Day one of 2023. A new beginning of sorts. A clean slate. A fresh piece of paper. The start of a new chapter. For some reason as this year opened, I reflected on one of the books by my favorite author, Bill Watterson. The books title is It’s a Magical World and it is a collection of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comics. On the cover there is a fresh blanket of snow and Calvin and Hobbes have a large toboggan and big smiles on their faces. They are out to seize the day, enjoy the snow, and make new memories. Their expressions show no worry about issues of the day, only the pure excitement about what they are about to experience. For whatever reason my spirit resonated with the cover and how to approach 2023. While we could focus on the ills of society, dwell on the ugly in our world, or the problems in our marriage or family, today is an opportunity to change our focus. I think why I enjoy Calvin and Hobbes comic strips so much is because they make each day a new adventure. Rarely is he overwhelmed by the events of the day, instead he charges into each new day with childlike excitement. His imagination is filled with possibilities and his plans for the day are not dictated by the circumstances of his world. He is going to explore, create, and enjoy the day. Calvin is not the first to have this idea, in the Bible David said, this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24). David suggests that it’s important how we frame each day. We can meander into a day with fear and anxiety, or march into it with zeal and excitement. Calvin and David both suggest the latter and so do I. 2023 is our next chapter to write. Depending on your age, you may have many chapters still to write, or for some, there may just be a few remaining. Regardless, it is a new chapter. The good news we get to choose what goes on the page and how we approach each day will determine the chapters content. Live today filled with expectation, faith, and zeal. Look for possibility. Create energy, laughter, and fun. Daily use the 126 variations of Crayola colors, not a pencil. Tough days will come but let them be a page in the chapter, not the storyline. The first page of It’s a Magical World has Calvin and Hobbes sitting on the toboggan at the top of a hill, Calvin looks at Hobbes and says, “it’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy. . . let’s go exploring! May 2023 be filled with faith, possibility, laughter, and all the excitement that God has planned for you. Go exploring!
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!
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.
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!
I’m a noticer. It doesn’t matter where I’m at or what I’m doing, I’m observing. It’s one of my ways of learning. This particular day found me on an interstate I had not been on before. The landscape is lush with trees and rolling terrain. It’s here I notice an Amish farmer plowing his field. He’s standing on a plow tied to four oxen. I marvel as I witness old life in modern times. As I’m watching, I notice power lines above him, massive lines, maybe 50 feet tall. These lines aren’t carrying energy to homes, they’re transporting power to cities. They are just above him to the east. I also catch a glimpse of a home, I presume is his, because there are no power lines running to it. As the moment recedes into my rear-view mirror, my thoughts reflect on his life, he’s so close to so much power, yet chooses to live without it. What an example of some Christians. Jesus said, “you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8), yet how many live without tapping into the power. How many plow through life with an old-world mentality, seeking peace, joy, and happiness in worldly treasures? We live with access to God’s power, yet often choose to live off the grid, trying to succeed without His life changing influence. How much power is just above us? Enough that would cause an entire city to say, “these are they that have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), and enough to cause people to lay the sick in the street that the shadow of Simon Peter might bring healing (Acts 5:15). God’s power, it’s not a matter of if He has it, but if we will tap into it. We have a choice, plow on our own or pray for His power.
It all started early Monday morning. A thump on our window, and then another, and then another. . . and it has continued all week. What is it? One small yellow finch. I am assuming it’s the same one, surely there’s not another that wants to spend its entire day crashing its head into our sliding glass window. At this moment, as I am writing, I’m safe to say he (or she) is averaging a crash about every ten seconds. Occasionally, it stops, shakes itself, inspects its feathers, and begins again. It seems absurd, and I suppose at some point it will stop, but for now, “bird tv” is a part of our daily entertainment. We’ve scared it off a few times, but it returns, and continues its relentless attack on our glass. I would love to have a conversation with it about its actions and purpose, but obviously I don’t speak bird, and I’m not really sure it would accomplish anything. Reminds me of how we sometimes handle stress, anxiety, and worry. Like the bird, no matter how much sleep we lose, how much time we spend in a mental round-about, we just end up burning energy and wasting time, and accomplishing nothing. In Matthew 6:27 Jesus puts it bluntly when He says, “who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” What are we to do? We basically have three options. First, living like the yellow finch who is assaulting our window; spend your days stressing, worrying, using a lot of energy, and accomplishing nothing. Second, trust God. David gives us valuable wisdom in Proverbs 3:5 when he says, “trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” Finally, relax! There is not one thing that overwhelms God, and if He’s not overwhelmed, then give it your best effort to not let issues trouble you either.
