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.
Give It Some Time
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.
Hit the Pause Button
It’s hard to imagine that a mere hundred years ago, 90% of Americans were farmers. Today that number is 2%. The transformation becomes even more impactive when we assess how the cultural shift has impacted our lives. A hundred years ago electricity and lights were luxuries, only a few had ever seen a car, and the idea of air travel was a fantasy. Winter would slow nearly everyone. Fields would go dormant, cold and snow blew in, and life would slow. Winter was a time to pause; to read, reflect and bond with our spouse and kids. As culture shifted, we lost our pace. Gone was the winter pause and in its place came a harried pace, high anxiety and little time to pause or spend quality time with our spouse or kids. Today, the average couple spends 23 seconds in meaningful conversation, and most of our kids grow up in daycare centers. We are seeing and feeling the effects of a society that is stuck on turbo and in desperate need of a pause. In the book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Jon Mark Comer list 20 things we should do to hit the pause button. Here are ten on this Valentine’s Day to help you regain your pace and reconnect with those who are most important.
- Intentionally drive in the slow lane at the speed limit. Eliminate the hurry.
- Get rid of all unnecessary apps. Only use your phone for essential purposes.
- Put your smart device to bed when kids go to bed.
- Don’t let news and social media set your emotional equilibrium.
- Regain time by only viewing social media on a desktop computer.
- Walk slower. One of the best ways to slow down our body is to slow our pace.
- Don’t sell your time to TV. Grab a book regularly. Go for walks
- Take a day once in a while and intentionally embrace silence.
- Pray and meditate on scripture and the things of God.
- Cook your own food and take time to enjoy dinners around the table.
Get in the Flow
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.
Dungeons. Desert Destinations. Lion’s Dens
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.
What Do You See?
What we see is important, but how we see things is even more important. Our vision determines our direction and creates an environment of success or failure. Do you generally see with faith, hope and possibility or despair, hopelessness and fear? In 1 Kings 18 Elijah has told Ahab, “there is a roar of a heavy shower.” After speaking these words, Elijah sends his servant, seven times in fact, until he finally comes back and says, “I see a cloud the size of a man’s hand.” Seeing takes faith and persistence. In Isaiah 6, after the highly popular king Uzziah dies and the nation is in moral decay, Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” In a difficult time Uzziah saw an all-powerful God able to overcome any adversary. What we see and how we see in difficult times is important. Want to have proper vision? Set the correct atmosphere. Three principles for great vision. First, make God’s Word your focus, in it you will see His plan, His power, His authority. You will see how big God is. Second, pray. In prayer we see our weakness and His vision and His strength. Finally, make God’s House a priority. When we don’t stay around people with right vision, we start seeing things the wrong way. Be around people of faith, vision, passion, excitement and worship. In 2 Kings 6, Elisha’s servant fearfully tells Elisha that they are surrounded by a large adversary, instead of being overwhelmed, Elisha prays a simple prayer to God, “God, open the eyes that he may see.” In this hour where we can become consumed by what we see at the surface level of life, my prayer is God let us see what you see. Today, I see a God who is in control, that God will never leave us or forsake us and a God who is on top of everything. What do you see?
