It’s decision time! It’s a new year and with it comes the choice to plant new seeds. It matters what we plant at the beginning of our year, because eventually, what we plant comes to life and bares fruit. Here in Indiana, farmers decide in the winter what will be in their fields, whether wheat, beans, or corn and they have no doubt that what they plant will show up later in the year. Paul cautions the Galatians of the importance of the sowing and reaping principle, that it is not just an agricultural matter, but that it is also a spiritual one. Want to experience the presence and power of God? Want to see the hand of God impact your life? Sow correctly. Sow faithfulness to God’s house. Invest regularly in prayer and devotion. Invite God to be more involved in your daily life. Start or get involved in a small group. Sow kindness, mercy, and grace. All of these are seeds, that if planted, will lead to a God impacted future. Likewise, if we sow to our fleshly or selfish desires, we will reap the fruit of those seeds DNA. Farmers don’t plant corn and expect apples, neither can we plant to the flesh and expect to see God’s presence in a new dimension. Finally, I encourage you to plant spiritual seed generously. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I plant, Apollos watered, but it is God who gives the increase.” In essence, the more we plant in the Spirit, the more we give God an opportunity to multiply and bless. As you start your year, take time to think about what you want to experience in God and then plant abundantly.
It was a new day and a new beginning. Standing on the banks of the Jordon River looking into the land that God had promised, there had to be anticipation. One wonders the imagination people had as they prepared to move. After years of being transient, what would it be like to have a home? What vineyards and crops would they inherit? How would God be involved in their future? Wives would get to decorate a permanent dwelling. Men would farm the land, barter for goods, and establish economy. It would be a year like none before and bring opportunities beyond their wildest dreams. In some ways, that is where we stand as we enter in 2022. What will the year hold? What changes are in store? As a Christian we should walk into the new year with expectations. We should ask God to use our lives and let us experience His power in new dimensions. This year engage with God in a new way. Beyond being a Sunday Christian, seek God, ask Him to give you purpose beyond your 8-5. Engage with God and ask Him to use your skills and talents in a way that might bless His kingdom and potentially be the catalyst for someone coming to Christ. Where does it start? It starts with an invitation; by humbling ourselves before God. That’s why we’re starting the year with our LifeFast. Fasting positions us in the best place to see God glory, experience His presence, and be led by His Spirit. Why not take your 2022 to a new dimension? Open your heart and life to all the possibilities that God may have for you. Join us for LifeFast.
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.
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!
Jim Valvano, lovingly nicknamed Jimmy V, was a basketball coach who has become an inspiration too many. He bounced around several universities before eventually coaching the NC State Wolfpack in the 80’s. In 1983, Valvano’s team won the NCAA Championship, a victory that probably is the greatest Cinderella story in college basketball history. In 1992, Valvano was diagnosed with cancer and in March of 1993, nine weeks before his death, Valvano spoke at the ESPY Awards and delivered one of the most inspirational speeches you will ever hear. Here are just a few of Jimmy V quotes. I hope they inspire you to live with tenacity.
- “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
- “Be a dreamer. If you don’t know how to dream, you’re dead.”
- “The greatest gift you can give your children is to believe in them.”
- “Life changes when you least expect it to. The future is uncertain. So, seize this day, seize this moment, and make the most of it.”
- “Nothing has ever been accomplished in any walk of life without enthusiasm, without motivation, and without perseverance.”
- “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.”
- “In every single day, in every walk of life, ordinary people do extraordinary things. Ordinary People accomplish extraordinary things.”
- “Know where you have been, where you are now and where you want to be.”
