There’s More to It

Fasting. It’s become trendy. Social influencers and entertainers are embracing intermittent fasting as the latest weight loss craze. Twenty-one-day fasting is the rage in churches across America as a new year starts. While I appreciate the return to the focus on fasting, for many it has become more about being trendy than humbling ourselves or being changed. Community fast are biblical, the nation of Israel went on fast several times a year. These fast were solemn moments when individuals and nations pulled away from everyday life, humbled themselves, and surrendered their hearts before the Lord. Beyond community fast, the bible gives many accounts of people who fasted. Most of these fast were done in private and were the way people acknowledged their need for God and sought Godly direction. They didn’t have a plan for God but a humble awareness that said they desperately needed God to direct their situation. Jesus said, that when we fast, not if, that it should be done for Him, not to impress people or to appear religious.  I’m afraid that much of the fasting done today has lost its focus. Too often fasting is done frivolously, the checking off a yearly box, and then moving on, life as usual. Biblically, the focus of a fast wasn’t supposed to be on food, or even the sacrifice. A fast was humbly acknowledging our need for God and asking Him to direct our paths. At some point, I began to understand that instead of focusing on one big fast at the beginning of my year, I needed to fast repeatedly. If you aren’t aware, we are constantly battling our flesh, and it must be humbled and submitted to God and His Word regularly. I came to understand that life has seasons, that we have moments when carnality creeps into the best of us, and for that reason, I needed to fast more frequently. For 25 years I began my year with a seven day fast of water only. I pulled away from pleasure, tuned into my bible with extra diligence, and spent extra time in prayer. It was always amazing how I came out of the fast; I felt clean, pure, and could see with different vision. Early on, I began to realize that I felt wonderful for a while, but it seemed that within a few months I was back to old thoughts and habits. It was then that I began to understand I needed more than a single seven day fast in my year. I decided to fast more frequently. I began to take a day in my week to fast and humble my flesh. A couple more times a year I would go on another three or seven day fast. It was a game changer. My spiritual life began to have consistency, the Word become more dynamic, and my times in prayer became more vibrant. For those who are fasting, congratulations! I encourage you to make it more than the trendy moment that happens every January, make it a regular discipline in your life. Pull away frequently from food or a vice, spend additional time in your Bible, and pray with the intention of knowing God. Your life will be forever changed. You will see and hear God in ways beyond your wildest imagination and experience His power in miraculous ways.

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Embrace Your Moment

Not every season unfolds the way we might want it to. If we could choreograph our life there would be little pain, struggle, or difficulties. If we plotted our own lives, we would make sure that it was void of loneliness, fear, and failure. After 35 years in ministry, 15 in higher education and 20 as a pastor, I’m in transition, a new chapter of life. Gone are the deadlines, daily duties, and weekly messages. The new season is requiring that I learn how to rest and relax, take care of a grandson, and spend time exploring what my future might look like. To be honest, I’m not enjoying it. The rest and relaxation feels lazy and exploring the future is like looking for a needle in a haystack. As of now, I’ve decided to embrace my time with my grandson, Carter. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do realize that he has a lot more time in the future than I do. So, while it may not seem like the greatest challenge, I’m embracing my time with him with passion. While I might prefer to be writing sermons, it could be more important that I’m reading stories with inflection, sound effects, and silliness to a little boy. Truthfully, I’d rather be preparing for a new study series, but instead I find myself setting at a keyboard teaching Carter to play Mary had a Little Lamb and let him bang keys at every octave. I could go on, but you get the point. Why am I embracing the season with vigor? Two reasons. First, it’s what God has put in front of me, and I’ve always lived with the principle that whatever God gives me to do, I’ll do it with passion and excellence. Second, I embrace the moment because God knows better than I. Investing in Carter may be more important than I realize, I may be developing the next great author, speaker, or musician. Too many miss great opportunities because they view them as too small, but God said, “he who is faithful with the small things will be faithful with much.” It is important we realize that our lives are filled with ebb and flow, not every moment will be in the spotlight, nor will every moment be in the dark, it takes both to have a full life. Moses’ experienced three seasons in his life. The first was exciting and full of possibility, the last was filled with incredible successes. Moses’ most important moment was the middle season, the one that felt like failure, futility, and was filled with loneliness. It was there, in the desert, where Moses learned how to navigate the land, survive the wilderness, and manage people. Though he likely detested the season, he embraced it, and experienced a burning bush and received his ultimate calling. Difficult seasons often feel pointless and wasteful, and walking through them, we don’t view them as critically important to our lives. What are you walking through? While it may be overwhelming, painful, or confusing, it may be the very season that jettisons you into an inconceivable opportunity. Embrace the moment!