A Bothered Heart
David is called, “the man after God’s own heart.” An amazing proclamation considering his life was anything but perfect. He was a man who failed and a man who seemed to live on an emotional yo-yo. He was a man who committed adultery and murdered her husband to cover up his lust. So, what is it that causes David to be called the man after God’s own heart? There are many opinions, and I’m not here to debate all the possibilities, but for me, it was that David’s heart was tender toward God. David is the only man in scripture that is described as having a heart that was smote; troubled or bothered by his sin. We get a glimpse of David’s heart when he is in hiding from Saul. He has been chased. He is weary, tired and dirty. His reputation and life seem to have been destroyed. He is living in hiding. He lives on the run and is constantly fearing for his life. It’s during this season we get a photograph of David’s heart. Saul comes into a cave where David and his men are hiding. David has a moment of opportunity to dispose of Saul. David’s men watch as he ever so slowly creeps up towards Saul, but instead of cutting his neck, he cuts the corner off of Saul’s robe. The men are left in shock and awe. When he returns to his men, I imagine they are setting in stunned silence. Finally, the questions come at David like a barrage of bullets. Why didn’t you take him out? What were you thinking? You had the perfect opportunity? His character and his answer leave his men more stunned than his actions. Tears begin to roll down his face as he says, I couldn’t touch him, he is God’s anointed. Then they watch as he goes out to the edge of the cave and calls out to Saul. He’s holding the piece of cloth he had cut; he bows to the ground and weeps as he says to Saul, “I could have killed you, but God said no.” Simply touching God’s chosen, smote, or better, troubled, bothered, broke and pained David’s heart. To have a heart like that is what every Christian should pray. May I ask? What smites your heart? What troubles you? What causes us to set down and cry? What causes us to weep bitterly? God, give us hearts that are tender. God, give us hearts that confess and weep when we’ve done wrong. God, give us hearts that are bothered by what bothers you. God, let our hearts be bothered when we settle for less than what you have us for us.
Mom. Our Hope for Tomorrow
I believe she bragged. Why? Because that is what mom’s do. She had been there from the beginning. She cradled Him when He was born. She was there when He took His first steps and said His first words. She had agonized when He got separated from the caravan at the age of twelve. And if I know anything, I know there is no way anyone rested in the camp until she found her son. She was there when He turned water into wine, his first public miracle; in fact, she was the reason He had to show His power. She knew who He was and what He could do, Mary, like all moms, always know what their kids are capable of. Though she had raised Him, she had to marvel at His teaching, and was likely overwhelmed by His miracles. She was not God; she was a mom from Nazareth. When they cheered and followed Him, she was proud. When they jeered and accused Him, she was hurt. But nothing could have prepared her for that fateful day we call, “Good Friday.” For Mary, that Friday was anything but good, it was horrible. People were cruel, and His death was more than she could bare. But today, it’s 28 days after Easter and she is bragging. Not a day would pass that she didn’t share the news, have you heard about my son? The one they crucified. He came back to life! He’s alive. I’ve touched Him, talked with Him and ate meals with Him. No one can brag like a mom. No one has a heart like a woman who takes on the role of mom. Women who take on the role of mom are the greatest investors in the future, of the next generation. They are the ones who teach faith, build character and give hope. They can discipline, encourage and inspire all at the same time. And while that it is impressive in itself, they do it with tenderness and with a smile. To every woman who has accepted the role of mom, who makes the sacrifices, and loves unconditionally, thank you. You are the hope for every tomorrow, the creator of dreams and the catalyst for the future. Many positions and roles may be created for women, but none will ever be as important, valuable and powerful as being a mom. Today we celebrate, honor and give praise to one of God’s greatest gifts. Moms!
Three Blue Eggs
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.
Alone. Where You See God.
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.
One Shining Moment
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.
Easter. When Empty Means Full
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!
God’s Got This
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.
Sin: The Original Virus
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.
Don’t Do Vanilla
If you ever get a chance to go into downtown Noblesville, make sure that one of your stops is Alexander’s Ice Cream Shop. Nestled between boutiques and all kinds of knickknack shops, you’ll find 36 different flavors of ice creams. I can’t tell you exactly when we made our first visit, but once we did, we never stopped. Over the years the Hudson family spent hours riding bikes and often our journey would take us into Noblesville. We traveled along the White River, through Forest Park, but we all knew our objective was Alexander’s Ice Cream on the square. It has an old-fashioned soda shop feel with nearly every flavor you can imagine; Super Friends, Peanut Butter Cup, Turtle Trails, Rocky Road, Wild Black Cherry, Elephant Ear and Southern Butter Pecan. Risa always seemed to get Super Friends, Gentry’s favorite was Cookie Dough and Mary always seemed to try something different, though Pralines and Cream seemed to be one of her favorites. I often leaned toward Peanut Butter Cup. You may have noticed that I didn’t mention vanilla, not because they didn’t serve it, but because in all the years we’ve gone I don’t know if any of us ever ask for it, nor do I recall anyone else getting vanilla. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that there are so many other bold and crazy flavors. Vanilla is just that, vanilla, and unless you dress it up with some sprinkles, candy, cookies or fruit, it’s just, well, boring. Who would want boring with so many choices?
