In Acts 19 there is a story that we as Christians should take note of. The dialogue opens with a few men acting as if they know Jesus and have His power, trying to cast out an evil spirit. Hindsight allows us to see the sham that is taking place. Speaking to the evil spirit that possesses the man, the powerless man says, “I solemnly implore and charge you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” The phrasing of the man reeks of something missing. The response of the evil spirit to the powerless Christian imposter says it all. The spirit says, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” With that question the spirit physically attacks the man. The spiritually empty man runs from the house in fear with wounds and stripped naked. This story shouts a warning to people who profess to know Jesus but have no relationship with Him. Its people who act the part and say the right words, but their life is more symbolism than substance. Know this, those living symbolic Christianity eventually get exposed. You may not be assaulted or stripped naked physically, but an empty life eventually becomes visible to those around you. Paul warns Timothy of this in 2 Timothy 3 when he tells him to watch out for those “who have a form of godliness but deny its power.” Today I challenge you to be more than professing Christians, to be a person who has the true power of God. What does it require? An authentic relationship with Jesus and the power of the Spirit that was promised by Jesus before His ascension and experienced by the early followers in the book of Acts. Who are you? A professing Christian or a Christian who is living in the power of the Spirit. Regardless of what you say, your life will expose the truth.
Monday was a glorious day. In fact, it’s been a pretty good month. Snow, snow and more snow. As I write, over a foot of snow is still on the ground. There are great spiritual lessons in snow. First, snow has no prejudice. It falls everywhere and on everyone. Doesn’t matter your economic, religious or social status. Snow falls. Second, snow covers everything. It covers average and beautiful landscaped yards. Snow covers sidewalks and streets, leaves that weren’t raked and branches that have fallen. Snow finds every knuck and covers every cranny. Finally, the obvious, snow makes everything white. Gray, green, brown, regardless the color, snow turns it white. Isaiah says, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” What an amazing word picture when we put into context what a snow does. Jesus’ blood, like snow, has no prejudice. It covers everyone. No bias, no discrimination. Second, like snow, Jesus’ blood covers everything, no issue is beyond his blood. Whether a lie, a moral failure or something worse, Jesus’s blood covers it. Finally, Jesus’ red blood turns our sins white. We become justified and clean. He gives us a clean slate. His blood takes our sins and makes them as distant as the east is from the west. The old song says, thank God for the blood, thank God for the blood, it washes white as snow. I’m glad I can live in the power of His work and not in my futile efforts to save myself. Maybe that’s why I love snow so much, because it reminds me that His blood makes my life look like a fresh snow.
In Matthew 7 Jesus speaks of two men who built houses. One dug deep and built on rock, while the other carelessly built his home on sand. Inevitably, a storm came and both houses were battered. Once the storm passed, the house built on rock was standing, while the house built on sand was destroyed. Jesus’ premise. Storms come to everyone. Those who build on strong foundations survive. It’s critical that we have a strong relationship with God to survive storms. Because storms come, God had the Hebrew people wear scriptures on their clothing to remind them of important principles, and He instituted the Passover as a reminder of how He provided their escape from Egypt. Now it’s 2021 and we face new challenges. Spiritual darkness is rampant, many are distorting God’s Word and we’re living in a world that is on information overload. How do we survive? Build your life on a strong foundation. Jesus called himself the chief cornerstone and said His Word was forever settled in heaven. That’s where we must start; by getting back to the basics and owning our relationship with Jesus and His Word. That is what The Search is about, finding ownership and getting understanding of God’s Word. Worship is energetic and emotionally charged, but like a good meal, it quickly dissipates, and we wait for the next refill. Inspirational messages are wonderful, they lift our faith, inspires us to love, show mercy, and embrace grace, but we need more. We need substance, foundation, structure. How does that happen? We must read God’s Word, understand, study, pray and live it. The Search. This is where it begins. This is where we take ownership, this is where we start building a strong foundation. This is where we say as David did, “your word have I hid in my heart.”