Common and Kind to the Common

The first to see Him were not the blue bloods, the political elite, or those connected to the right social circles. In fact, the Wisemen, those who brought the wealth; gold, frankincense, and myrrh, didn’t arrive until Jesus was nearly a year old. The first to get an audience with God in flesh were shepherds, common men who took care of sheep. Jesus wasn’t born with a silver spoon in His mouth. He didn’t come from a family of movers and shakers or an aristocratic background, just a simple family from Nazareth.  The Nazareth, that when Philip told Nathaniel that they had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, said, “can anything good come out of Nazareth.” Nathaniel’s statement doesn’t leave you feeling like Jesus came from the right side of town. You would more likely find Jesus at a greasy spoon than any upscale restaurant in your local fashion district. One of the complaints the religious elite often had against Jesus was that he ate with publicans and sinners, common people. Jesus’ choice of leaders? Common Joe’s, fishermen and tax collectors. It seems it was almost a chore to dine with the who’s who. It’s as though He knew their agenda, not to build authentic relationship, but to broker deals and have influence. Jesus often seemed to be repulsed by their haughtiness, arrogance, and pride, maybe that’s why he gave so much time to the average person. He spent time with a broken woman at a well in the heat of the day, stopped for an old woman with incurable sickness, and more than once had to provide food to crowds who were either too poor, or didn’t have enough sense to bring food for a long day. His disciples tried to stop kids from getting to Him, but unlike them, Jesus didn’t see children as annoyances, but treasures. Though they were small and seemed insignificant, Jesus regularly paused and took time for them. In Philippians 2 Paul said, “that He made of himself no reputation,” and described Him as a servant, humble and common. Paul lets us know that Jesus would have likely spent little time creating his image, being a social media influencer, or rubbing shoulders with the clicks or “the in the crowd,” He was simply common. He was incredibly popular, but it never changed who He was. He kept His balance by praying often and never forgetting His purpose, to save the lost, broken, and hurting. It’s Jesus who we should pattern our lives after, not the latest concept or trendy pastor, just Jesus. While we’ve fell far short, this has been Mary and I’s goal from the outset of our ministry. At the college I worked at, everyone was always welcomed into my office, it wasn’t a place for the “big I’s and little you’s,” but a place everyone knew they could come for a listening ear. At lunch you would often find Mary and I sitting at the table with the students rather than with the staff, it just felt like the right place to be. As pastors at Life, we made sure that we took time for everyone. We consistently had lunch with “regular families.” We intentionally spent a lot of time with widows, students, and people who were hurting. They were our kind of people. We struggled and even avoided those who wanted to gossip, be in the know, or tried to influence us with their money or social standing. It felt so empty. Now, after 30 years of ministry, one of the greatest blessings is connecting with students or church members from years gone by and hearing them say, “you guys were so different,” we’ve never met ministers like you all,” or “you all are just so common.” We blush, smile, and say, thank you. It wasn’t an agenda, or learned concept, we were, and still are, just trying to be like Jesus. Common and kind to the common.

Tell Your World

I’m getting older and my musical taste is headed that direction too. I admit it, I like Rascal Flatts, especially at Christmas. When Mary and I are ready to put up the Christmas tree nothing sets the mood better than Rascal’s version of Go Tell it on the Mountain. Crank up their version of Joy to the World in our home and you’ve got instant Christmas spirit. If I’ve got to have something a little more traditional, give me their rendition of Hark, the Herald Angel Sing and I’m at Bethlehem. What cranks your gears? Who is your Christmas artist of choice? Maybe for you it’s a little Mariah Carey and Jesus, What a Wonderful Child or Carrie Underwood singing All is Well. Whatever your flavor, it’s time to bring out the Christmas music, the one’s that magnify Jesus’, and celebrate the birth of the Savior. This season is not about Santa and reindeer, gifts and greed, but God who came in a baby’s body to save a broken world.  If there is ever a time this world needs to know His story, it’s now. Our culture is confused, families are fractured, and our country is as divided as ever. There seems to be no solution, but for those who know Jesus and His story, even in the darkest of hours, there is hope. Why sing Go Tell it on the Mountain? Because people need to know the story of our Savior. Why blare Joy to the World?  Because you live in a world filled with despair and people need to hear that there is real joy in Jesus. So, dial in your Spotify Christmas list, play it loud, and play it often. Go tell it on the mountain, or at least in your world.