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.
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!
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!
And just like that, it happened. The crowd was gone. In early January you would have thought the entire town of Noblesville had joined our health club. Whether it was seven in the morning or seven at night, the place was packed. February comes and the crowds were still steady. There was determination on people’s faces; they were going to get fit and lose weight. But as it often does, resolve and resolution fade into routine and old habits. Now it’s the committed. Those who show up day in and day out; those who are dedicated to making a change. This isn’t something new. Paul called out the Galatians, saying “you were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” It’s human nature to fade, to allow obstacles to overwhelm us and discouragements to defeat us. What is the difference between those who fade and those who fight? Often it comes down to just one thing, determination. We are awestruck by Paul’s incredible successes but realize Paul was given many opportunities to quit instead of continuing. Stoned, beaten, persecuted, misunderstood, shipwrecked, and jailed, all opportunities to quit. In 2 Corinthians 3:1 we see his resolve when we read, “I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again.” Paul went through bad times, often felt like a failure, and had seasons where so many misunderstood and opposed his teaching, yet he was determined. I will not quit. I will not be defeated. I will not give up. His determination, his passion and his vision pushed him past his problems and pain. How many churches would not have been established? How many books would not have been written? More importantly, how many lives would not know Jesus? When times are tough, don’t quit! Pray harder, fast longer, and be determined to finish what God has called you to do.
How far do you want mercy and grace to extend? Past your latest sin? Past your struggling weakness? Past your worst failure? Past your past? We’re all in when God stoops down, writes something in the sand, and forgives the woman caught in adultery. We love when Jesus cleanses the heart of the woman who has had five husbands and is living with a sixth man. But the real challenge comes when we must be like Jesus; forgive, extend grace, and show the mercy to others as he has done for us. What I’ve found is that it is much easier to receive mercy than to extend it. We hold on to grudges, are judge and jury, and hold on to pains that someone else caused. Is it possible that what made David a man after God’s heart wasn’t that he was perfectly Holy or righteous, but that he extended the same grace that God had extended to him to others? David had been pursued by King Saul for years, but when given the chance to exact revenge, he exhibited mercy. Saul is pursuing David and comes into a cave where David is hiding. David has the perfect opportunity to take Saul’s life, but instead, he cuts a corner off Saul’s garment and extends mercy. In another moment, Saul and his men fall asleep and David walks into the camp unnoticed. Standing over the problem of his life, instead of taking his life, he takes a few utensils and a sword and walks away. As we start this year, I encourage you to forgive, show compassion and extend mercy to those who have hurt you or have caused you pain. Why? Because if we want grace and mercy to go beyond our failures and shortcomings, we need to make sure it goes beyond what others need also.
It was a new day and a new beginning. Standing on the banks of the Jordon River looking into the land that God had promised, there had to be anticipation. One wonders the imagination people had as they prepared to move. After years of being transient, what would it be like to have a home? What vineyards and crops would they inherit? How would God be involved in their future? Wives would get to decorate a permanent dwelling. Men would farm the land, barter for goods, and establish economy. It would be a year like none before and bring opportunities beyond their wildest dreams. In some ways, that is where we stand as we enter in 2022. What will the year hold? What changes are in store? As a Christian we should walk into the new year with expectations. We should ask God to use our lives and let us experience His power in new dimensions. This year engage with God in a new way. Beyond being a Sunday Christian, seek God, ask Him to give you purpose beyond your 8-5. Engage with God and ask Him to use your skills and talents in a way that might bless His kingdom and potentially be the catalyst for someone coming to Christ. Where does it start? It starts with an invitation; by humbling ourselves before God. That’s why we’re starting the year with our LifeFast. Fasting positions us in the best place to see God glory, experience His presence, and be led by His Spirit. Why not take your 2022 to a new dimension? Open your heart and life to all the possibilities that God may have for you. Join us for LifeFast.