John 4 is where we find Jesus setting his sights on helping a fragile and apprehensive Samaritan woman. The story opens as Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well, alone. He has sent His disciples to get bread. The setting is important, because if he isn’t alone, He likely doesn’t have a chance to have a conversation with the woman. It’s not that the woman isn’t broken, she is. It’s just that she is jaded and skeptical because of the bruises of life. She’s been hurt by five different husbands and the man that’s now a part of her life isn’t her husband. As the conversation begins, Jesus faces an emotional wall that is as high and thick as a prison wall. Trying to break through the icy stare, Jesus asks for water. He is met with a why? Why are you, a Jew, asking me, a Samaritan for a glass of water. Don’t you know your type doesn’t talk to people like me. When Jesus offers her water she skeptically asks, how are you going to give me water, you have nothing to draw with. When Jesus explains it’s spiritual water, she judgingly questions, are you greater than our father Jacob? Every attempt Jesus makes to help her is met with a jaded and calloused response. Jesus conversation with the Samaritan woman reminds me of the difficulty we run into when we try to share the good news; the news that Jesus can bless and impact their life. It’s met with the same skepticism and jaded response. Why? They’ been hurt and they don’t trust. How do we overcome their pain? The same way Jesus did. Keep loving, showing compassion and offering mercy. Hopefully, at some moment, the walls crack, the heart softens, and the love of God comes pouring over their heart like a spring shower.
Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “for I know the plans I have for you… plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” If we take this verse literally, God has a specific plan for our life, and it is for good and is to give us a future that is filled with hope. If God has a plan for us, what hinders it from coming to pass? Satan, people, situations or circumstances? No. The biggest issue impeding God’s plan from happening in our life is us. Jesus lets us know His ultimate goal for all humanity in Luke 19:10 when he said, “I came to seek and save those who are lost.” That’s it. That’s the reason He robed himself in flesh, lived with the humanity He created, died on a cross, resurrected and ascended into heaven, so that everyone can be saved. But is that it? Is that His only plan for our lives? No, I believe God has a specific plan for each of us, but how? It begins by getting in alignment with God’s Spirit, getting in the flow of His purpose. For that to happen it requires that we have a hunger for His will to be accomplished in our life. It requires continually humbling, submitting and yielding to His leadership. It means being led by the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. It means as John said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Regularly, daily, we must pray that prayer. God let Your plans, Your will increase and let mine decrease. Help me to yield my plans, ideas and concepts to yours. What awaits? Joy. Happiness. Calm. Diminishing fear and anxiety. A peace that passes all understanding. Get in the flow. Get in alignment with His Spirit and His plan. It will be life changing.
What do we do when there is a forecast of an impending snowstorm? We head to the grocery store. We load up on bread, milk, eggs and other essentials. We top off the car with fuel, head home with a trunk full of groceries, prepared for the storm. Wake up to a forecast that says rain and we grab a jacket and an umbrella. Being prepared is vital to surviving a storm, whether rain, snow or the storms of life. Why fast? Because storms are coming. It’s not a maybe or possibility, it’s not the question of if, but when will the storms hit. This year there will be unexpected job losses, sickness, emotional hurt, life disappointments and difficulties we don’t anticipate. Knowing storms are in the future, what do we do? We prepare. We pray. We fast. We make our relationship with God a priority. That’s how we prepare spiritually. Jesus went into the wilderness, full of the Spirit, but comes out in the power of the Spirit. What happened in the wilderness? He was tempted. He fasted. He came out ready for all the challenges lie ahead. Paul was converted on the Damascus Road, but before he ever preached a message, God sent him to an Arabian desert. What happened in the desert? He prayed and fasted. He was being prepared for the impending storms; shipwrecks, stonings, beatings, persecution and jail, all storms that lay in front of Paul. How did he survive? Spiritual preparation. What does 2021 hold? God only knows, but one thing I do know, there will be storms. Are you preparing? How we prepare today will determine how we handle the storms and if we will survive. Fast today because storms are coming.
