The unexpected. It brings a myriad of emotions from screams to tears. Sometimes people faint while others dance. The unexpected, when the impossibility becomes a reality. One year we surprised our kids with a puppy. It was so far off their radar that when they opened the box they literally froze in shock. They were so stunned that they set in silence for what felt like five minutes. We nearly had to shake them back to reality, but when we did, the pandemonium was unbelievable. Dancing, shouting and screaming all ensued as the reality of the moment sunk in. The story of Christmas is about God doing the stunningly unexpected. An angel shows up in a forgotten little burg to a young teenager, calls her highly favored, and announces she will be the mother of Emmanuel, God with us. Unexpected. Simple and unassuming shepherds sitting on a quiet hillside tending sheep when suddenly there is an explosion of light and sound as the skies are filled with angels singing, Hosanna. Unexpected. I wonder how many people in the tiny town of Bethlehem were asking, “who is this teenage couple,” as lowly shepherds show up to honor Him and Magi come with mountains of gifts. Who could have imagined that God in flesh in the form of a baby had come to their town? Unexpected. Christmas and the gifts under the tree. They fill us with imagination, wonder and maybe the unexpected. They are to remind us of what Jesus did and can still do. The unexpected.
Looking down at my meal as I got ready to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner I saw a full plate. As I looked at my plate I reflected on how much it was a representation of my life; full. What makes the plate of my life full is not the things of this world but the presence of God in my life and family. Our lives are full when we have a hunger for God and have a desire to spend time with God. Our lives are blessed when we understand that God’s Word brings such strength and power to our day and that we recognize our time in prayer as the most important time of our day. Our plates are full when we realize that we are fortunate to have an extended family that worships with us, prays for us and goes with us through the difficult seasons of life. Our plate is full when we understand that the most important thing that we can leave for our children is a spiritual legacy. A legacy that is built on the powerful name of Jesus and the absolute necessity of being filled with and living a Spirit led life. Do you have a full plate? Don’t look at your material possessions, but what really matters, your relationship with God. If you have a life that knows about Jesus and His work on Calvary, your plate is full.
A raindrop, pebble, rock or stone; no matter the object or size, it creates a ripple that the diameter, effect and end, no one knows. The impact of our lives, are much like a ripple. We serve God, share the Gospel, give money and tell our story, yet often leave this life not knowing the impact of our existence. Stephen is an example of such a life. The Bible simply says that Stephen was a man full of faith, full of grace and power and full of the Spirit. His life ends tragically with a stoning by wicked men. Those who witnessed his life likely talked about his potential and all that he could have done if God had spared his life. Yet, that day was just the splashing of a stone. The impact of his life had not ended, but just began. That day a young Saul watched his stoning and a ripple started in his heart. A ripple that would takes years to see its effect, but on a road to Damascus, everything changed. Saul becomes Paul, is converted, and the rest is history. Countless messages preached, missionary journeys, many churches established and twelve epistles written. All a ripple effect from a life that seemed to end so senselessly. When we get to Heaven I imagine Stephen will be shocked by the impact of his life. I have a feeling it will be the same for many today who read this story. Live a life that leaves a ripple.
I need new shoe strings. It’s not that I can’t afford them, it’s just that I haven’t taken time to go to the store. So, I deal with frayed shoe strings that get in tangled knots. Instead of taking a few minutes to make the purchase I find myself spending extended time trying to untangle the knots. What a picture of life. There are so many aspects of life that become complicated, not because God doesn’t have the solution but because we refuse to bring our difficulties to Him. Instead of saying, “God I’ve got a mess or God, this is broken,” we sit for hours, weeks and months trying to untangle, get the “knots” out, by our self. Jesus said, “come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden or overwhelmed and I will give you rest,” in essence just give it to me. How many times do we find ourselves wanting to talk it out with a friend or even worse, trying to fix it our self. Our lives will have areas that get frayed and there will be complications. Just like the solution to my shoe strings is to go to the store and buy a new pair of strings, the solution for our tangled and knotted messes is Jesus. Have complicated situations in your life that’s bringing stress? It’s time to simplify, take them to Jesus. He specializes in taking care of knots and tangled situations.
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.
