God’s Got This

HandIf I were with Jesus and were to have been writing a journal, my entry today would have gone something like this. Today was an amazing day. We celebrated with Jesus as He made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. I feel like this is the beginning of something big. Only kings are celebrated like we celebrated today. The people lined the streets, coats and palm branches were laid in front of Him and more palm branches waved over us as we entered Jerusalem. The crowd sounded like a roaring river saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” I can’t wait to see what this week holds. Little did they know, but God did. As He rode in on the colt that day, He knew He was just five days away from a kangaroo court, a scourging and a wooden cross. They never saw it coming on the day of that joyous Triumphal Entry.  Five days later exuberant disciples are filled with horror, overwhelmed, dismayed and fearful as events that were beyond their imagination are taking place. Emmanuel, God with us, is hanging and dying, the creator being destroyed by His creation. That day, they didn’t think life could ever get any worse, or that there would ever be hope again. Life had come crashing down, dreams were dashed, and hearts broken. It was good while it lasted, but this was the end, except God knew, this was not the ending but the beginning. Just as He knew that the cross was coming on the day of the Triumphal Entry, He knew the Resurrection was coming in three days. I say this in light of what we are living through today. While we have been caught off guard, God hasn’t. He knew that this storm was coming, that COVID-19 would change our lives, but He’s not overwhelmed. Not only did He know when it was coming, He knows when it will end. He sends the disciples into the night knowing the storm would come, but shows up just in time, calms the storm and gives greater revelation to His disciples of His power. Daniel 2:21 says, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs (seasons).” In other words, God’s got this. Our current battle with COVID-19 reminds me so much of what it must have felt like at that first Easter. There was so much ebb and flow, so much fear and uncertainty, but as then, so now, God is always in control. He has always been, and He will always be. Trust Him when it doesn’t make sense.

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Sin: The Original Virus

trending-stocks-arvind-fashions-shares-up-1Imagine a pristine place. A place where there is no sickness, pain, hurt or sorrow. Days are filled with peace and tranquility; there is one objective, enjoy God’s creation. Travel and see mountains, oceans and the most scenic views. No work, struggle or guilt. This is what God created for us, but in one moment it is all torn away. One act of disobedience, eating from the tree in the middle of the garden, spins the world into a place beyond repair. Genesis 6 says that man’s thoughts were on evil continually, that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence. Jesus says in Luke 17 that in the times of Noah that people were consumed with eating and drinking, partying, without any fear of judgement. In ten generations the earth goes from purity to putrid. God finds one righteous man, Noah, cleanses the earth, and starts over, but again, in 10 generations the world is filled with depravity. In Genesis 19 we find Abraham as he is bargaining with God for the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. He initially asks God to spare the city if he can find 50 righteous people, in the end, he must negotiate down to finding 10 righteous people. Jude 1 says that the people in Sodom and Gomorrah lived for fornication, sexual immorality and unnatural desires. Jesus said in Luke 17 that the city was filled with eating and drunkenness. The point to notice in these accounts is this, although sin starts small, like a virus, it explodes exponentially. In light of what we’re are living through right now and experiencing in society, I encourage you to take account of your life. Paul says in Galatians 5, “that a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Are you trending toward sin or things that might bind or control you? How will they impact your children? Just as we must practice social distancing, may I suggest that we must live lives where we distance ourselves from the negative influences and sin of this world. We can’t live for the minimum of God and the maximum of this world, we must do the opposite, seek God first, make pleasing Him our highest priority. When we do, we will find something else that explodes exponentially; happiness, joy and peace.