- “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
You can read more quotes from Jimmy V at everydaypower.com/jimmy-v-quotes/
As a kid my mom would take us to downtown Noblesville to watch people. I don’t know where the idea came from, or what we were looking for, we just observed people as they shopped. It wasn’t as if we had a lot of other options; televisions were black and white and a little larger than an iWatch, and life ran about as fast as a turtle. I remember taking my sister to the mall to watch people. We observed their expressions, remarked on what we thought they were thinking, and laughed, more at our comments than the people. It all seems weird now, but back then it was our entertainment. My daughter Risa got in “watching” at an early age. I was working on a pipe in the bathroom when she walked in and asked, “daddy, do you need a watcher?” A tad confused, I inquired, “Risa, what is a watcher?” She said, “you know dad, someone to watch you work.” I said sure and she watched…and asked another dozen questions or so. Being an observer of people and life and can bring amazing opportunities and insights. In Acts 17 Paul observed the people of Athens. After watching them, he commented, “I had observed that you are religious people,” he then went on to introduce them to Jesus. He challenged the Philippians to observe those who walk correctly and follow their pattern. Even Jesus told us to “watch that we be not deceived.” This holiday season become a watcher. Observe people who may be in need. Watch for the waitress who seems distraught or discouraged. Listen to the co-worker who is overwhelmed with life. Be sensitive, ask God to give you the right words, and be a source of encouragement. Being like Jesus doesn’t mean pushing religion, being condensing or judgmental, it does mean being willing to take time, listen and care for someone who needs to be introduced to Jesus.
Leftovers. Our refrigerators are likely full of them after Thursday’s Thanksgiving festivities. You were either gifted containers as you left the celebration, or as the host, you got left with everything from cranberry sauce to sweet potato casserole. I must admit there are some things that seem to taste better warmed up and you may have snacked on a few goodies over the weekend, but more than likely, the leftover ham and yams will likely head to the garbage later this week. Unfortunately, we’ll probably throw away more food this week than some will see in a month. In Matthew 15 a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus begging for Him to heal her daughter who is demon possessed. Uncharacteristically, Jesus is rather rude and ignores her request. Instead of being offended, the woman becomes more persistent in crying out to him. When Jesus says, “it isn’t good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” you would think that the woman would turn and walk away in disgust. Instead, her resolve moves to another level as she says, “yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table,” in other words, even the dogs get the leftovers. Her retort softens the heart of Jesus and in an instant her daughter is healed as he commends her for her great faith. What do you need today, a physical or financial miracle? A wayward child to return or a family situation to change? This week as you open the refrigerator and look at the leftovers, remember all you need are God’s scraps for a miracle to come to pass. Be tenacious, even when it feels hopeless and God seems distant, next level faith may cause a crumb to fall off of heavens table.
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving it should be easy to reflect on God’s goodness and give thanks. Though our country is in a difficult season, we’re still fortunate to live with countless freedoms and blessings. While it may not be your dream home, you woke up in a bed and looked up to see a roof over your head. As a chill begins to fill the air, we kick on furnaces, add blankets to beds and grab coats before we leave our homes. Today, we might ask, what do you want to eat or how can I lose weight, but probably not, I wonder if there will be food for me today. If you’re reading this devotion, it means you have your sight and you’re holding it in your hand, either physically or on an electronic device. Much of the third world walks to destinations, while we jump into vehicles and travel in luxury. Consider the blessings we have if we have health, family, and friends. Beyond the material and relational blessings, there is more. King David, who lived a blessed life, reflected on God’s goodness in Psalm 136. He doesn’t mention material or relational favor, but reflects on one blessing, “that God’s mercy endures forever.” In fact, so overwhelmed by God’s mercy, he repeats the phrase, “his mercy endures forever,” 26 times. I too say, thanks God, for your mercy. Beyond the physical blessings, wonderful family, and good friends, I’m grateful for God’s overextending mercy. Mercy to robe himself in flesh and give His life for me, grace that extends beyond my continual shortcomings, and love that is unfailing and infinite. As we gather this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks that you know a merciful, gracious, and loving God.
