During this time of year, I often hear the phrase Jesus, the reason for the season,” but I would go further, Jesus is the reason for life. Without His birth, His life and His sacrificial death our lives are meaningless. His lineage, nature, place of birth, where He would be raised, His career, purpose, the specific manor and nature of His death, His resurrection, all were told in the Old Testament, hundreds of years before His birth. How could you not believe? His life changed the dateline and history forever. Every day of His life was a fulfillment of scripture and a reason to believe that He was truly, “God in flesh.” The following is a composition that beautifully describes the uniqueness of the life of Jesus, it’s called “One Solitary Life” and gives a fresh perspective of the simple, yet impactful life He lived.
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn’t go to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for His garments, the only property He had on earth. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, all the Navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life.
As we prepare to celebrate our Saviors birth, be encouraged about your life and family. Those who lived and watched Jesus could have never predicted His impact and may I say that the impact that you are having on your kids and family is greater than you could ever imagine too. Often we look at what we’re not doing, what we lack and how inconsistent we are but I challenge you this Christmas season to talk about the possibilities, the dreams and the great benefits that are yours because of one simple solitary life. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.
Over the past month I’ve taken notice that many retailers are returning to age old tradition of being closed on Thanksgiving. I’m glad to see this trend because over the past few years it has seemed that Thanksgiving was disappearing, being discarded by greed and materialism, the very opposite value that Thanksgiving is all about. In a time that is so filled with anger and hate I think it’s important that we take time to pause and re
flect on the many blessing we have as Americans and Christians; to say thank you, I’m grateful and I’m blessed.
If we are not careful we’ll miss the fact that we are surrounded by so many awesome people and cultures who call Life their home. If we don’t stop or pause, we’ll miss something very special that is right in front of us. One of the great pleasures we all get to share in is the many cultures that make Life their home, our kids get to interact with people from the nations of Pakistan, Indonesia, Congo, Mexico and Guatemala just to name a few. Though I am a simple hamburger and fries or pizza guy, Mary and I been afforded to have cultural dinners from Pakistan and Indonesia and participate in a Pakistani wedding and let me say, if you haven’t been to a Pakistani wedding, you have missed something unique. There are so many wonderful stories here at Life and if we don’t slow down, we’ll miss them. Stories like the one of Scott Gascho carrying extra clothes in his car for 14 years so that if Keri ever decided to be baptized, she would have fresh clothes to wear afterwards. Now that is faith! Stories about our wonderful heritage, like the one we heard from Phil Yadon earlier in the year about the faith and miracles that was a part of his early life. I was so inspired by his testimony, my faith for miracles went to a new level for this generation. Stories about the prayers of Jim Coffey’s mom while he was a kid. Imagine neighbors setting out on their porches listening to her prayers as they filled the valley, waiting to hear their name as she called out each family.
May I encourage you to stop this month, put the brakes on all the things of life that you feel have to get done and get to know some of the great people who worship with you, who are a part of your church family. If we don’t, we’ll miss stories about how people met and married, how they came to their walk with God and stories about how God did the miraculous in their life. We’ll miss stories that will encourage our faith, strengthen our resolve and we’ll miss the opportunity to be blessed with new friends and relationships. Make a plan in November to hit the pause button. If you will, you’ll be more thankful, grateful and blessed this Thanksgiving.
Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers
By definition the word pastor simply means, a spiritual overseer. It is important that throughout our lives we have men whose job is simply to oversee our spiritual life and wellbeing. They are to give us guidance, instruction and principles from the Word of God to help us in our journey. They are to pray over us and be concerned about our eternal destination. This month I wanted to take a moment to focus, reflect and thank the men of God who have shaped my life, family and ministry.
I first want to recognize my dad as my first spiritual overseer. I’ve watched as my dad has led our family; navigating us through turbulent times. He taught me that church was not an option, it was a privilege. We made every service, every week. If there was a revival or a prayer meeting, we were there. If there was a call to fast, we fasted. When he saw that his son was struggling with church and God, he made the change to get me and his family to a better place. He never questioned or compromised doctrine, always stood for truth and when he was called to serve, he did. He sang, worked with youth, taught Sunday School, ushered and has served on church boards for over 30 years. An indelible mark he left on my life was one of the few times I saw him cry. I had just walked in for prayer before a Sunday night service. When I walked into the prayer room, he along with other board members were wailing and sobbing, I thought someone had died, but in reality it was that his pastor was leaving. This is the kind of love my dad showed me for God, church and his pastor.
