The book of Matthew describes the moment the angel appears to Joseph and announces that his bride to be, Mary, is pregnant. In Matthew 1:21 the angel gives Joseph the child’s name, saying, “she will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Up to this moment God has had titles and descriptive terms, but never a name. We get a glimmer, a possibility of his name in Isaiah 9:6, when Isaiah says, his name shall be . . . but then describes Him as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Old Testament heroes described Him as El Roi (God who sees), El Shaddai (God Almighty), Jehovah Rophe (God that Heals), Jehovah Jireh (God who Provides) and Jehovah Shalom (God of Peace), but all of these were merely describing a portion of His power. Everything changes the moment the angel gives Joseph His name. James tells us that demons tremble in fear at the name of Jesus, Paul says that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and John tells us to ask anything in the name of Jesus. We are instructed to pray in the name of Jesus, baptize in the name of Jesus and preach the name of Jesus? Why, because when we use the name of Jesus every descriptive word and title ever used is spoken. The name of Jesus is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere at all times), and omniscient (knows all things). When we honor, revere, and speak the name of Jesus we bring anything into the realm of possibility. At the name of Jesus blind see, deaf ears open, lame walk, growths fall off, disease relents and death surrenders. It is by the name and the power of Jesus that we are saved. When you say Jesus, you bring all possibilities to your situation. His name shall be Jesus!
Evidently God likes to celebrate. We don’t get too far into the Bible before God gives Moses his Law. While much attention is put on the negative elements of the Law, there was also some good aspects. That includes the Feast, or celebrations, that God called for each year. The major purpose of these Feast was to remember and give thanks to God for all He had done, and to bring people together. The Passover Feast was to remember and celebrate God bringing people out of bondage, and the Feast of Pentecost was to remind them to celebrate God’s holiness and power. But it’s the third Feast, the Feast of Booths, that I draw your attention to. This celebration took place in the fall and was a time of giving thanks for a good harvest, recognizing God as their provider, and celebrating the goodness of life. People basically camped out, ate good food, listened to music, and partied for seven days. It was open, not only to the people of Israel, but to all people who trusted in God. It was a festival where God wanted people to enjoy His blessings. I love that! Too often we lose focus on the goodness of God and great blessings of life. We allow social media and doomsday broadcasters to control our emotions and thoughts. We forget to look around at all the good, the good people God has put in our lives, and the blessings that we do enjoy. Today, our Chili Cook-Off is our Feast of Booths. It’s a moment to celebrate life, to celebrate the friendships we have, and to make new memories. It’s a time to reminisce, laugh and make new friends. So today, eat more chili than you should, trash talk more than you can live up to and make your circle bigger than normal. Celebrate life with your Life Community and remember, the best is yet to come!
A bomb cyclone, a somewhat new weather expression, which in simple terms means we’re about to get what the old-timers called, “a gully washer”. That’s what we’ve experienced in central Indiana over the past few weeks. It’s made for lush green grass, a late arriving fall, and some brilliant fall colors. There’s been so much rain though, that its overwhelmed creeks and low-lying areas, putting stress on areas prone to flooding. When heavy rains come my mind goes to the words of Simon Peter in Acts 2:17, “that in the last days that God would pour His Spirit out on all flesh.” I take heart in those words, that regardless of social reformations, political agendas and a woke culture, there will be a day that God will pour out a boundless flood of His Spirit. We’ve had glimpses of it in the past with powerful moves in New York City under Jeremiah Lampier in 1860, life impacting experiences in Topeka Kansas in 1900, and Azusa Street in California in what Time Magazine called one of the top 100 events to happen in the 20th Century. My feeling is that those events will pale in comparison to what God will soon bring to this world. In Elijah’s day prophets were being killed, famine was overwhelming the land and there had been no rain for three and a half years. Elijah went to his knees, kept looking for God’s promises and speaking faith. In time, a small cloud appears, and Elijah spoke words that I still hold on to today, “I hear the sound of an abundance of rain.” Be encouraged, as rough as it may look, God is still in control. There is a “spiritual bomb cyclone” coming, a good old gully washer that will clean out the sickness of sin and bring fresh hope to our hearts and families.