Don’t Do Vanilla

0716194323-JW4B7504.MOV.02_31_46_22.Still001_hpMain_4x3_992If you ever get a chance to go into downtown Noblesville, make sure that one of your stops is Alexander’s Ice Cream Shop. Nestled between boutiques and all kinds of knickknack shops, you’ll find 36 different flavors of ice creams. I can’t tell you exactly when we made our first visit, but once we did, we never stopped. Over the years the Hudson family spent hours riding bikes and often our journey would take us into Noblesville. We traveled along the White River, through Forest Park, but we all knew our objective was Alexander’s Ice Cream on the square. It has an old-fashioned soda shop feel with nearly every flavor you can imagine; Super Friends, Peanut Butter Cup, Turtle Trails, Rocky Road, Wild Black Cherry, Elephant Ear and Southern Butter Pecan. Risa always seemed to get Super Friends, Gentry’s favorite was Cookie Dough and Mary always seemed to try something different, though Pralines and Cream seemed to be one of her favorites. I often leaned toward Peanut Butter Cup. You may have noticed that I didn’t mention vanilla, not because they didn’t serve it, but because in all the years we’ve gone I don’t know if any of us ever ask for it, nor do I recall anyone else getting vanilla. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that there are so many other bold and crazy flavors. Vanilla is just that, vanilla, and unless you dress it up with some sprinkles, candy, cookies or fruit, it’s just, well, boring. Who would want boring with so many choices?

As we are dealing with a dynamic shift in life, schools being shut down, working from home and our families being shut in, let me encourage you not to let life become vanilla. While life has slowed, we’re not quarantined from being creative. Don’t allow your life to become vanilla and boring. Just like vanilla ice cream, we have a choice to dress our day up and do something different. Add a sprinkle of surprise or a topping of joy to your family’s day. Do something different, be creative. Vanilla doesn’t have to be the flavor of the day. Have an exercise day, a craft day. Paint a room. Start a puzzle. Create a photo scrapbook. Cook together as a family. Likewise, I encourage you, don’t do vanilla Christianity. Do an online bible study, start you’re own online prayer group or create a prayer walk. Have a day where you ask God for nothing, a day you pray a blessing over everyone you know and maybe a day where you just give thanks; do anything but be vanilla in prayer. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In other words, make today a great day! Wake up tomorrow and tell God you want to skip the vanilla, order up a Super Friends or Elephant Ear or Turtle Trails kind of day.

Certainty in Uncertain Times

cloud-sky-tablet-statue-of-liberty-flame-darkness-1208244-pxhere.comThis is not the first time a people or nation has stood at a place of uncertainty. The Children of Israel stood at a Red Sea in fear, enemies behind them and water in front of them, but God was with them and brought them through. Elijah’s servant was overwhelmed when he stepped out of his house to see hills filled with enemies, but the man of God calmed his fears by praying that God would give his servant a new vision. With a new perspective Elijah’s servant sees differently, a host of angels surround him, and though he doesn’t know how, he knows that God is with them. We must hold on to three important principles when we walk through times that feel uncertain.  First, know that the God who has brought us to this point can bring us through times of crisis. Second, have a God view. Like Elijah’s servant, we can become enamored with what appears to be. News programs, social media and pandemonium creates very overwhelming pictures, but those with a God faith understands there is another outlook, the God view. Finally, how we view difficult moments is critically important. Moses sends twelve spies to inspect the Promised Land, upon their return, two reports surface. 10 spies, the majority, only saw impossibilities and brought fear. Two spies saw with right perspective and spoke possibility. Seeing correctly is critical. As we navigate this current crisis, choose to have faith, trust God and speak hope. Live with this mindset; that when uncertainty comes, that you will turn to the one thing that is certain, the power and possibility of God.

Get Into God’s Presence

portablesMy early days with music was a transistor radio on warm summer days and a record player at night. A component stereo with a hifi-record player was a sure sign that you had arrived, as long as your vinyl didn’t have a scratch.  Add a double cassette recorder to a 125-watt stereo amp and you could rock a room. There’s nothing like Andre Crouch at 100-watts in a 10×10 bedroom. I thought I had arrived when I hopped on my bike, took off with headphones in my ears and a Sony Walkman attached to my hip jamming to Michael W. Smith. You don’t know how much you’ve been cheated in life if you haven’t used a pencil to straighten out a cassette tape or spent a few hours digging tape out of an 8-track player. Thankfully, CD’s brought a new dimension to music, digital. Within a few years, digital went from CD’s to iPods, Spotify and a plethora of ways to get music. Whether it’s been radios, record players, stereos, boom boxes, Walkman’s, 8-track players, CD players, iPods or Spotify; the purpose has always been the same, music. While the methods of delivery have changed, music is an important part of our lives. Why? Music stirs emotions and brings hope to the heart. Music brings a frenzy to a gym, romance to a room and passion to prayer. Paul said, “speak to yourself in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” and David said, ”sing a new song to the Lord.” It doesn’t matter what generation or device; music brings us into God’s presence. Get your favorite device, get your spiritual songs or playlist and get into God’s presence and get encouraged!

