We are broken, find healing and praise together at the altar. The miraculous happens at the altar. The Spirit falls in an altar. We are refreshed, gain faith, are convicted and make new commitments at altars. But in 2020 we didn’t have altar services. They went dormant. A casualty of COVID. The 2021 challenge? Like Jacob, get back to Bethel, the house of God. Like Elijah, restore your commitment to building back up the altar. The altar. The success of your life and family depends on it