It’s over! Now that it is, it’s important that we take a final look back and make some assessments. There’s been some casualties, some losses but more than anything, change. The way we live life is different. We wear mask. We avoid contact with others. We work from home. We do carryout. The list goes on and on. The way we do church is different too. We’ve sacrificed a lot, probably too much. No hugs. Very little expressive worship. Sermons end and we go home. Some have found it convenient to stay home. The trip that didn’t seem so long, now is, and we watch, if it is convenient. For others, what once was important doesn’t seem as important now, the Spirit outpouring and doctrine became irrelevant, so they attend a “nice” church. Some can pass people in the isle at the grocery store, Target or even set in restaurants, but church, even with social spacing, is too dangerous of a place to attend. We’ve given up a lot. But of all the things we’ve given up, one of the most dangerous is the altar. It’s what the adversary is always after, our altar. So much happens at an altar. We rejoice, repent, find encouragement, get deliverance and worship at altars. We are broken, find healing and praise together at the altar. The miraculous happens at the altar. The Spirit falls in an altar. We are refreshed, gain faith, are convicted and make new commitments at altars. But in 2020 we didn’t have altar services. They went dormant. A casualty of COVID. The 2021 challenge? Like Jacob, get back to Bethel, the house of God. Like Elijah, restore your commitment to building back up the altar. The altar. The success of your life and family depends on it
Now what? Today the presents have been opened and life returns to normal. It’s back to nine to five and real life. So it was after Jesus’ miraculous birth. It’s been days, weeks or months since the glorious entrance of God in flesh, Jesus, into the world. The shepherds have visited the stable. Mary and Joseph have taken Jesus to the temple where they are met with unexpected prophecies about Jesus’ future by Simeon and Anna. The Magi have traveled from a far with gifts and visited his home. But now what? I would love to say the shepherds became evangelist, spreading the good news and the Magi became the first missionaries, establishing great works as they head back East. But only heaven and time will tell. Life, for all we know, went back to normal. The only thing we know is that Jesus grew. We get a glimpse of his growth when they visit the temple when Jesus is twelve. Mary and Joseph go to a Feast in Jerusalem, and after the celebration, begin the journey home when they realize they had left him behind. Upon returning, they find him in the Temple mesmerizing the teachers of the scripture. Beyond that, nothing. Silence. Stillness. The gift went dormant. What do we do when God goes silent? When the seed has been planted but we have to wait. We do what Mary did. Luke 2:51 says, Mary treasured all these things in her heart. When God goes silent and life goes back to normal, treasure what you have experienced and what you know is coming. While we don’t know when the promise will come, we know it will…so, with no other choice we wait, knowing better and more magnificent days are ahead!
The Gift of Faith. It’s a gift that we have to exercise. It’s available in any given moment and in any situation. It’s a gift that is built on belief that the Bible is true, and God will do what he says and what he has done before. We’ve circled situations because the children of Israel circled Jericho. We’ve anointed prayer clothes like the early church did. We speak in the name of Jesus because Simon Peter and John did, and our faith says, “if it happened for them, it could happen for us.” Faith sees Jesus, the miraculous more than obstacles and impossibilities. A boat full of disciples saw a storm; they saw waves and lightening, heard thunder and slapping seas, but Simon Peter saw Jesus. Suddenly, faith overrides fear and common sense is taken over by crazy faith, and before you know it, Simon Peter is walking on water. That is the essence of faith, that the impossible becomes possible and the improbable becomes probable. Faith takes what Jesus said in Matthew 19 literally, “but with God all things are possible.” How much faith do you need to see the miraculous begin to happen? Just a little. As Jesus said, “the faith of a mustard seed.” Faith is about knowing “all things are possible with God.” The challenge is simply to have faith. Faith in discouraging times, difficult times, fearful times and overwhelming times. The question is not, whether something is possible or not, rather the question is will we exercise faith. It’s the question Jesus asks in Luke 18, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” The Gift of Faith. Are you using yours?
What do you believe? It’s an important question because what you believe becomes your truth, it becomes what you live your life around. As a society we are living in a time when beliefs are being fiercely challenged. The internet, access to information, and exposure to so many ideas and opinions are impacting life as never before. This is why personal ownership of belief is critical in this hour. Our beliefs can’t be based on religious tradition, church denomination or a pastor’s personal beliefs, it must be your belief. Your belief must come from a reputable source. It must be a source that has been proven true and has stood the test of time. Your belief must be something you have studied and can defend. I have always found my beliefs in God’s Word, but in today’s world, even that is being challenged. God’s Word has been eliminated from schools, mocked by media and is being explained away by educators and science. For it to be secure in our life, for our family’s future, it must be something we read, study and have ownership of. So, what do I believe? I believe that God came to this earth as Jesus. I believe that He healed people that were blind, deaf, lame and had diseases. I believe Jesus walked on water, multiplied bread and brought dead people back to life. I believe that Jesus was crucified on a cross, died and resurrected and was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. I believe He sent His Spirit first to a group of people in an upper room and then to every culture and period of time. This is my belief, I own it and its what I build my life, my family and my future upon. What do you believe? It’s a choice. It’s God gift to you.