Life Altering Prayers

life changingLife altering prayers. They’re what Biblical characters prayed that marked them as heroes of the faith. Moses asked God to show him His glory. David asked God to search and cleanse him. Isaiah saw God high and lifted up and said, “send me.” Paul said, “I die daily.” These men prayed bold and life changing prayers. We recently finished a powerful series called, “Mess Me Up Prayers.” The first prayer was simply, God search me. Like a virus protection program running in the background of your computer, when we pray God search me, we’re asking God to keep us free of weights and sins that cause us to be sluggish spiritually. The second prayer was break me. Break me of my carnal ways, help me live humbly before you God. It is John’s prayer prayed in us daily, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Praying this prayer frees us of the cumbersome struggles we have and frees us to live in the freedom of God’s grace and mercy. Finally, after praying search me and break me, we can pray, “God spend me, send me, use me. This prayer is an indication we’ve moved from selfish to selfless. No longer consumed with our agendas and ideas, we’ve moved to where we see success in what we accomplish for God. It’s we can pray this prayer we find peace, happiness and joy. Looking to move to a new level in God? I challenge you to pray these life altering prayers. It will take courage, but if we are willing it will take us to new dimensions in our walk with God. Start today. Pray God search me, God break me, God spend me.

Just a Little Bit of Jesus

 

littleThe average American consumes 150 lbs. of sugar each year. Yes. 150 pounds! On average, 80% of the foods we eat contains sugar. Even when we order many of the vegetables in restaurants, they have added sugar, for flavoring. There are very few recipes that don’t involve adding at least a teaspoon of sugar. When we see numbers on packages or menus, they seem small and insignificant, but are you aware that “just 4 grams of sugar” is equal to a teaspoon. So, when we see something that says only 10 grams of sugar, we think, that’s not very much and proceed to eat whatever it is, not realizing what we just ate was equal to 2½ teaspoons of sugar. A little here and a little there and at the end of the year, boom! 150 lbs. My study on sugar got me thinking, what if the average Christian would just add “just a little bit of Jesus” to everything we do? Add a little bit of Jesus, say a few minutes of prayer or some Bible verses, to your day before your kids go off to school and you go off to work. What if we added just a little bit of Jesus, say like, God let me be used for you today, spend me on someone, before we headed off to Target, the mall or out to eat. What if we became intentional about adding a little bit of Jesus to everything we do? What difference could it make. If 4 grams of sugar equals 150 lbs. in a year. What would happen in our lives, families and homes? Let’s make a commitment to adding “just add a little bit of Jesus” to everything we do.

Know Your Truth

TruthWhether we want to admit it or not, there is a constant battle for your Truth. It’s not a new battle, but an old one. Genesis 3 says, God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the Tree of Life in the garden they would die. Satan approaches Eve about the tree and when she reiterates God’s command, Satan presents another truth; you shall not die. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah asked a crowd, how long will you stagger between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The reaction of the people was stunning, “they did not answer him a word.” Truth had been twisted and new truths taught for so long that the people didn’t know what truth was. In an epic battle for truth Baal’s prophets prayed, danced, and screamed, but 1 Kings 18:29 says, “there was no answer.” After they had finished, Elijah rebuilt an altar, prayed a sincere 63-word prayer and fire fell on the altar. In an instant the people knew truth and said, “the Lord, he is God.” There will always be a fight for the culture; for our lives, families and future. For our foundations. Humanism and the “theory of evolution,” a theory shall we not forget, says it is truth. Jesus says in John 14:16, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Psalm 11:3 says, “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The battle is to crack, break, destroy our foundations of Truth. Know your Truth. Be relentless in prayer, in faithfulness, to read and teaching God’s Word.