The smell of leaves in the fall. The smell of your favorite coffee brewing. The smell of fresh cookies coming out of the oven or your favorite candle burning. We can all relate to our favorite scent. I remember vividly when the kids were small, Gentry and Risa were on my lap as I read them a story. Periodically, as I was reading, Gentry would lift my hand and sniff my skin. After he had done this a few times, I asked him what he was doing. He said, “smelling you mommy, you smell good.” Of course, as a mom, this made me feel good. I related this moment to our fragrance as it relates to our relationship with God. When our lives are lived to please him, our fragrance matters to Him. Throughout the Bible, scent mattered to God. Some brought Him joy while others made Him recoil. What does the fragrance of your life say to Him? What does it say to the world around you? He loves the scent of love, kindness, and peace. He loves when we speak about Him to others and share the good fragrance of His love to others. He, however, hates the fragrance of gossip, lying and bitterness. What does your scent say to the world around you? Let it be a fragrance that smells like Fall, your favorite cookie or perfume. Let it be a fragrance the world will ask, what is it that I smell? And you can say with confidence, it is the fragrance of a God that loves you more than anything, and you can have that fragrance too.
For forty days he had gotten a glimpse of the possibilities. He had seen the lush crops and amazing groves of fruit. He had walked the streets of large cities and touched their massive walls. He has walked through beautiful valleys, and now, he’s standing near picturesque farm on the ridge of a mountain. As a breeze blows through his hair and the sun sets, all he can hear is the words of the Lord, “go and spy out the land I am going to give you.” With that, he along with nine other spies, head back to camp. To his amazement, only he and Joshua have a good report, all the others see obstacles where he had seen opportunity. In a moment, his dreams are dashed by the lack of faith and vision in others. For forty years he will pay the penalty for the doubt of others. Finally, the visionless pass, and a new generation of faith stand ready. A generation with a leader who says, “we can conqueror, we can possess.” Passion and possibility are alive. Joshua leads Israel through a dry Jordan River and into the Promised Land. Victories come quickly, and within a short time, Israel has conquered the land. Within days of the final conquest, Caleb stands in the tent of Joshua asking, “give me my mountain.” Though his dream had been delayed, and journey difficult, Caleb’s passion for his promise had not wavered. He had not forgotten what he had seen standing on that ridge forty years earlier. I’m sure he often wondered if he would ever see it, but now possibility is reality. He holds the deed to his promise. What dream has God given you? Hang on to it. Though it may seem dead, it’s likely just dormant. Never let go of your dreams, don’t doubt God. What you have seen and what you have heard will come to pass.
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
Recently the classic movie, Field of Dreams, produced in 1989 with Kevin Cosner came to life. In the movie, Cosner is at his farm when he hears a voice that says, “if you build it, they will come.” In brief, Cosner builds a diamond and one evening two teams come out of the corn field, play a game, and then disappear back into the field never to be seen again. Thursday night the movie came to life when the Chicago White Sox played the New York Yankees in front of a little over 7,000 fans in Dyersville, Iowa. It was an instant classic. Cosner walked out of the corn field toward second base tossing a baseball, turned and looks back toward center field, and suddenly White Sox and Yankee players start pouring out of the corn field onto the diamond. Talking about goose bumps! Turns out I wasn’t alone, over five and a half million people tuned in to watch the game, over three times as many viewers as for a normal game. It was truly an “if you build it, they will come moment.” The game inspired me as I thought about the purpose of Life. While there are many churches that are doing good works, we at Life are in pursuit of a move of the Spirit like in the book of Acts. A moment, an experience, that can only be defined as, “undeniable, but indescribable.” It will take lots of prayer, sacrifice and time, but it we will pursue it, it will happen, and people will come. Often people approach us with dreams they have had about Life. They’ve seen cars waiting to turn in to the campus, the auditorium filled to capacity and God’s presence moving authentically. Many days a wonder if this could be the day, the moment. What I believe is this, if we build it (pray, sacrifice, commit), the Spirit will fall, and people will come.
