Thanksgiving. For some, it’s become, not a day about giving thanks, but the day that earmarks the beginning of Christmas shopping. Instead of taking the time to reflect on the incredible blessings and favor we have as Americans, it has become a frenzied day of greed and self-centeredness. While I recognize that our country nor our lives are perfect, we must admit that we are abundantly blessed. For most who are reading this article, we have a warm home, food in our cabinets and a car to drive. Even for those who have little or nothing, there are caring charities who attempt to provide for the basic needs; clothing, food and shelter. While we may not realize or appreciate it, even those who we would call poor are often better off than many in this world. That is why it grieves me when I see such a lack of thankfulness. In one of the most blessed countries of all times, I have been amazed and saddened by the anger, rioting and general discontent in people we’ve seen this year. When will we stop to count our blessings? When will we be satisfied with the abundance that we have? At what point will there be a pause, a reflection and a genuine heart of appreciation and spirit of gratitude? How about this week? It doesn’t have to be an “around the table” moment or a long prayer, but there should be a true spirit of thankfulness in our Thanksgiving. God is good and God has been good to us. Give thanks!
I recently read of a feud between to neighbors in California. One got upset with the other over a landscaping issue and has proceeded to continually play the Gilligan’s Island theme song over outdoor speakers just below the acceptable decibel level of the city ordinances. There is now a lawsuit. The power of persistence is amazing. In Joshua 6, God tells the people to walk around the city one time each day, with the priest continually blowing trumpets. The battle plan makes little sense, but Israel’s consistent obedience brought an indescribable victory. Jesus speaks of a widow in Luke 18 who consistently asked a judge to grant her protection, she was so persistent that the judge says, “I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” Want to know something else, God is consistent in His love for us. In Luke 15 we read the story of the prodigal son. While the son walked away from the father, the father never gave up on his son. Day after day he was watching, hoping and believing his son would return. In Luke 15:20, it says, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” We have a God who consistently looks for ways to love us and show mercy and grace toward us. It’s important that we realize that when we are not consistent, when what we say and what we do at church does not match up in our daily life, the gospel and the power of the Spirit loses credibility. Live a consistent Godly life. Live it before your spouse, your children and the world you are called to reach.
Over the past few weeks we’ve watched as the leaves have fell from the trees in our backyard. We knew it was coming, the weather was getting cooler and the leaves had begun to change colors. We’ve watched as brilliant yellow, orange and red leaves, one by one, dropped to the ground. Some fell without any coercion; others fell when there was a gentle breeze. Some held on until strong winds came. Yesterday, with the heavy rain, yet another bunch fell. Yet today, as we look out the window, still many leaves remain. When will they fall? I’m not sure, it may be when another gentle breeze blows or it may take another strong wind or rainstorm. What I do know, at some point in the near future, I will look out to barren trees. But one thing I know, that without exception, nearly every year, there will be a few leaves that stay attached through the winter. What makes the difference? I’m not really sure, but my guess is they were just a tad bit more attached to the life source. Somehow, they tapped into the root system, held a little more water, gained a little more strength and they held strong. A good idea. 1 Timothy 1:4 says “in the later times some will depart from the faith.” We are living in different times; times like never before. Church doors closed, online church became the norm and accountability became optional. Now we’re beginning to see the effect. Some are drifting away, enticed by convenience and pleasure. My admonition; remain faithful to righteousness and godliness, make God’s house a priority and no matter what, stay connected to Jesus, your Life source.
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.
It’s 5 a.m. You have your coffee, your destination in mind and might be getting your mind revved up for the day. You don’t expect too much action or mind-blowing moments in your neighborhood. Recently, as I was driving out of ours, my attention was caught by a small light ahead of me to my left. It wasn’t a big light, probably the size of a flashlight. It was about two feet off the ground, swaying gently. What I saw next left me speechless. It was an elderly woman, probably in her late 60’s. She has a LED headband lamp strapped to her head and was on the ground trimming and edging her sidewalk with lawn clippers. It was evident she had been there for a while; she was halfway down the sidewalk. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. So many questions, so few answers. What time did you get up? Why do you trim a sidewalk at 5 a.m.? Did you have coffee first? Who gave you the idea to use an LED headlamp to trim grass? Who still uses lawn clippers? I can’t drive past her house now without reliving the moment. I’m sure there was a reason. Maybe she works an odd shift. Maybe she doesn’t like the heat. Maybe she wants to avoid people. The possibilities are endless. What came to my mind was Psalm 119:105, “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Whether we realize it or not, the times we live in are dark and it can be hard to think and see clearly. What we need is what she had; a light to help her navigate the moment. I don’t know why she was cutting grass at 5 a.m. and I don’t really want to understand, but I do know there are many difficult dynamics happening in our world right now. So many opinions. How do we navigate? We need the Light. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Looking for direction? Searching for answers? Trying to traverse the issues of the day. Get the Light of the World involved in your light. He brings clarity in the darkest of situations.