He Makes Broken Beautiful

plansRenovation. It’s the craze. Find a home, imagine and create. Draw plans and count cost. Take out walls and create open concept. Rearrange the kitchen; combine it with the dining room. Create a master suite with a bath that is elegant. Finally, spruce up the outside and give it an outdoor entertaining space. And best of all, it all gets done in one hour! Or so it appears. The reality is that it takes a lot more time and there are more problems than anticipated. Structural issues, old wiring and hidden surprises in the walls create delays and add cost. In the end, though there have been struggles, a beautiful home comes together. The first look always seems to involve a family crying and overjoyed as they view their dream home. What is true of the renovation of a home is also true in the renovation of a soul. When God sees broken lives, He also sees potential. Long ago He purchased any life that would welcome Him. He knew that we had structural issues; a tendency to lie, lust and fail. Yet, He said, I can make something amazing. Simon Peter, a salty fisherman is turned into a powerful preacher. Paul, a broken and angry man is transformed into a missionary that will change the world. It doesn’t happen in a minute. For Simon Peter, it took three years with God in flesh. For Paul, it would take an experience with Stephen and years in a desert. You are a project, purchased by God. It is not yet known what we will become, but this we know, we will be like Him. Have faith in God, your project manager. He makes broken beautiful.

Prepared to Win

PlaybookThe Super Bowl. From the moment the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs won their conference  championships, they turned their focus on each other. For the past two weeks, players from both teams have been studying, pouring over video, looking for any tendency, weakness that might give them an advantage over their opposition. It doesn’t matter if it is an interior lineman, punter or quarterback, each person at each position, has been looking for one thing that might give them an advantage. This is the game of their life. It is the fulfillment of a dream that began in a backyard with neighborhood friends. It’s the culmination of living in weight rooms, long bus trips and countless hours of sore muscles and untold pain. They have fought through high school, college and pro try-outs, all for the dream of someday playing in the Super Bowl. Now, if one small weakness can be found, it might make the difference in being a champion. We too are in a battle, it’s for eternal life. Satan, our opponent, scours over our lives, looking for any weakness or temptation he can use to bring us down. Can he find a way to bring discouragement to our heart? Maybe an issue that will bring agitation to our mind. He longs for anything that might give him an advantage over us.  To live as Christians, without being aware of this battle, would be foolish. We must live with resolve. Keep building faith by reading God’s Word, strengthen resolve by praying habitually and renew spiritual strength by consistently fasting. Make 2020 the year that you resolve to be a stronger Christian.

Guard the Gates

gateGate Agent. You had one job to do. Get the people on the plane in an orderly manner. It was as simple as A-B-C, and it started out well. A call for people with tickets in Group A 1 – 60. Everyone lined up and began to board. But somehow between A and B, he got confused, distracted, overwhelmed; who knows. As the final passengers in Group A are headed to the gate and those in Group B start to line up, he flipped the switch, literally and mentally. Without calling for Group B, he moves right to Group C and flips the monitors to C. Within moments there’s chaos, confusion and frustration. Group A is still trying to board, Group B is trying to figure out what happened, and Group C is pushing toward the gate, realizing they had just got an opportunity to get a better seat. The frustration turned to tension as those who knew how the process worked, and had secured their preferable position, now were losing their seat. Now it’s chaos. May I suggest this is what sometimes happens to us who are supposed to gate keepers of our homes and families. We lose focus, bend rules, get out of the Book and before we know it our lives, families and homes are in chaos. As simple as it should have been for the Gate Agent to keep A-B-C in order, it should be for us to keep our spiritual priorities in order. Make the Gospel your life’s priority, seeking Him and His will your goal, live in obedience to His Word and make prayer a priority. One simple job. Keep the gate.

Positioned for Purpose

PurposeThe story of Nehemiah brings to focus a man’s life that was impacted by difficulty. He was a part of a group of immigrants that were brought in by the Babylonians when they overtook his nation. Nehemiah rises through the corporate setting of Babylon, becoming the cupbearer to King Artaxeres. As cupbearer, he is the chief financial officer, responsible for all the food and drink that came to the king and for securing the kings signet ring, a ring that was effectively the king’s signature on national laws. It’s with this life back drop that friends from his homeland show up. In what was likely just some small talk, Nehemiah asks about the environment in Jerusalem. The report becomes a defining moment in Nehemiah’s life and changes his destiny. His friends report that the people are in disarray, the walls of the city are broken down and there is no leadership. The report instantly overwhelms Nehemiah. He sat down, wept, mourned, prayed and fasted for many days. His life is redefined. God has divinely positioned him so he can impact God’s Kingdom. Within months, the career as cupbearer has been captured by concern for God’s Kingdom. God positions Nehemiah with the ability to make a change. He has the king’s authority, financial liberty and a vision for Jerusalem that has been birthed in prayer. Nehemiah’s story is a challenge for all of us, we are not called to our careers but the Kingdom. Regardless of what you are doing, God has positioned you for a purpose. As you enter 2020, I encourage you to seek God and find what His Kingdom purpose is for you.