With each New Year comes a blank canvas; an opportunity to entertain new aspirations, make fresh commitments, and vow to make pivotal changes in our lives. In the Bible the word for year is shannah and it can have a different meaning depending on the usage. The first meaning is to duplicate or repeat, as in repeating of the seasons of a year. The second definition is to change, as in, things will be different. What happens in 2022? What will your year look like? A lot depends on how we view our possibilities and opportunities. Will it be a year where we repeat much of what we have done in years gone by or will it be year where we embrace some alterations in our lives and venture in unknown territory? Some repetition is good, good habits and practices are good, but sometimes repetition can lead to stagnation. Our nature is to make commitments but after a few days or weeks, fall back into our old habits and routines. Change is never easy, but often necessary to move into a new dimension of life. Change takes openness, vision, and trusting in God. Change isn’t always comfortable, can feel awkward and scary, but it is here that we often see God in new dimensions. Interested? Seek God with all your heart, choose to live in bold faith, pray big prayers, decide to walk in the Spirit one day at a time. 2022, a year or repetition or change? The answer rests in your hands.
The book of Matthew describes the moment the angel appears to Joseph and announces that his bride to be, Mary, is pregnant. In Matthew 1:21 the angel gives Joseph the child’s name, saying, “she will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Up to this moment God has had titles and descriptive terms, but never a name. We get a glimmer, a possibility of his name in Isaiah 9:6, when Isaiah says, his name shall be . . . but then describes Him as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Old Testament heroes described Him as El Roi (God who sees), El Shaddai (God Almighty), Jehovah Rophe (God that Heals), Jehovah Jireh (God who Provides) and Jehovah Shalom (God of Peace), but all of these were merely describing a portion of His power. Everything changes the moment the angel gives Joseph His name. James tells us that demons tremble in fear at the name of Jesus, Paul says that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and John tells us to ask anything in the name of Jesus. We are instructed to pray in the name of Jesus, baptize in the name of Jesus and preach the name of Jesus? Why, because when we use the name of Jesus every descriptive word and title ever used is spoken. The name of Jesus is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere at all times), and omniscient (knows all things). When we honor, revere, and speak the name of Jesus we bring anything into the realm of possibility. At the name of Jesus blind see, deaf ears open, lame walk, growths fall off, disease relents and death surrenders. It is by the name and the power of Jesus that we are saved. When you say Jesus, you bring all possibilities to your situation. His name shall be Jesus!
Wind, we can’t see it, but we can hear it when it blows through a grove of trees, and we can definitely see its aftereffects. This weekend, here in central Indiana, wind pretty much ended fall, stripping trees of their beautiful color. More powerful winds bring tornados that wreck havoc. Set along a southern coast, and you might experience the powerful impact of a hurricane that changes the landscape of life. In the summer there’s nothing like a gentle breeze to take the heat of the day away, yet when that same wind blows in the winter, it makes cold turn to frigid. Though no one has ever seen wind, everyone would acknowledge it exists. In John 3:8, Jesus is explaining the Spirit to Nicodemus and compares it to the wind. He says you can’t see it; you don’t know where it comes from, nor where it’s going, but there is no doubt when you have experienced it. In a world that wants everything explained and leaves very little room for the supernatural, Jesus is letting us know that if we are going to experience the power of the Spirit, we’re going to have make room for the unexplainable, yet undeniable. It’s not coincidental that Jesus uses wind to explain the Spirit. When a move of the Spirit blows into a life, family, or church it does exactly as wind. It can be a refreshing breeze. A wind that strips away the unnecessary junk clinging to our lives or tornadic power that changes the landscape of our lives. In Acts 2, the Spirit stripped away the guilt of failure and fear of religion. In Acts 3, Simon Peter describes the coming Spirit as “a time of refreshing,’ and in Acts 17, the town said of the disciples, “these are they who have turned the world upside down. Pray that God will let us experience His sovereign, unexplainable, yet undeniable wind of the Spirit.
