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!