This year’s graduates will have a memory like no other. Their kids won’t believe their story. It will sound like the stories that some of us heard from our parents, that they walked uphill in the snow, both to, and from school. For most, there has been no school activities, athletics, prom or graduation. They didn’t order invitations or have big graduation parties and there were no cap and gowns or move the tassel moments. Who could have dreamed or imagined a scenario like this? In January we were excited about 2020. We were casting vision and setting direction for an exciting year. Then suddenly a word we had never heard, changed our lives forever, COVID-19. Words we had never heard of became a regular part of our vocabulary; isolation and social distancing. I don’t know of one person who wasn’t caught off guard as our lives hit the pause button in late March. This is the confidence I do have, that God knew. Maybe this is why James 4:14 says, “you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” What I do know is this, that, while we can plot and plan, we don’t have a clue what the future may hold. To some, this is a scary thought, but to those who know Jesus, it isn’t. Why? Because while I may not know what tomorrow holds, I know who holds tomorrow, and I know what happens in the end. Jesus returns, those who have built their lives on Him, whether dead or alive, rise to meet Him in Heaven and there we will live forever. That gives me comfort. That gives me strength. That gives me hope. Maybe the good old children’s church song would be a good reminder to us all right now. It starts like this, “He’s got the whole world in His hands, He’s got the whole world in His hands…” I don’t have to recite the rest of the song, because if you got those words resolved in your heart, everything else falls in place.
2020. 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.
Emmanuel, 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.
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
Three 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.
There’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.
Solomon, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, gives us a book filled with life’s wisdom. I love Solomon’s reminder that life is full of “times.” Sometimes we forget that life is not static, but full of ebb and flow. Tauren Wells song says it well, “He’s the God of the hills and valleys.” Often, we think of life in terms of seasons; spring, summer, fall and winter, but life is much more than four seasons. This is why Solomon used the word “times.” He wants us to be aware there are moments in our days when we laugh, cry, hurt, heal, mourn, dance, feel peace and difficulty. Living in the 21st century makes this more of a reality than ever. Lives are overwhelmed by instant news, seeing more than we need, unlimited information and more technologies than ever. Anxiety is at an all-time high, there is more pressure on our jobs than ever, and God is being eliminated from much of our society. As we adapt to this new style of life there’s several things to remember. First, don’t judge. We don’t fully grasp people’s battles, the “times” they are walking through. Pray for and encourage them. Second, when we go through “times”, remember that it’s just that, “a time,” it will pass. Live life with an expectancy that it could change at any moment. Finally, invite God into your life daily. Don’t skip prayer and make God’s Word a priority. The quickest way to experience change in your life is to encourage yourself in the Lord. Start today, understand life is a series of times, experience them moment by moment.
Back to School 2019. It’s more than a prayer of protection and a cloth to remind students that God is with them. This day of prayer is to remind us that God chooses young people, that in today’s group are missionary’s, musicians, singers, pastors and elders. Less we forget, Joseph was 17 when he dreamed a dream and 30 when he took control of the most powerful nation in the world. David was anointed at the age of 16 and by the age 30 was elevating Israel to world prominence. Something was seen in a young boy by the name of Josiah when he was eight and within a few years he brought Israel into one of the greatest times of revival that Israel ever experienced. Esther, at the age of 14 becomes queen, and by the age of 19 she has saved her nation from extinction. Mary and Joseph and most of the Disciples were teenagers. I love Jeremiah 29:11 where God says, “I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you.” We must believe that God has a plan for our students, that there is destiny in their future. If there is a destiny, today is more than a moment of prayer and a cloth, it’s a moment of commitment. We must build upon today’s prayer and create a culture in our homes and families that enhances our student’s faith and love for God. We must lead our students in prayer, encourage them to live in faith and exemplify holiness and righteousness that will protect their character and integrity. Back to School 2019, a commitment to making God big in our students lives and in our homes.