The second man of influence is Pastor N.A. Urshan. He was a man of vision, he understood that the church must remain relevant, a man ahead of his time and a man who wasn’t afraid to go against the religious norm. He wasn’t aware of the influence that he was having on a 13-year-old life, he didn’t realize that one day I too would pastor and had no idea that his beliefs and ideals would become mine. We came to his church in a time where my interest in God was waning. It was a time where it seemed churches preached against everything that was “fun.” Pastor Urshan went against the grain. He understood who he was, he understood his time and he understood what it took to reach the next generation and the world; he preached more about a relationship than rules. It wasn’t too long after we arrived that our family got a TV, I went on my first gym bowling day and high school football game…I thought that I had arrived! He had young people in the orchestra who played basketball on the high school teams and young people who didn’t have it all together in the choir. My parents approached him about his methods at one point and paraphrasing him he said, “as long as they are here I have a chance for the gospel to change them.” It wasn’t but a few years later that I was filled with the Spirit and felt my call to the ministry. Now forty years later, I find myself pastoring much the same way as Pastor Urshan. I pastor as I do because I watched how Pastor Urshan never wavered off the doctrine yet had understanding for the need to stay relevant. I learned what he understood, that methods may change, but the message never will. Today, I try to mimic his methods in my generation and teach the next generation the same.
The third man of influence is Pastor James Larson. He came into my life at a critical time and tattooed my heart with a love for prayer and worship. He was 25 years old, was 6’8” and loved basketball and God. I was 15 and when I saw his passion for the things of God I decided that was what I wanted too. He had more faith than common sense, but his faith built what is still one of the largest church auditoriums in Indianapolis and tried whatever to get people to Jesus including billboards, commercial radio spots, bumper stickers and even an egg hunt in a park. But it was his passion for prayer that forever changed my life. Every Sunday night an hour before church he would be in the prayer room crying out for God to pour out his Spirit. He would circle and every once in a while you would feel his shadow as it stopped over you and you knew it was coming, his hands would go on your head or back and he would pray over you like Jesus was coming that night. He had all night prayer meetings and weeks of prayer and fasting and I saw how it changed the church and reached a community. He attacked the platform the same way, tambourine in hand and the spirit of worship in his heart. I know there were times when he had more stress and more problems than we could ever imagine, but when it was time to worship, he came to worship. He’s been away from my life for over 30 years now, but the influence of prayer he put in my life has shaped my beliefs and my ministry in a way like no other. If you wonder why I’m so driven for prayer, it was because of my pastor and his love for prayer. James Larson gave me the passion and understanding of the power of prayer and I if I can pass anything on to another person or generation, it would be the same. Pray.
Time prohibits others who mentored me from a distance but I must mention men like Pastor James Kilgore who taught me how to live and preach with humility and Pastor Anthony Mangun who gave me a passion for the world and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Then there are those men who influenced Mary, thereby influencing me. I recently heard a message by her dad, Pastor Wayne Odum, preaching on the power of the Holy Spirit. She speaks so fondly of Pastor Kenneth Haney, his incredible faith and joining him and others at the church at 5 a.m. for prayer and it was Pastor Stephen Drury and his love for kids at the Tupelo Children’s Mansion that has created such a love for kid’s ministry in her. These, along with Paul Mooney, and so many others, God put in our lives to shape us, our family and me as a pastor. It is because of them that Mary and I are together, have the type of home and family we have, and love God and His church the way we do. We are a product of the wonderful men who have poured into us, prayed for us and shepherded us. We have been blessed by so many so that we could bless others, we’re thankful for our pastor’s, our heritage and what they have put in us so we could serve others.
Joshua 24:15 “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Your home and family are as individual as a snowflake; no two are alike. Drive down the street and you might see two houses that are identical as far as model, but even the outside will be different. Paint colors and trim will likely set them a part, landscaping will be different; some will have more shrubs and flowers while other will have more trees and plants. Once you walk inside a home that’s when you will really notice the difference. Rooms will be painted to match the family personality, furniture will take on a certain style and I would even suggest you can feel the tone of the family when you walk into a home, it’s atmosphere takes on your personality.
Just as we design, paint, and fill our physical homes, I suggest that we design and set the tone for Gods place and presence in our homes and lives. The Month of the Family is designed specifically to bring us to a time when we look at our families and focus on how we can improve God’s presence in our homes. Each day of our life, we decide what the “spiritual temperature” is going to be. God has given us the options to what spiritual homes and lives should look like by saying, “choose today who you will serve.” Notice he says, “today” because it is an every day decision, not just a one moment in time choice. By our daily choices we fill our lives, families and/or homes with chaos, disfunction, calmness, peace, prayer or His presence; while this list is just a sampling, it makes us aware of the assets, options and features available to us daily. Although a church or pastor can help guide and influence someone’s decision, its leaders of homes that ultimately make the decisions as to what their spiritual values will look like and the atmosphere of their homes. Want a carnal home? Feed the flesh, make worldly events a priority over God’s house and pursue pleasure at all cost. Desire a home with God’s presence? Start every day with sincere and passionate prayer, fill it with songs of praise and worship and look to the Bible for instruction and wisdom to guide your choices.
Joshua set the tone for the Month of the Family early in the Bible. He took time out of his hectic life and gave the people he led instructions for success. While he couldn’t force others to make the right choices, he gave them a choice and then modeled it in his own life. Some 5000 years later the words to the people he led still ring true, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” As for me and my house we have decided to follow Joshua’s advice, what will you choose?
John 7:37-3 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and
cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.
He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said,
‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
Drought, pretty simple to define, it is the absence of rainfall. It hits us in the dog days of summer. It seems we experience it every year here in central Indiana. Yards and gardens that looked like the Garden of Eden in May suddenly are desperate for rain. Yards turn brown, flowers wither and plants wilt under the heat, but then a summer soaker; rain, a deluge, buckets, cats and dogs, whatever you want to call it, but suddenly flowers and plants that looked dead spring back to life. If they could talk I imagine we would hear, “ahhh, finally, rain, I was so parched.”
How about you. How long has it been since the rain of the Spirit has fell on your heart? Hope fading? Joy withered? Faith famished? Prayer life lifeless? A few months ago you felt so alive but now you’re in the midst of a spiritual drought. What your soul is in need of is a good refreshing of God’s Spirit…a deluge, just a straight down, hard pouring rain of
God’s Spirit on your heart, life and family. There is nothing like it! Refreshing. Invigorating. Joy that cannot be contained. These are just a few of the words you will use when the fresh rain of God’s Spirit falls fresh on you and your home. Will you join with me as we hit the dog days of summer and pray that God will send a storm of His Spirit on you and the Life Community? Let’s pray, not for a passing shower, but a Holy gully washer! Jesus, open up the windows of heave and pour out your Spirit here Sunday after Sunday, in us individually and in our own homes. Give us times of refreshing, saturate us until we overflow!
Did you know that Jesus had 39 accusations flung at Him while He was on earth? Talk about learning how to pick your battles! Why so many accusations? To teach us how to deal with conflict. What did He want us to learn? First, realize that as long as there are people there will be conflict. There will always be someone who will disagree with our choices and because our choices don’t align with their belief, those people often bring conflict into our lives. Second, how we react is more important than the conflict. Third, we have to pick our battles and decide which hill is worth dying on. Among the 39 accusations were charges that He healed someone on the Sabbath, was eating with sinners and that he was breaking, not the Law, but the sacred Jewish traditions. Jesus’s reaction? He continued to heal, continued to eat and He continued to do what was right. He understood that none of the accusations would stick and that His life and time would reveal the truth. Jesus knew which hill He was going to die on and none of those issues were worth the fight. He knew His hill was Calvary, that He was going to going to be accused of being God and that He was going to die for the sins of all the world. That was His hill; the battle He chose.
We too must decide what battles are important. As a Spirit filled Christian I have simplified my battles down to four dynamics. First, I believe the Word of God is infallible and that it needs to be read regularly and with a desire to know Jesus, not theology, not religious tradition or facts. Paul said it well in Philippians 3:10, “that I may know Him…” Second, I believe that Jesus is God, that He spoke the world into existence, robed Himself in flesh and through Calvary, offers us the opportunity to have His Spirit live in us. I believe He wants us to humble ourselves and repent, identify and acknowledge His work on Calvary through baptism in His name and He wants us to know we have overcoming power by having His Spirit inside of us by initially speaking in a language we do not know. Third, I believe that prayer is the most powerful tool a person has. We never completely defeat sin. Prayer is the tool that must be used every day, it is the power that keeps our flesh under control and gives the Spirit influence and the power it should have in our lives. Finally, I believe that we must live Godly and Holy. While our righteousness is as a filthy rag, God calls us to live distinctively and modest. This is reflected in our desire to please Him, reflect Him in every part of our lives including our attitude, appearance, actions, spirit and motives. There will always be hypocritical religious accusers just as there were in Jesus’ day. There will always be those making accusations about the latest issue, trying to bring chaos and conflict into your life. Settle who you are, choose your battle wisely and decide what accusations are worth your time and energy and let God be God in your life.
Isaiah 40:31 “but those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] will gain new strength and
renew their power; they will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles…”
There was a traffic jam in our backyard, too many birds and not enough perches at the bird feeder. Observing the traffic jam I noticed that birds can’t hover, they can flap for a few seconds but then they have to fly to a branch or land. My observation taught me that birds, well at least most, are created to soar, to fly, not hover. If you’re a bird and you want to hover then find a brisk wind and fly into it and let it lift you…otherwise move on, you were created to fly.
What is true of birds is true of Christians, we were not created to hover, to stall out but to soar. We were created to experience the wild side of life, to test the limits of God’s creativity, to dream, dreams to see visions. In the short time the disciples had with Jesus they saw something new every day; water turned into wine, mud turned to eyeballs, dead men called back to life just to recall a few…a day with Jesus was anything but dull and boring. Jesus didn’t hover! Unfortunately, in today society too many Christians want to hover, stay in the same place, stall around the same issue and park at their problem. Sure brisk winds of difficulty will blow into our lives from time to time but when they do all we have to do is turn and face the wind and wait upon the Lord. Isaiah said, “but those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] will gain new strength and renew their power; they will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles…” Even in difficulty you were created to soar!
My challenge to you today, live your life with expectancy! Take the training wheels off the bike, the plastic off the seats, kick up some dirt and live life in the zest and zeal God created for you to experience as a Christian. Dr. Seuss said, “Oh the places you can go…” if only you soar. Stop living at street level, get above the mundane of a surface level life. Live in the fullness of the faith God intended for you to experience. Soar!