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.
The Dukan Diet. The Atkins Diet. The South Beach Diet. The Keto Diet. Weight Watchers. Jenny Craig. Nuitrisystem. So many diets, so many options all because so many of us have become what we eat. Too much sugar, too much starch, too many carbs, the list could go on and on. Our lives have been consumed by diets and fads all because of the fact that we simply need to be more disciplined and need help. Really it should be pretty easy, stay away from processed foods, sugars and eat a lot of stuff that comes from trees and the ground. What is true of the flesh is also true in the Spirit. Paul says all that is of the world is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life. Jesus said they that hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be fed. He calls Himself the “Bread of Life” and says that “all that come to Him shall never thirst again.” Basically, God says if we want to be spiritually healthy, if we want to have a right heart that it takes staying away from the world, pursuing Him, reading His Word and spending time. Getting worldly, carnal or feeling spiritually drained? Maybe it’s time to go on a diet. Get in His Word, get on your knees and get refilled with His Spirit.
Under Construction. It’s a sign that we hate to see when we’re traveling. Whether we’re headed to work or on a trip we know it means long waits and rude drivers. See the sign on a building and you know there’s temporary lights and walls and plenty of dry wall dust. While we hate to see those “Under Construction” signs, they are a sign of life and progress. It means something is growing, there is expansion going on or improvements being made. While we hate the process, we love the results. Whether a road with smooth pavement, a new shopping environment, or spacious addition, they all bring expectation and excitement. We’re willing to except that in real world life, we’re often less accepting when it comes to the human factor, but the fact is, we are all under construction. In reality, we should all have signs, maybe t-shirts, that say, “pardon our mess, under construction.” God hints at it in Jeremiah 29:11 when He says, “I know the plans I have for you.” Plans, that means a project, that construction is coming! Paul puts it another way in Philippians 1:6, “He who has begun a good work in you shall perform it.” What is Paul saying? You’re not finished yet. You are in process. So, pardon my mess, put on a hard hat and help, stop judging me in the middle of my construction. God is in the middle of making something awesome.
Bill Gaither’s song, “A Few Good Men,” is an amazing song that all men need to hear as we celebrate Father’s Day. The chorus says the following.
Men of compassion, who laugh, and love and cry.
Men who face eternity and aren’t afraid to die.
Men who’ll fight for freedom and honor once again.
He just needs a few good men.
Today, those words to that song have never been truer. Men were created for challenges, adventure and difficulty. In most churches today, men are the minority. It’s understandable why. Our songs and our messages have went soft. We’ve went from All Hail the Power of Jesus Name and The Old Rugged Cross to sloppy wet kisses and butterflies. Our messages are more about the love of God than the power of God. The return of manhood must start in the church. As men we need to go back and take a look at what God created a man to be. For example, Abraham, the Father of Faith. He was rugged. He fought for his wife and land. He bickered with his nephew over sheep. He stood up to the challenges of his day and built a family. He walked with God, taught his son how to worship and built a lineage that last until today. That’s a man who lived an adventurous and challenging life. Father’s Day 2018. Let it be the beginning of men who are men. Men of faith. Men who live for the challenge. He just needs a few good men.
Two fishermen. One had two poles, the other a single pole. I watched as they cast their lines into the water. After what seemed like only a few minutes of casting the one who had brought two poles had stopped. Instead of casting, his poles were lying beside him and he was setting on the ground on his cell phone. The second fisherman, the one with a single pole, continued casting relentlessly. He had focus. He was going to catch a fish. Watching the two walking toward the pond, one might have assumed the man with two poles was the fisherman. The reality was, the man with the single pole brought something no one could see. Desire. He came to catch a fish regardless of the circumstances. What is true of fishermen is true of Christians. There are some who dress and look the part, but the moment things get difficult they wilt like a flower in the summer heat. Others have a passion like Paul who said, “oh that I may know Him.” Paul was determined that regardless of obstacles, shipwrecks, beatings or stoning, that He was going to pursue God with all his heart. A passion for God, it can’t be taught, passed down or learned. It must come from a heart that has desire. Pray that God will give you a passion to know Him.
Pot holes, chug holes, crater. Does it matter what we call them? They seemingly are a part of rites of spring in central Indiana. We try to avoid them. We swerve. We dodge. Invariably though, we hit one. There is no sound like the thud of tire hitting a pothole. Hit one and you’re praying that the hubcap stayed on and your tire isn’t flat. But a pothole does more. It damages the balance of the tire and knocks your car out of alignment. Hit one and in a moment a round tire is an egg making the ride anything but pleasant. Hit enough and when you let go of the wheel, your car can make a left or right turn without you even turning it. So, what do we do? We get to our local tire store or mechanic.
Much like central Indiana and potholes our spiritual lives have seasons, moments in life that can knock us out of balance or alignment. We’re traveling along and suddenly, bang, we hit a hard spot in life. Unexpectedly our life is out of order and our walk with God is going the wrong way. Again, the question, what do we do? Just like you would take your car to get repaired, we get our self to church. We get to an altar. Hit your knees. Cry out to God. Get realigned and refilled with the Spirit. Be confident. God can realign you and get your life in balance.
For the first time this Spring the windows were up. It was a little muggy but the smell of fresh air made the tradeoff worth it. Sitting on the couch I noticed a shift. The mugginess in the air is gone and there is a slight chill. A few hours later the temperature had dropped drastically and a cold rain was falling. In just a few hours there had been a dramatic change in the atmosphere. Know this, what happens in the natural can happen in the Spirit. A handful of fishermen are fighting a fierce storm. In a moment they find the cause is a prophet running from God. Jonah says toss me over and things will change, initially they resist, but as the storm rages they have no choice. They toss Jonah over and in an instant the seas calm. Paul and Silas, sitting bruised and beaten in a jail, not exactly knowing how they had got there. It’s dark, they’re in pain and in chains but a song service changes the atmosphere and suddenly they are freed from their prison walls. Jesus hangs on a cross. One moment men are mocking and gambling for His garment, but with the words, “it is finished,” the atmosphere changes. The skies grow gray and the earth quakes and those mocking suddenly are saying, “surely He was the Son of God.” Take hope! Regardless of what your circumstance looks like at this second God can change the atmosphere in a moment.