Yesterday marked 50 years since Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It was a culmination of dreams, imagination, will-power and hard work. Were there cynics and skeptics? Yes, but a simple belief, backed by dedication and commitment brought about one of the most amazing events in all of history. While most will remember Neil Armstrong’s quote, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” the quote that rings powerful in my mind is a lesser known quote. Armstrong said this, “I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine.” God has given each of us an opportunity to dream, imagine and believe. He has equipped us with the faith “that all things are possible to those who believe,” and when we walk in His will and purpose, we can accomplish anything. A shepherd becomes a king, a farmer a prophet, and fishermen become apostles. Sitting in a field David doesn’t know where life will take him, but I bet he was imagining. Amos may be tending sheep, but somewhere in his heart he senses a passion to call his people back to God. A group of fishermen may have seemed destined only for fishing, but inside of them God had put an unquenchable fire. How about you? Is there a dream inside of you? A Word you’ve heard from God? Dream, imagine, pray and prepare. Leaders and visionaries are often alone and face more attack than you can imagine. Push against those who lack imagination and vision and press in to your destiny. There is no telling where it may lead!
Lost. It’s not an intentional destination. No one makes plans to get lost; it just happens. One wrong turn produces another and before we know it, we have no idea where we are. Often, especially if you are a male, the words, “I’m lost” are hard to say. We prefer a phrase like, “were just a little off course.” Whatever the choice of words, whether lost or a little off course, it is an admission that we have made a series of mistakes. The reality is that until we admit, “we’re lost” we will continue to meander aimlessly. The simple confession, “I am lost changes everything.” It’s only once we’ve admitted were lost, the journey to “found” begins. It’s then we’re willing to ask for help. It’s then we begin to retrace our steps to find our error. Its then we are willing to rely on others. It’s then that we carefully, step by step, try to get back to a safe and familiar place. No one intentionally gets “lost” in life. It just happens. How did the prodigal get to the pig pen? One bad moment, compounded by a poor decision, throw in a moral lapse, some bad company, and suddenly he finds himself in a place that is so unfamiliar, and a place he never intended to be. Fortunately, it takes just one good decision to change everything. Sitting in a pig pen was the moment the prodigal came to the realization, “I am lost.” It was the moment that changed everything. One moment stench, the next moment hope. A few more steps and his imagination began to see possibility. A few steps more and he sees home. Can I encourage you if you’re lost today? You’re not that far from home. Just one admission.
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!
Digital Friendships. They give us the impression that we’re connected, but the reality is that we live in a time when we are lonelier than ever. A friendship, it use to mean physical connection. It meant sharing an interest, understanding each other’s goals and enjoyed doing life together. The average American now has 300 Facebook friends but only two actual friends and a quarter of Americans say they have zero friends. We all need someone (and to be someone) who cares, who listens, who will let you vent and will let you cry. We have become a society of isolation. We push a button, pull into our garages and shut the door behind us. We go into different rooms and watch tv and movies. We set around the same restaurant tables, but separated by our devices. We have become alone, together. In Genesis 2:18, right at the beginning of time, God said of Adam, “it is not good for man to be alone.” Isolation is one of Satan’s greatest tools. When did Satan tempt Jesus? When he was alone. The great challenge of our day is to protect and build relationships, to connect. How do we do it? Three things to look for as we fight for connection. A friend that will challenge you, make you better. A friend that will help you grow in God and grow your faith. A friend that will tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it. If we can find the right friends, we may be one friendship away from changing our destiny.