When it comes to praying and understanding how God answers prayers there are two principles that we must keep in focus. Faith and endurance. Faith causes us to pray. Faith believes, ask and dreams that anything is possible with God. Faith knows God delivered a nation out of bondage in one night, that God parted the Red Sea, saved the Hebrews and destroyed the Egyptian army. Faith knows God shut the mouths of lions and stopped fire from burning three Hebrew men. Faith knows that Jesus healed the sick, opened the blinded eye and deaf ear, gave the lame the ability to walk and fed 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Faith knows God brought a young girl, a young man and Lazarus back from the dead. Faith knows that in our situation that God can heal, deliver, change anything or anyone and answer any prayer we pray. Endurance is the ability to wait. Endurance is the ability to not lose faith, get bitter or angry when the answer doesn’t come in our time or the way we expected. Endurance never doubts or wavers. Endurance stays the course when it hurts, when it gets hard or when we don’t understand. Endurance prays, prays and prays some more. Endurance never gives up. Endurance always believes. Endurance says there is no other option. Ask God to put faith and endurance in your spiritual life and you will go from, “can God, to God can!”
In the prophet Haggai’s day, God had brought His people back from failure and difficult situations. Instead of focusing on what God had done and the possibility, many of the people could only focus on “what was” and on their failures. Haggai’s message was, “the end was going to be greater than the beginning.” To someone today you need to know your best days are in front of you! But it’s a choice. How you view your situation is so important. We have a choice. Do we talk about the past, the problems and the pain? Do we give more power to the failure or the Father? Do we keep grace from covering us, mercy from mending us and forgiveness from freeing us? Do we live in the old house or move to the new? If we move to a new house mindset we see the possibilities in Jesus. In the new house there’s a God view instead of a guilt view. In the new house faith starts speaking, the gifts start working and we start living in the Spirit. In the new house there’s a different countenance on our face, different attitude in our spirit and conversations that springs from our heart. Your end is supposed to be better than your beginning. It’s time for someone to move into a new house.
Back to School Service. It’s the day we take time out as a church community to pray over our students. A prayer cloth is given to each student to remind them that God is surrounding them. We hope they leave today knowing that they can be a person of great influence in their school. Though the challenges are great, the God that is with them is greater. This time that our kids are living in reminds me of Daniel. He was a young man, in a foreign land, that faced amazing adversity yet Daniel 6:3 says, “Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him.” What an amazing statement about this young man. In the midst of a dark world, devoid of God, facing the temptation to blend in, Daniel elected to stand out. He was a leader among leaders. While many around him were talented, gifted and intelligent, Daniel stood out because of His excellent Spirit. Where did it come from? His time spent in devotion with God which created a strong faith in God. To every student, stand out! Stand out by having excellent character. Stand out by going the extra mile. Stand out by having the best spirit. Stand out by living out your faith. Stand out and see where God might take you.
Your heart matters. In fact, God is more concerned about your heart than anything else. While I’m not here to diminish the importance of living Godly and Holy, it is the inside that God looks at and it is the inside that will produce a true Christ like lifestyle. In 2 Chronicles 30, Hezekiah’s heart is to bring His people’s lives and families back to God. The problem is no one is qualified to bring them to repentance and they had missed the Passover. Hezekiah’s hunger is a month late and would have to be performed by an unclean person. God has a dilemma. He has people who have hungry hearts but don’t have it all together. Hezekiah confesses the errors of his people and asks God, “will you hear our prayers, will you heal us?” In one of the more amazing moments in the Bible the scripture said that “the LORD hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people (2 Chron. 30:20).” What a moment of grace! Grace that is still available today. Five husbands and living with a sixth man, not a problem. Caught in the very act of adultery, not a problem. Thief and murderer breathing your last breath, not a problem. Grace showed up at a lonely well, at the screams of judgmental accusers and at the cross of a guilty man. Need grace today? Give Him an honest heart and His grace will show up.
The Dukan Diet. The Atkins Diet. The South Beach Diet. The Keto Diet. Weight Watchers. Jenny Craig. Nuitrisystem. So many diets, so many options all because so many of us have become what we eat. Too much sugar, too much starch, too many carbs, the list could go on and on. Our lives have been consumed by diets and fads all because of the fact that we simply need to be more disciplined and need help. Really it should be pretty easy, stay away from processed foods, sugars and eat a lot of stuff that comes from trees and the ground. What is true of the flesh is also true in the Spirit. Paul says all that is of the world is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life. Jesus said they that hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be fed. He calls Himself the “Bread of Life” and says that “all that come to Him shall never thirst again.” Basically, God says if we want to be spiritually healthy, if we want to have a right heart that it takes staying away from the world, pursuing Him, reading His Word and spending time. Getting worldly, carnal or feeling spiritually drained? Maybe it’s time to go on a diet. Get in His Word, get on your knees and get refilled with His Spirit.
