The Underdog. In last year’s March Madness, it was Oral Robert University, this year it is St. Peter’s. They come out of nowhere, usually a small college that no one has heard of, and though they have been invited to the event, they’re not supposed to win, but they do. And once they win, especially when your team has lost, the crowd jumps on their bandwagon. Everyone likes to see David beat Goliath. Somewhere along the line some self-righteous pharisee turned God into Thor, a God that is just waiting to hammer people with judgement when they fail. If you’re not blessed, it’s because you are not pleasing God. If you are going through difficult times, it’s because God is against you. When the woman was caught in adultery, the “rule” people were screaming crucify her, but Jesus’ jumps on her bandwagon. Rocks drops, screams of judgement go silent, and Jesus is on his knees saying, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Paul, struggling with his inadequacies, ask God to remove his thorn, instead God says, it okay if you’re broken, my grace is sufficient. Wherever you turn in the Bible, you see God rooting for broken people. Religion says cross every “t,” and dot every “i,” and then you are good enough, but Jesus throws party’s when broken people simply repent. Feeling like you don’t belong? Feel like you’re not good enough? Maybe you feel like you failed too many times. Know this, every time you have a win, every time you turn to Him, God jumps on your bandwagon. He is for you!
68 Teams. Four regions. In each, teams are ranked by computers and a handful of “in the know” people. Teams with ones and twos are expected to be there at the end of the tournament, 15 and 16’s are expected to make an early exit; just pebbles for the Goliath’s on the road to the Final Four. Except for one problem. Occasionally, a pebble forgets the ranking assigned by the professionals, and plays with a fire that can’t be defined by statistics. Instead of folding, they define themselves. It only happens a handful of times, but after a mind-blowing victory, when a “David conquers a Goliath,” you hear something like this, “no one gave us a chance, but we knew in our hearts we could do it.” We live in a culture that is label driven, and too many allow others to define who they are. Too often people are defined by the clothes they wear, the people they associate with, or the letters after their name. Yet, like a 15 and 16 seeded team, there are some who rip off their labels and define themselves in God. David was called too young, unproven, and unreliable, all which may have been true, but he had something that could not be measured. His family, peers and experts measured him by the world’s metrics, but David measured himself by something no one else could see, his God factor. He knew what God had done for Him and what God had called him to do. When that kind of faith is in place it doesn’t really matter the labels put on you. To someone today, do the same as David or a low seeded team, rip off the label and be who God called you to be!
And just like that, it happened. The crowd was gone. In early January you would have thought the entire town of Noblesville had joined our health club. Whether it was seven in the morning or seven at night, the place was packed. February comes and the crowds were still steady. There was determination on people’s faces; they were going to get fit and lose weight. But as it often does, resolve and resolution fade into routine and old habits. Now it’s the committed. Those who show up day in and day out; those who are dedicated to making a change. This isn’t something new. Paul called out the Galatians, saying “you were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” It’s human nature to fade, to allow obstacles to overwhelm us and discouragements to defeat us. What is the difference between those who fade and those who fight? Often it comes down to just one thing, determination. We are awestruck by Paul’s incredible successes but realize Paul was given many opportunities to quit instead of continuing. Stoned, beaten, persecuted, misunderstood, shipwrecked, and jailed, all opportunities to quit. In 2 Corinthians 3:1 we see his resolve when we read, “I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again.” Paul went through bad times, often felt like a failure, and had seasons where so many misunderstood and opposed his teaching, yet he was determined. I will not quit. I will not be defeated. I will not give up. His determination, his passion and his vision pushed him past his problems and pain. How many churches would not have been established? How many books would not have been written? More importantly, how many lives would not know Jesus? When times are tough, don’t quit! Pray harder, fast longer, and be determined to finish what God has called you to do.
Jim Valvano, lovingly nicknamed Jimmy V, was a basketball coach who has become an inspiration too many. He bounced around several universities before eventually coaching the NC State Wolfpack in the 80’s. In 1983, Valvano’s team won the NCAA Championship, a victory that probably is the greatest Cinderella story in college basketball history. In 1992, Valvano was diagnosed with cancer and in March of 1993, nine weeks before his death, Valvano spoke at the ESPY Awards and delivered one of the most inspirational speeches you will ever hear. Here are just a few of Jimmy V quotes. I hope they inspire you to live with tenacity.