As we are dealing with a dynamic shift in life, schools being shut down, working from home and our families being shut in, let me encourage you not to let life become vanilla. While life has slowed, we’re not quarantined from being creative. Don’t allow your life to become vanilla and boring. Just like vanilla ice cream, we have a choice to dress our day up and do something different. Add a sprinkle of surprise or a topping of joy to your family’s day. Do something different, be creative. Vanilla doesn’t have to be the flavor of the day. Have an exercise day, a craft day. Paint a room. Start a puzzle. Create a photo scrapbook. Cook together as a family. Likewise, I encourage you, don’t do vanilla Christianity. Do an online bible study, start you’re own online prayer group or create a prayer walk. Have a day where you ask God for nothing, a day you pray a blessing over everyone you know and maybe a day where you just give thanks; do anything but be vanilla in prayer. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In other words, make today a great day! Wake up tomorrow and tell God you want to skip the vanilla, order up a Super Friends or Elephant Ear or Turtle Trails kind of day.
Life Altering Prayers
Life altering prayers. They’re what Biblical characters prayed that marked them as heroes of the faith. Moses asked God to show him His glory. David asked God to search and cleanse him. Isaiah saw God high and lifted up and said, “send me.” Paul said, “I die daily.” These men prayed bold and life changing prayers. We recently finished a powerful series called, “Mess Me Up Prayers.” The first prayer was simply, God search me. Like a virus protection program running in the background of your computer, when we pray God search me, we’re asking God to keep us free of weights and sins that cause us to be sluggish spiritually. The second prayer was break me. Break me of my carnal ways, help me live humbly before you God. It is John’s prayer prayed in us daily, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Praying this prayer frees us of the cumbersome struggles we have and frees us to live in the freedom of God’s grace and mercy. Finally, after praying search me and break me, we can pray, “God spend me, send me, use me. This prayer is an indication we’ve moved from selfish to selfless. No longer consumed with our agendas and ideas, we’ve moved to where we see success in what we accomplish for God. It’s we can pray this prayer we find peace, happiness and joy. Looking to move to a new level in God? I challenge you to pray these life altering prayers. It will take courage, but if we are willing it will take us to new dimensions in our walk with God. Start today. Pray God search me, God break me, God spend me.
Just a Little Bit of Jesus
The average American consumes 150 lbs. of sugar each year. Yes. 150 pounds! On average, 80% of the foods we eat contains sugar. Even when we order many of the vegetables in restaurants, they have added sugar, for flavoring. There are very few recipes that don’t involve adding at least a teaspoon of sugar. When we see numbers on packages or menus, they seem small and insignificant, but are you aware that “just 4 grams of sugar” is equal to a teaspoon. So, when we see something that says only 10 grams of sugar, we think, that’s not very much and proceed to eat whatever it is, not realizing what we just ate was equal to 2½ teaspoons of sugar. A little here and a little there and at the end of the year, boom! 150 lbs. My study on sugar got me thinking, what if the average Christian would just add “just a little bit of Jesus” to everything we do? Add a little bit of Jesus, say a few minutes of prayer or some Bible verses, to your day before your kids go off to school and you go off to work. What if we added just a little bit of Jesus, say like, God let me be used for you today, spend me on someone, before we headed off to Target, the mall or out to eat. What if we became intentional about adding a little bit of Jesus to everything we do? What difference could it make. If 4 grams of sugar equals 150 lbs. in a year. What would happen in our lives, families and homes? Let’s make a commitment to adding “just add a little bit of Jesus” to everything we do.