Throughout the Bible we see the eagerness of God to be with His creation. It was God that came down to heaven in the cool of the evening to be with Adam and Eve. It was God that initiated the conversation with Moses about building a Tabernacle in the Wilderness and when it was finished, God that came down in power the moment it was completed. Solomon and his builders put the final touches on Solomon’s Temple and before there is a dedication or a festival, God comes down with such power that the priest could not stand and the pillars of the Temple shook. Over and over we see a simple principle. Build something for God to live in and He will come. The principle remains the same today. Build our lives, have a hunger and thirst for God, and He will come. He longs to dwell in us. We are called “the Temple of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corin. 6:19) which means that He longs to dwell in us. Simply make room, build a place in your life for Him and He will come.
Under Construction. It’s a sign that we hate to see when we’re traveling. Whether we’re headed to work or on a trip we know it means long waits and rude drivers. See the sign on a building and you know there’s temporary lights and walls and plenty of dry wall dust. While we hate to see those “Under Construction” signs, they are a sign of life and progress. It means something is growing, there is expansion going on or improvements being made. While we hate the process, we love the results. Whether a road with smooth pavement, a new shopping environment, or spacious addition, they all bring expectation and excitement. We’re willing to except that in real world life, we’re often less accepting when it comes to the human factor, but the fact is, we are all under construction. In reality, we should all have signs, maybe t-shirts, that say, “pardon our mess, under construction.” God hints at it in Jeremiah 29:11 when He says, “I know the plans I have for you.” Plans, that means a project, that construction is coming! Paul puts it another way in Philippians 1:6, “He who has begun a good work in you shall perform it.” What is Paul saying? You’re not finished yet. You are in process. So, pardon my mess, put on a hard hat and help, stop judging me in the middle of my construction. God is in the middle of making something awesome.
There are two moments in the Bible that scare me. It’s not when Pharaoh is pursuing Moses, David is facing Goliath or the Hebrew Children are being thrown into a fiery furnace. The first moment that grabs my attention is found in 1 Kings 22 when Josiah comes to the throne and looks to restore the love for God in his nation. As the priest are going through the Temple they discover a scroll, the Word of God. What we learn is that for years, likely generations, they had been operating in ritual and tradition. They had simply learned how to go through the motion, operating without Gods Word. The second moment that overwhelms me is Jeremiah 3:16; it is the last time the physical Ark of the Covenant is mentioned. Tradition says that Jeremiah was so concerned about the state of his nation and their lack of passion for God that he took the Ark and hid it in a cave. If true, that means for over 600 years those who ran the temple operated without the presence of God. Operating in ritualistic and judgmental tradition without the presence of God. That scares me. What happened in these two moments can happen in any life or society. We cannot afford to ever learn how to do church, live for God without His Word or His presence. Traditional, ritualistic and performance-based religion is the greatest danger we face. Ask God to give you a hunger to know Him.
Reading the book of John, a phrase caught my attention in the second chapter. It was the story about the wedding at Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle. What caught my attention was the phrase, “Jesus was invited also…” It made me wonder, how many events had taken place where people didn’t invite Jesus. And why hadn’t He been invited? Were people unaware of who He was? Did people feel like He was irrelevant? Maybe He wouldn’t be interested in attending. We don’t know the scenario, the names or relationship but what we do know is someone said, “lets invite Jesus.” What a novel idea. Inviting Jesus. Whether a wedding, a day at the office, into a marriage or any other of life’s events, inviting Jesus is a good idea. Little did the bridegroom know he was going to miscalculate the number of guest and face potential embarrassment. The good news, he had invited Jesus and whether its turning water into wine, healing a blinded eye or forgiving sin, Jesus can take care of the problem. Let’s take the example of this nameless bridegroom and invite Jesus into the everyday events of our life. Who knows when we might need Him and if He’s in the room, anything can happen.
We often look at the failures of well-known people to feel better about ourselves. But if we feel good about the wrongs of others, we don’t truly know ourselves. For example, the Bible doesn’t tell us about the sins of David to weaken our sense of moral alarm, but to put all of us on notice. Though we have accomplished much in Christ, we must always be on guard. Satan is always looking for an opportunity to take us down. When we see the failures of others, it should cause us to be more aware of our own weaknesses and need for the mercy and grace that only comes through Christ. Only when we acknowledge our weakness do we become dependent on the strength of our God. One man said, “the Bible is just like a mirror. It shows me the need of my heart, for in it we see an accurate image, a portrait of me–every part.” As we continue to work on our lives from the inside out, take time to reflect on your life, it’s strengths and weaknesses and then pray that God will help you humble yourself before Him and ask Him to be the strength in your weakness.