2020 Vision: Teach Us to Pray

IMG_0287Twelve disciples. Three and a half years. They had eaten meals with Him, had fire side chats with Him, went through storms with Him, witnessed His miracles and heard Him teach and preach. With all of Jesus’ qualities and giftings, they could have asked Him to teach them anything; how to do miracles, to preach or to lead. They wanted one thing. Jesus, teach us to pray. Why? I believe they saw what we often fail to see and understand. Jesus’ strength, power and faith came by being in alignment with Heaven’s plan. While He was fully God, He was also fully man. Prayer kept Jesus focused, kept Him on task and allowed Him to be sensitive to the needs that would come His way each day. Prayer kept Jesus’ agenda on the Kingdom. When He went into the wilderness, He prayed. Before He fed the 5000, He prayed. Before meeting the disciples in the storm, He prayed. When Calvary was in His view, He went to the garden and prayed. The disciples took notice and they understood if they were to accomplish anything in the Kingdom, more than anything else, they needed the ability to pray. His teaching worked; it became an engrafted part of the disciple’s spiritual DNA. They were in prayer when there was a “suddenly” in the upper room. They were on their way to pray when the spirit prompted them to pray for a lame man. After jail time and a confrontation with the Sanhedrin, they prayed. The result, the place was shaken, and new boldness came to their lives. 2020 Vision. Let us understand that prayer is our greatest need. Lord, teach us to pray.

Seek God First

direct22020. A New Year. A New Decade. What will get our attention? What goals will we pursue? What cornerstones will we build our lives on? These are important questions that will determine our direction as we move into a new year and decade. If we focus and build on the structures of this world, our direction will be set toward the carnal and what the world calculates as success. If we set our hearts and minds on fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives, making Him our foundation, I believe we will see our lives, families and Life ascend to realms beyond our wildest dreams. In Acts 4, Luke says that Jesus is our chief cornerstone. In building there is a point on which every alignment goes off of. That spot, when building our lives, is Jesus. When we set Jesus as our cornerstone, making Him the center of our hearts, thoughts and purposes, everything else falls in right alignment. How do we do it? In 2 Chronicles God calls His people to humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn toward Him. This is how we start to get in right alignment and set our year and decade off in the right direction. If one chapter could sum up Jesus’ definition of success, I would point to Matthew 6. He opens challenging us to give. He then teaches us to pray and calls us to fast. Finally, He tells us how to live in proper alignment; invest in the Spiritual and eliminate anxiety by trusting in Him. He summarizes it all by simply saying, “seek first the Kingdom.” As we open up 2020 my challenge is the same. Seek God first, make Him your priority.

A New Decade. Do It Again and Do it Bigger

doitagain_sermonheader.pngTen years ago. It was 2009 and we were preparing to step into a new decade. We were celebrating the move out of Brooks School Elementary into our new home at 11616 E. 126th Street. No more setting up and tearing down. We were proud, thankful and grateful. All 70 of us. For the first time in our short history we had a home. We had 150 chairs. We could meet on Wednesday evenings, have choir practices and we actually had rooms for kids’ classes! We thought we had arrived. Now, as we close the decade, just 10 years later, I marvel at what God has done. From 70 people to over 300 who now call Life their home, we have witness God’s faithfulness as we have shared His gospel. We have seen God do amazing things. We close out 2019 with an expanded campus and a spirit of expectancy and excellence. As we prepare to step into a new decade it seems to be just as it was in 2010, a launching pad moment. We enter 2020 with 4K cameras and live broadcast that will take our services around the globe and new seating that will give us the ability to seat nearly 500 people. What will the next 10 years be like? God only knows. What is our responsibility. The same as it was as we stepped from 2009 to 2010. To pray. To keep seeking God with all of our hearts. To ask God to do it again, to bring another outpouring of His Spirit as He did in the book of Acts. Let’s trust Him to take us further than our greatest imagination both in our own lives and at Life.