Wind, we can’t see it, but we can hear it when it blows through a grove of trees, and we can definitely see its aftereffects. This weekend, here in central Indiana, wind pretty much ended fall, stripping trees of their beautiful color. More powerful winds bring tornados that wreck havoc. Set along a southern coast, and you might experience the powerful impact of a hurricane that changes the landscape of life. In the summer there’s nothing like a gentle breeze to take the heat of the day away, yet when that same wind blows in the winter, it makes cold turn to frigid. Though no one has ever seen wind, everyone would acknowledge it exists. In John 3:8, Jesus is explaining the Spirit to Nicodemus and compares it to the wind. He says you can’t see it; you don’t know where it comes from, nor where it’s going, but there is no doubt when you have experienced it. In a world that wants everything explained and leaves very little room for the supernatural, Jesus is letting us know that if we are going to experience the power of the Spirit, we’re going to have make room for the unexplainable, yet undeniable. It’s not coincidental that Jesus uses wind to explain the Spirit. When a move of the Spirit blows into a life, family, or church it does exactly as wind. It can be a refreshing breeze. A wind that strips away the unnecessary junk clinging to our lives or tornadic power that changes the landscape of our lives. In Acts 2, the Spirit stripped away the guilt of failure and fear of religion. In Acts 3, Simon Peter describes the coming Spirit as “a time of refreshing,’ and in Acts 17, the town said of the disciples, “these are they who have turned the world upside down. Pray that God will let us experience His sovereign, unexplainable, yet undeniable wind of the Spirit.
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.
Fall, the season when leaves fall and flowers fade, but what many don’t realize, is that fall is also planting season. Over the past few weeks, I’ve planted a couple of trees, sown Kentucky Blue Grass, and hit the yard with a covering of Scott’s fertilizer with a good dose of 2-4-D. Why? Because fall is the best time to make sure you have a successful spring. Planting trees in the fall allows their roots to grow deep while the branches are dormant. Seeding has the same impact, grass grows stronger, and when you fertilize, you kill both seen and unseen weeds. By fertilizing we eliminate a lot of problems that would show up in the spring and summer. Why do I mention fall planting? Because I believe there is an important spiritual principle to be found. Why do our lives have dormant times? Why do we have seasons where God seems to disappear, or we feel abandoned? Because God knows we need developmental seasons. Dormant periods are times when God brings growth to our lives. Some look at fall, when the trees are losing their leaves, and say, the trees are dying, but we know better. The same principle works in our lives, some may look at a person and say they are dying, or you may feel as though God has forsaken you, but be confident, God is at work. It’s in dormant times that our faith grows deep. It’s in difficult stretches that we experience God in ways beyond our imagination. Moses has a Fall season. He kills an Egyptian, flees to the wilderness and his life appears to be dying. But it was in the wilderness that Moses learned to hear God’s voice, trust God, and navigate the land he would lead people through, all in a season that seemed to be counterproductive. Don’t be discouraged when your life feels inactive, God is developing you, preparing you for your next season. Embrace your fall!
The can said, “do not puncture,” but since my free-on hose was not penetrating the can, I thought I would use my ingenuity. The plan was to tap the top with a small nail, then with my cat like quickness, attach the hose, and fill my Toyota’s air conditioner. It sounded like a solid idea, but was I ever wrong. I was not nearly quick enough, nor had I anticipated what would come out of the can. My gentle tap set off Old Faithful. A geyser of air and oil shot out of the can and before I realized what had happened or could get the hose on the now slippery can, I had lost over half its contents. R-134 was everywhere. Thankfully, the lesson only cost me about $5. My experience with a can of R-134 is what sometimes happens when we play with sin. The Bible is filled with caution signs warning us about the power of sin, yet for some reason we disregard its warnings. In the moment sin seems like a good idea, we justify our actions, or think we can handle it, but in the end, to often it turns out like my can of R-134, a bigger mess than we could have ever imagined and costing more than we ever anticipated. David, the man after God’s own heart, was a perfect example of the power of sin. Victorious over a bear, lion and giant, able to deny the temptation to slay his adversary, David peering over his balcony, spots a bathing Bathsheba. His flesh says, you can handle this, you deserve it, while his heart was saying, “warning, danger, stay away.” He justifies he actions, pushes past the warnings, and within days his life is in disarray. The mess was larger than he imagined and cost him more than he anticipated. What warning signs are you ignoring? Stop now! Listen to God’s promptings, don’t mess with sin.