- “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
- “Be a dreamer. If you don’t know how to dream, you’re dead.”
- “The greatest gift you can give your children is to believe in them.”
- “Life changes when you least expect it to. The future is uncertain. So, seize this day, seize this moment, and make the most of it.”
- “Nothing has ever been accomplished in any walk of life without enthusiasm, without motivation, and without perseverance.”
- “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.”
- “In every single day, in every walk of life, ordinary people do extraordinary things. Ordinary People accomplish extraordinary things.”
- “Know where you have been, where you are now and where you want to be.”
- “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
You can read more quotes from Jimmy V at everydaypower.com/jimmy-v-quotes/
The hot dry days of August have transitioned to cool nights in September. The breezes of October are beginning to blow, so it is inevitable, fall. The leaves are starting to change. Green leaves are turning yellow, orange, red and brown and soon there will be a kaleidoscope of color here in central Indiana. We’re putting out the mums, buying hay bales, adding pumpkins, and pulling out the sweaters and boots. It’s fall. Isn’t it amazing how easily we sense the changing of the seasons? Crazier still, it’s amazing how we adapt. What about the changes that are taking place in our lives, are we as aware? Unlike the change from summer to fall, too many are oblivious to the deviations that are taking place in their lives. They fail to see themselves slipping away from their time of prayer or devotion. They seem unconscious of the fact that more and more things are getting in front of their faithfulness to God and His house. Too many seem unfazed that their heart has grown calloused and cold to God’s presence and gentle voice. While we so easily see the transitions of seasons, we often miss the critical changes happening in our lives. I often wonder if Judas knew something was changing in his life. Was he aware that greed was gripping his heart? Could he feel the spirit of deception creeping into his spirit? Could he sense that he was drifting away from Jesus? People don’t go from faithful to unfaithful overnight, it is a process, like the changing of the seasons. We’ve faced a lot of changes over the past 16 months. Something is happening, and while we can’t put our finger on it, we can sense it. A word to the wise. Stay alert, aware and on guard. Be prepared for the new season.
For forty days he had gotten a glimpse of the possibilities. He had seen the lush crops and amazing groves of fruit. He had walked the streets of large cities and touched their massive walls. He has walked through beautiful valleys, and now, he’s standing near picturesque farm on the ridge of a mountain. As a breeze blows through his hair and the sun sets, all he can hear is the words of the Lord, “go and spy out the land I am going to give you.” With that, he along with nine other spies, head back to camp. To his amazement, only he and Joshua have a good report, all the others see obstacles where he had seen opportunity. In a moment, his dreams are dashed by the lack of faith and vision in others. For forty years he will pay the penalty for the doubt of others. Finally, the visionless pass, and a new generation of faith stand ready. A generation with a leader who says, “we can conqueror, we can possess.” Passion and possibility are alive. Joshua leads Israel through a dry Jordan River and into the Promised Land. Victories come quickly, and within a short time, Israel has conquered the land. Within days of the final conquest, Caleb stands in the tent of Joshua asking, “give me my mountain.” Though his dream had been delayed, and journey difficult, Caleb’s passion for his promise had not wavered. He had not forgotten what he had seen standing on that ridge forty years earlier. I’m sure he often wondered if he would ever see it, but now possibility is reality. He holds the deed to his promise. What dream has God given you? Hang on to it. Though it may seem dead, it’s likely just dormant. Never let go of your dreams, don’t doubt God. What you have seen and what you have heard will come to pass.
Jesus. Right now, say His name out loud. It doesn’t have to be screamed or shouted, it can be spoken in a gentle whisper, but know this, when you say it, all creation hesitates. Every demon in hell, disease, sickness, evil and dark spirit pauses. Water waits to see if it must turn to wine, sickness waits to see if it can continue, and death waits to see if it must release its grip. Philippians 2:11 says, “that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Simply put, the name of Jesus is the most powerful word you will ever speak. We must remind ourselves often of the power in the name of Jesus, and not only be reminded of it, but choose to use His name. We must teach our kids and this generation to say the name of Jesus in any situation. It’s not a magical word, it is the word that has supreme authority. James 2:19 says, you believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. I am reminded that all Jesus did was step on the Gadarenes seashore and demons that had controlled a man and confounded a region for years, instantly cried for mercy, begging Jesus to let them go into pigs. They knew who Jesus was, His power and immediately relented in cowardness. We have access through faith, to ask anything in His name. John 14:14 says, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” Our asking must be in alignment with His plan and purpose, it can’t be done in selfishness, but when we ask in faith, anything is possible. Where does salvation begin? By calling on the name of Jesus. Acknowledging our need for Him. It’s here we begin the journey that takes us to repentance and baptism. The name of Jesus. Say it now, say it often. Say it with confidence.