Christmas. God Still with Us

GodWithUs_featureEmmanuel, God with us. Announced to Mary, confirmed to Joseph. In a moments time, life changed. God comes to earth in a stable in Bethlehem in the form of a baby. First seen by shepherds and then wisemen. Life would never be the same. Religion as it was known would disappear. The lame would walk. People who were deaf would hear and those who were blind would see. Sinners would be forgiven, the broken would get an audience with Jesus and the dead would rise. When Jesus steps into your world, life changes. The story of Christmas is Jesus coming to humanity. But more than coming to humanity, it’s the story of God coming to individual people. What He did 2000 years ago He still does today. Has God come to your world? If so, when? What was your experience like? When did He become real to you? Was it an answered prayer that introduced you to Him? Was it an experience in a church service when you felt him in an undeniable way? Maybe it was in a bible study, a small group or possibly a quiet moment alone when you came to understand, “God was with you.” Whatever the moment, it was a “Christmas” moment, the moment God came to your world. This Christmas share your story. It may not be as dramatic as Mary and Josephs or as unbelievable as the shepherds, but your experience was just as real, and it could change someone’s life. Christmas, a reminder that God still comes to us and that He is still God with us.

The Gift of Spontaneity

o-HAPPY-WOMAN-facebook-1024x683Spontaneity. It’s a person walking up to a Salvation Bell ringer and beginning to sing Christmas carols with them. It’s a child, reacting to a gift that was totally unexpected; so overwhelmed that they respond without thinking…spontaneously! Spontaneity is a natural impulse or tendency; without effort or premeditation. It’s natural and unconstrained; unplanned. Spontaneity, it’s the way God wants us to live and what He wants us to experience. Mary hears that she is highly favored, that she will be overshadowed by the Spirit and she will birth Emmanuel, God with us. Without thinking, she reacts and says, be it unto me! It’s Elizabeth, upon seeing Mary, feeling her baby leap inside her and exclaiming loudly, “blessed are you among women.” It’s shepherds in a field, experiencing an explosion of light and songs of angels, and without thinking, leaving their sheep and going to see the baby Jesus. What does it take to experience spontaneity? It takes stepping out and acting when it’s not on our daily agenda. It takes hearing, believing and acting when we hear God’s subtle voice prod us. It is responding in faith, without completely thinking it through. It’s the spontaneous moments, the “suddenlys,” that change our lives. It’s often the spontaneous moments that our families remember the most. The gift of spontaneity, it changes our days from the mundane to magnificent. It leaves us with a smile on our face and a warm place in our heart. It’s where you want to live, it’s what God wants you to experience. Live in, live for, His gift of the spontaneous!

Great Reads for 2020

Book

One of the best ways to grow as a Christian is to pick up some encouraging inspirational reading. Maybe you’re looking for a little something extra on your Christmas list? Here are the Top Ten Pastors Picks for some good reading in 2020.