My Battle with the Wind

Over the past month I have been in battle with leaves. Though the number is somewhere in the tens of thousands, it seems as though I’ve blown and raked a million of them. Every time I think I’ve won the battle a wind blows, and more leaves. They come from trees, neighbors’ yards, the golf course, wherever. My frustration is multi-faceted. One problem is that trees don’t release their leaves at the same time, instead, it is a process that starts in mid-October and finishes at the end of November, at least I hope it’s finished. Another problem is that some people care about leaves, blow and rake them, and others don’t. You can see the issue here. The leaves of people who don’t care end up in the yards of those who do. I will forgo chasing this rabbit, but needless to say, I wish everyone cared about leaves. What I’ve come to realize is this, the real issue is not leaves, but wind. If the wind didn’t blow, the leaves would fall, be blown and raked, and that would be the end of it. But the wind turns it into a never-ending battle. Soon the issue will change, instead of leaves, it will be snow. Snow, in itself, is beautiful, changing drab gray days and landscapes void of color, into winter wonderlands. But wind changes the game. Depending on the amount of snow and the strength of the wind, you can have drifts that are three and four times the height of the amount of snow. A 12” snow with wind can easily produce three-foot drifts. Gentry and I experienced the power of wind a couple of weeks ago at Pikes Peak. As we neared the top, we were stopped by a ranger that said we couldn’t go any further up the mountain. What was the issue? Snow? Yes and no. Though the road was clear where we were, and there was only eight or nine inches of snow on the ground, the winds ahead were 75 mph with gust of 100 mph. The peak had become undriveable, The winds were so strong that the small amount of snow had closed the road. My point here is simple. Sometimes, the issue is not the issue, that what we are dealing with is not a person or issue, but a spirit. The battle is often like the ones we fight with leaves and snow, we’re not really fighting snow and leaves, but wind. Paul told the church in Ephesus, you are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but powers, darkness, and wickedness in the heavens. Paul is warning us that there is spiritual warfare above us. How do we deal with this war, with issues beyond our control? Do two things. Pray and wait. Isaiah 40:31 says, “they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.” What are you going through? Who are you battling? The person, the issue, is not really your problem. Your battle is with a wind that is trying to overwhelm, discourage and defeat you.

Omaha: The Audible

Payton Manning. He doesn’t have as many Super Bowl rings as some. He didn’t have a canon for an arm, and he may not have looked like some kind of physical specimen, but he will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the position of quarterback. What he lacked in strength, he made up for in preparation and study. No one knew their playbook or the opposing defense better. He would spend hours on end studying, not only his playbook, but watching film of opposing teams’ defense. He knew the subtleties of opposing players. He could tell if a blitz was coming by which hand a player put on the ground. He knew how teams would disguise their coverage to the point, that he often told opposing teams’ players that they were out of position before snapping the ball. When a game started, he had scripted his first 25 plays, knowing the opposing team’s tendencies. His intellect of the game was and still is, incomparable. But probably his greatest ability was to call an audible. Regardless of what he had scripted, how much he had prepared, if he noticed a nuance in a defense, he would instantly change the play. It didn’t matter how much he had practiced or scripted, if he saw a weakness in a defense, he audibled. His code word was “Omaha.” If his teammates heard it, they knew Payton was changing the play, if the opposing team heard it they knew they had been exposed. At the word Omaha, defenses would panic and scramble to try to make a change in their scheme. Payton’s ability to go off script allowed him to destroy defenses, and sometimes it seemed, he could score at will. We as Christians, in church services, in our daily walk, we need to know when to call an audible. We need to know when the Spirit is leading us toward a defining moment. As they would each day, Simon Peter and John were on their way to prayer, but this day would be different. As they were walking, they heard the Spirit say, today I want you to stop at the beggar’s station, speak a word, and pick up the beggar. By obeying, by audibling, a miracle took place and an explosion of growth moved through the church. Plan your day, plan a service, but once we’ve got it all together always be ready for a “Omaha” moment. It’s often when we go off script that we see the miraculous and experience the supernatural!

Flannel and Fall

The array of colorful fall leaves. Pumpkins. Crisp Nights. Bonfires. Warm apple cider. Hayrides. Just the words and you want to throw on a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. After a long hot summer, there is nothing like that first forecast of fall temperatures. At the Hudson home the first hint of fall means it’s time for the fall décor. Suddenly our home has more foliage than a small forest, pumpkins are on the porch, and fall pillows and a farm truck fill the bench in our entry. It’s amazing how just a subtle change in temperature can have such an impact on our life. May I suggest the same can happen in your spiritual life. A subtle change can alter the course of your family. Start your day with a few moments of devotion or throw on some worship music and watch what can happen. Often your heart, spirit, and even your attitude changes. Things that might annoy you or set off tension in the home suddenly disappear. The kids getting up late is met with a gentle response. The spouse who forgot they had an early morning meeting, instead of being met with a rolling of the eyes, is met with a cup of coffee and a kiss. You see more sunshine, more smiles, and have more grace on those around you. Why not give it a try? As easy as it is to accept the changing of the seasons when the temperature changes, so it can be when we change the atmosphere of our life. As we pull out our flannel, rekindle your faith. Let’s make a change, not only our wardrobe and décor, but the atmosphere of our homes.

A Legacy of Faith

January 12, 2012. It’s the 12-5 Pittsburgh Steelers against the 8-8 Denver Broncos in the playoffs. It had been a back-and-forth game, and as fate would have it, the game would go to overtime. The overtime last just one play. Tim Tebow would find Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown, and in an instant, the game was over. The Denver players celebrated, fans went delirious, and Tim Tebow raised his hands in jubilation, but almost instantly, viewers watched as he quickly bowed his knee. No one should have been shocked, it wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be his last. He was known for kneeling. It happened in college games, it happened at public events, and I’m sure it happened in his private life. At any time and in any place, when there was a moment to give thanks or honor, Tebow would kneel. In a very simple way, Tebow’s actions somewhat mimicked the actions of the patriarch, Abraham. Abraham was a man of altars. In his youth, Abraham understood his need for God’s guidance, so he built an altar at Shekem. As he grasped his dependence on God, he built a second altar, this one at Bethel. In Hebron, he builds a third altar, this time realizing God was his friend, that God was not against him, but for him. He builds his final altar at Moriah, showing God his total commitment to Him. While we often reflect on Abraham’s faith, it was his altars that was a demonstration of his faith. Throughout his life Abraham bowed, he acknowledged God and his dependence on Him. Not only did Abraham build and live at altars, but he also instilled the value of an altar in his son. As they head up Mount Moriah, look at Isaac’s question. Isaac asks, “dad, we’ve got the wood and we’ve got the fire, but where is the sacrifice?” If there is no example, if there is no training, there would have been no question. How about you? Do you still build altars? Are you training your family to live near an altar? Are you giving them a legacy of appreciation?” An altar, not a one stop moment, but a continual, life enhancing value that must be visited often. If we do, it will sustain us through every phase and challenge of our life.

Just Keep Searching

She had search for years, forty in fact. She had tried ointments and medicines. She had gone to doctor after doctor and tried every imaginable option. She was desperate for relief, for healing, for a miracle. She had spent more money than she could count, but no matter what she tried, the outcome was always the same, her sickness was still with her. When someone mentioned the healer Jesus, she was reluctant, maybe even a little sarcastic, but deep inside her heart there was still a measure of hope. When the word came that Jesus was coming to her town, she pushed passed her previous disappointments and headed to where they said Jesus would be. As she nears where Jesus is, she sees the crowd, and for a moment she considers turning around and heading home, but the same hope that had caused her to try every medicine, meet every doctor, and spend whatever it cost, said press on. So, she did, pushing through the crowd, she can only catch the hem of Jesus’ garment. What happens next is beyond her imagination. An indescribable feeling runs through her body, instantly she knows something has changed. No one has to tell her, no one has to verify what has happened, she knows. . . she gasps and whispers to herself, “I’m healed.” No one in the crowd knows, and if it had not been for Jesus pausing, she could have walked away whole. But Jesus stops, asking what the crowd and disciples think is an absurd question, “someone has touched me.” The disciples state the obvious, “Master, everyone has touched you.” But then Jesus clarifies, it wasn’t just a touch, but a touch of faith, a touch of hope, a touch that took virtue out of Jesus’ body and brought healing to the woman. Her life is forever changed because she never quit searching, never gave up. If you’re searching for answers to problems in your life, searching for a solution to difficult circumstances, search for Jesus and keep searching until you find Him. While you may not find your answer today or tomorrow, if you keep on searching and keep looking with purpose, you will find Him. And when you find Him, you will find the answer to so many questions and the solution to so many problems and difficulties. You can try everything you know to solve the issues you are dealing with, but when every other possibility fails, and it feels hopeless, know that if you haven’t tried Jesus, you still have hope, and He was your best option all along.

Create the Atmosphere

Creating a spiritual atmosphere in your life and home is critical to your overall success. Whether it’s in your church, home, individual life, having the ambience of the Spirit is of upmost importance. David created an atmosphere of integrity early in his life. His ruthless band of men became enamored when David refused to seize the moment and kill King Saul, in so doing he created an atmosphere of trust in a group of men who trusted no one. Paul and Silas set in a jail bruised and battered with a choice between whining and worshiping. They chose to worship and dark, dreary, and oppressive jail became a sanctuary of praise. Changing the atmosphere opened cell doors, released other prisoners, and brought a jailer and his family to God. What atmosphere are you creating? Are you a part of bringing an electric atmosphere to Life Connections? Is your home a home where there is a negative or positive vibe? Do people walk away from you downcast or exhilarated? Each day we chose the atmosphere will create. At Life we’ve been intentional over the years to create two specific atmospheres. One of prayer and the other yielding to the Spirit. We understand that for any ministry to be impactive it must be saturated with prayer. We also know that everything we do, and in every moment, we must allow the Spirit to have liberty. Paul said in 2 Corinthians that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” These two atmospheres are not accidents at Life but have been intentionally created. They are our DNA and what we must make sure never fades or lose relevance. How about your home? What is the atmosphere inside your four walls? Take time this week to reflect and pray about the atmosphere of your home and then set to create a place that your friends and family will love to visit.