His yard has shade trees, fruit trees, cement and gravel patios, beautiful flowers, and lots of space to roam. The grass is lush and green, and the yard has been sprayed so there are no weeds or bugs. There is a fence to keep people and large animals from entering; he is protected. It should be a paradise. But for Gentry’s dog, JJ, it is not. He is constantly escaping through the fence to get on the other side. For some reason he feels as though the grass is green on the other side of the fence. It’s not. In fact, there are more weeds and bugs, and it is definitely not as safe. Next door are several large dogs and a few yards to the west, is a golf course where he could easily be hit by a ball. Travel a few yards east and he’s in the street where he could be hit by a car, or someone could take him. We’ve done all that we can to protect JJ, but regardless of how hard we try, we can’t protect him from himself. Kind of a snapshot of what God has done for us. God has given us everything we need to have a beautiful life. He has set parameters in place for our protection, to keep us safe. Yet, like JJ, many see the grass greener on the other side of the fence. For some reason much of humanity see sin as liberty; that on the other side of God’s Word and warnings, there is something better. Our world advertises happiness, freedom, and liberty without God, but way too often it’s filled with hurt, brokenness and pain. Learn to live in God’s constraints and all the good things He has prepared for you. Regardless of how it may look, living inside the fence is the best life.
The woods at the Hudson home are silent. We have been blessed and highly favored. Why? Because while many here in Indiana are dealing with the singing cicadas, thus far, we have not. The cicada invading Indiana is the 17-year variety, and I guess, because they only show up every 17 years, they’ve chosen to be quite the nuisance. Since our woods have been silent, we’ve taken a few “Fishers field trips,” where it is VERY obvious when you’ve found the little critters. You instantly hear a sound that boarders somewhere between screeching of fingernails on a chalk board and a cat getting its tail stepped on. One other thing we noticed is that their eyesight isn’t too keen. They fly everywhere, and into anything, including your face, car windshield, and of course, any open window or door. To those who are reading this, know the racket and intrusion, will soon be over. By early July the little darlings will be gone for another 17 years. Cicada season brings an important question. What do you do when a “season” hits your life? You endure. Persevere. You hang on to the words of Solomon who said, “to everything there is a beginning and an ending.” To everyone who is going through a “season,” hang on! Gods got you, you will make it through. It may seem like the noise of life is excruciating and the intrusions are more than you can bare, but just keep believing and trusting in God. Stay on your knees and in the Book. He will see you through. Matthew 24:13 says it well, “but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” My solution for surviving your season may seem simple, but like dealing with cicadas, you really don’t have any other choice, save getting some good ear plugs and keeping your windows closed.
“It was on fire when I laid down on it,” that was the man’s response when asked by an investigator about the fire that had ravaged his home. His response to the investigator begs for a follow-up question, why would you lay down in a bed that was on fire? The follow-up question leaves room for the imagination to go wild as for the response you might get back. I was really tired. I didn’t think I’d get burned. It was just a small fire. Whatever the response, there is no good reason for laying down on a bed that is on fire. While we laugh at the story, in reality, many of us do things that don’t make sense. Yards away from the Promised Land, after experiencing miracle after miracle for two months, the children of Israel reject God and meander in the wilderness for 40 years. That is a “it was on fire when I laid down on it” moment. Judas, chosen to spend three- and one-half years with Jesus, God with us, watches as Jesus opens blinded eyes, deaf ears and raises the dead to life and decides to betray him for 30 pieces of silver. Definitely a “it was on fire when I laid down on it” moment. What choices are you making now that the future will make it obvious that they were unwise? Putting almost everything ahead of being faithful to God’s house, thinking it won’t make that much of a difference, that it’s not that dangerous. Investing in our kids’ extra-curricular endeavors while not valuing the importance of knowing God, Biblical doctrine and experiencing His presence. Dabbling in things that take us away from our sensitivity to God and His presence and thinking, I won’t get burned. A simple suggestion today. Don’t lay down in something that is burning.
Remembering and protecting the past is an important aspect of securing the future. If a society doesn’t protect where it’s come from and pass down what they’ve experienced, it can quickly lose its values and its way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the current climate in our country. History and history books are being rewritten, historical landmarks destroyed and cancel culture is taking America down a dangerous and destructive road. America is not the first culture to lose its way. Joshua 4 describes a moment after Israel had just experienced the miraculous. God had parted the Jordan River and Israel had miraculously crossed into the Promised Land. After the crossing, Joshua does something interesting. He instructs the leaders to go back into the riverbed and gather the largest stones for a memorial. The memorial was to serve as a reminder to future generations who wouldn’t remember or didn’t experience God’s miraculous work. Unfortunately, it’s just a generation or two later that a tragic epithet is written of Israel, “there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes.” A once feared and powerful nation became a cesspool of immorality and political correctness, that plunged into despair and misery. What happened? How did their society change so quickly? It wasn’t a powerful adversary or tragic event, it simply happened when a people forgot God, His house and His principles. They became consumed with success, status and social acceptance and in the process forgot to protect and teach about their past. The miraculous, memorial and memories all disappeared like a vapor. Memorial Day is more than the Indy 500 and the unofficial start of summer. It’s a reminder to remember. Remember our foundations and our past. Remember the fight and those who fought. Remember God and our values. It’s remembering to protect the future.
In Acts 19 there is a story that we as Christians should take note of. The dialogue opens with a few men acting as if they know Jesus and have His power, trying to cast out an evil spirit. Hindsight allows us to see the sham that is taking place. Speaking to the evil spirit that possesses the man, the powerless man says, “I solemnly implore and charge you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” The phrasing of the man reeks of something missing. The response of the evil spirit to the powerless Christian imposter says it all. The spirit says, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” With that question the spirit physically attacks the man. The spiritually empty man runs from the house in fear with wounds and stripped naked. This story shouts a warning to people who profess to know Jesus but have no relationship with Him. Its people who act the part and say the right words, but their life is more symbolism than substance. Know this, those living symbolic Christianity eventually get exposed. You may not be assaulted or stripped naked physically, but an empty life eventually becomes visible to those around you. Paul warns Timothy of this in 2 Timothy 3 when he tells him to watch out for those “who have a form of godliness but deny its power.” Today I challenge you to be more than professing Christians, to be a person who has the true power of God. What does it require? An authentic relationship with Jesus and the power of the Spirit that was promised by Jesus before His ascension and experienced by the early followers in the book of Acts. Who are you? A professing Christian or a Christian who is living in the power of the Spirit. Regardless of what you say, your life will expose the truth.
This past week in Tampa, Mary and I were enjoying a balcony breakfast of fruit and oatmeal. As we were eating, I threw three or four small blueberries off the balcony onto the parking lot below. I had hoped that a few of the birds might swoop down and snatch them up, but after a few minutes, nothing had happened, and we had kind of forgot about them. Suddenly, without warning birds came from everywhere. We’re not talking three or four birds, but 20 or 25 birds. My immediate thought was wow! Those three or four berries caused this? I was quite proud. It was a few seconds later that I realized it wasn’t my three or four berries, it was bread from above. Someone above us was throwing handfuls of bread off their balcony, and the birds weren’t drawn to my berries, but to the bread from above. What a moment of truth! Often, we feel like our work accomplishes so much; that our efforts, talents and skills make all the difference when actually, it’s His bread from above. God says cast the nets on the other side of the boat, we simply obey, and Jesus nearly sinks our boats with blessings. It’s not our fishing ability, but His blessing. Paul says it well when he says, “some plant, others water, but it is God that gives the increase.” What Paul was telling us is what we experienced that morning at breakfast. The possibility and the power is in God. That it is God that makes the difference. That God loves to take our empty vessels and small lunches and fill them and multiply them. The psalmist understood this when he said, “if it had not been for the Lord who was on our side.” God, let us regularly be reminded that it is because you are with us and for us that we are blessed and favored.
It’s over! Now that it is, it’s important that we take a final look back and make some assessments. There’s been some casualties, some losses but more than anything, change. The way we live life is different. We wear mask. We avoid contact with others. We work from home. We do carryout. The list goes on and on. The way we do church is different too. We’ve sacrificed a lot, probably too much. No hugs. Very little expressive worship. Sermons end and we go home. Some have found it convenient to stay home. The trip that didn’t seem so long, now is, and we watch, if it is convenient. For others, what once was important doesn’t seem as important now, the Spirit outpouring and doctrine became irrelevant, so they attend a “nice” church. Some can pass people in the isle at the grocery store, Target or even set in restaurants, but church, even with social spacing, is too dangerous of a place to attend. We’ve given up a lot. But of all the things we’ve given up, one of the most dangerous is the altar. It’s what the adversary is always after, our altar. So much happens at an altar. We rejoice, repent, find encouragement, get deliverance and worship at altars. We are broken, find healing and praise together at the altar. The miraculous happens at the altar. The Spirit falls in an altar. We are refreshed, gain faith, are convicted and make new commitments at altars. But in 2020 we didn’t have altar services. They went dormant. A casualty of COVID. The 2021 challenge? Like Jacob, get back to Bethel, the house of God. Like Elijah, restore your commitment to building back up the altar. The altar. The success of your life and family depends on it
Now what? Today the presents have been opened and life returns to normal. It’s back to nine to five and real life. So it was after Jesus’ miraculous birth. It’s been days, weeks or months since the glorious entrance of God in flesh, Jesus, into the world. The shepherds have visited the stable. Mary and Joseph have taken Jesus to the temple where they are met with unexpected prophecies about Jesus’ future by Simeon and Anna. The Magi have traveled from a far with gifts and visited his home. But now what? I would love to say the shepherds became evangelist, spreading the good news and the Magi became the first missionaries, establishing great works as they head back East. But only heaven and time will tell. Life, for all we know, went back to normal. The only thing we know is that Jesus grew. We get a glimpse of his growth when they visit the temple when Jesus is twelve. Mary and Joseph go to a Feast in Jerusalem, and after the celebration, begin the journey home when they realize they had left him behind. Upon returning, they find him in the Temple mesmerizing the teachers of the scripture. Beyond that, nothing. Silence. Stillness. The gift went dormant. What do we do when God goes silent? When the seed has been planted but we have to wait. We do what Mary did. Luke 2:51 says, Mary treasured all these things in her heart. When God goes silent and life goes back to normal, treasure what you have experienced and what you know is coming. While we don’t know when the promise will come, we know it will…so, with no other choice we wait, knowing better and more magnificent days are ahead!
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!
Dungeons. Desert Destinations. Lion’s Den. Not what we would call precursors to new dimensions in our life. Often what feels like defeat is the tool God uses to bring about incredible change. Joseph’s dream is about leading his family, a thirteen-year dungeon destination doesn’t fit his model, but unless there is a dungeon, there is no baker and butler, and when the Pharaoh has a dream, there is no Joseph to interpret it. God’s plans often look peculiar, but if we trust His process, there is purpose. Moses’ forty-year stint in the desert seems futile and worthless, but that forty-year pause teaches him how to navigate the very desert he will lead the children of Israel through as God’s chosen deliverer. A lion’s den seems a sentence to certain death, but one night with a few sleepy lions, brings drastic change in the leadership in Babylon and jettisons Daniel to a powerful influencer. Have you ever considered that the difficult situation or problem you’re facing could be the tool that God uses to bring about great victory? I can’t answer that for you, but I do know what Joseph said looking back on the dark and trying period of his life, “what you (his brothers) meant for harm, God meant for good.” What are you going through? Look at it through the lens of possibility. Could it be that God is using your trial to work out something for your good? Only time will tell, but I do know this, often God uses our problems to propel us into new places. God, give us the strength and faith to trust in your process.
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.
This time each year Mary and I journey to Nashville, Indiana. Once we arrive, we hit a few shops and then normally grab a tenderloin at The Ordinary. Truth is though, our destination is not as important as our journey. The journey is really why we go. Leaving Indy, we can’t wait to get to Trafalgar and the country roads, it’s here that the pace of life changes. First is a stop at Apple Works where we get a gallon of apple cider, two caramel apples with nuts and we take a stroll through the woods. From Apple Works we hit Spearsville road where you will find more hairpin turns than you could ever dream. That alone makes it a fun journey but add in an explosion of fall color that looks like the Fourth of July in leaves and you’re pretty close to heaven. From there we head to Bean Blossom and Covered Bridge Road where, you guess it, we cross Bean Blossom Bridge. After a few photos we meander up the gravel road, turn left and head to Greasy Creek Road, yet another spectacular view of God’s gift of fall with more winding roads. Greasy Creek eventually brings us to our destination, but the reality is, the journey was our destination. I share our journey simply to remind everyone that each day is a gift from God, it should be enjoyed, not endured. God makes each day unique and when we decide to enjoy the journey everything changes. No longer is anxiety and exhaustion dominant, but instead, happiness, laughter and a fresh view of God. Change your perspective. This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it! Enjoy the journey!