He Makes Broken Beautiful
Renovation. It’s the craze. Find a home, imagine and create. Draw plans and count cost. Take out walls and create open concept. Rearrange the kitchen; combine it with the dining room. Create a master suite with a bath that is elegant. Finally, spruce up the outside and give it an outdoor entertaining space. And best of all, it all gets done in one hour! Or so it appears. The reality is that it takes a lot more time and there are more problems than anticipated. Structural issues, old wiring and hidden surprises in the walls create delays and add cost. In the end, though there have been struggles, a beautiful home comes together. The first look always seems to involve a family crying and overjoyed as they view their dream home. What is true of the renovation of a home is also true in the renovation of a soul. When God sees broken lives, He also sees potential. Long ago He purchased any life that would welcome Him. He knew that we had structural issues; a tendency to lie, lust and fail. Yet, He said, I can make something amazing. Simon Peter, a salty fisherman is turned into a powerful preacher. Paul, a broken and angry man is transformed into a missionary that will change the world. It doesn’t happen in a minute. For Simon Peter, it took three years with God in flesh. For Paul, it would take an experience with Stephen and years in a desert. You are a project, purchased by God. It is not yet known what we will become, but this we know, we will be like Him. Have faith in God, your project manager. He makes broken beautiful.
Prepared to Win
The Super Bowl. From the moment the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs won their conference championships, they turned their focus on each other. For the past two weeks, players from both teams have been studying, pouring over video, looking for any tendency, weakness that might give them an advantage over their opposition. It doesn’t matter if it is an interior lineman, punter or quarterback, each person at each position, has been looking for one thing that might give them an advantage. This is the game of their life. It is the fulfillment of a dream that began in a backyard with neighborhood friends. It’s the culmination of living in weight rooms, long bus trips and countless hours of sore muscles and untold pain. They have fought through high school, college and pro try-outs, all for the dream of someday playing in the Super Bowl. Now, if one small weakness can be found, it might make the difference in being a champion. We too are in a battle, it’s for eternal life. Satan, our opponent, scours over our lives, looking for any weakness or temptation he can use to bring us down. Can he find a way to bring discouragement to our heart? Maybe an issue that will bring agitation to our mind. He longs for anything that might give him an advantage over us. To live as Christians, without being aware of this battle, would be foolish. We must live with resolve. Keep building faith by reading God’s Word, strengthen resolve by praying habitually and renew spiritual strength by consistently fasting. Make 2020 the year that you resolve to be a stronger Christian.
Guard the Gates
Gate Agent. You had one job to do. Get the people on the plane in an orderly manner. It was as simple as A-B-C, and it started out well. A call for people with tickets in Group A 1 – 60. Everyone lined up and began to board. But somehow between A and B, he got confused, distracted, overwhelmed; who knows. As the final passengers in Group A are headed to the gate and those in Group B start to line up, he flipped the switch, literally and mentally. Without calling for Group B, he moves right to Group C and flips the monitors to C. Within moments there’s chaos, confusion and frustration. Group A is still trying to board, Group B is trying to figure out what happened, and Group C is pushing toward the gate, realizing they had just got an opportunity to get a better seat. The frustration turned to tension as those who knew how the process worked, and had secured their preferable position, now were losing their seat. Now it’s chaos. May I suggest this is what sometimes happens to us who are supposed to gate keepers of our homes and families. We lose focus, bend rules, get out of the Book and before we know it our lives, families and homes are in chaos. As simple as it should have been for the Gate Agent to keep A-B-C in order, it should be for us to keep our spiritual priorities in order. Make the Gospel your life’s priority, seeking Him and His will your goal, live in obedience to His Word and make prayer a priority. One simple job. Keep the gate.