God is In Your Story

“God is in This Story,” a brand-new song by Katy Nichole and Big Daddy Weave, if you haven’t heard it yet, cue it up. In essence the song says even though God doesn’t give us all the details, He is in the details. There is so much truth there. God gives Noah the plans to build an ark but not all the details of how the future would unfold. Though Noah may have felt abandoned, God was in the details and with him throughout the journey. Moses experienced God in a miraculous way at a burning bush, but once again, God doesn’t give Moses every detail. But as the pages of Moses’ life turned, God was with Him in every moment. David is anointed king in front of his brothers, but God gives him little, if any details, to the twist and turns that will be involved in His future. When David says, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” he is letting us know that though there are difficult times, God is in the details. Jeremiah says, “God knows the plans He has for us,” and though He knows our journey, rarely does he give us the full description. Why? Because if he gave us every detail it would overwhelm us. We would succumb to fear and anxiety and run from His design and purpose. So, in His great wisdom, He gives us bits and pieces, day by day, just enough so that we will have the courage to take the next step. This He knows, if we will keep walking, He can take us places far beyond our imagination and natural ability. Discouraged? Overwhelmed? Broken? Fearful? Take heart. God is in your details. God is in your story!

137 Golf Balls

For most of our lives Friday night at the Hudson home has involved pizza, games, or some crazy activity. This weekend was no different. After some pizza and banter, the conversation turned to what would be the activity of the evening. I’m not sure who suggested it, but the idea of golf ball hunting was brought up, and moments later Gent, Jake, Ris, and myself were in the woods. To give you a visual, it looked something like Easter for grown-ups. We scoured the woods looking for golf balls as though they were gold, and twenty minutes later, we strolled out with 137 golf balls! We celebrated with a photo session and perusing the mirage of colors and brands. As I reflected on our haul, I was amazed that 137 people, unless some had hit multiple shots into the woods, had chosen to leave their golf ball. Costing between $2.50 and $5.00 a piece, they were left because their value was not worth the time that it would take to find them. Jesus speaks of going on a search, not for golf balls, but for sheep. It’s the parable where 99 sheep are safe, but one has wondered away and is lost. The parable suggests that though He has 99 sheep, Jesus puts extreme value on one, so much so, that he leaves the herd to find it. His point? There are no unimportant souls, no unimportant people, everyone has value to Jesus. Important to know for ourselves and important to know about the broken and confused around us. Jesus cares, and if He does, we must. Recognize this today, no matter what you have done, you matter. Jesus is searching for you, reaching with grace and mercy . . . and, if He’s doing that for us, how much more should we be reaching for those in a world that is broken and hurting.

Just a Breeze

The temperature is 93, the humidity is 85 percent, and the “feels like” temperature is 107. Are you sweating and feeling the misery just by reading that sentence? Welcome to summer in Indiana. Where do you want to be when we have one of those days? I either want to be in an air-conditioned room or a vehicle with the A/C blowing full blast. If you can’t be in either one of those places or have a job that requires you to be outside for an extended time, what do you want? Just a breeze. A breeze is defined as a light, gentle wind. It’s enough wind to make the day bearable, give you hope, and cool your brow. If you can find a shade tree and a glass of tea or lemonade, you might consider staying there for a while. How important is a breeze? In Acts 27 Paul is on a ship headed to Italy when conditions begin to deteriorate, for a moment they pause and think of terminating the journey, but Acts 27:12 says, “when a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so, they weighed anchor and sailed. . .” Catch that! They were ready to give up, drop anchor, but a gentle wind changed everything, and they sailed on. Life has its challenges, discouragement comes, but if we catch a breeze, it changes everything. We often look to vacations, entertainment, and other stimulus to give us energy, but Simon Peter says in Acts 3:19 that the refreshing breeze we want is found in repentance. “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” How inspiring! How close are we to a spiritual breeze? As quick as we turn toward God and lean into His overwhelming peace and presence, a breeze of the Spirit will come and invigorate us. Catch a breeze!

Dormant, Not Dead

High heat and no rain have brought a swift change to our yards. It’s mid-July and they look like its late August, unless you don’t care about your water bill, and have been relentlessly watering. Green lawns that we were constantly mowing in May have turned dry and brown. But take heart, your yard is not dead, it’s dormant. It’s good to know. In most cases you won’t have to reseed, simply wait, and come Fall, rains will come, and your grass will turn green again. The brown isn’t a sign of death, but protection. Built into every blade a grass is the ability to defend itself when times get dry. It will live again. What a novel idea, one not just for grass, but for Christians as well. In life, dry seasons come, God knew that, so he built in safeguards. David explains this in Psalm 23 when he says, “when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” How can he have that confidence? Because he knows he’s got built in protection. He follows up the fear no evil with, “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” What David understood we must know; that we all have times of stagnation and dryness. In those seasons, God has not forsaken us, we have not committed the unpardonable sin, or somehow become God’s least favorite child, we are simply going through a tough stretch. It’s just a part of life. When these moments hit, know you’re not dead, just dormant. Stay faithful, keep praying, know that mercy and grace will sustain you, and say to yourself often, I’m not dead, just dormant.

Make a Difference

We first noticed him on our way to Saturday night prayer. The him, whoever he was, was about ten years old, standing in front of an elementary school, and wearing a dinosaur outfit. He may not have had the moves like Jagger, but he was definitely dancing creatively. Next to him was another young kid holding up a sign that said, “thought you might need a laugh, if you’re enjoying it, give us a tip.” I was caught off guard by both the dancing dinosaur and the ingenuity of the two to come up with the idea of a way to make money. After our time in prayer, we headed back home, but had to make a stop which took us a different route than the one we had taken to church. Honestly, we had forgotten about our little dancing dinosaur but as we head into downtown Noblesville, I see him again, this time at the town square. His dancing has become more animated and the kid holding the sign has now joined in. I wish I could tell you I stopped and left the two boys a tip, but I can’t, I drove on. But the moment has left an impression on me. In a world that is violent, divided over abortion and social issues, has a terrible war going on in the Ukraine, and has lost its moral compass, two kids said, let’s dance and make people laugh. Let’s dance for ourselves, dance for others, and dance so crazily that it impresses and impacts others. We need more of that, not just from kids, but from adults. It doesn’t take a dinosaur outfit, or Jaggers moves, just an awareness. An awareness that our world is reeling; it’s broken, lost, and desperately in need of someone who can help them see life differently. Ask God, what can I do to encourage, inspire, or lift someone who is heavy with life’s challenges? Then follow that inspiration and makes a difference.

Live in Liberty

Freedom. We have parades and shoot off fireworks to celebrate it. Yet I’m afraid freedom is a concept that we don’t totally grasp. It’s not necessarily a liberty to do anything, but more, the possibility not to be bound by anything. Early Americans didn’t want liberty to do everything, they wanted freedom to live without being controlled. Unfortunately, far too many who will wave flags and shoot off fireworks this week, are encumbered by bondage. Government and leaders are binding their citizens with humanistic ideas, political and social elites control society with carnal philosophies and beliefs, and the minority wants to set the standard for the majority. Beyond societal oppression, many are bound by the entrapments of this life. Countless are controlled by greed and gold. Others are bound to alcohol, drugs, and perversion. Far too many are overcome by sin that is destroying their lives and families. In Luke 4:18, Jesus said he had come “. . . to proclaim release to the captive. . .to set free those who are oppressed.” Jesus’ freedom liberates us from things that the devil had enticed and trapped us with. It’s Zacchaeus, insnared by greed, being freed by the grace of Jesus. It’s a woman lured into a moment of adultery, freed by the mercy of Jesus. His words to her as he frees her are important, “go and sin no more.” What does he give her? Freedom over sins control over her, the ability to have a different lifestyle, and live untangled from her past and mistakes. In John 8:36 Jesus said to the crowd, “the Son makes you free and you are free indeed.” What does that mean? It means because of Jesus we are no longer controlled by things that overwhelmed and mastered us. We are liberated from sins power and set free from our past mistakes. Live in liberty. Live in the freedom of Jesus!

Got Your Back

This year I have a completely different take on Father’s Day. I’ve always celebrated my dad and how amazing he is. But this year I’ve watched my husband take on the role of “father” and it’s been such an amazing thing to watch. The first thing that I noticed was when he took on the role of protector. Newborn babies can’t do much to defend or protect themselves, so I think naturally dads take on this role. From the moment we pulled out of the hospital, he tried to avoid every pothole and waited until there was a gap the size of Texas to pull out in front of a car. I’ve always seen the same thing from my dad. I remember the day he tried to teach me how to ride a bike and how protective he was. I was terrified, but there was no way he was going to let me fall. He made sure I knew how the brakes worked and told me that I didn’t have to go fast. I just had to try. He was going to protect me, even if it meant he might get hurt. The same thing is true of God. He is our greatest protector. He sees all things and knows all things. He will give us all the grace we need and will even take the fall with us when we mess up. In Psalm 3:3 it says just that “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” This Father’s Day be thankful for your protectors and a God who’s got you back.