Why did I start a Christmas Series in November? Great question. Because it has been a long and difficult year and we needed some joy, something to make our hearts merry and a word to encourage our spirits. Nothing does that quite like a song, especially a Christmas song. In Ephesians 5:19, Paul encourages us “to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord.” Christmas songs remind us of the hope found in Jesus. Sing Joy to the World, and you can’t help but feel the hope in Jesus. Sing Silent Night, Holy Night and calm and peace surrounds you. Other Christmas carols cause us to reflect on days gone by. Sing, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire and whether you have a fireplace or not, or even if you have never tasted a Chestnut, you can still feel the warmth and nostalgia. Still other tunes take us to dreams of another place. Sing songs like Walking in a Winter Wonder Land or Let it Snow and whether you’re in Florida or the Rockies you want to grab the mittens and gloves and make a snowman or have a snowball fight. The simple point is this, Christmas and the songs changes the spirit of the heart. We become more reflective, kinder, and tend to have hearts that long to give. Proverbs 17:22 says that “a joyful heart is good medicine.” So, I invite you, click on your favorite Spotify Christmas list, pull out some old vinyl’s or dial up the Christmas radio station and start the joy early this year because as the song says, “We need a Little Christmas, Right this very Minute…”
Thanksgiving. For some, it’s become, not a day about giving thanks, but the day that earmarks the beginning of Christmas shopping. Instead of taking the time to reflect on the incredible blessings and favor we have as Americans, it has become a frenzied day of greed and self-centeredness. While I recognize that our country nor our lives are perfect, we must admit that we are abundantly blessed. For most who are reading this article, we have a warm home, food in our cabinets and a car to drive. Even for those who have little or nothing, there are caring charities who attempt to provide for the basic needs; clothing, food and shelter. While we may not realize or appreciate it, even those who we would call poor are often better off than many in this world. That is why it grieves me when I see such a lack of thankfulness. In one of the most blessed countries of all times, I have been amazed and saddened by the anger, rioting and general discontent in people we’ve seen this year. When will we stop to count our blessings? When will we be satisfied with the abundance that we have? At what point will there be a pause, a reflection and a genuine heart of appreciation and spirit of gratitude? How about this week? It doesn’t have to be an “around the table” moment or a long prayer, but there should be a true spirit of thankfulness in our Thanksgiving. God is good and God has been good to us. Give thanks!
Dungeons. Desert Destinations. Lion’s Den. Not what we would call precursors to new dimensions in our life. Often what feels like defeat is the tool God uses to bring about incredible change. Joseph’s dream is about leading his family, a thirteen-year dungeon destination doesn’t fit his model, but unless there is a dungeon, there is no baker and butler, and when the Pharaoh has a dream, there is no Joseph to interpret it. God’s plans often look peculiar, but if we trust His process, there is purpose. Moses’ forty-year stint in the desert seems futile and worthless, but that forty-year pause teaches him how to navigate the very desert he will lead the children of Israel through as God’s chosen deliverer. A lion’s den seems a sentence to certain death, but one night with a few sleepy lions, brings drastic change in the leadership in Babylon and jettisons Daniel to a powerful influencer. Have you ever considered that the difficult situation or problem you’re facing could be the tool that God uses to bring about great victory? I can’t answer that for you, but I do know what Joseph said looking back on the dark and trying period of his life, “what you (his brothers) meant for harm, God meant for good.” What are you going through? Look at it through the lens of possibility. Could it be that God is using your trial to work out something for your good? Only time will tell, but I do know this, often God uses our problems to propel us into new places. God, give us the strength and faith to trust in your process.
I recently read of a feud between to neighbors in California. One got upset with the other over a landscaping issue and has proceeded to continually play the Gilligan’s Island theme song over outdoor speakers just below the acceptable decibel level of the city ordinances. There is now a lawsuit. The power of persistence is amazing. In Joshua 6, God tells the people to walk around the city one time each day, with the priest continually blowing trumpets. The battle plan makes little sense, but Israel’s consistent obedience brought an indescribable victory. Jesus speaks of a widow in Luke 18 who consistently asked a judge to grant her protection, she was so persistent that the judge says, “I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” Want to know something else, God is consistent in His love for us. In Luke 15 we read the story of the prodigal son. While the son walked away from the father, the father never gave up on his son. Day after day he was watching, hoping and believing his son would return. In Luke 15:20, it says, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” We have a God who consistently looks for ways to love us and show mercy and grace toward us. It’s important that we realize that when we are not consistent, when what we say and what we do at church does not match up in our daily life, the gospel and the power of the Spirit loses credibility. Live a consistent Godly life. Live it before your spouse, your children and the world you are called to reach.