The hot dry days of August have transitioned to cool nights in September. The breezes of October are beginning to blow, so it is inevitable, fall. The leaves are starting to change. Green leaves are turning yellow, orange, red and brown and soon there will be a kaleidoscope of color here in central Indiana. We’re putting out the mums, buying hay bales, adding pumpkins, and pulling out the sweaters and boots. It’s fall. Isn’t it amazing how easily we sense the changing of the seasons? Crazier still, it’s amazing how we adapt. What about the changes that are taking place in our lives, are we as aware? Unlike the change from summer to fall, too many are oblivious to the deviations that are taking place in their lives. They fail to see themselves slipping away from their time of prayer or devotion. They seem unconscious of the fact that more and more things are getting in front of their faithfulness to God and His house. Too many seem unfazed that their heart has grown calloused and cold to God’s presence and gentle voice. While we so easily see the transitions of seasons, we often miss the critical changes happening in our lives. I often wonder if Judas knew something was changing in his life. Was he aware that greed was gripping his heart? Could he feel the spirit of deception creeping into his spirit? Could he sense that he was drifting away from Jesus? People don’t go from faithful to unfaithful overnight, it is a process, like the changing of the seasons. We’ve faced a lot of changes over the past 16 months. Something is happening, and while we can’t put our finger on it, we can sense it. A word to the wise. Stay alert, aware and on guard. Be prepared for the new season.
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.
How often do you read your Bible? Every day? Once a week? A couple times a month? Never? I ask because a person that doesn’t read their Bible regularly, particularly a person who calls themselves a Christian, is a danger to the kingdom of God. Why? Several reasons. First, if a person is not reading their Bible, it means they are not in an intimate relationship with Jesus. To know Jesus, we should want to know His Word. There should be a passion to find out ways to know him better, to understand His values, principles and what His plans are. It’s through the Bible that God speaks to us. Second, a person who is not reading their Bible has no idea of what the Bible says, they can’t define right and wrong, are confused by cultural challenges, and they are entertained by messages that are more about pop culture and trendy concepts. Without reading our Bible we define morality and Biblical values based on popular opinion or the latest Christian trend. This allows churches and ministers to say anything to their audience. Simply put, if an audience isn’t reading their Bible, there is no accountability for that church or its ministers. Finally, when people don’t read their Bible, Christianity can be redefined. There becomes confusion. People begins to question what it means to be a Christian. In the lives of Christians, whose life are not based in the Word of God, one can be lgbt, support abortion, have loose morals, abuse substances, watch questionable programing and dress inappropriately and feel no conviction, guilt, or remorse. Without the Word of God as our compass and final source of authority, we have worthless Christianity that has no more value than those who live without Christ. As we work through the Month of the Family, make a fresh commitment to spending time reading your Bible and building its importance in your family.
Jesus. Right now, say His name out loud. It doesn’t have to be screamed or shouted, it can be spoken in a gentle whisper, but know this, when you say it, all creation hesitates. Every demon in hell, disease, sickness, evil and dark spirit pauses. Water waits to see if it must turn to wine, sickness waits to see if it can continue, and death waits to see if it must release its grip. Philippians 2:11 says, “that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Simply put, the name of Jesus is the most powerful word you will ever speak. We must remind ourselves often of the power in the name of Jesus, and not only be reminded of it, but choose to use His name. We must teach our kids and this generation to say the name of Jesus in any situation. It’s not a magical word, it is the word that has supreme authority. James 2:19 says, you believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. I am reminded that all Jesus did was step on the Gadarenes seashore and demons that had controlled a man and confounded a region for years, instantly cried for mercy, begging Jesus to let them go into pigs. They knew who Jesus was, His power and immediately relented in cowardness. We have access through faith, to ask anything in His name. John 14:14 says, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” Our asking must be in alignment with His plan and purpose, it can’t be done in selfishness, but when we ask in faith, anything is possible. Where does salvation begin? By calling on the name of Jesus. Acknowledging our need for Him. It’s here we begin the journey that takes us to repentance and baptism. The name of Jesus. Say it now, say it often. Say it with confidence.