Positioned for Purpose
The story of Nehemiah brings to focus a man’s life that was impacted by difficulty. He was a part of a group of immigrants that were brought in by the Babylonians when they overtook his nation. Nehemiah rises through the corporate setting of Babylon, becoming the cupbearer to King Artaxeres. As cupbearer, he is the chief financial officer, responsible for all the food and drink that came to the king and for securing the kings signet ring, a ring that was effectively the king’s signature on national laws. It’s with this life back drop that friends from his homeland show up. In what was likely just some small talk, Nehemiah asks about the environment in Jerusalem. The report becomes a defining moment in Nehemiah’s life and changes his destiny. His friends report that the people are in disarray, the walls of the city are broken down and there is no leadership. The report instantly overwhelms Nehemiah. He sat down, wept, mourned, prayed and fasted for many days. His life is redefined. God has divinely positioned him so he can impact God’s Kingdom. Within months, the career as cupbearer has been captured by concern for God’s Kingdom. God positions Nehemiah with the ability to make a change. He has the king’s authority, financial liberty and a vision for Jerusalem that has been birthed in prayer. Nehemiah’s story is a challenge for all of us, we are not called to our careers but the Kingdom. Regardless of what you are doing, God has positioned you for a purpose. As you enter 2020, I encourage you to seek God and find what His Kingdom purpose is for you.
2020 Vision: Teach Us to Pray
Twelve disciples. Three and a half years. They had eaten meals with Him, had fire side chats with Him, went through storms with Him, witnessed His miracles and heard Him teach and preach. With all of Jesus’ qualities and giftings, they could have asked Him to teach them anything; how to do miracles, to preach or to lead. They wanted one thing. Jesus, teach us to pray. Why? I believe they saw what we often fail to see and understand. Jesus’ strength, power and faith came by being in alignment with Heaven’s plan. While He was fully God, He was also fully man. Prayer kept Jesus focused, kept Him on task and allowed Him to be sensitive to the needs that would come His way each day. Prayer kept Jesus’ agenda on the Kingdom. When He went into the wilderness, He prayed. Before He fed the 5000, He prayed. Before meeting the disciples in the storm, He prayed. When Calvary was in His view, He went to the garden and prayed. The disciples took notice and they understood if they were to accomplish anything in the Kingdom, more than anything else, they needed the ability to pray. His teaching worked; it became an engrafted part of the disciple’s spiritual DNA. They were in prayer when there was a “suddenly” in the upper room. They were on their way to pray when the spirit prompted them to pray for a lame man. After jail time and a confrontation with the Sanhedrin, they prayed. The result, the place was shaken, and new boldness came to their lives. 2020 Vision. Let us understand that prayer is our greatest need. Lord, teach us to pray.
Seek God First
2020. A New Year. A New Decade. What will get our attention? What goals will we pursue? What cornerstones will we build our lives on? These are important questions that will determine our direction as we move into a new year and decade. If we focus and build on the structures of this world, our direction will be set toward the carnal and what the world calculates as success. If we set our hearts and minds on fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives, making Him our foundation, I believe we will see our lives, families and Life ascend to realms beyond our wildest dreams. In Acts 4, Luke says that Jesus is our chief cornerstone. In building there is a point on which every alignment goes off of. That spot, when building our lives, is Jesus. When we set Jesus as our cornerstone, making Him the center of our hearts, thoughts and purposes, everything else falls in right alignment. How do we do it? In 2 Chronicles God calls His people to humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn toward Him. This is how we start to get in right alignment and set our year and decade off in the right direction. If one chapter could sum up Jesus’ definition of success, I would point to Matthew 6. He opens challenging us to give. He then teaches us to pray and calls us to fast. Finally, He tells us how to live in proper alignment; invest in the Spiritual and eliminate anxiety by trusting in Him. He summarizes it all by simply saying, “seek first the Kingdom.” As we open up 2020 my challenge is the same. Seek God first, make Him your priority.