Over the past few weeks we’ve watched as the leaves have fell from the trees in our backyard. We knew it was coming, the weather was getting cooler and the leaves had begun to change colors. We’ve watched as brilliant yellow, orange and red leaves, one by one, dropped to the ground. Some fell without any coercion; others fell when there was a gentle breeze. Some held on until strong winds came. Yesterday, with the heavy rain, yet another bunch fell. Yet today, as we look out the window, still many leaves remain. When will they fall? I’m not sure, it may be when another gentle breeze blows or it may take another strong wind or rainstorm. What I do know, at some point in the near future, I will look out to barren trees. But one thing I know, that without exception, nearly every year, there will be a few leaves that stay attached through the winter. What makes the difference? I’m not really sure, but my guess is they were just a tad bit more attached to the life source. Somehow, they tapped into the root system, held a little more water, gained a little more strength and they held strong. A good idea. 1 Timothy 1:4 says “in the later times some will depart from the faith.” We are living in different times; times like never before. Church doors closed, online church became the norm and accountability became optional. Now we’re beginning to see the effect. Some are drifting away, enticed by convenience and pleasure. My admonition; remain faithful to righteousness and godliness, make God’s house a priority and no matter what, stay connected to Jesus, your Life source.
This year’s graduates will have a memory like no other. Their kids won’t believe their story. It will sound like the stories that some of us heard from our parents, that they walked uphill in the snow, both to, and from school. For most, there has been no school activities, athletics, prom or graduation. They didn’t order invitations or have big graduation parties and there were no cap and gowns or move the tassel moments. Who could have dreamed or imagined a scenario like this? In January we were excited about 2020. We were casting vision and setting direction for an exciting year. Then suddenly a word we had never heard, changed our lives forever, COVID-19. Words we had never heard of became a regular part of our vocabulary; isolation and social distancing. I don’t know of one person who wasn’t caught off guard as our lives hit the pause button in late March. This is the confidence I do have, that God knew. Maybe this is why James 4:14 says, “you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” What I do know is this, that, while we can plot and plan, we don’t have a clue what the future may hold. To some, this is a scary thought, but to those who know Jesus, it isn’t. Why? Because while I may not know what tomorrow holds, I know who holds tomorrow, and I know what happens in the end. Jesus returns, those who have built their lives on Him, whether dead or alive, rise to meet Him in Heaven and there we will live forever. That gives me comfort. That gives me strength. That gives me hope. Maybe the good old children’s church song would be a good reminder to us all right now. It starts like this, “He’s got the whole world in His hands, He’s got the whole world in His hands…” I don’t have to recite the rest of the song, because if you got those words resolved in your heart, everything else falls in place.
It’s 5 a.m. You have your coffee, your destination in mind and might be getting your mind revved up for the day. You don’t expect too much action or mind-blowing moments in your neighborhood. Recently, as I was driving out of ours, my attention was caught by a small light ahead of me to my left. It wasn’t a big light, probably the size of a flashlight. It was about two feet off the ground, swaying gently. What I saw next left me speechless. It was an elderly woman, probably in her late 60’s. She has a LED headband lamp strapped to her head and was on the ground trimming and edging her sidewalk with lawn clippers. It was evident she had been there for a while; she was halfway down the sidewalk. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. So many questions, so few answers. What time did you get up? Why do you trim a sidewalk at 5 a.m.? Did you have coffee first? Who gave you the idea to use an LED headlamp to trim grass? Who still uses lawn clippers? I can’t drive past her house now without reliving the moment. I’m sure there was a reason. Maybe she works an odd shift. Maybe she doesn’t like the heat. Maybe she wants to avoid people. The possibilities are endless. What came to my mind was Psalm 119:105, “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Whether we realize it or not, the times we live in are dark and it can be hard to think and see clearly. What we need is what she had; a light to help her navigate the moment. I don’t know why she was cutting grass at 5 a.m. and I don’t really want to understand, but I do know there are many difficult dynamics happening in our world right now. So many opinions. How do we navigate? We need the Light. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Looking for direction? Searching for answers? Trying to traverse the issues of the day. Get the Light of the World involved in your light. He brings clarity in the darkest of situations.