Jealousy, envy, gossip and hurt. Just a few contaminants that can get in our hearts and make us toxic. These toxins steal joy, peace and happiness and leave us discontent and dissatisfied. How do we turn it around? One of the quickest ways is to turn our focus from ourselves to others; to serve. Pouring out of ourselves is one of the quickest ways to refill our hearts with joy and happiness. By nature, we are all self-centered. What parent had to teach their child to say, “mine?” God’s nature is the opposite of human nature. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” Serving is to love people, hurt with them, pour into them, to listen; It is to share ourselves. True service expects nothing in return. God wants us to be contributors, not consumers. Which are you? A consumer drops their kids off in a class, grabs a cookie, gets some coffee, enjoys the service (maybe, if the music fits my taste and the message doesn’t convict) and goes home for the week? A contributor’s life says I’m here to serve, how can I make a difference, how can I bless someone. We must remember that the church exists for the world. Serving must not be something we do, but who we are. Make it a life goal to serve. Put it into practice this year, set aside seven days or partial days to be a part of something that impacts others. Being a servant should be the core of our Christian identity.
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!
Learning to Stop. It sounds easier than it is. It’s just one more cookie. It’s just another minute or two on social media that turns into thirty. Learning to stop takes time and experiences. Time and experience create wisdom, it’s life experiences, yours and what we learn from others and wisdom is God’s navigational tool that helps us to make right decisions and helps us to stop making or repeating wrong choices. Have a major decision in front of you? Here are three processes to help. First, stop! Use wisdom from your experiences or glean wisdom from others who already walked through your situation. Often the best thing we can do is take a time out. Hit the pause button. Sleep on it. Next, ask yourself these questions. “Where will this end up? Is this the story I want to write? Is this God’s story for me?” Finally, visualize the outcome long-term. Visualizing can help us connect the dots from where we are too where we want to be rather than where we are and how did we get here. Taking time to implement these three techniques can help us to stop and start us in a new direction. What is God asking you to abort, abandon, to stop, so you can live to tell a better story and have a better life? Hebrews 12:1says, “Lay aside every weight and sin.” What is the one thing that is really hindering you? Seek God’s help, pray, read your bible and fast and I believe you can begin a stop today.
In the first session of our new Wednesday night series, Divine Direction, we learned that regardless of our past, the future and the number of chapters still to be written, is unknown. Because we have no idea of how many chapters are left to be written, we can choose to start writing a new chapter today. We also discovered that just because we’ve been handed one blueprint does not mean we have to build on it, we can ask God for another blueprint and build something new. Regardless of where we’ve came from, what we’ve walked through or what we’ve experienced, we have the choice to build a different kind of life, family and home. Rahab is a beautiful example. Her early chapters were about being a harlot. Simply by having faith in God and putting a scarlet scarf out her window, she changed her story. She started a new chapter and changed her family’s heritage forever. From a harlot to the bloodline of Jesus! That’s an amazing transformation. Want to start building something new, start a new chapter? Here’s five principles to implement. 1. Pray, ask for God to give you strength and wisdom. 2. Assess, do an honest assessment of who you are and who God wants you to be. 3. Focus, on one single change for this year. 4. Daily, work on that one change and remember it’s a process, not a moment. 5. Start! Simply start doing one new thing today!
We often think it is the big decisions that change our life but in actuality it is the series of small choices that make the difference in our life’s direction. It’s Moses’ small choice of choosing to turn and listen to the voice after hearing it coming from the burning bush. Ignoring that small moment would have likely left him with an unfulfilled and empty life in the wilderness. By one small choice, turning toward a burning bush, Moses finds himself leading a nation out of bondage and to the Promise Land. It’s David, after being anointed, being asked to do a menial task of bringing cheese and bread to his brothers. By choosing to do the simple task, rather than feeling that his dad’s request was beneath him, David defeats a giant by the name of Goliath, becomes a national hero and the rest is history. One small task leads to a throne and an eternal lineage. Both of these men and so many others in the Bible made small choices that led to big moments in their lives. Over the next seven weeks at Life’s Midweek we’re going to talk about Divine Direction, how making small choices can change your life and lead you to great places. Looking for a change in attitude, mindset or direction? I invite you to be a part of this challenging series. A divine moment that can set your life in Divine Direction.