Pentecost. It is not a religion. It is an experience. It was not birthed in the book of Acts; it was birthed in the Exodus, as the Children of Israel were headed to the Promise Land. It was a feast. It was to be celebrated 50 days after Passover. It was called, “The Feast of Harvest or Weeks” and “The Day of First Fruits.” It was a time of celebration and thanksgiving for the grain harvest, for God’s provision. It was a celebration that had been commemorated for nearly 1500 years by the time we get to the book of Acts. It was on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, that God orchestrated and arranged, the outpouring of His promise, His Spirit. He had told the disciples to go and wait in Jerusalem for the promise; the promise of His Spirit and His power. It would be a life changing experience. Pentecost would have been a time when people from all over the known world would have come to Jerusalem to celebrate. The timing of the outpouring created a spiritual pandemic, people took back the incredible news of the outpouring; the experience, the fire, the wind and the foreign languages being spoke, to all regions of the world. The Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts is the day that God went from being, “God with us,” to “God in us.” Pentecost. It is not a one-time experience, it’s not just speaking in an unknown language, a religion, or a good band with a song that creates emotion. Pentecost isn’t something you have to do or get; it is something you want to experience. Pentecost is the gift of God’s Spirit in you, it’s the power of God in you and it’s the resurrection of Jesus in you. Pentecost is the greatest experience you can experience in this life. Pentecost wasn’t just for the disciples 2000 years ago, it wasn’t something that just happen once to some disciples, but it was something that happened and has happened over and over since that first experience. Pentecost. Don’t settle for anything less than what the original church experience. Seek God and ask for your gift. Experience Pentecost for yourself.
I stared in astonishment. Three branches cut from a tree; no longer attached to their life source. Two branches were in flowerpots, the third, nailed to the other two to form an arch. No big deal, except for one thing, they were still producing blooms. No longer getting any nutrients or water, they were totally detached from their life source, yet they bloomed. As I reflected on the branches my mind drifted to the possibility that Christians may be doing the same thing in the midst of COVID-19. We can put off the appearance of being alive, but in reality, be disconnected from the life source. Know this, Jesus is the source of life for you and your family. Want proof? Lazarus is laying in a tomb and Jesus is trying to build hope in Mary. At one-point Jesus looks at Mary and says, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” Struggling to believe, Jesus takes Mary and her friends to the tomb where Lazarus lays, and with three words, “Lazarus, come forth,” demonstrates that He is the source of Life. I’m afraid that in this time of pandemic many have drifted away from the source of Life. We look alive, can say the right things but we’ve detached ourselves from God. Bibles lay dormant with dust, prayerlessness has become the daily norm and the atmosphere of our homes are filled with more of this world’s movies, music and media than anything spiritual. Though we’re without excuse, we skip out on Midweek Services and catch just enough of the Sunday service to say we watched if anyone asked. Carnality has replaced Christianity. Is there hope? Yes! Unlike the trees that will eventually drop their blooms and dry out, we can confess that we’re weak and have walked away and God will reattach us. Romans 11:23 says when someone turns back to God, that “God is able to graft them in again.” Isn’t that what happened to the prodigal son? He had got detached from his father, lost all he had and nearly died, but in his lowest moment realized, my dad will take me back. Are you away from God? Have you not only isolated from society but from God? You may think you alive, but it’s just a matter of time until you will feel the effects of being detached. I encourage you, seek God, return to righteousness and let God bring you back to life.