Pentecost. It is not a religion. It is an experience. It was not birthed in the book of Acts; it was birthed in the Exodus, as the Children of Israel were headed to the Promise Land. It was a feast. It was to be celebrated 50 days after Passover. It was called, “The Feast of Harvest or Weeks” and “The Day of First Fruits.” It was a time of celebration and thanksgiving for the grain harvest, for God’s provision. It was a celebration that had been commemorated for nearly 1500 years by the time we get to the book of Acts. It was on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, that God orchestrated and arranged, the outpouring of His promise, His Spirit. He had told the disciples to go and wait in Jerusalem for the promise; the promise of His Spirit and His power. It would be a life changing experience. Pentecost would have been a time when people from all over the known world would have come to Jerusalem to celebrate. The timing of the outpouring created a spiritual pandemic, people took back the incredible news of the outpouring; the experience, the fire, the wind and the foreign languages being spoke, to all regions of the world. The Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts is the day that God went from being, “God with us,” to “God in us.” Pentecost. It is not a one-time experience, it’s not just speaking in an unknown language, a religion, or a good band with a song that creates emotion. Pentecost isn’t something you have to do or get; it is something you want to experience. Pentecost is the gift of God’s Spirit in you, it’s the power of God in you and it’s the resurrection of Jesus in you. Pentecost is the greatest experience you can experience in this life. Pentecost wasn’t just for the disciples 2000 years ago, it wasn’t something that just happen once to some disciples, but it was something that happened and has happened over and over since that first experience. Pentecost. Don’t settle for anything less than what the original church experience. Seek God and ask for your gift. Experience Pentecost for yourself.
I stared in astonishment. Three branches cut from a tree; no longer attached to their life source. Two branches were in flowerpots, the third, nailed to the other two to form an arch. No big deal, except for one thing, they were still producing blooms. No longer getting any nutrients or water, they were totally detached from their life source, yet they bloomed. As I reflected on the branches my mind drifted to the possibility that Christians may be doing the same thing in the midst of COVID-19. We can put off the appearance of being alive, but in reality, be disconnected from the life source. Know this, Jesus is the source of life for you and your family. Want proof? Lazarus is laying in a tomb and Jesus is trying to build hope in Mary. At one-point Jesus looks at Mary and says, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” Struggling to believe, Jesus takes Mary and her friends to the tomb where Lazarus lays, and with three words, “Lazarus, come forth,” demonstrates that He is the source of Life. I’m afraid that in this time of pandemic many have drifted away from the source of Life. We look alive, can say the right things but we’ve detached ourselves from God. Bibles lay dormant with dust, prayerlessness has become the daily norm and the atmosphere of our homes are filled with more of this world’s movies, music and media than anything spiritual. Though we’re without excuse, we skip out on Midweek Services and catch just enough of the Sunday service to say we watched if anyone asked. Carnality has replaced Christianity. Is there hope? Yes! Unlike the trees that will eventually drop their blooms and dry out, we can confess that we’re weak and have walked away and God will reattach us. Romans 11:23 says when someone turns back to God, that “God is able to graft them in again.” Isn’t that what happened to the prodigal son? He had got detached from his father, lost all he had and nearly died, but in his lowest moment realized, my dad will take me back. Are you away from God? Have you not only isolated from society but from God? You may think you alive, but it’s just a matter of time until you will feel the effects of being detached. I encourage you, seek God, return to righteousness and let God bring you back to life.
Three blue eggs. Mary and I have been observing them almost daily since the middle of March. Being in “stay at home mode” has allowed us to keep tabs on the process, and it is a process. Momma robin is persistent, faithful and determined. The progression is really quite amazing. At some point her body told her she is going to produce eggs. Immediately she went into search mode and found the right tree. One where she and her eggs would feel safe from predators. One that would support her nest for the duration. It would have to stand against the elements. Finally, it had to be durable, something that could stand the test of time and allow her to be undisturbed. It just so happened that she chose a tree that was right outside our family room window. Once she found her tree, the building process began. Twig by twig, grass and mud were brought to the tree. Finally, after about a week, the nest was ready. Then, one morning, they were there, three bright blue eggs. Since that day she has rarely left the nest. She has been there when it’s cold, when there were storms and high winds and even when the day was sunny, and the weather was perfect. She stayed, setting on her nest. Occasionally we will get too close, and she takes flight. From a nearby tree she chirps loudly, letting us know she’s watching. Once it is safe, she returns and sets. How long will it last? We really don’t know; she is there for the duration. Seeing this process over the past two months has been fascinating and also has brought a challenge. It begs the question. What are we committed to? What are we building that would cause us to be as persistent, faithful and determined? Shouldn’t our homes be much like the robins? Are we being careful about what we build into our lives? Shouldn’t our homes be safe places that are protected from the elements of this world? While we can’t control everything that goes on around us, we should be building safe places for our families. Finally, do we have determination? Determination to do whatever it takes to make sure we protect what God has given us. He has given us salvation, His grace and mercy, His Spirit, and sometimes I’m afraid we don’t value it. Determination says, “nothing shall separate me from the love of God.” It says, “we will never leave Him or forsake Him.” Determination is passion that is so passionate that it will causes us to be like Jesus disciples. Once cowards, they became so committed, that they died as martyrs. It is like Paul said, “I must know Him.” Back to our bird, when does it all end? She really doesn’t know, but she is committed to the process and one day she will get her reward. Three beautiful robins. What is true of momma robin is true for us. We don’t know when God will return, but we do know this, “one day we will be like Him.” Live life with persistence, passion and determination. One day it will be worth it all.