Moving. To some it brings excitement while to others it brings a groan. Moving, regardless of the distance, changes so many things. A few years ago, we moved to our current residence. The move caused both kids to change schools, we changed grocery stores, gas stations where we got gas and even places we would dine out; all by moving just three miles. Since moving, nearly every piece of furniture has been replaced and every wall has been painted. Needless to say, moving equals change. Therein lies the problem with moving, some people do not want to change. In Exodus 12, God tells the Children of Israel to get ready to move. Have your bags packed, bread baked, shoes on and staff in hand. In one night six hundred thousand families moved. With that move everything in their life changed. We don’t have room to catalog all that changed but a short list includes jobs, lifestyle, and perspective all changed. One day they are slaves driven by task masters, the next day they are free being led by God, fed manna and getting water from a rolling rock. Some were overwhelmed and stayed in Egypt, others complained about the new adventure, but thankfully, most embraced it, took on the challenge and moved into a dimension of faith and a land far beyond their imagination. Do you have the faith to move, to embrace the change? God is longing to take someone into a new realm. Will it be you? If so, then get ready for an amazing future.
The lines were drawn. We will eat vegetables and drink water and your servants will eat the king’s food. After ten days you observe and see who is in better condition. The ten days passed, the meals ate and as the king observed both groups, it was evident that the four young Hebrew men were stronger. Not only that, but scripture says that God had given them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom. While we cannot comprehend how, we cannot deny the fact that God honored their fast, their commitment and faith in God. In the New Testament, after fasting, the powerful and influential church in Antioch was inspired to send Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey. That period of submission brought about an explosion of the gospel that changed the world. It all started with a church that prayed and fasted. Again, how it works we don’t understand, but that it works we cannot deny. As we step into a new year I am encouraging every person to get involved in Life Fast 2019. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a contract between God and His people. It’s a simple contract. If we will humble ourselves, pray and seek His face and turn from sin then we will hear from Heaven, He will forgive and He will heal. 2019 can be a year of incredible change and blessing. It starts with making a commitment, staying the course and keeping the faith. Want to see something different happen in your life? Then do something different. Get on board, fast, pray and seek God like never before.
Moving toward a new year, one of your purposes should be to create a culture in your heart, life and home that is growing closer to God. For your spiritual life to be authentic, your relationship with God must become personal; you must have ownership. One of the best ways to grow in passion and make spiritual changes is to read inspiring and challenging books. As you read, take time to pray and fast a day or a meal. Below are some suggested reads for 2019 that will change your life.
- The Bible (Start with Proverbs and read as led.)
- Draw the Circle, The 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson
- The Book of Mysteries by Jonathan Cahn (365 Day Devotional)
- The Fasting Edge by Jentezen Franklin
- Fresh Wind Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala
- It’s Not About Me by Max Lucado
- Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt by Jentezen Franklin
- Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado
- Storm by Jim Cymbala
- Addicted to Busy by Brady Boyd
- Men: Play the Man by Mark Batterson
- Ladies: A Heart Like His by Beth Moore
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!
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!
Leaves were swirling and branches breaking. Looking in our back yard our grill cover had blown off and our Adirondacks were scattered. Running errands, we saw lawn chairs that had blown across the street, construction signs tipped over and debris flying in all directions. Long before a wind advisory warning was ever issued it was obvious that the wind was blowing with a mighty force. As I witnessed the impact of the wind, my mind immediately went to the verse found in John 3, “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” It made me think, when God begins to fulfill the promise that He will pour His Spirit on all flesh, it will be obvious. We won’t have to create it with lights and haze. We won’t need the latest spin from Bethel or Hillsong. It won’t be based on the charisma and personality of a man. It will be obvious. People will stream to altars; baptismal tanks will be disturbed regularly and the outpouring of the Spirit will be so impacting and life changing that it will be obvious that people’s lives have been overwhelmed by God’s Spirit. When God sends the wind, it will be uncontrollable, overwhelming, and there will be no need for a wind advisory to let us know it arrived.
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.