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.”
Have you ever seen someone walk a high wire? What does it take? One word, balance. Many have poles, some use their arms, but all must have incredible balance. Balance, it’s something we’ve lost in our society. It seems that everyone must be democratic or republican, liberal or conservative, pop-culture or sub-culture. There appears to be no place for someone who wants to be in the middle. Someone once told me that if you try to live in the middle you end up getting ran over by people on both sides. It seems to me that too many people have lost the concept of living a balanced life. We camp in extremes. Whether it is ministers, churches, Christians, or people in general, we tend to only associate with those who are like us, agree with our positions and do what we do. I’m thankful for Nathaniel Urshan, the pastor I had as a young man. He invited ministers to his pulpit who were young and old, conservative or liberal, same in doctrine and some who were slightly different. You couldn’t put him in a camp, he associated with so many. He pastored his saints as individuals, and allowed people to be distinctive, there was room in his church for all types of personalities. He didn’t condone all they did, nor did he condemn, he preached with conviction, taught with passion, and loved with Godly compassion. His example has been the blueprint of how I’ve tried to live my life, in balance. As a parent, I’ve tried to live steadily before my kids, as a person, I’ve tried to live moderately, and as a pastor I’ve tried to invite all kinds of people to the Life pulpit. My advice today, live in the middle, invite all kinds of people into your life. Learn from them. Maybe, if enough of us get in the middle, people will see more of Jesus.
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.
Christian artist Donnie McClurkin wrote a song many years ago entitled, “Stand.” It’s a song that I love to go back to when life gets difficult and I’m unsure of what to do. The initial verse opens with a series of questions, the first, “what do you do, when you’ve done all you can, and feels like it never enough.” It continues with “what do you do when you given it all, and it seems like you can’t make it through. Each verse continues with similar difficult situations, asking the same question, what do you do when… Thankfully, McClurkin doesn’t just ask questions, but offers solutions. It’s found in the chorus, “well you just stand, when there’s nothing left to do, you just stand, watch the Lord see you through, yes, after you done all you can, you just stand.” While his solution sounds simple, I’ve often found it to be the best answer. When Moses and the children of Israel stood in front of an impossibility, the Red Sea, God’s word to Moses for the people, “stand and see the glory of the Lord.” What did the disciples do when being accused in court by Pharisees and the Sanhedrin? They stood and said we will not deny the name or power of Jesus. How have we survived hardships, hurts and difficulties? What has been the solution to the issues and battles we’ve faced as a family? Simple. Stand. Stand on the Word of God. Stand in your faith. Stand on your knees in prayer. Stand in the power of God. Make the last nine words of McClurkin’s song your statement after every question, storm, or battle of life; “After you’ve done all you can, you just stand.”
I was 10 and in the fifth grade. Hurdles were a big deal to me. With long legs, speed, and tenacity I somehow managed to win the hurdles race at my school. With the win, I got to go to the high school track. I remember thinking, “how in the world did I get here”. I don’t remember if I won in my age group, but I do remember advancing and feeling proud to run the hurdle race for my school. Years later my daughter Risa decided to run hurdles at her school also, I was proud that she wanted to compete in the same race I did. It takes courage to run hurdles. Each jump must be perfect; you are always hoping you don’t trip and land on your face. Watching the summer Olympics, I gasped when a young lady who had worked her entire life to have an opportunity to be in the Olympics, crashed as she jumped the first hurdle. I understood her pain, though I can’t imagine the anguish she felt to do it on a world stage. She had worked hard and made it to the Olympics and though painful to fall, she should stand proud of the fact she had raced. In the race of life, we need to remember all of us have been chosen to run. We must never lose our tenacity, courage to run and our desire to conquer every hurdle that is put in our path. We were created to compete and although there will be times we may fall, trip and skin our knees, we must get up and keep running. All of us that stay in the race will win because Jesus promised He was going to prepare a place for those who finish the race. So, run and never give up. Jesus is cheering for you!
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.
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.