• Addicted to Busy – Brady Boyd

• Boundaries – Dr. Henry Cloud

• Draw a Circle – Mark Batterson

• Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt – Jentezen Franklin

• Not a Fan -Kyle Idleman • Storms – Jim Cymbala

• The End of Me – Kyle Idleman

• The Noticer – Andy Andrews

• Unshakable Hope- Max Lucado

• Whisper – Mark Batterson

Christmas. It’s Your Story

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Here we go! It’s Christmas season. Trees are going up. Decorations are being hung. Parties and events put on calendars. All leading to a December 25th celebration. What we do each year resembles the spirt of heaven as they prepared for our Saviors birth. Imagine with me the gasps of Heaven as our Lord begins to unfold His plans. From what family, what lineage will you come? A king? A priest? A politician or religious leader? God responds, no, a twelve-year-old girl who will be engaged to a fourteen-year-old young man. A puzzled look. A frown and questions. Are you serious? Don’t you realize the ramifications? What people will say? God says, I’m fully aware. This way people will know that I can come to anyone in any situation. Another angel, sensing tension, asked from what city will you come? Jerusalem? Hebron? No, Nazareth. More puzzled looks and questions. Why Nazareth? It’s off the beaten path? A poor and forsaken area? God replies, yes, so I can identify with those who are forgotten and broken. As the Heavens grow more still, another asks. When will you go? God responds, around the time that Caesar Augustus takes a census. More gasps. Gabriel says, you realize that means that she will be nearly full term? That they will have to travel for Nazareth to Bethlehem. The weather, it will be cold and wet. Yes, I know, but I will be with them and as I am with them, I will be with others who face hardships. The story of Christmas is not so far from your story. A story with ebb and flow, twist and turns. Christmas. It teaches us to never lose faith and never lose hope. God is with us.

Thank You, Jesus

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Thank you, Jesus. Above all, we give thanks that the God that created all, robed himself in flesh. He came and dwelt among us, was crucified, resurrected and ascended into heaven creating a way that we could have eternal life. We give thanks for His love, mercy and grace. There is no sin that is too great and no place His grace and mercy cannot get to. There is always hope. We acknowledge and give thanks that God provides for us. He meets our needs of food, water, shelter and clothing. While we may not have everything we want, we are blessed with provision. Beyond meeting our needs, “He daily loads us with benefits,” as David says in Psalm 68. Many of our lives are filled with blessings and luxuries that makes life so much easier than many. We give thanks that God looks over us. As Jeremiah 29 says, “He knows the plans He has for us, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” While life is full of hardships and difficulties, we are blessed to have a God that knows our ways and goes through them with us. We look forward in expectation and thanks, knowing that if we obey His Word and trust His plan, we will share an eternal life with people of the ages, family and friends. Our future home is a land filled with mansions and streets of gold. It is a place filled with joy, happiness and worship. There is no more pain, sickness or death. No more sin and evil. It is where will meet Jesus again. Thank you, Jesus.

A Shout Out to Volunteers

voluntA person who performs a service willingly and without pay. It’s the definition of a volunteer, but actually describes so many people who make Life their home. Today, we honor those who make Life an amazing place to worship. They are the “seven men” of good character found in Acts 6. They serve without compensation, work in the shadows and often are under appreciated. Volunteers are the backbone, guts and glue of Life. They are single parents walking through difficult seasons. They’re young couples, some with young children, whose lives are filled with demands. They are seasoned adults who could relax and enjoy church. They are seniors who want the next generation to know and experience the powerful God they did. Its people who show up nearly every Saturday to pray for an anointing on everything we do; every service, every ministry and every person, covered in prayer. It’s worship teams, audio, video and lighting people, here early on Sunday mornings and in the middle of the week, making sure that the environment you experience in worship is the best. Its individuals serving in the nursery and toddler’s classes. Its teams creating incredible worship experiences for our kids’ classes. Its people who make FSM and Hyphen events work. Its gifted and talented people that share their abilities for the Kingdom. They do carpentry, paint, provide landscaping, plant flowers and help keep the place clean. Finally, it’s anyone who greets, smiles and makes every guest want to return. To everyone who serves, in any way, we honor you today. Without you, Life does not work. Thank you for blessing us with your gifts and talents.

Giving Thanks

thanksOne of the principles that the Bible teaches about God, is that He loves when we give thanks. In Psalm 136, David devotes an entire chapter to giving thanks unto the Lord. This month our goal is to do the same. Today, we say thanks to our Life family for the support of Life’s vision. Your commitment to the vision has created a wonderful place to worship and place where people feel safe as they discover God in a personal way. Your kindness to our family over the past year is so appreciated. As we walked through the difficult journey of losing Mary’s mother there were so many cards, text and kind gestures. We were absolutely shocked when we walked into the funeral home to find nearly half the flowers were from the Life family and friends. This past month we celebrated the marriage of our daughter, Risa. Again, the Life family was incredibly amazing as we celebrated her special day. We were so moved by your kindness and generosity of time and energy. Finally, thank you to everyone who sent cards, gifts, texted or simply spoke a word of encouragement during Pastoral Appreciation month. We are blessed to serve so many amazing families and people. People who serve unselfishly, are growing in Christ and many who have been walking through incredibly difficult times. We are thankful to call you a part of the Life family and thankful to be able to share life’s journey with you. Thank you for being a part of our life!