Feeling alone? You’re not alone. One of the most difficult parts of the COVID-19 pandemic is that so many are dealing with the feeling of loneliness. There are so many segments of society who are experiencing the emptiness of connection. We have senior citizens who are being extra careful to avoid social interactions. Widows and widowers are feeling more abandoned than ever. Singles and those who have divorced are dealing with a newfound isolation. While loneliness is difficult, may I suggest it might be where God wants us to be. It’s in alone times when we often hear God’s voice and see His greatness. It’s Abraham walking up a hill with his son, alone with his thoughts and what God has asked him to do. But it’s in that alone time that he sees God step up. Laying Isaac on the altar, raising the knife to sacrifice his son, God steps in, grabs the arm of Abraham and the rest of the story is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It’s Daniel, standing up for God, and being rewarded by getting to stand between two guards, and thrust into a lion’s den. The door shuts behind him and he now stands alone in fear, uncertainty and a den full of lions. What he didn’t see was that God had stepped into the den of lions with him. As Daniel sleeps, so do the lions. God is glorified and Daniel is never the same. Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego are thrust into a fiery furnace, certain that their lives are over, they are unaware that God had stepped in too. Their foe sees “a fourth man in the fire, calls them out and they experience the miraculous transformation of a heathen nation that will say, “the Lord, He is God.” Elijah, overwhelmed by the discouraging events of the day says, “I alone am left, and they (my adversaries) seek my life,” but what he didn’t understand was this was not the end of his life, but the beginning of a whole new dimension. God stepped in and overwhelming fear is met by an overwhelming God. I want to challenge you today, don’t be dazed by the feeling of loneliness. It may be that God has brought you to a place called alone so that you can see Him in His greatness and your life in a who new dimension. Alone is where God works best. Alone is when you done your best, you’re at the end of your rope and hope seems lost, but that’s often when God steps up and steps in. When you feel alone, know this, you are alone with God.
Just over a week ago we would have been watching “One Shining Moment,” the culmination of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. It’s a video collage of the exhilarating winning moments and crushing defeats during the tournament. One moment you can be the hero and the next day have your face in a towel, crying that it all over. Do you ever wonder if you will ever have a defining moment or if you’ve missed your “one shining moment?” What about your defining moment in Christ?
This week I was reflecting on the ebbs and flows of Simon Peter’s life. His first encounter with Jesus was on a seashore where he is fishing, and Jesus invites him to become a fisher of men. We would definitely call that a defining moment, from a fisherman to a follower of Jesus. Another shining moment is when Jesus ask, “who does men say that I am?” Simon Peter says, “you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus commends Simon Peter and give him the keys to the kingdom. We would imagine that Simon Peter lived on that moment for a while. In another moment, not nearly as gratifying, Jesus calls Simon Peter, “Satan” and tells him to get behind him. Had Simon Peter allowed that moment to define him, it could have crushed him and caused him to walk away. If that moment doesn’t crush him, how about the three times he denies Jesus as he is being crucified? He curses, denies and runs. A defining moment none of us would want to remember. Yet Simon Peter survives and stands in what many would call his highest moment, preaching the message of repentance on the Day of Pentecost. We would likely call that, his “One Shining Moment.” But there was more to come. Simon Peter has a bias, he is only preaching the Gospel to Jews, but in a moment on a roof top and an invitation to Cornelius’ house, he opens to Gospel to the world. His shadow will heal people, he will write two personal books of the Bible and help Mark pen his book. While he likely did not realize it, those writings would impact millions of people. Finally, maybe his defining moment was hanging upside down on a cross, counting himself unworthy to die in the same fashion as his Savior. So many moments, so many things that could be his defining moment. But may I suggest this. That his defining moment was when he said yes to Jesus. That’s when his life, his world and his destiny changed.
Your defining moment? It will not be when you do something spectacular or amazing. It won’t be a failure or mistake that might seem insurmountable. Your defining moment? The moment you say yes to Jesus. That’s when everything in your life, whether you understand it or not, begins to work for your good. Your “yes” to Jesus is the beginning of the best days of the rest of your life.