Risa Fontaine
Daughter of Pastor Jon
Wife to Jacob and Mother to Carter

Intentionally Impactive

Life’s vision involves three-segments. First, touch God every day. It may change daily, but includes Bible reading, prayer, worship, and devotion. Another segment of our vision is being involved in something that outlives you. A personal ministry, project, or a financial foundation; anything that will leave an imprint on the next generation. A final segment involves intentionally impacting someone’s life every day. That doesn’t mean grabbing a bull horn or bashing them with the Bible. It means being purposeful about making a positive impact on someone daily. Lately the Spirit has been prompting me to be more active in this area. So, I’ve been intentional. A cashier caught my attention with his amazing spirit and attitude, so I gave him a compliment. He lit up like the fourth of July, you would have thought I had given him a hundred-dollar bill. Making a run to the grocery, a group of elementary kids walking to a local park for end of the year festivities, spotted our little red car. They started giving us the “18-wheeler blow the horn motion.”  We gave them a beep, beep, smiled, waved and instantly the entire group exploded into laughter and cheers as we drove off. Finally, as we were walking through a park, I noticed a couple meandering slowly up ahead of us. Their spirit seemed heavy, so as we passed, I gave them a smile, “a good morning,” and instantly their countenance changed. The elderly lady said, “yes, it is” and before I knew it, I blurted out the first stanza of Psalm 118:24, “this is the day,” she responded with, “that the Lord has made, and I said, “I will rejoice,” and she completed it with, “and be glad in it.” We left them laughing and with a memory for the day. My point? Impacting others is simple, easy, and cost nothing. Start being intentional about impacting a world that is hopeless, hurting, and broken. Let your positive actions be the conversation at their dinner table.

Don’t Let it Fade

Memorial Day. Its purpose wasn’t for people to picnic and party, but to pause and reflect on who we are, where we came from, and how it happened. Those reflections are an assortment of good and bad events. We remember those who died for our freedom and celebrate the liberties that makes this a great country. It’s not a unique celebration, in fact, it’s one that has its foundation in the Bible. Joshua’s book gives us insight into a moment when God opens the Jordon River and Israel walks through it on dry ground. It’s a repeat of what Moses and their ancestry had experienced forty years earlier. As the last man walks out of the dry riverbed Joshua orders the leaders of each tribe to go back into the river and get one large stone. After the stones are gathered, they are instructed to stack them in a fashion that forms a memorial. Why? So that generations later, after this miraculous moment is but a shadow, they will remember what God had done. I’m saddened by what has happened to many of the memorials in our country over the past few years, not because I glory in the abuse or condone the actions of men, but because without those memorials we won’t remember our past. Today we’re not able to take our children to memorials of past failures and teach them about our nation’s mistakes. When memorials are torn down societies tends to repeat their actions because they have no reminder of the past. Why did Israel turn away from God in Judges, just one book later? Could it be because someone forgot to protect the memorials, forgot to take their children to them, and forgot to teach them about God’s miraculously ability to deliver? I encourage you to build memorials in your family. Remind them often of how great God is and what an important role he has played in your successes.

Living Off the Spirit Grid

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.

The Power of Light

An obvious fact. The less light the more darkness. Turn off the lights in a windowless room and darkness dominates. One of the fascinating details the gospel authors mention is as Jesus is dying on the cross the sky grew dark. When the earthly presence of God went out (“I am the light of the world.” John 8:12), darkness rushed in. It’s important to note what happened during those three hours, because I believe there is a spiritual principle. We wonder why there is such darkness in the earth today, may I suggest that God’s light, the church has become dimmer. While there are more mega-churches, there are fewer people attending than ever. In 1950 nearly 70% of Americans attended church regularly, in 2007 that number had dwindled to 18%, and reports are that nearly 1/3 of those who were faithful to church before COVID have not returned. Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, says it is his belief that the actual number of faithful and active Christians in America is less than 5%. Not only did Jesus say that He was the light of the world, but that we, the followers of Christ, “were the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14). Why the darkness? Why the hate? Why such an aggression of immorality? Why does it seem no one has the answer for all that ills our world? As a pastor who trusts God’s Word, I believe we are seeing the effect of the absence of light. Jesus asked in Luke 18:8, “when the son of man comes, will He find faith,” and the author of Hebrews warns, “let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.” Easter 2022. Make a decision to make God’s house a life priority.

I’ve Got This

The Triumphal Entry. It wasn’t an event; it was a statement. It was premeditated and calculated. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He knew His friends and foes. He knew what the day, Palm Sunday, would hold and He knew what the week would hold. Riding into Jerusalem on a colt was no accident, it was a declaration; to every Pharisee and religious leader Jesus was saying, I am in control. To every dark and demonic Spirit, He’s saying I am not afraid. It’s not a statement for the week, but a proclamation for eternity. The week would start with a Triumphal Entry and crowds crying, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” and would end with crowds crying “crucify Him.” He doesn’t become enamored by the accolades nor discouraged by the jeers. He knew the moment was bigger than a parade or a cross, this was about who controls eternity. It’s about who would have power over death, hell, and the grave. It’s about sickness having dominance and darkness dominating the world. When the week comes to an end and He says, “it is finished,” He is not talking about His life, but the question of who was in control. As He breathes His last breath, He knows I am forever in control of eternity. Sin, sickness, disease, and death are now powerless. Satan, his schemes, and plans are forever thwarted. All things are subject to Him. The Triumphal Entry was an everlasting statement that said, I control everything, including my death. A good thing to know. Whether it’s in a court room or hospital room. Whether life or death. Jesus has triumphed and your life is safely in His hands.

Time for an Oil Change?

An oil change. It’s a necessary part of owning a car. It has to happen about every three to five thousand miles. Why? Because as good as the oil is, it breaks down.  What was originally strong, clean, and pure, over time becomes weak and dirty. Refuse to change the oil and eventually your car becomes sluggish and breaks down. Change the oil and you will notice that it has fresh power, renewed energy, and better gas mileage. You may have the finest car, equipped with every feature, and all the luxuries, but if the oil doesn’t get changed, it quickly becomes worthless. Fresh oil is a must! What is true of our car is true of our spiritual life. It doesn’t matter how long we have been in church, how well we look, or how much knowledge we may have of scripture, without a fresh touch of God’s spirit we will become sluggish, get weary, and break down. Are you lacking spiritual energy? When is the last time a touch of God’s Spirit has overwhelmed you or you got lost in God’s presence? When’s the last time you went to your knees in prayer and couldn’t leave? If it’s been a while, could it be that you need an invigorating anointing? Know this, your world saps your energy and steals your spiritual passion, and a fresh anointing is a must. David said in Psalm 92:10, “. . .I have been anointed with fresh oil.” What David understood was, that fighting giants, defeating adversaries, and living a God led life spends energy and wears down the soul. His solution to the daily grind? A fresh anointing of oil. Feeling weary? Lacking energy? Ask God for an oil change, for Him to send an energizing oil over your heart, soul, and life.

The Underdog Bandwagon

The Underdog. In last year’s March Madness, it was Oral Robert University, this year it is St. Peter’s. They come out of nowhere, usually a small college that no one has heard of, and though they have been invited to the event, they’re not supposed to win, but they do. And once they win, especially when your team has lost, the crowd jumps on their bandwagon. Everyone likes to see David beat Goliath. Somewhere along the line some self-righteous pharisee turned God into Thor, a God that is just waiting to hammer people with judgement when they fail. If you’re not blessed, it’s because you are not pleasing God. If you are going through difficult times, it’s because God is against you. When the woman was caught in adultery, the “rule” people were screaming crucify her, but Jesus’ jumps on her bandwagon. Rocks drops, screams of judgement go silent, and Jesus is on his knees saying, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Paul, struggling with his inadequacies, ask God to remove his thorn, instead God says, it okay if you’re broken, my grace is sufficient. Wherever you turn in the Bible, you see God rooting for broken people. Religion says cross every “t,” and dot every “i,” and then you are good enough, but Jesus throws party’s when broken people simply repent. Feeling like you don’t belong? Feel like you’re not good enough? Maybe you feel like you failed too many times. Know this, every time you have a win, every time you turn to Him, God jumps on your bandwagon. He is for you!

Rip Off the Label!

68 Teams. Four regions. In each, teams are ranked by computers and a handful of “in the know” people. Teams with ones and twos are expected to be there at the end of the tournament, 15 and 16’s are expected to make an early exit; just pebbles for the Goliath’s on the road to the Final Four. Except for one problem. Occasionally, a pebble forgets the ranking assigned by the professionals, and plays with a fire that can’t be defined by statistics. Instead of folding, they define themselves. It only happens a handful of times, but after a mind-blowing victory, when a “David conquers a Goliath,” you hear something like this, “no one gave us a chance, but we knew in our hearts we could do it.” We live in a culture that is label driven, and too many allow others to define who they are. Too often people are defined by the clothes they wear, the people they associate with, or the letters after their name. Yet, like a 15 and 16 seeded team, there are some who rip off their labels and define themselves in God. David was called too young, unproven, and unreliable, all which may have been true, but he had something that could not be measured. His family, peers and experts measured him by the world’s metrics, but David measured himself by something no one else could see, his God factor. He knew what God had done for Him and what God had called him to do. When that kind of faith is in place it doesn’t really matter the labels put on you. To someone today, do the same as David or a low seeded team, rip off the label and be who God called you to be!