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!
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.
The Gift of Faith. It’s a gift that we have to exercise. It’s available in any given moment and in any situation. It’s a gift that is built on belief that the Bible is true, and God will do what he says and what he has done before. We’ve circled situations because the children of Israel circled Jericho. We’ve anointed prayer clothes like the early church did. We speak in the name of Jesus because Simon Peter and John did, and our faith says, “if it happened for them, it could happen for us.” Faith sees Jesus, the miraculous more than obstacles and impossibilities. A boat full of disciples saw a storm; they saw waves and lightening, heard thunder and slapping seas, but Simon Peter saw Jesus. Suddenly, faith overrides fear and common sense is taken over by crazy faith, and before you know it, Simon Peter is walking on water. That is the essence of faith, that the impossible becomes possible and the improbable becomes probable. Faith takes what Jesus said in Matthew 19 literally, “but with God all things are possible.” How much faith do you need to see the miraculous begin to happen? Just a little. As Jesus said, “the faith of a mustard seed.” Faith is about knowing “all things are possible with God.” The challenge is simply to have faith. Faith in discouraging times, difficult times, fearful times and overwhelming times. The question is not, whether something is possible or not, rather the question is will we exercise faith. It’s the question Jesus asks in Luke 18, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” The Gift of Faith. Are you using yours?
What do you believe? It’s an important question because what you believe becomes your truth, it becomes what you live your life around. As a society we are living in a time when beliefs are being fiercely challenged. The internet, access to information, and exposure to so many ideas and opinions are impacting life as never before. This is why personal ownership of belief is critical in this hour. Our beliefs can’t be based on religious tradition, church denomination or a pastor’s personal beliefs, it must be your belief. Your belief must come from a reputable source. It must be a source that has been proven true and has stood the test of time. Your belief must be something you have studied and can defend. I have always found my beliefs in God’s Word, but in today’s world, even that is being challenged. God’s Word has been eliminated from schools, mocked by media and is being explained away by educators and science. For it to be secure in our life, for our family’s future, it must be something we read, study and have ownership of. So, what do I believe? I believe that God came to this earth as Jesus. I believe that He healed people that were blind, deaf, lame and had diseases. I believe Jesus walked on water, multiplied bread and brought dead people back to life. I believe that Jesus was crucified on a cross, died and resurrected and was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. I believe He sent His Spirit first to a group of people in an upper room and then to every culture and period of time. This is my belief, I own it and its what I build my life, my family and my future upon. What do you believe? It’s a choice. It’s God gift to you.
For seven hours, thirty-six racers competed for thirty-three slots in the Indianapolis 500 yesterday. For months, plans had been made, sponsors gathered and hours of practice had taken place. At the end of the day, regardless of the investment, three drivers weren’t good enough; they didn’t qualify. I am thankful that my salvation isn’t predicated on qualifying. It’s not my work but the work that Jesus did that makes the difference. Jesus took care of our qualifying. He went to the cross, shed His blood, resurrected and ascended. That finished it. His work on Calvary qualifies us for salvation, eternal life and heaven. Our job? Simple, run the race. Believe that Jesus’ work qualifies us. Obey His Gospel. Have a relationship with Him. Seek Him daily. Live in repentance and be water and Spirit filled as He said in John 3:5 – 6. We don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to live in fear and we don’t have to worry that there are only so many spots. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “come ALL who are weary and heavy burdened.” It’s not based on men, organizations or good works, it’s open to all who come to Him humbly. I love how the author put it in Hebrews 12, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” Today, I have three words for you. Run your race.
A kaleidoscope of color. The Fourth of July in May. It’s God’s creation exploding with new life as we move into a new season. A lot of rain and a little sun and waalaa…color! Multi-colored tulips, purple redbuds, white dogwoods, pink crab apples, yellow azaleas and lots of green grass to mow. When the gray of winter finally surrenders to the brilliance of spring, life comes back with vengeance. With all the color comes evening walks, bicycle rides, visits to the golf course and picnics in the park. It’s as if not only did spring bring color, but life, hope and joy. It reminds me of the scripture found in Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” What is true of natural spring is true of a spiritual spring too. Our lives are seasonal, we go through times heat and drought, times that are crisp with color and winter, where it’s cold, dark and gray. But thankfully there is spring! The time when we come back to life. Our joy returns, our smile radiates and we have the energy to take on Goliath and conqueror the walls of Jericho. Has it been a long winter? Take heart, spring is coming! Your life will once again burst with brilliance. You’re not too far from a bounce in your step, a gleam in your eye, a song in your heart and faith to believe all things are possible. Spring is on its way!
Jesus didn’t just resurrect, He made Himself accessible to people. He comforts the heart of Mary. He walks with overwhelmed disciples as they return home after the Passover. He eats some fish with ten disciples and then makes a special appearance again so that Thomas can experience what the ten had. He shows up on a sea shore where weary fishermen have spent the night catching nothing and He shows up to a gathering of over 500 believers. Why does He spend forty days in communion with people before ascending into heaven? Because He wants us to know; He wants us to know he cares about our grief and pain. He wants us to know that He understands our uncertainty and fears. He shows up to show us that He cares when seven disciples haven’t caught any fish. He shows up when 500 disciples (I Cor.15:6) need just one more visit. Why is that important to us? Because, if He cared for those who had already seen Him, how much more does He care about those who haven’t, who are walking by faith? I believe Jesus stayed around and showed up so our faith would be stronger. If He will show up for a doubting Thomas, He will show up for you. If He’ll walk with two overwhelmed disciples, He will walk with you. Nearly every time Jesus showed up, the person was shocked and overwhelmed. Overwhelmed? Dazed? Confused? Hurt? Don’t be surprised when Jesus shows up in your world. That is just who He is and that is just what He does. He just shows up.
Stepping toward our destiny may mean we have to step away from our security and each time we are willing to take a risk, to do something unfamiliar or uncertain, we learn more about God and to trust Him more.Going where God wants us to go often means leaving what is comfortable, predictable and easy and often God has to stir us, make us uncomfortable or challenge us to think in a new way. Waiting for lunch, Simon Peter deals with a disturbing dream that defies everything he believes. Three separate times a sheet drops down challenging him to eat food that was considered “unclean.” Confounded by the dream, Simon Peter doesn’t realize the dream is preparing him for a new realm of belief and understanding of God. As the dream comes to an end, a man from the house of Cornelius comes asking him to preach the Gospel. The dream leads to a “go” that brings the Gospel to a new ethnicity of people. With every “go” there is a risk verses reward challenge, and either we ourselves or our adversary, makes the risk look larger than the reward. In reality, it is just the opposite, the reward is almost always greater than the risk. Why are we hesitant? Because fear loves to overwhelm faith. We want details, we rationalize, when God is saying, “trust me, go.” Where is God asking you to go? Stagnation in our walk with God and life is not God’s plan. Step into your “go” and watch where God takes you!
Today we celebrate 15 years of Life. From a garage sale and weekly Bible studies in our home, to the Goddard School, to Brooks School Elementary and now, to its current campus, on 126th, it’s been quite the journey. It’s surreal to think that Life has been a church for fifteen years. In so many ways March 7, 2004 seems like yesterday. That was the day we stepped into Brooks School Elementary for our first weekly service. We were naive, young and unexperienced. I was 40, Mary was 36, Gentry was seven and Risa five. That Sunday about forty of us joined together to worship and over the next five years we watched as the congregation grew. Sunday services were at Brooks School and Wednesday’s in our home. In the fall of 2007 we got the miraculous call from the Coffey family, and I heard the words I’ll never forget, “we want to donate five and a half acres to the church.” Plans began to form, construction began in 2008 and in 2009. It was during that time that Bill and Anita James saw the vision and jumped in during our construction phase. In April of 2009 we moved in and later that year we celebrated five years with Pastor Chester Mitchell from Ashburn, Virginia. Finally having a home, Life began to grow and new team members came on board. Willie and Ashley Travis and Erik and Brittany Poling soon made Life their home and suddenly Life began to minister in new dimensions. 2010 and 2011 brought musical groups, Royal Taylor and The Experience Band. It was our time with the Experience Band that we met Korey Elkins and a few years later he began to lead our worship. In 2014, we celebrated 10 years as a church and our personal 25 years of ministry. Rex Johnson came from Austin, Texas and challenged us to “follow the Spirit.” The last five years brought both tremendous challenges and changes, but through commitment to prayer, following after God’s leading and continuing growth that brought amazing people to help, we watched as God did miraculous things. The growth brought challenges to our Kids and Youth ministry and it became obvious that we needed to expand. With the vision of our Board of Directors, Don Baldwin, Tarren Cruz, Milford Hudson, Andy Purcell, Lance Russom and Don Starks we broke ground in the fall of 2017. As we celebrate 15 years today, we have nearly completed Phase Two. Where do we go from here? We cannot rest, God has given us more to do! “Church without Walls,” taking life to the world through live video, is coming soon and plans are already complete for Phase Three; an expanded lobby and nursery, a social gathering space with a small café and several large educational rooms. Beyond that, who knows where God will lead. But today we stop to give Him glory for all He has done and celebrate 15 incredible years of Life!
AT&T’s new commercials that “just okay, is not okay” are both humorous and true. When looking for a surgeon or someone to install your brakes, you don’t want someone who is “just okay.” And I would suggest that while surgery and brakes are important, of more importance is your eternal destination. You don’t want to be in a church or under a ministry where the certainty of your eternal destination is in question. I don’t want tradition, religion or opinion to be my standard, I want Jesus, His Word to be my source. In John 3 Jesus and Nicodemus are having a conversation about seeing the kingdom of God, and Jesus uses a word, that I can’t get past. The word “unless.” Talking about eternity Jesus says to Nicodemus, “unless a man is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.” That is a bold proclamation. There’s not a lot of wiggle room. As a pastor, we don’t want the confidence that you have about your eternity to be “just okay.” That’s not okay! While you might survive an okay surgery or an okay brake repair, we don’t want to risk “okay salvation” with your soul. So, we preach Jesus. We preach the cross. We preach His blood covers. We preach the resurrection. We preach baptism in His name. We preach baptism in the Spirit with an unknown language as the initial sign of infilling. We preach living for and growing in relationship with Him. We preach what we know to be the most secure message for your soul. Why? Because when it comes to eternity, “just okay, is not okay!”
The year, and especially the past nine months, had seen more twist, turns, ups and downs than a roller-coaster. It was more than they could have ever imagined. The announcement of their engagement had filled their lives with celebration, travel, gifts and preparation for marriage. Nowhere in their engagement script was a pregnancy. They were virtuous and God-fearing people. Their family had taught them the law with passion and they loved God with all their heart. But a visit of an angel to Mary brought news beyond comprehension. She was stunned and speechless, filled with joy but at the same time feeling the sting of the overwhelming challenges. To be the one chosen to be overshadowed by the Spirit and bring God to earth was the greatest of honor. To explain it to her family and soon to be groom was nearly an impossible task. Joseph’s angelic dream brings some strength and hope to the moment, but still there are doubts. Those doubts would visit often; the thought of divorce would surface in his mind almost daily. Resolve moves into both of their hearts and they decide they will believe in the words from Heaven. That the pregnancy was supernatural and that God was truly growing inside of a teenager from Nazareth. Though they believed, others didn’t. There were endless questions from their parents. Friends strayed and foes judged. There are whispers, innuendo and downright rude gazes. That an angel visited a young couple from Nazareth with a prophetic word, and teenagers at that, was just too much. May we suggest that there was even mockery. There is an incredible moment when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth; her baby leaps with joy inside her womb. There came flashes of hope when Joseph and Mary were alone and realized, it’s God in her womb. The end of the pregnancy brings yet another challenge. Herod has called for a tax, one that required families to return to the home of their birth. So, nine months pregnant, they begin a pilgrimage. It too is filled with challenges. Dangerous travel, poor weather and challenging terrain are all a part of the journey. Mary, days from birthing a child, must keep up with the caravan. For nearly two weeks, through rain, cold and wind they walk. Down mountain paths, across deserts and then a fifteen-mile ascent through rocky cliffs. When it seems as though it can’t get any more overbearing, it does. Bethlehem, a wide gap in the road on the journey to Jerusalem is their destination. They arrive in the small village only to find the family house already filled with relatives. No room in the house, they are relegated to the stable behind the house. Cold, damp, smelly; what place could be lowlier for the birth of any child, much less God in flesh. A stable, a place for animals now houses God. In the midst of all the hardship and difficulty, when no one could see the possibility, Joseph and Mary likely feeling hurt, lost and forgotten have no idea that the world changed. That night would be end of so much and the beginning of so much more. No one knew that in that moment the dateline would change from B.C. to A.D. No one knew that night that the sheep He laid among would never again have to die for the sins of a man. It was just a rough nine months for two obscure teenagers who believed the impossible could happen through them. Who could have imagined? Probably not Joseph and Mary. Whatever this year has held, whether hills and valleys, twist and turns you’ve walked through, know three things. First, the journey can be hard but you will make it. Second, regardless of how it looks in the moment, the impossible may be taking place in the midst of the most difficult situation. Finally, like Joseph and Mary, God has been with you, is with you and will always be with you. Christmas. The celebration of change!
The unexpected. It brings a myriad of emotions from screams to tears. Sometimes people faint while others dance. The unexpected, when the impossibility becomes a reality. One year we surprised our kids with a puppy. It was so far off their radar that when they opened the box they literally froze in shock. They were so stunned that they set in silence for what felt like five minutes. We nearly had to shake them back to reality, but when we did, the pandemonium was unbelievable. Dancing, shouting and screaming all ensued as the reality of the moment sunk in. The story of Christmas is about God doing the stunningly unexpected. An angel shows up in a forgotten little burg to a young teenager, calls her highly favored, and announces she will be the mother of Emmanuel, God with us. Unexpected. Simple and unassuming shepherds sitting on a quiet hillside tending sheep when suddenly there is an explosion of light and sound as the skies are filled with angels singing, Hosanna. Unexpected. I wonder how many people in the tiny town of Bethlehem were asking, “who is this teenage couple,” as lowly shepherds show up to honor Him and Magi come with mountains of gifts. Who could have imagined that God in flesh in the form of a baby had come to their town? Unexpected. Christmas and the gifts under the tree. They fill us with imagination, wonder and maybe the unexpected. They are to remind us of what Jesus did and can still do. The unexpected.
Looking down at my meal as I got ready to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner I saw a full plate. As I looked at my plate I reflected on how much it was a representation of my life; full. What makes the plate of my life full is not the things of this world but the presence of God in my life and family. Our lives are full when we have a hunger for God and have a desire to spend time with God. Our lives are blessed when we understand that God’s Word brings such strength and power to our day and that we recognize our time in prayer as the most important time of our day. Our plates are full when we realize that we are fortunate to have an extended family that worships with us, prays for us and goes with us through the difficult seasons of life. Our plate is full when we understand that the most important thing that we can leave for our children is a spiritual legacy. A legacy that is built on the powerful name of Jesus and the absolute necessity of being filled with and living a Spirit led life. Do you have a full plate? Don’t look at your material possessions, but what really matters, your relationship with God. If you have a life that knows about Jesus and His work on Calvary, your plate is full.
Moments of opportunity. If we miss them we may miss a life changing experience. They don’t come in neon lights, they come in common every day moments. They come disguised as an opportunity to make a difference in a life, to impact your child with an encouraging word, to take your marriage to a new dimension, to see a dream come to life or to take your faith and spiritual life to another level. Be careful not to miss your moment. Elisha hands king Joash a bundle of arrows and says, “strike the ground.” Joash, oblivious to the opportunity, strikes three times and misses a chance to utterly destroy Israel’s enemy. Agrippa, hearing Paul’s persuading testimony, says, “Paul, you’ve almost persuaded me to be a Christian.” As far as we know, Agrippa never became a Christian, he misses his moment. You never know when a moment or a season of opportunity is coming to an end. It calls us to live with spiritual awareness every day. Too many times we find an excuse instead of opportunity. We look at moments and think it’s too expensive or difficult but it may be too expensive or costly not to act. The woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years hears that Jesus is coming to town. Rather than making excuses, reasoning why she shouldn’t, she chooses to seize her moment of opportunity. In that one moment, her entire life is changed. May I suggest we follow her lead. Seize your moment!