Empty. It’s not a word we necessarily like. Running late, we hop in the car, look at the gas gauge and it’s on empty. You get a bowl out of the cabinet, get the milk out and go to grab your favorite box of cereal, only to find someone has left a nearly empty box in the cabinet. Ever been in a relationship that felt empty? It seems no matter how much you pour into the relationship, somehow it still feels empty. I must admit that there are times in my own life I feel like I’m running on empty. Empty, it means containing nothing, vacant or unoccupied, and while the word often leaves us frustrated, there is one instance where we are thankful for empty. Easter, the one moment we celebrate empty. A broken and empty hearted Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James are taking spices to anoint Jesus’ body and we they get there, they are met with the unfathomable, the stone is rolled away and a tomb that is empty. Met by an angel they hear the words we will forever celebrate, “He is not here, He has risen.” It’s the one instance when empty means full. An empty tomb means a resurrected savior. An empty tomb means that death, hell and the grave has been defeated. An empty tomb means the blood of Jesus has power over the power of sin. An empty tomb means we have access to God; to His grace, mercy and love. An empty tomb means our lives can be full of His Spirit, joy unspeakable and unlimited possibilities. An empty tomb means we can look forward to an eternal life. My life is full because of an empty tomb. Easter. An empty tomb. The one moment when empty means full!
If I were with Jesus and were to have been writing a journal, my entry today would have gone something like this. Today was an amazing day. We celebrated with Jesus as He made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. I feel like this is the beginning of something big. Only kings are celebrated like we celebrated today. The people lined the streets, coats and palm branches were laid in front of Him and more palm branches waved over us as we entered Jerusalem. The crowd sounded like a roaring river saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” I can’t wait to see what this week holds. Little did they know, but God did. As He rode in on the colt that day, He knew He was just five days away from a kangaroo court, a scourging and a wooden cross. They never saw it coming on the day of that joyous Triumphal Entry. Five days later exuberant disciples are filled with horror, overwhelmed, dismayed and fearful as events that were beyond their imagination are taking place. Emmanuel, God with us, is hanging and dying, the creator being destroyed by His creation. That day, they didn’t think life could ever get any worse, or that there would ever be hope again. Life had come crashing down, dreams were dashed, and hearts broken. It was good while it lasted, but this was the end, except God knew, this was not the ending but the beginning. Just as He knew that the cross was coming on the day of the Triumphal Entry, He knew the Resurrection was coming in three days. I say this in light of what we are living through today. While we have been caught off guard, God hasn’t. He knew that this storm was coming, that COVID-19 would change our lives, but He’s not overwhelmed. Not only did He know when it was coming, He knows when it will end. He sends the disciples into the night knowing the storm would come, but shows up just in time, calms the storm and gives greater revelation to His disciples of His power. Daniel 2:21 says, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs (seasons).” In other words, God’s got this. Our current battle with COVID-19 reminds me so much of what it must have felt like at that first Easter. There was so much ebb and flow, so much fear and uncertainty, but as then, so now, God is always in control. He has always been, and He will always be. Trust Him when it doesn’t make sense.
Imagine a pristine place. A place where there is no sickness, pain, hurt or sorrow. Days are filled with peace and tranquility; there is one objective, enjoy God’s creation. Travel and see mountains, oceans and the most scenic views. No work, struggle or guilt. This is what God created for us, but in one moment it is all torn away. One act of disobedience, eating from the tree in the middle of the garden, spins the world into a place beyond repair. Genesis 6 says that man’s thoughts were on evil continually, that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence. Jesus says in Luke 17 that in the times of Noah that people were consumed with eating and drinking, partying, without any fear of judgement. In ten generations the earth goes from purity to putrid. God finds one righteous man, Noah, cleanses the earth, and starts over, but again, in 10 generations the world is filled with depravity. In Genesis 19 we find Abraham as he is bargaining with God for the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. He initially asks God to spare the city if he can find 50 righteous people, in the end, he must negotiate down to finding 10 righteous people. Jude 1 says that the people in Sodom and Gomorrah lived for fornication, sexual immorality and unnatural desires. Jesus said in Luke 17 that the city was filled with eating and drunkenness. The point to notice in these accounts is this, although sin starts small, like a virus, it explodes exponentially. In light of what we’re are living through right now and experiencing in society, I encourage you to take account of your life. Paul says in Galatians 5, “that a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Are you trending toward sin or things that might bind or control you? How will they impact your children? Just as we must practice social distancing, may I suggest that we must live lives where we distance ourselves from the negative influences and sin of this world. We can’t live for the minimum of God and the maximum of this world, we must do the opposite, seek God first, make pleasing Him our highest priority. When we do, we will find something else that explodes exponentially; happiness, joy and peace.