Three Trees

3 TreesThree sunset maple trees. All bought at an end of the year clearance sale. I planted the two best trees in the strip between our sidewalk and street and the scrawnier tree in the side yard. This week, three years after planting them, and while enjoying the colors, I noticed two things about the trees. First, the two trees near the street had brilliant red leaves while the one planted in the side yard had more golden-brown leaves. Second, the two trees in the front were now smaller, their trunks not as thick and branches not as high. The tree that was once scrawny was now much taller and thick. What produced the difference? Soil and water. The trees planted in poorer soil had taken in less water. While their color was brilliant, the smaller overall growth was evidence that they were getting less water. The tree in the side yard, where the soil was richer and water more available, showed growth; its roots had grown deep and its branches higher. What is true of trees is true of Christians. Where we are planted and how much spiritual nutrition we take in, is important. Jesus talked about the importance of soil, of being in the right place spiritually, in His parable about seeds. Paul said where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, or growth. May I suggest that where we plant our life is important. Here are a few suggestions where to plant your life. In His Word. In His presence. In a place of prayer. In His House. Get planted in the right place and watch your life explode in growth and brilliant color.

Modern Christianity. A mixture of Christ and Carnality

fuzzy-faith.jpgThere’s been a shift in what it means to be a Christian. Once being a Christian meant being Spiritual. It meant desiring to live godly and holy. It meant seeking after God, scouring the Bible, weeping as we learned more about Him and seeing how we had fell short. There was a desire in Spirit filled people to be led and controlled by His Spirit. Conviction would send us to prayer in tears. Today’s Christianity is filled with watered down feel-good intentions and warm fuzzy moments. It’s a verse posted on Instagram instead of devouring His Word in hunger to know Him. It’s a praying hands text, instead of hours of interceding for change in us or a situation. Most have no concept of the principle Paul taught in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “what partnership have right living and right standing with God with iniquity and lawlessness? Or how can light have fellowship with darkness?” Today’s Christianity is a mixture of Christ and carnality. We exhibit our faith on Sundays but live by our feelings the rest of the week. In Acts there are many people we should emulate. Two in particular are Stephen and Cornelius. In Acts 6 we are introduced to Stephen. He’s a man full of faith; a man full of and controlled by the Spirit. In Acts 10 we discover Cornelius. He’s a devout man; a man of continual prayer, who idolized, honored and held sacred things that God valued. These men were not just Christians, they were Spiritual men. It’s a wonder that there is so much angst and rejection of Christianity. When Christianity is watered down it is worthless. As we end the Month of the Family, I challenge you to become more than a Christian. Dedicate to making your home and family more than passionless spectators. Let’s be Spiritual. People who are full of the Spirit, led by the Spirit and controlled by the Spirit.

A Pastor’s Heart

coffeeI make no claim that pastors are perfect people. We mess up. Most pastors I know are genuine, faithful followers of God. They’ve learned that the work of pastoral ministry carries heartache with it. Here are some of the aches of a pastor’s heart:

 

  1. We mourn when marriages fall apart and grieve at the pain divorce causes.
  2. We hurt when young people make decisions that lead to future difficulty. We understand that too often we cannot stop them.
  3. We beat ourselves up when a sermon wasn’t nearly as effective as we thought it should have been. We’re usually are our own worst critics.
  4. We grieve the sin of others more than they do. We know we can’t bring people to repentance, and it’s agonizing watching them moving toward the world and ruin.
  5. We ache when we must deal with difficult issues and carry out church discipline.
  6. We struggle when the churches we lead aren’t growing spiritually or numerically. We genuinely care that people are lost.
  7. We hurt alone when we see the loneliness and struggles of our families.
  8. We grieve funerals for persons who showed no evidence of Christian conversion.
  9. We wrestle with loneliness that comes along with ministry.
  10. We feel guilty even expressing any of these thoughts.

Your pastor and their spouses are men and women who care deeply about your soul and eternal future. While they cannot be at every event or solve every issue in your life, they want what is best for your life and family. For most, pastoring is not a job, but a passion. Make it a priority to keep them in your prayers regularly.

* Edited article from Charles Lawless,
Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary