Sand. I have a love hate relationship with it. I say this because the beautiful sandy shores of Orange Beach was my home last week. As I set on the beach enjoying the gentle breeze, watching waves, enjoying family, and reading books, I also had to deal with sand. I must admit that I enjoyed playing games, drawing sketches, and taking walks with Mary in the sand, but there was another side of sand I didn’t enjoy. It was everywhere I didn’t want it to be, in my lunch, stuck to my skin, and eventually into nearly everything we owned. I got home and found sand in my luggage, our car, and clothes. What I’ve determined is sandy venues are nice places to visit, but not a place I necessarily want to live. In Orange Beach, like so many other beaches, it appears that homes are built on the beaches but look closely and you will see that nothing is built on sand. The homes are built on wood foundations that go deep below to soil. Luxurious condominiums that rise into the sky are set on foundations that go as deep as they are high. There is a parable where Jesus talks of how we should build. In the parable Jesus speaks of two builders who built homes. One built on sand and the other solid ground. Jesus says that after the homes were built, storms came, and the home that was built on sand collapsed, while the one built on strong ground, stood. Notice, the problem wasn’t the material, the problem was the foundation. This parable causes me to ask, what are we building our lives and culture on? Things, people, and ideas that shift, change, and move like sand, or on principles and values that have stood the test of storms, time, and difficulty? There is a current of religious culture that feels very sandy. It says have the right look, connect to the right people, have trendy social media, and you will draw a crowd and that makes a successful church community. Don’t rock the boat or make people feel uncomfortable. While it looks good, it’s sandy. No conviction. No call to altars or repentance, and definitely, no allowance for the Spirit to have any freedom in a service. Shudder to think that they might allow signs, wonders, or miracles to work, it might alarm the sinner. Keep the environment controlled and comfortable. It’s sand. What will stand the test of storms and time? Pretty simple. Anything built on the power and Word of God and anywhere there is passionate prayer, and the Spirit is allowed to have liberty.
Our world rewards conformity. Gordon MacKenzie worked for Hallmark Cards; on the side he did creative workshops with kids. After a couple of years, he began conducting a test on students. The results were amazing. When first grade students were asked who among them were artist, nearly the entire class raised their hands. The question was asked again when the students were in second and third grades. By second grade only half the kids raised their hands, and only one-third of third graders did. By the time they were asked in sixth grade, only one or two kids saw themselves as artist. Where did their passion go? What happened to their artistic beliefs? His premise. Education and culture were killing imagination; there seemed to be an intentional drive to push people toward “normal.” Today conformity is the norm. We’re taught everyone drinks, has premarital relationships, and supports unbiblical lifestyles. These lies of conformity are not new, in fact, they go back to the time of Christ. If you were religious, you conformed. Don’t eat this, don’t go there, wear this, act this way… 613 rules! Jesus went against the grain; He was the definition of counterculture. If we are to come alive and really live, we must invite and encourage one another to live spiritually bold. If I could relive on facet of my life, I would have stopped trying to please others and live up to their expectations early on. I would have accommodated the Spirit earlier and leaned into its power more intently instead of trying to conform to religious traditions. Living God’s dream means allowing the internal presence of the Spirit to have more power and influence than the external pressure of those who want to drive us into religious conformity. Romans 12 says it well, don’t conformed to this world but be transformed. How? Intensely pursue and yield to God’s Spirit!
I’m a noticer. It doesn’t matter where I’m at or what I’m doing, I’m observing. It’s one of my ways of learning. This particular day found me on an interstate I had not been on before. The landscape is lush with trees and rolling terrain. It’s here I notice an Amish farmer plowing his field. He’s standing on a plow tied to four oxen. I marvel as I witness old life in modern times. As I’m watching, I notice power lines above him, massive lines, maybe 50 feet tall. These lines aren’t carrying energy to homes, they’re transporting power to cities. They are just above him to the east. I also catch a glimpse of a home, I presume is his, because there are no power lines running to it. As the moment recedes into my rear-view mirror, my thoughts reflect on his life, he’s so close to so much power, yet chooses to live without it. What an example of some Christians. Jesus said, “you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8), yet how many live without tapping into the power. How many plow through life with an old-world mentality, seeking peace, joy, and happiness in worldly treasures? We live with access to God’s power, yet often choose to live off the grid, trying to succeed without His life changing influence. How much power is just above us? Enough that would cause an entire city to say, “these are they that have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), and enough to cause people to lay the sick in the street that the shadow of Simon Peter might bring healing (Acts 5:15). God’s power, it’s not a matter of if He has it, but if we will tap into it. We have a choice, plow on our own or pray for His power.
It all started early Monday morning. A thump on our window, and then another, and then another. . . and it has continued all week. What is it? One small yellow finch. I am assuming it’s the same one, surely there’s not another that wants to spend its entire day crashing its head into our sliding glass window. At this moment, as I am writing, I’m safe to say he (or she) is averaging a crash about every ten seconds. Occasionally, it stops, shakes itself, inspects its feathers, and begins again. It seems absurd, and I suppose at some point it will stop, but for now, “bird tv” is a part of our daily entertainment. We’ve scared it off a few times, but it returns, and continues its relentless attack on our glass. I would love to have a conversation with it about its actions and purpose, but obviously I don’t speak bird, and I’m not really sure it would accomplish anything. Reminds me of how we sometimes handle stress, anxiety, and worry. Like the bird, no matter how much sleep we lose, how much time we spend in a mental round-about, we just end up burning energy and wasting time, and accomplishing nothing. In Matthew 6:27 Jesus puts it bluntly when He says, “who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” What are we to do? We basically have three options. First, living like the yellow finch who is assaulting our window; spend your days stressing, worrying, using a lot of energy, and accomplishing nothing. Second, trust God. David gives us valuable wisdom in Proverbs 3:5 when he says, “trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” Finally, relax! There is not one thing that overwhelms God, and if He’s not overwhelmed, then give it your best effort to not let issues trouble you either.
With each New Year comes a blank canvas; an opportunity to entertain new aspirations, make fresh commitments, and vow to make pivotal changes in our lives. In the Bible the word for year is shannah and it can have a different meaning depending on the usage. The first meaning is to duplicate or repeat, as in repeating of the seasons of a year. The second definition is to change, as in, things will be different. What happens in 2022? What will your year look like? A lot depends on how we view our possibilities and opportunities. Will it be a year where we repeat much of what we have done in years gone by or will it be year where we embrace some alterations in our lives and venture in unknown territory? Some repetition is good, good habits and practices are good, but sometimes repetition can lead to stagnation. Our nature is to make commitments but after a few days or weeks, fall back into our old habits and routines. Change is never easy, but often necessary to move into a new dimension of life. Change takes openness, vision, and trusting in God. Change isn’t always comfortable, can feel awkward and scary, but it is here that we often see God in new dimensions. Interested? Seek God with all your heart, choose to live in bold faith, pray big prayers, decide to walk in the Spirit one day at a time. 2022, a year or repetition or change? The answer rests in your hands.
Back to School 2021. For parents, the educational challenges may seem overwhelming, and students have uncertainty as they walk into climates that are more diverse than ever. Some have opted for private schools, others have chosen schooling from home, still, many must rely on the public school system. How do we navigate through the changing landscape of moral and social issues being taught in our schools? Truthfully, I don’t have the answer, but I am confident of one thing, that God can empower every student, to not only survive, but thrive. How? It will take intentionality, perseverance, and dependence on God. As parents, we must be intentional about covering our students daily in prayer. As families, we must be unwavering in creating and maintaining spiritual atmospheres in our homes. Finally, we must be committed and faithful to God’s house. It’s in His house where we will get strength for the challenges, wisdom for the tough times, and experience the Spirit in ways that will empower us. Am I confident our students can survive? Yes, and not only survive, but become powerful spiritual influencers. The Bible is filled with young people who lived in godless societies, with young men who became powerful leaders, who turned their nation back to God, in incredibly dark times. Esther stood in the face of evil, had bold courage, and saved her entire nation from certain extinction. Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego stood in the face of incredible pressure, to bow to godlessness of their society, and caused an entire nation to say, “your Lord, He is God.” Today, perspective is important. How we look at the challenges is critical. Do we view them as overwhelming or as opportunities? If we get it right, we educate and train, if we are faithful, it might be that these students become the new generation that are called “heroes of the faith.”
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.
Suppose your vehicle breaks down and you are given two options for repair. Option one is that you take your vehicle to an individual who is well studied in auto mechanics, often speaks at seminars about auto repair and can debate with great skill on how a vehicle should be fixed. His garage is state of the art, immaculate and has the latest technology. Option two is that you can take your vehicle to an individual who may or may not have an auto mechanics degree, but has worked on all types of vehicles, daily for over 30 years. His place is nice, but not as immaculate, his tools are worn and soiled, but you can ask him a question on nearly any issue, and he can give you an idea about what the problem may be without going to a manual. Where are you going to take your car? I don’t know about you, but my Toyota is headed to the garage where the mechanic has experience. Why? Because experience is often more valuable than information. We live in a world where people have all kinds of opinions on the Spirit. We’ve got pastors and individuals that have a variety of opinions, theories, and beliefs. They love to set around an argue and talk apologetics. There’s one thing they are missing. A book of Acts, fire falling, language changing experience. Until someone has experienced what Simon Peter, those in the upper room and the church in Acts experienced, their arguments are just conjecture. An experience changes everything. Job said, I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You. Someone may know that fire is hot and dangerous, but until they’ve had a first-, second-, or third-degree burn, they don’t know fire. Don’t let someone without an upper room experience explain away a book of Acts move of God in your life. Seek an experience.
Today as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, I ask one thing. Lord, do it again. We live in a time where culture is divided, violence is out of control and immorality is celebrated. Humanity has no cure for what ills our nations and the world. Government cannot legislate the problems away. Education cannot solve the issues by teaching. There is one solution for our world. A move of the Holy Spirit. It has to come through people who will be like the 120 who patiently waited in the Upper Room for the promise. People who are willing to sacrifice their time, give up activities and personal desires and agendas and seek the face of God. Pentecost was not a religion, organization or cult, it was a sovereign move of God, promised by Jesus just before ascending into heaven. It was not fabricated, hyped up by music or manipulated by masterful wordsmiths. It was a “suddenly” that came to desperate people crying out to God. It was a room filled with men and women of all social standings and its initial outpouring was so multicultural that it was heard in 14 languages. There were no fences, no clicks and no limitations. It fell on political figures, rich, poor, educated and uneducated. It crossed ethnic backgrounds; Jews, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and spread throughout the world. So powerful was the move that in Acts 17 they said, “these are they who have turned the world upside down.” That is what we need today. A Pentecost that turns the world upside down, or I would say, right side up. How does it happen? It’s as simple as it was 2000 years ago. Seeking God above anything else, making prayer a priority, asking God to move on our nation and pour out the Spirit. Acts 2:39 says, the promise was for all. The only question is, are we desperate enough yet?
His name is Fred. Though I have never seen him, Fred has been a part of the Hudson family for years. We really don’t know how he got his name or where he came from, he just showed up one day. We’ve been amazed by Fred’s knowledge and expertise in so many areas. Through the years my mom, sister and I often heard dad and Fred having conversations. Fred helped dad with projects in the garage, yard and mini barn. Fred solved lawn mower issues, assisted in installing fences and helped with landscaping. Sometimes I wonder what my dad would have done without Fred, would projects have gotten completed, cars fixed, or fences put up? Now some clarity about Fred. The reason none of us have ever seen Fred is because he doesn’t exist. Its dad talking to himself when he’s working on projects. We don’t know why we named him Fred, it just seemed to fit. And though he is not real, he has definitely been a help to our family. Fred has been dad’s lifelong helper. He’s got him through tough moments, gave him clarity on projects and answers when he was about the give up. In John 14:16, Jesus tells His disciples that when He ascends into heaven, He will send a helper. That help is the Holy Spirit, it will come to give us understanding, truth and bring things to remembrance when we need it. Jesus tells his disciples that His Spirit just won’t be with us, but in us forever. When we don’t have silver and gold, we’ve got the Spirit. When we don’t have words, we have the Spirit. When we can’t see our way through, we have the Spirit. May I encourage you to embrace the Spirit, lean on it and ask for His help. As I reflected on our life with Fred, I realized how much Fred was like the Holy Spirit. The only difference? The Spirit is real and always there to lead, guide and give us help as we walk through this life. Be full of the Spirit. Live in the Spirit.