A bomb cyclone, a somewhat new weather expression, which in simple terms means we’re about to get what the old-timers called, “a gully washer”. That’s what we’ve experienced in central Indiana over the past few weeks. It’s made for lush green grass, a late arriving fall, and some brilliant fall colors. There’s been so much rain though, that its overwhelmed creeks and low-lying areas, putting stress on areas prone to flooding. When heavy rains come my mind goes to the words of Simon Peter in Acts 2:17, “that in the last days that God would pour His Spirit out on all flesh.” I take heart in those words, that regardless of social reformations, political agendas and a woke culture, there will be a day that God will pour out a boundless flood of His Spirit. We’ve had glimpses of it in the past with powerful moves in New York City under Jeremiah Lampier in 1860, life impacting experiences in Topeka Kansas in 1900, and Azusa Street in California in what Time Magazine called one of the top 100 events to happen in the 20th Century. My feeling is that those events will pale in comparison to what God will soon bring to this world. In Elijah’s day prophets were being killed, famine was overwhelming the land and there had been no rain for three and a half years. Elijah went to his knees, kept looking for God’s promises and speaking faith. In time, a small cloud appears, and Elijah spoke words that I still hold on to today, “I hear the sound of an abundance of rain.” Be encouraged, as rough as it may look, God is still in control. There is a “spiritual bomb cyclone” coming, a good old gully washer that will clean out the sickness of sin and bring fresh hope to our hearts and families.
Fall, the season when leaves fall and flowers fade, but what many don’t realize, is that fall is also planting season. Over the past few weeks, I’ve planted a couple of trees, sown Kentucky Blue Grass, and hit the yard with a covering of Scott’s fertilizer with a good dose of 2-4-D. Why? Because fall is the best time to make sure you have a successful spring. Planting trees in the fall allows their roots to grow deep while the branches are dormant. Seeding has the same impact, grass grows stronger, and when you fertilize, you kill both seen and unseen weeds. By fertilizing we eliminate a lot of problems that would show up in the spring and summer. Why do I mention fall planting? Because I believe there is an important spiritual principle to be found. Why do our lives have dormant times? Why do we have seasons where God seems to disappear, or we feel abandoned? Because God knows we need developmental seasons. Dormant periods are times when God brings growth to our lives. Some look at fall, when the trees are losing their leaves, and say, the trees are dying, but we know better. The same principle works in our lives, some may look at a person and say they are dying, or you may feel as though God has forsaken you, but be confident, God is at work. It’s in dormant times that our faith grows deep. It’s in difficult stretches that we experience God in ways beyond our imagination. Moses has a Fall season. He kills an Egyptian, flees to the wilderness and his life appears to be dying. But it was in the wilderness that Moses learned to hear God’s voice, trust God, and navigate the land he would lead people through, all in a season that seemed to be counterproductive. Don’t be discouraged when your life feels inactive, God is developing you, preparing you for your next season. Embrace your fall!
The can said, “do not puncture,” but since my free-on hose was not penetrating the can, I thought I would use my ingenuity. The plan was to tap the top with a small nail, then with my cat like quickness, attach the hose, and fill my Toyota’s air conditioner. It sounded like a solid idea, but was I ever wrong. I was not nearly quick enough, nor had I anticipated what would come out of the can. My gentle tap set off Old Faithful. A geyser of air and oil shot out of the can and before I realized what had happened or could get the hose on the now slippery can, I had lost over half its contents. R-134 was everywhere. Thankfully, the lesson only cost me about $5. My experience with a can of R-134 is what sometimes happens when we play with sin. The Bible is filled with caution signs warning us about the power of sin, yet for some reason we disregard its warnings. In the moment sin seems like a good idea, we justify our actions, or think we can handle it, but in the end, to often it turns out like my can of R-134, a bigger mess than we could have ever imagined and costing more than we ever anticipated. David, the man after God’s own heart, was a perfect example of the power of sin. Victorious over a bear, lion and giant, able to deny the temptation to slay his adversary, David peering over his balcony, spots a bathing Bathsheba. His flesh says, you can handle this, you deserve it, while his heart was saying, “warning, danger, stay away.” He justifies he actions, pushes past the warnings, and within days his life is in disarray. The mess was larger than he imagined and cost him more than he anticipated. What warning signs are you ignoring? Stop now! Listen to God’s promptings, don’t mess with sin.