We celebrate a few brave families today. We don’t know most of their names. They had a passion for freedom, to worship God freely and to live in liberty. They longed for their children to experience a life that they didn’t have. They sold their homes; kept only their most valuable possessions. They gambled that the risk would be better than the routine. Though they weren’t sure of where they were going or what they would face, something said it would be better than where they were. We need the spirit of those early settlers to invade our culture once again. People who are desperate enough to make changes and take risk to see that the future is different than the present. People who long for a move of God’s Spirit. People who will believe in prayer and are willing to go on a journey until they see an outpouring of God’s Spirit as it was in the book of Acts. A revival like Jeremiah Lanphier brought to New York City in 1857. A spirit moving like the one that happened in Azusa California in the early 1900’s that was so powerful that Time Magazine called it one of the 100 most significant events of the 20thcentury. God, give us a hunger to be free again. As the song says, “Do it Again.”
The purge. It happens in the Hudson home a couple times of year. We go through the entire home and we purge the closets, cabinets and garage. We get rid of stuff that we haven’t worn, stuff we haven’t used and things that have become obsolete or broken. Sometimes it’s hard. There is sentimental attachment. Sometimes we struggle because we remember what we paid for some things instead of what they’re worth. Regardless, each time there is a purge a lot of stuff leaves the house. After the purge there’s a since of clarity. We feel like we’ve streamlined life. There’s a sense that we’ve made it easier to access the things of value and importance.
David had a purge moment. It was the moment he realized he had things in his life that had taken him far from God. When Nathan brings an awareness to David about the junk and clutter in his life David goes to purging. We find it in Psalms 51. Here are some of the purging phrases David uses. Have mercy. Wash me. Purify me. Create in me. Restore to me. Deliver me. After the purge David’s life is different. He is broken and humble. He is a contrite man of worship. His trust is more solid and his faith stronger. Let me encourage you, do a summer purge. Get rid of junk in your heart, spirit and attitude. You will be amazed by how clean and streamlined your life will feel.
Today graduates are closing one door and opening of another. Year after year it has been the daily grind of school. Making friends, complaining about lunch and wondering if you could make it to graduation. Today they stare at a future that is as broad as the horizon. It can be a bit overwhelming. So many options. So much uncertainty. And, if we admit it, a little bit fearful.
To navigate these upcoming challenges and the life that lies ahead there are three priorities that can make the journey easier. First, we must pray and read our Bible daily. Second, we must seek out wisdom from people whom we admire and have successfully walked the journey. Finally, we must take chances. Enjoy the journey. Dream big! Moses likely never dreamed that one day he would lead a nation to freedom. Joseph couldn’t have imagined that he would be second in command over a nation. David, from a hillside, likely never thought, my name will be a name that will be remembered throughout history. What will these graduates stories be? Only God knows. For our graduates it all begins today. One word. One sentence. One paragraph. One chapter at a time until their story is written. Pray that they write well.
The calendar says it’s still spring. The activities and heat say it’s summer. Heat and humidity are here and plants and grass are already gasping for water. What we need is a storm. A gully washer. A downpour. Though we enjoy the fun of the sun, we need the storms. Without storms we don’t get the necessary rain. Storms slow us down. Storms bring clouds to shade us from the sun, breezes that purge the dead limbs, and water to the areas that are in drought. What is true in nature is true in the spiritual. We enjoy the good times, when troubles are few and life is light. But then God sends a storm. Something that rocks our world, slows us down and brings us to our knees. Not always what we want, but often what we need. Without storms we can burn ourselves out. Without storms, areas in our lives that need a purge, would never be cleaned out. Without storms, the refreshing of God’s Spirit that brings our hearts back to life, wouldn’t come. Going through a storm? Be thankful. He see’s something in our lives that is dying. Something in our heart or soul that needs watered. He allows a spiritual rain, disguised as a storm, to come into our lives. He sees we need a pause. A rest. A time of refreshing. He’s the God in the storm and when it’s time He’ll say, “peace be still.”
Pot holes, chug holes, crater. Does it matter what we call them? They seemingly are a part of rites of spring in central Indiana. We try to avoid them. We swerve. We dodge. Invariably though, we hit one. There is no sound like the thud of tire hitting a pothole. Hit one and you’re praying that the hubcap stayed on and your tire isn’t flat. But a pothole does more. It damages the balance of the tire and knocks your car out of alignment. Hit one and in a moment a round tire is an egg making the ride anything but pleasant. Hit enough and when you let go of the wheel, your car can make a left or right turn without you even turning it. So, what do we do? We get to our local tire store or mechanic.
