The book of Acts covers from the ascension of Jesus to the death of Simon Peter and Paul. During the Acts timeline, Paul writes 13 books, 14 if you are of the belief that he is the writer of Hebrews. Simon Peter and James write another three, leaving just five books written after the Acts of the Apostles ends around 70 A.D. Nearly every epistle needs to be read through the prism of the book of Acts. The epistles are written during Acts to saints, people who have experienced the only Spiritual experience found in the 40 years that the book of Acts covers. I mention this because there is a word that catches my attention throughout the book. The word is suddenly, and depending on the version you read, it’s found over a dozen times. Luke wants us to know that much of what people witnessed in the book of Acts happened suddenly. It wasn’t planned, choreographed, or manipulated. The Spirit moved indiscriminately, at its own discretion, independent of any groups, agendas, or schedules. As we’ve started our sabbatical, we’re taking the opportunity to visit churches, something I’ve longed to do throughout my pastorate. I wanted to visit churches with different dynamics, see their systems, experience their services, and get a taste of their vision and passion. In some churches we’ve seen incredible vision, experienced great worship, and heard profound preaching and teaching, but left feeling like there was no room for the Spirit to have its liberty. Great experience, incredible talent, amazing messages, but no room for a “suddenly.” An hour to an hour and fifteen minutes and it was on to the next service or next week. In other venues we’ve left feeling like we were being hyped, manipulated, almost as if they didn’t need a “suddenly,” they could create a move of God on their own. Sing a song fast enough, repeat the chorus a dozen times, have a few timely key changes, and boom! A move of God. We left those services feeling like this was their Sunday routine. A lot of show, but not much substance nor dynamic growth happening in their lives. Different in style, but still no room for an authentic “suddenly.” In nearly every venue we’ve felt sincerity, God’s love, and a desire by each church for people to see Jesus and experience His presence. After some of our recent experiences, I returned to Acts to see when “suddenlys” happened. What I’ve found is that “suddenlys” happened in times of where prayer was the focus, “suddenlys” happened without scripts and programs. “Suddenlys” came without hype or manipulation and happened when people took time to seek God, were praying for His will, and were more concerned about God approval than what a crowd might think. As we’ve visited different church communities, we’ve heard this hunger communicated by others, “we just want to find a place where God’s presence can be experienced freely yet authentically.” Today, more than ever I’m sensing we need less polished, programmed, and planned church. We need less hyped-up, manipulated, and self-created services, and more desperate desire for a “suddenly.” We need more of what John 3:8 says, “like the wind blows. . . so does the Spirit.” Structure is invaluable, being relevant is critical, and doing things decently and in order should be properly balanced, but at the end of the day we need more divine intervention and more indescribable but undeniable. I pray that pastors, churches and more importantly, in each of our personal lives, we begin to desire more “suddenly there came a sound from heaven.”
What is Important
Labor Day. The unofficial end of summer and the beginning of fall. It’s when we move from t-shirts to sweaters. We put away the sandals and bring out the boots. We’re already starting to feel a few of those crisp fall nights. Soon mums and pumpkins will be on the front porch, and we’ll be raking leaves. At Life, fall is when we turn our focus to our families, we call September, “The Month of the Family.” The idea comes from the Old Testament when Israel would gather as a nation. These gatherings were so important that they did them three times a year. These get-togethers focused on the families of Israel recommitting their lives and families to God, remembering God’s goodness, and celebrating life with good food and friends. Important values then, important values still today. So, what should we focus on during the Month of the Family? The same things that Israel did. Reconnect to God. Make sure you, your spouse and children are committed to God first, that we remember that He is our priority and source of our successes. Second, reconnect to each other. This means being intentional, it is saying my family is my priority. Spend time, talking listening and laughing. Ride bikes, take walks, play games. It is all about saying life gets busy, but you are the most significant part of my life. Finally, it’s connecting with your church family. There are co-workers and acquaintances, but then there are those who will be with you in tough times, that’s your church family. This month FSM will be going to Top Golf, we’ll have special men’s and ladies only evenings, and it will culminate with our annual Chili Cook-off, the one event you don’t want to miss. Plan to reconnect to God, your family, and your church. Join us this September as we celebrate family.2
You walk into a store and begin to look around. After perusing the store for a few minutes, you realize everything is slightly used, marginally broken, missing something or has been returned. A button is absent on a shirt. A vase has a miniscule chip. An appliance is in an open box. Almost everything in the store is useable, though some things seem, slightly defective. Some would walk away, only wanting something that is new, while others might think, “I’ll take a chance, I think I can work with this, or I can fix this.” Much of our home is filled with items bought at consignment stores, garage sales and secondhand retailers. Mary and I find pleasure in the search and getting great deals. One day, as I was reflecting on our finds, God gave me a gentle nudge, basically saying, what you do with things is what I do with people. God loves taking broken, hurting, and damaged people and putting them back together. Understand, all humanity is broken, all of us. In fact, if you get to know most of the Life Community, you will find it is filled with people who are or have been broken. Some of us are still missing some pieces in our lives and others God is still working on. If you are looking for a perfect friendship, perfect pastor or perfect church community, Life is probably not the place for you. But, if you are slightly broken, are willing to take a chance on God and some other damaged people, you will find some amazing treasures at Life. Get around some of us and you will find a few knobs or buttons missing, and you might find a few chips in our personalities or attitudes, but we are all becoming God’s treasures. He’s taken a chance on us. We’ve been blood bought and we’re now a work in progress. Life, a place to find or become a gently used treasure.
The Gift of Belief
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.