For forty days he had gotten a glimpse of the possibilities. He had seen the lush crops and amazing groves of fruit. He had walked the streets of large cities and touched their massive walls. He has walked through beautiful valleys, and now, he’s standing near picturesque farm on the ridge of a mountain. As a breeze blows through his hair and the sun sets, all he can hear is the words of the Lord, “go and spy out the land I am going to give you.” With that, he along with nine other spies, head back to camp. To his amazement, only he and Joshua have a good report, all the others see obstacles where he had seen opportunity. In a moment, his dreams are dashed by the lack of faith and vision in others. For forty years he will pay the penalty for the doubt of others. Finally, the visionless pass, and a new generation of faith stand ready. A generation with a leader who says, “we can conqueror, we can possess.” Passion and possibility are alive. Joshua leads Israel through a dry Jordan River and into the Promised Land. Victories come quickly, and within a short time, Israel has conquered the land. Within days of the final conquest, Caleb stands in the tent of Joshua asking, “give me my mountain.” Though his dream had been delayed, and journey difficult, Caleb’s passion for his promise had not wavered. He had not forgotten what he had seen standing on that ridge forty years earlier. I’m sure he often wondered if he would ever see it, but now possibility is reality. He holds the deed to his promise. What dream has God given you? Hang on to it. Though it may seem dead, it’s likely just dormant. Never let go of your dreams, don’t doubt God. What you have seen and what you have heard will come to pass.
Jesus. Right now, say His name out loud. It doesn’t have to be screamed or shouted, it can be spoken in a gentle whisper, but know this, when you say it, all creation hesitates. Every demon in hell, disease, sickness, evil and dark spirit pauses. Water waits to see if it must turn to wine, sickness waits to see if it can continue, and death waits to see if it must release its grip. Philippians 2:11 says, “that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Simply put, the name of Jesus is the most powerful word you will ever speak. We must remind ourselves often of the power in the name of Jesus, and not only be reminded of it, but choose to use His name. We must teach our kids and this generation to say the name of Jesus in any situation. It’s not a magical word, it is the word that has supreme authority. James 2:19 says, you believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. I am reminded that all Jesus did was step on the Gadarenes seashore and demons that had controlled a man and confounded a region for years, instantly cried for mercy, begging Jesus to let them go into pigs. They knew who Jesus was, His power and immediately relented in cowardness. We have access through faith, to ask anything in His name. John 14:14 says, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” Our asking must be in alignment with His plan and purpose, it can’t be done in selfishness, but when we ask in faith, anything is possible. Where does salvation begin? By calling on the name of Jesus. Acknowledging our need for Him. It’s here we begin the journey that takes us to repentance and baptism. The name of Jesus. Say it now, say it often. Say it with confidence.
Christian artist Donnie McClurkin wrote a song many years ago entitled, “Stand.” It’s a song that I love to go back to when life gets difficult and I’m unsure of what to do. The initial verse opens with a series of questions, the first, “what do you do, when you’ve done all you can, and feels like it never enough.” It continues with “what do you do when you given it all, and it seems like you can’t make it through. Each verse continues with similar difficult situations, asking the same question, what do you do when… Thankfully, McClurkin doesn’t just ask questions, but offers solutions. It’s found in the chorus, “well you just stand, when there’s nothing left to do, you just stand, watch the Lord see you through, yes, after you done all you can, you just stand.” While his solution sounds simple, I’ve often found it to be the best answer. When Moses and the children of Israel stood in front of an impossibility, the Red Sea, God’s word to Moses for the people, “stand and see the glory of the Lord.” What did the disciples do when being accused in court by Pharisees and the Sanhedrin? They stood and said we will not deny the name or power of Jesus. How have we survived hardships, hurts and difficulties? What has been the solution to the issues and battles we’ve faced as a family? Simple. Stand. Stand on the Word of God. Stand in your faith. Stand on your knees in prayer. Stand in the power of God. Make the last nine words of McClurkin’s song your statement after every question, storm, or battle of life; “After you’ve done all you can, you just stand.”
You walk into a store and begin to look around. After perusing the store for a few minutes, you realize everything is slightly used, marginally broken, missing something or has been returned. A button is absent on a shirt. A vase has a miniscule chip. An appliance is in an open box. Almost everything in the store is useable, though some things seem, slightly defective. Some would walk away, only wanting something that is new, while others might think, “I’ll take a chance, I think I can work with this, or I can fix this.” Much of our home is filled with items bought at consignment stores, garage sales and secondhand retailers. Mary and I find pleasure in the search and getting great deals. One day, as I was reflecting on our finds, God gave me a gentle nudge, basically saying, what you do with things is what I do with people. God loves taking broken, hurting, and damaged people and putting them back together. Understand, all humanity is broken, all of us. In fact, if you get to know most of the Life Community, you will find it is filled with people who are or have been broken. Some of us are still missing some pieces in our lives and others God is still working on. If you are looking for a perfect friendship, perfect pastor or perfect church community, Life is probably not the place for you. But, if you are slightly broken, are willing to take a chance on God and some other damaged people, you will find some amazing treasures at Life. Get around some of us and you will find a few knobs or buttons missing, and you might find a few chips in our personalities or attitudes, but we are all becoming God’s treasures. He’s taken a chance on us. We’ve been blood bought and we’re now a work in progress. Life, a place to find or become a gently used treasure.