Much like central Indiana and potholes our spiritual lives have seasons, moments in life that can knock us out of balance or alignment. We’re traveling along and suddenly, bang, we hit a hard spot in life. Unexpectedly our life is out of order and our walk with God is going the wrong way. Again, the question, what do we do? Just like you would take your car to get repaired, we get our self to church. We get to an altar. Hit your knees. Cry out to God. Get realigned and refilled with the Spirit. Be confident. God can realign you and get your life in balance.
It appears that spring has finally sprung. The grass is turning green. Flowers are beginning to pop and trees are starting to sprout their leaves. Winter is gone and it’s time to get out in the yard. It’s time to trim some trees, prune some branches, move some plants and plant new flowers. It’s time to freshen things up, clean some things out and get ready for the warmth of a new season. What if we did some spring cleaning in our spiritual life? What if we trimmed back some of the things that have gotten out of control in our lives? Pruned back some negativity and attitudes so new growth could bloom? What if we allowed God to move some things out of our hearts and put some new things in? Imagine what our hearts and souls might look like? David understood he needed a spring time. After a hard season in life, David’s prayer was, “create in me a clean heart, renew in me a right spirit.” What was he saying? Make my life happy, joyful and invigorating again. What a great prayer! Spend some time over the next few weeks in your devotional time thinking about what you want life to look like. Then as you are on your knees and in the Word, ask God to make you new again.
For the first time this Spring the windows were up. It was a little muggy but the smell of fresh air made the tradeoff worth it. Sitting on the couch I noticed a shift. The mugginess in the air is gone and there is a slight chill. A few hours later the temperature had dropped drastically and a cold rain was falling. In just a few hours there had been a dramatic change in the atmosphere. Know this, what happens in the natural can happen in the Spirit. A handful of fishermen are fighting a fierce storm. In a moment they find the cause is a prophet running from God. Jonah says toss me over and things will change, initially they resist, but as the storm rages they have no choice. They toss Jonah over and in an instant the seas calm. Paul and Silas, sitting bruised and beaten in a jail, not exactly knowing how they had got there. It’s dark, they’re in pain and in chains but a song service changes the atmosphere and suddenly they are freed from their prison walls. Jesus hangs on a cross. One moment men are mocking and gambling for His garment, but with the words, “it is finished,” the atmosphere changes. The skies grow gray and the earth quakes and those mocking suddenly are saying, “surely He was the Son of God.” Take hope! Regardless of what your circumstance looks like at this second God can change the atmosphere in a moment.
Obstacles; they are defined as something that obstructs or hinders progress. Every person faces obstacles, situations that obstruct or hinder our progress. Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden became a part of our DNA and as a result every person is entangled and bound by sin. Regardless of how hard we try to live well, we fail. The obstacle called sin is not something we could overcome, it took a Savior, His blood and a cross. Only Jesus can free you from the obstacle of sin. The second obstacle every person faces is the obstacle of circumstances that brings to light or challenge our faith. These obstacles appear to be overwhelming, but if we ask for God’s help He will make a way of escape. This escape involves our participation, God makes a way but we must be willing to walk through in acts of faith. The final obstacle that every person faces is the obstacle of our own mind. We hear God promises but we live in doubt. God has promises, successes and blessings far beyond our imagination, the problem is they require us to believe, to act upon them, to live and walk in faith and in the Spirit. Today, I want you to know if you will trust and believe in God, He will help you overcome every obstacle in your life. Run your life with faith in God!
To Abraham He is the lamb provided. To Moses He is the I AM that I AM. To David He is a very present help in a time of need. To the three Hebrew children He is the fourth man in the fire. To Isaiah He is the Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. To Mary He is Emmanuel, God with us, He is her baby, her son. To the blind, lame mute and diseased ridden He is a healer. To those overwhelmed by their sin and failure He is grace and mercy. To Simon Peter He is the Messiah, the anointed one, God with us. To John He is the Word. To the Pharisees He is a stumbling stone. To the disciples He is Rabbi, the teacher. To Mary, Martha and Lazarus He is a resurrecter. To Thomas, after seeing His nails prints, He is my Lord and my God. To Paul He is the God of all grace. To everyone who believes and comes to Him He is the Savior. To each and every individual, He is what you have needed Him to be and what you need Him to be. He is help, strength, courage, healer, deliverer, redeemer and most importantly Savior. But three days after His death He became something that had never been done before and hasn’t been done since. He conquered death, hell and the grave. To the world, He is Risen!