David is called, “the man after God’s own heart.” An amazing proclamation considering his life was anything but perfect. He was a man who failed and a man who seemed to live on an emotional yo-yo. He was a man who committed adultery and murdered her husband to cover up his lust. So, what is it that causes David to be called the man after God’s own heart? There are many opinions, and I’m not here to debate all the possibilities, but for me, it was that David’s heart was tender toward God. David is the only man in scripture that is described as having a heart that was smote; troubled or bothered by his sin. We get a glimpse of David’s heart when he is in hiding from Saul. He has been chased. He is weary, tired and dirty. His reputation and life seem to have been destroyed. He is living in hiding. He lives on the run and is constantly fearing for his life. It’s during this season we get a photograph of David’s heart. Saul comes into a cave where David and his men are hiding. David has a moment of opportunity to dispose of Saul. David’s men watch as he ever so slowly creeps up towards Saul, but instead of cutting his neck, he cuts the corner off of Saul’s robe. The men are left in shock and awe. When he returns to his men, I imagine they are setting in stunned silence. Finally, the questions come at David like a barrage of bullets. Why didn’t you take him out? What were you thinking? You had the perfect opportunity? His character and his answer leave his men more stunned than his actions. Tears begin to roll down his face as he says, I couldn’t touch him, he is God’s anointed. Then they watch as he goes out to the edge of the cave and calls out to Saul. He’s holding the piece of cloth he had cut; he bows to the ground and weeps as he says to Saul, “I could have killed you, but God said no.” Simply touching God’s chosen, smote, or better, troubled, bothered, broke and pained David’s heart. To have a heart like that is what every Christian should pray. May I ask? What smites your heart? What troubles you? What causes us to set down and cry? What causes us to weep bitterly? God, give us hearts that are tender. God, give us hearts that confess and weep when we’ve done wrong. God, give us hearts that are bothered by what bothers you. God, let our hearts be bothered when we settle for less than what you have us for us.
I believe she bragged. Why? Because that is what mom’s do. She had been there from the beginning. She cradled Him when He was born. She was there when He took His first steps and said His first words. She had agonized when He got separated from the caravan at the age of twelve. And if I know anything, I know there is no way anyone rested in the camp until she found her son. She was there when He turned water into wine, his first public miracle; in fact, she was the reason He had to show His power. She knew who He was and what He could do, Mary, like all moms, always know what their kids are capable of. Though she had raised Him, she had to marvel at His teaching, and was likely overwhelmed by His miracles. She was not God; she was a mom from Nazareth. When they cheered and followed Him, she was proud. When they jeered and accused Him, she was hurt. But nothing could have prepared her for that fateful day we call, “Good Friday.” For Mary, that Friday was anything but good, it was horrible. People were cruel, and His death was more than she could bare. But today, it’s 28 days after Easter and she is bragging. Not a day would pass that she didn’t share the news, have you heard about my son? The one they crucified. He came back to life! He’s alive. I’ve touched Him, talked with Him and ate meals with Him. No one can brag like a mom. No one has a heart like a woman who takes on the role of mom. Women who take on the role of mom are the greatest investors in the future, of the next generation. They are the ones who teach faith, build character and give hope. They can discipline, encourage and inspire all at the same time. And while that it is impressive in itself, they do it with tenderness and with a smile. To every woman who has accepted the role of mom, who makes the sacrifices, and loves unconditionally, thank you. You are the hope for every tomorrow, the creator of dreams and the catalyst for the future. Many positions and roles may be created for women, but none will ever be as important, valuable and powerful as being a mom. Today we celebrate, honor and give praise to one of God’s greatest gifts. Moms!
Three blue eggs. Mary and I have been observing them almost daily since the middle of March. Being in “stay at home mode” has allowed us to keep tabs on the process, and it is a process. Momma robin is persistent, faithful and determined. The progression is really quite amazing. At some point her body told her she is going to produce eggs. Immediately she went into search mode and found the right tree. One where she and her eggs would feel safe from predators. One that would support her nest for the duration. It would have to stand against the elements. Finally, it had to be durable, something that could stand the test of time and allow her to be undisturbed. It just so happened that she chose a tree that was right outside our family room window. Once she found her tree, the building process began. Twig by twig, grass and mud were brought to the tree. Finally, after about a week, the nest was ready. Then, one morning, they were there, three bright blue eggs. Since that day she has rarely left the nest. She has been there when it’s cold, when there were storms and high winds and even when the day was sunny, and the weather was perfect. She stayed, setting on her nest. Occasionally we will get too close, and she takes flight. From a nearby tree she chirps loudly, letting us know she’s watching. Once it is safe, she returns and sets. How long will it last? We really don’t know; she is there for the duration. Seeing this process over the past two months has been fascinating and also has brought a challenge. It begs the question. What are we committed to? What are we building that would cause us to be as persistent, faithful and determined? Shouldn’t our homes be much like the robins? Are we being careful about what we build into our lives? Shouldn’t our homes be safe places that are protected from the elements of this world? While we can’t control everything that goes on around us, we should be building safe places for our families. Finally, do we have determination? Determination to do whatever it takes to make sure we protect what God has given us. He has given us salvation, His grace and mercy, His Spirit, and sometimes I’m afraid we don’t value it. Determination says, “nothing shall separate me from the love of God.” It says, “we will never leave Him or forsake Him.” Determination is passion that is so passionate that it will causes us to be like Jesus disciples. Once cowards, they became so committed, that they died as martyrs. It is like Paul said, “I must know Him.” Back to our bird, when does it all end? She really doesn’t know, but she is committed to the process and one day she will get her reward. Three beautiful robins. What is true of momma robin is true for us. We don’t know when God will return, but we do know this, “one day we will be like Him.” Live life with persistence, passion and determination. One day it will be worth it all.
Feeling alone? You’re not alone. One of the most difficult parts of the COVID-19 pandemic is that so many are dealing with the feeling of loneliness. There are so many segments of society who are experiencing the emptiness of connection. We have senior citizens who are being extra careful to avoid social interactions. Widows and widowers are feeling more abandoned than ever. Singles and those who have divorced are dealing with a newfound isolation. While loneliness is difficult, may I suggest it might be where God wants us to be. It’s in alone times when we often hear God’s voice and see His greatness. It’s Abraham walking up a hill with his son, alone with his thoughts and what God has asked him to do. But it’s in that alone time that he sees God step up. Laying Isaac on the altar, raising the knife to sacrifice his son, God steps in, grabs the arm of Abraham and the rest of the story is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It’s Daniel, standing up for God, and being rewarded by getting to stand between two guards, and thrust into a lion’s den. The door shuts behind him and he now stands alone in fear, uncertainty and a den full of lions. What he didn’t see was that God had stepped into the den of lions with him. As Daniel sleeps, so do the lions. God is glorified and Daniel is never the same. Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego are thrust into a fiery furnace, certain that their lives are over, they are unaware that God had stepped in too. Their foe sees “a fourth man in the fire, calls them out and they experience the miraculous transformation of a heathen nation that will say, “the Lord, He is God.” Elijah, overwhelmed by the discouraging events of the day says, “I alone am left, and they (my adversaries) seek my life,” but what he didn’t understand was this was not the end of his life, but the beginning of a whole new dimension. God stepped in and overwhelming fear is met by an overwhelming God. I want to challenge you today, don’t be dazed by the feeling of loneliness. It may be that God has brought you to a place called alone so that you can see Him in His greatness and your life in a who new dimension. Alone is where God works best. Alone is when you done your best, you’re at the end of your rope and hope seems lost, but that’s often when God steps up and steps in. When you feel alone, know this, you are alone with God.
Just over a week ago we would have been watching “One Shining Moment,” the culmination of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. It’s a video collage of the exhilarating winning moments and crushing defeats during the tournament. One moment you can be the hero and the next day have your face in a towel, crying that it all over. Do you ever wonder if you will ever have a defining moment or if you’ve missed your “one shining moment?” What about your defining moment in Christ?
This week I was reflecting on the ebbs and flows of Simon Peter’s life. His first encounter with Jesus was on a seashore where he is fishing, and Jesus invites him to become a fisher of men. We would definitely call that a defining moment, from a fisherman to a follower of Jesus. Another shining moment is when Jesus ask, “who does men say that I am?” Simon Peter says, “you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus commends Simon Peter and give him the keys to the kingdom. We would imagine that Simon Peter lived on that moment for a while. In another moment, not nearly as gratifying, Jesus calls Simon Peter, “Satan” and tells him to get behind him. Had Simon Peter allowed that moment to define him, it could have crushed him and caused him to walk away. If that moment doesn’t crush him, how about the three times he denies Jesus as he is being crucified? He curses, denies and runs. A defining moment none of us would want to remember. Yet Simon Peter survives and stands in what many would call his highest moment, preaching the message of repentance on the Day of Pentecost. We would likely call that, his “One Shining Moment.” But there was more to come. Simon Peter has a bias, he is only preaching the Gospel to Jews, but in a moment on a roof top and an invitation to Cornelius’ house, he opens to Gospel to the world. His shadow will heal people, he will write two personal books of the Bible and help Mark pen his book. While he likely did not realize it, those writings would impact millions of people. Finally, maybe his defining moment was hanging upside down on a cross, counting himself unworthy to die in the same fashion as his Savior. So many moments, so many things that could be his defining moment. But may I suggest this. That his defining moment was when he said yes to Jesus. That’s when his life, his world and his destiny changed.
Your defining moment? It will not be when you do something spectacular or amazing. It won’t be a failure or mistake that might seem insurmountable. Your defining moment? The moment you say yes to Jesus. That’s when everything in your life, whether you understand it or not, begins to work for your good. Your “yes” to Jesus is the beginning of the best days of the rest of your life.
Empty. It’s not a word we necessarily like. Running late, we hop in the car, look at the gas gauge and it’s on empty. You get a bowl out of the cabinet, get the milk out and go to grab your favorite box of cereal, only to find someone has left a nearly empty box in the cabinet. Ever been in a relationship that felt empty? It seems no matter how much you pour into the relationship, somehow it still feels empty. I must admit that there are times in my own life I feel like I’m running on empty. Empty, it means containing nothing, vacant or unoccupied, and while the word often leaves us frustrated, there is one instance where we are thankful for empty. Easter, the one moment we celebrate empty. A broken and empty hearted Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James are taking spices to anoint Jesus’ body and we they get there, they are met with the unfathomable, the stone is rolled away and a tomb that is empty. Met by an angel they hear the words we will forever celebrate, “He is not here, He has risen.” It’s the one instance when empty means full. An empty tomb means a resurrected savior. An empty tomb means that death, hell and the grave has been defeated. An empty tomb means the blood of Jesus has power over the power of sin. An empty tomb means we have access to God; to His grace, mercy and love. An empty tomb means our lives can be full of His Spirit, joy unspeakable and unlimited possibilities. An empty tomb means we can look forward to an eternal life. My life is full because of an empty tomb. Easter. An empty tomb. The one moment when empty means full!
If I were with Jesus and were to have been writing a journal, my entry today would have gone something like this. Today was an amazing day. We celebrated with Jesus as He made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. I feel like this is the beginning of something big. Only kings are celebrated like we celebrated today. The people lined the streets, coats and palm branches were laid in front of Him and more palm branches waved over us as we entered Jerusalem. The crowd sounded like a roaring river saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” I can’t wait to see what this week holds. Little did they know, but God did. As He rode in on the colt that day, He knew He was just five days away from a kangaroo court, a scourging and a wooden cross. They never saw it coming on the day of that joyous Triumphal Entry. Five days later exuberant disciples are filled with horror, overwhelmed, dismayed and fearful as events that were beyond their imagination are taking place. Emmanuel, God with us, is hanging and dying, the creator being destroyed by His creation. That day, they didn’t think life could ever get any worse, or that there would ever be hope again. Life had come crashing down, dreams were dashed, and hearts broken. It was good while it lasted, but this was the end, except God knew, this was not the ending but the beginning. Just as He knew that the cross was coming on the day of the Triumphal Entry, He knew the Resurrection was coming in three days. I say this in light of what we are living through today. While we have been caught off guard, God hasn’t. He knew that this storm was coming, that COVID-19 would change our lives, but He’s not overwhelmed. Not only did He know when it was coming, He knows when it will end. He sends the disciples into the night knowing the storm would come, but shows up just in time, calms the storm and gives greater revelation to His disciples of His power. Daniel 2:21 says, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs (seasons).” In other words, God’s got this. Our current battle with COVID-19 reminds me so much of what it must have felt like at that first Easter. There was so much ebb and flow, so much fear and uncertainty, but as then, so now, God is always in control. He has always been, and He will always be. Trust Him when it doesn’t make sense.
Imagine a pristine place. A place where there is no sickness, pain, hurt or sorrow. Days are filled with peace and tranquility; there is one objective, enjoy God’s creation. Travel and see mountains, oceans and the most scenic views. No work, struggle or guilt. This is what God created for us, but in one moment it is all torn away. One act of disobedience, eating from the tree in the middle of the garden, spins the world into a place beyond repair. Genesis 6 says that man’s thoughts were on evil continually, that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence. Jesus says in Luke 17 that in the times of Noah that people were consumed with eating and drinking, partying, without any fear of judgement. In ten generations the earth goes from purity to putrid. God finds one righteous man, Noah, cleanses the earth, and starts over, but again, in 10 generations the world is filled with depravity. In Genesis 19 we find Abraham as he is bargaining with God for the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. He initially asks God to spare the city if he can find 50 righteous people, in the end, he must negotiate down to finding 10 righteous people. Jude 1 says that the people in Sodom and Gomorrah lived for fornication, sexual immorality and unnatural desires. Jesus said in Luke 17 that the city was filled with eating and drunkenness. The point to notice in these accounts is this, although sin starts small, like a virus, it explodes exponentially. In light of what we’re are living through right now and experiencing in society, I encourage you to take account of your life. Paul says in Galatians 5, “that a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Are you trending toward sin or things that might bind or control you? How will they impact your children? Just as we must practice social distancing, may I suggest that we must live lives where we distance ourselves from the negative influences and sin of this world. We can’t live for the minimum of God and the maximum of this world, we must do the opposite, seek God first, make pleasing Him our highest priority. When we do, we will find something else that explodes exponentially; happiness, joy and peace.
If you ever get a chance to go into downtown Noblesville, make sure that one of your stops is Alexander’s Ice Cream Shop. Nestled between boutiques and all kinds of knickknack shops, you’ll find 36 different flavors of ice creams. I can’t tell you exactly when we made our first visit, but once we did, we never stopped. Over the years the Hudson family spent hours riding bikes and often our journey would take us into Noblesville. We traveled along the White River, through Forest Park, but we all knew our objective was Alexander’s Ice Cream on the square. It has an old-fashioned soda shop feel with nearly every flavor you can imagine; Super Friends, Peanut Butter Cup, Turtle Trails, Rocky Road, Wild Black Cherry, Elephant Ear and Southern Butter Pecan. Risa always seemed to get Super Friends, Gentry’s favorite was Cookie Dough and Mary always seemed to try something different, though Pralines and Cream seemed to be one of her favorites. I often leaned toward Peanut Butter Cup. You may have noticed that I didn’t mention vanilla, not because they didn’t serve it, but because in all the years we’ve gone I don’t know if any of us ever ask for it, nor do I recall anyone else getting vanilla. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that there are so many other bold and crazy flavors. Vanilla is just that, vanilla, and unless you dress it up with some sprinkles, candy, cookies or fruit, it’s just, well, boring. Who would want boring with so many choices?
As we are dealing with a dynamic shift in life, schools being shut down, working from home and our families being shut in, let me encourage you not to let life become vanilla. While life has slowed, we’re not quarantined from being creative. Don’t allow your life to become vanilla and boring. Just like vanilla ice cream, we have a choice to dress our day up and do something different. Add a sprinkle of surprise or a topping of joy to your family’s day. Do something different, be creative. Vanilla doesn’t have to be the flavor of the day. Have an exercise day, a craft day. Paint a room. Start a puzzle. Create a photo scrapbook. Cook together as a family. Likewise, I encourage you, don’t do vanilla Christianity. Do an online bible study, start you’re own online prayer group or create a prayer walk. Have a day where you ask God for nothing, a day you pray a blessing over everyone you know and maybe a day where you just give thanks; do anything but be vanilla in prayer. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In other words, make today a great day! Wake up tomorrow and tell God you want to skip the vanilla, order up a Super Friends or Elephant Ear or Turtle Trails kind of day.
This is not the first time a people or nation has stood at a place of uncertainty. The Children of Israel stood at a Red Sea in fear, enemies behind them and water in front of them, but God was with them and brought them through. Elijah’s servant was overwhelmed when he stepped out of his house to see hills filled with enemies, but the man of God calmed his fears by praying that God would give his servant a new vision. With a new perspective Elijah’s servant sees differently, a host of angels surround him, and though he doesn’t know how, he knows that God is with them. We must hold on to three important principles when we walk through times that feel uncertain. First, know that the God who has brought us to this point can bring us through times of crisis. Second, have a God view. Like Elijah’s servant, we can become enamored with what appears to be. News programs, social media and pandemonium creates very overwhelming pictures, but those with a God faith understands there is another outlook, the God view. Finally, how we view difficult moments is critically important. Moses sends twelve spies to inspect the Promised Land, upon their return, two reports surface. 10 spies, the majority, only saw impossibilities and brought fear. Two spies saw with right perspective and spoke possibility. Seeing correctly is critical. As we navigate this current crisis, choose to have faith, trust God and speak hope. Live with this mindset; that when uncertainty comes, that you will turn to the one thing that is certain, the power and possibility of God.
My early days with music was a transistor radio on warm summer days and a record player at night. A component stereo with a hifi-record player was a sure sign that you had arrived, as long as your vinyl didn’t have a scratch. Add a double cassette recorder to a 125-watt stereo amp and you could rock a room. There’s nothing like Andre Crouch at 100-watts in a 10×10 bedroom. I thought I had arrived when I hopped on my bike, took off with headphones in my ears and a Sony Walkman attached to my hip jamming to Michael W. Smith. You don’t know how much you’ve been cheated in life if you haven’t used a pencil to straighten out a cassette tape or spent a few hours digging tape out of an 8-track player. Thankfully, CD’s brought a new dimension to music, digital. Within a few years, digital went from CD’s to iPods, Spotify and a plethora of ways to get music. Whether it’s been radios, record players, stereos, boom boxes, Walkman’s, 8-track players, CD players, iPods or Spotify; the purpose has always been the same, music. While the methods of delivery have changed, music is an important part of our lives. Why? Music stirs emotions and brings hope to the heart. Music brings a frenzy to a gym, romance to a room and passion to prayer. Paul said, “speak to yourself in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” and David said, ”sing a new song to the Lord.” It doesn’t matter what generation or device; music brings us into God’s presence. Get your favorite device, get your spiritual songs or playlist and get into God’s presence and get encouraged!
Life altering prayers. They’re what Biblical characters prayed that marked them as heroes of the faith. Moses asked God to show him His glory. David asked God to search and cleanse him. Isaiah saw God high and lifted up and said, “send me.” Paul said, “I die daily.” These men prayed bold and life changing prayers. We recently finished a powerful series called, “Mess Me Up Prayers.” The first prayer was simply, God search me. Like a virus protection program running in the background of your computer, when we pray God search me, we’re asking God to keep us free of weights and sins that cause us to be sluggish spiritually. The second prayer was break me. Break me of my carnal ways, help me live humbly before you God. It is John’s prayer prayed in us daily, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Praying this prayer frees us of the cumbersome struggles we have and frees us to live in the freedom of God’s grace and mercy. Finally, after praying search me and break me, we can pray, “God spend me, send me, use me. This prayer is an indication we’ve moved from selfish to selfless. No longer consumed with our agendas and ideas, we’ve moved to where we see success in what we accomplish for God. It’s we can pray this prayer we find peace, happiness and joy. Looking to move to a new level in God? I challenge you to pray these life altering prayers. It will take courage, but if we are willing it will take us to new dimensions in our walk with God. Start today. Pray God search me, God break me, God spend me.
The average American consumes 150 lbs. of sugar each year. Yes. 150 pounds! On average, 80% of the foods we eat contains sugar. Even when we order many of the vegetables in restaurants, they have added sugar, for flavoring. There are very few recipes that don’t involve adding at least a teaspoon of sugar. When we see numbers on packages or menus, they seem small and insignificant, but are you aware that “just 4 grams of sugar” is equal to a teaspoon. So, when we see something that says only 10 grams of sugar, we think, that’s not very much and proceed to eat whatever it is, not realizing what we just ate was equal to 2½ teaspoons of sugar. A little here and a little there and at the end of the year, boom! 150 lbs. My study on sugar got me thinking, what if the average Christian would just add “just a little bit of Jesus” to everything we do? Add a little bit of Jesus, say a few minutes of prayer or some Bible verses, to your day before your kids go off to school and you go off to work. What if we added just a little bit of Jesus, say like, God let me be used for you today, spend me on someone, before we headed off to Target, the mall or out to eat. What if we became intentional about adding a little bit of Jesus to everything we do? What difference could it make. If 4 grams of sugar equals 150 lbs. in a year. What would happen in our lives, families and homes? Let’s make a commitment to adding “just add a little bit of Jesus” to everything we do.