You can feel it in the air. A change is on the way. The nights are cooler. Trees are hinting of a change with peaks of color beginning to show on their leaves. Fall with all its splendor and glory is on its way. Soon we’ll be enjoying its colors, having bon-fires, taking hay rides, carving pumpkins and eating smores. If only it was that obvious when there was a change of season in our lives. Unfortunately, we frequently miss the signs of change when it comes to the seasonal changes in our lives. We often get caught off guard, sometimes overwhelmed or frustrated when there is a change of season. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” and then he goes on to describe fourteen different seasons he had experienced. His point? Life is not static, its fluid. Seasons are good, they bring wisdom, strength, faith and growth. It’s the cold of Winter that causes roots to grow deep. It’s the rains of Spring that brings growth. It’s the warmth of Summer that causes the branches to reach for the sky and it’s the splendor of Fall that shows us the value of seasons. Sensing change in your life? Embrace it. Its God love and grace that takes us from season to season or as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3:18, from glory to glory.
In the prophet Haggai’s day, God had brought His people back from failure and difficult situations. Instead of focusing on what God had done and the possibility, many of the people could only focus on “what was” and on their failures. Haggai’s message was, “the end was going to be greater than the beginning.” To someone today you need to know your best days are in front of you! But it’s a choice. How you view your situation is so important. We have a choice. Do we talk about the past, the problems and the pain? Do we give more power to the failure or the Father? Do we keep grace from covering us, mercy from mending us and forgiveness from freeing us? Do we live in the old house or move to the new? If we move to a new house mindset we see the possibilities in Jesus. In the new house there’s a God view instead of a guilt view. In the new house faith starts speaking, the gifts start working and we start living in the Spirit. In the new house there’s a different countenance on our face, different attitude in our spirit and conversations that springs from our heart. Your end is supposed to be better than your beginning. It’s time for someone to move into a new house.
Back to School Service. It’s the day we take time out as a church community to pray over our students. A prayer cloth is given to each student to remind them that God is surrounding them. We hope they leave today knowing that they can be a person of great influence in their school. Though the challenges are great, the God that is with them is greater. This time that our kids are living in reminds me of Daniel. He was a young man, in a foreign land, that faced amazing adversity yet Daniel 6:3 says, “Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him.” What an amazing statement about this young man. In the midst of a dark world, devoid of God, facing the temptation to blend in, Daniel elected to stand out. He was a leader among leaders. While many around him were talented, gifted and intelligent, Daniel stood out because of His excellent Spirit. Where did it come from? His time spent in devotion with God which created a strong faith in God. To every student, stand out! Stand out by having excellent character. Stand out by going the extra mile. Stand out by having the best spirit. Stand out by living out your faith. Stand out and see where God might take you.
Your heart matters. In fact, God is more concerned about your heart than anything else. While I’m not here to diminish the importance of living Godly and Holy, it is the inside that God looks at and it is the inside that will produce a true Christ like lifestyle. In 2 Chronicles 30, Hezekiah’s heart is to bring His people’s lives and families back to God. The problem is no one is qualified to bring them to repentance and they had missed the Passover. Hezekiah’s hunger is a month late and would have to be performed by an unclean person. God has a dilemma. He has people who have hungry hearts but don’t have it all together. Hezekiah confesses the errors of his people and asks God, “will you hear our prayers, will you heal us?” In one of the more amazing moments in the Bible the scripture said that “the LORD hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people (2 Chron. 30:20).” What a moment of grace! Grace that is still available today. Five husbands and living with a sixth man, not a problem. Caught in the very act of adultery, not a problem. Thief and murderer breathing your last breath, not a problem. Grace showed up at a lonely well, at the screams of judgmental accusers and at the cross of a guilty man. Need grace today? Give Him an honest heart and His grace will show up.