Freedom. It is the exemption from external control, interference, regulation. It’s the power to determine action without restraint. For many freedom means the ability to make our own decisions, go where we want and do what we want. Those who love to go to the lake and water-skiing experience a taste of freedom. There’s a liberating feeling on a warm summer day when water is spraying in your face as you skim along a lake, but are you truly free? Let the boat run out of gas or let go of the rope and the liberating ride is over. Ski the Rockies, nothing says freedom like a crisp Colorado morning and fresh powder. One of the most freeing feelings is casually meandering down a mountains slope, but again, are we actually free? Come to the bottom of the mountain or the end of the snowpack and once again the freedom ride is over. As Americans we champion the freedoms of our country, and while I am thankful, we are watching as our freedoms are slowly being taken away. So, where can we really find freedom? One source, Jesus. John 8:36 says, “…the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” This world is built on control, someone or something is always saying you can’t. Only life in Jesus truly liberates. Sickness may come, death will visit, and hard times might come but those things don’t rule those in Christ. We may fall to sin or fail miserably, but sin does not dominate those redeemed by Jesus. How? Simple. Those in Christ are not controlled or bound by this life. They have been set free. This life is temporal and while we hurt, grieve, and face difficult situations, we live this life in the freedom beyond the grave. We know a day is coming when we will truly be free. Today, July 4th, I invite you to experience the true freedom only found in Jesus.
It had started out as a quiet morning. I was doing some reading when Mary’s phone rang. It was our next-door neighbor, and I could hear the panic in her voice as she spoke with Mary. I was quickly handed the phone and before I could get a word out, she frantically screams, I need you to come over, my dog has brought a squirrel in the house. I quickly grabbed a small box and spade and headed over to her house, trying to formulate a mental plan of how I was going to get the squirrel out. When I arrive, the door is open, panic is on her face and she is screaming, “he’s taken it upstairs, he’s taken it to my daughters’ room.” I headed up the stairs, trying to navigate a home I had never been in, reluctantly looking for a dog and a squirrel. Finally finding the room, I’m confronted with a dog laying on her daughters’ bed with the squirrel in his mouth. Needless to say, it’s not a pretty picture and its evident the dog is not letting go of the squirrel. Our neighbor is now screaming at decibels that are near fire alarm level, I realize the box and spade are not an option and somehow, I’ve got to get the dog to take the squirrel outside. By the grace of God, the word “treat” comes to mind and as soon as I say it, I have the dog’s attention. He quickly bolts off the bed and follows me down the stairs and out the door. Success! The squirrel has left the house and I am forever a hero to our neighbor. Later, reflecting on the event I thought how the event mirrors how we should react when something unpleasing to God gets in our life. We should have the same panic and same attitude. Get it out and get it out now! No option! No compromise!
It doesn’t make sense. Ever said that? What doesn’t make sense today, might tomorrow or in a week, and most likely will in a year or two. Larnelle Harris sang a song entitled, In it After All. The first verse says, “All of those moments I spent crying, when something inside of me was dying, I didn’t know that You heard me each time I called, you had a reason for those trials, it seems I grew stronger every mile, now I know You were in it after all.” How true those words were a week after Easter. Friday brought panic, Saturday brought silence and Sunday brought joy, but time brought clarity. On Friday and Saturday nothing made sense and on Sunday they were too overwhelmed with the unimaginable, but the further they got away from Easter Sunday the more the whole event made3 sense. The disciple’s tears are now dry, their shattered hopes are being put back together and their faith is stronger. They have seen Him, touched Him and had dinner with Him. Soon their brokenness will become boldness. Time does amazing things when we allow God to do His work in us. What we feel is meant to destroy us often is the foundation that allows us the stand when future storms come our way. A cross and a crucifixion can change the composition of your life if you allow it. Without the cross there is no ascension, no upper room and no eternal hope. What are you walking through that doesn’t make sense? Give it some time. Just as the pain of the disciples was a part of the process to bring them power, what you are going through has purpose too. Just give it some time.