Renovation. It’s the craze. Find a home, imagine and create. Draw plans and count cost. Take out walls and create open concept. Rearrange the kitchen; combine it with the dining room. Create a master suite with a bath that is elegant. Finally, spruce up the outside and give it an outdoor entertaining space. And best of all, it all gets done in one hour! Or so it appears. The reality is that it takes a lot more time and there are more problems than anticipated. Structural issues, old wiring and hidden surprises in the walls create delays and add cost. In the end, though there have been struggles, a beautiful home comes together. The first look always seems to involve a family crying and overjoyed as they view their dream home. What is true of the renovation of a home is also true in the renovation of a soul. When God sees broken lives, He also sees potential. Long ago He purchased any life that would welcome Him. He knew that we had structural issues; a tendency to lie, lust and fail. Yet, He said, I can make something amazing. Simon Peter, a salty fisherman is turned into a powerful preacher. Paul, a broken and angry man is transformed into a missionary that will change the world. It doesn’t happen in a minute. For Simon Peter, it took three years with God in flesh. For Paul, it would take an experience with Stephen and years in a desert. You are a project, purchased by God. It is not yet known what we will become, but this we know, we will be like Him. Have faith in God, your project manager. He makes broken beautiful.
The Super Bowl. From the moment the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs won their conference championships, they turned their focus on each other. For the past two weeks, players from both teams have been studying, pouring over video, looking for any tendency, weakness that might give them an advantage over their opposition. It doesn’t matter if it is an interior lineman, punter or quarterback, each person at each position, has been looking for one thing that might give them an advantage. This is the game of their life. It is the fulfillment of a dream that began in a backyard with neighborhood friends. It’s the culmination of living in weight rooms, long bus trips and countless hours of sore muscles and untold pain. They have fought through high school, college and pro try-outs, all for the dream of someday playing in the Super Bowl. Now, if one small weakness can be found, it might make the difference in being a champion. We too are in a battle, it’s for eternal life. Satan, our opponent, scours over our lives, looking for any weakness or temptation he can use to bring us down. Can he find a way to bring discouragement to our heart? Maybe an issue that will bring agitation to our mind. He longs for anything that might give him an advantage over us. To live as Christians, without being aware of this battle, would be foolish. We must live with resolve. Keep building faith by reading God’s Word, strengthen resolve by praying habitually and renew spiritual strength by consistently fasting. Make 2020 the year that you resolve to be a stronger Christian.
Gate Agent. You had one job to do. Get the people on the plane in an orderly manner. It was as simple as A-B-C, and it started out well. A call for people with tickets in Group A 1 – 60. Everyone lined up and began to board. But somehow between A and B, he got confused, distracted, overwhelmed; who knows. As the final passengers in Group A are headed to the gate and those in Group B start to line up, he flipped the switch, literally and mentally. Without calling for Group B, he moves right to Group C and flips the monitors to C. Within moments there’s chaos, confusion and frustration. Group A is still trying to board, Group B is trying to figure out what happened, and Group C is pushing toward the gate, realizing they had just got an opportunity to get a better seat. The frustration turned to tension as those who knew how the process worked, and had secured their preferable position, now were losing their seat. Now it’s chaos. May I suggest this is what sometimes happens to us who are supposed to gate keepers of our homes and families. We lose focus, bend rules, get out of the Book and before we know it our lives, families and homes are in chaos. As simple as it should have been for the Gate Agent to keep A-B-C in order, it should be for us to keep our spiritual priorities in order. Make the Gospel your life’s priority, seeking Him and His will your goal, live in obedience to His Word and make prayer a priority. One simple job. Keep the gate.
Twelve disciples. Three and a half years. They had eaten meals with Him, had fire side chats with Him, went through storms with Him, witnessed His miracles and heard Him teach and preach. With all of Jesus’ qualities and giftings, they could have asked Him to teach them anything; how to do miracles, to preach or to lead. They wanted one thing. Jesus, teach us to pray. Why? I believe they saw what we often fail to see and understand. Jesus’ strength, power and faith came by being in alignment with Heaven’s plan. While He was fully God, He was also fully man. Prayer kept Jesus focused, kept Him on task and allowed Him to be sensitive to the needs that would come His way each day. Prayer kept Jesus’ agenda on the Kingdom. When He went into the wilderness, He prayed. Before He fed the 5000, He prayed. Before meeting the disciples in the storm, He prayed. When Calvary was in His view, He went to the garden and prayed. The disciples took notice and they understood if they were to accomplish anything in the Kingdom, more than anything else, they needed the ability to pray. His teaching worked; it became an engrafted part of the disciple’s spiritual DNA. They were in prayer when there was a “suddenly” in the upper room. They were on their way to pray when the spirit prompted them to pray for a lame man. After jail time and a confrontation with the Sanhedrin, they prayed. The result, the place was shaken, and new boldness came to their lives. 2020 Vision. Let us understand that prayer is our greatest need. Lord, teach us to pray.
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.