Emmanuel, God with us. Announced to Mary, confirmed to Joseph. In a moments time, life changed. God comes to earth in a stable in Bethlehem in the form of a baby. First seen by shepherds and then wisemen. Life would never be the same. Religion as it was known would disappear. The lame would walk. People who were deaf would hear and those who were blind would see. Sinners would be forgiven, the broken would get an audience with Jesus and the dead would rise. When Jesus steps into your world, life changes. The story of Christmas is Jesus coming to humanity. But more than coming to humanity, it’s the story of God coming to individual people. What He did 2000 years ago He still does today. Has God come to your world? If so, when? What was your experience like? When did He become real to you? Was it an answered prayer that introduced you to Him? Was it an experience in a church service when you felt him in an undeniable way? Maybe it was in a bible study, a small group or possibly a quiet moment alone when you came to understand, “God was with you.” Whatever the moment, it was a “Christmas” moment, the moment God came to your world. This Christmas share your story. It may not be as dramatic as Mary and Josephs or as unbelievable as the shepherds, but your experience was just as real, and it could change someone’s life. Christmas, a reminder that God still comes to us and that He is still God with us.
One of the best ways to grow as a Christian is to pick up some encouraging inspirational reading. Maybe you’re looking for a little something extra on your Christmas list? Here are the Top Ten Pastors Picks for some good reading in 2020.
• Addicted to Busy – Brady Boyd
• Boundaries – Dr. Henry Cloud
• Draw a Circle – Mark Batterson
• Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt – Jentezen Franklin
• Not a Fan -Kyle Idleman • Storms – Jim Cymbala
• The End of Me – Kyle Idleman
• The Noticer – Andy Andrews
• Unshakable Hope- Max Lucado
• Whisper – Mark Batterson
Thank you, Jesus. Above all, we give thanks that the God that created all, robed himself in flesh. He came and dwelt among us, was crucified, resurrected and ascended into heaven creating a way that we could have eternal life. We give thanks for His love, mercy and grace. There is no sin that is too great and no place His grace and mercy cannot get to. There is always hope. We acknowledge and give thanks that God provides for us. He meets our needs of food, water, shelter and clothing. While we may not have everything we want, we are blessed with provision. Beyond meeting our needs, “He daily loads us with benefits,” as David says in Psalm 68. Many of our lives are filled with blessings and luxuries that makes life so much easier than many. We give thanks that God looks over us. As Jeremiah 29 says, “He knows the plans He has for us, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” While life is full of hardships and difficulties, we are blessed to have a God that knows our ways and goes through them with us. We look forward in expectation and thanks, knowing that if we obey His Word and trust His plan, we will share an eternal life with people of the ages, family and friends. Our future home is a land filled with mansions and streets of gold. It is a place filled with joy, happiness and worship. There is no more pain, sickness or death. No more sin and evil. It is where will meet Jesus again. Thank you, Jesus.
Each year Israel stopped and celebrated with three different festivals; Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacle. These festivals would last as long as a week. These were times to reflect on what God had done, reconnect with family and unite together with others in the family of God. This is why we have Month of the Family at Life. It’s our modern-day pause. We remember God, His Word and how vital His work on Calvary is to our lives. It’s the time when we reprioritize our life, making sure that our family is connected to God and each other. It is the time when we connect with others who believe as we do; those we worship with and do life with. This is why we take time to have special events; men’s, women’s and students’ nights and today’s chili cook-off. Pentecost was a celebration of harvest; it was a joyous time filled with music and dancing; a time of reflection and thankfulness. Today, our chili cook-off is much the same. It’s a time of thankfulness, a time when we celebrate our unity that comes because of our beliefs. It’s a time to laugh, connect and fight for bragging rights for the next year over who has the best chili, who is the best corn hole players and what couple is best at keeping a wheel barrel upright. It’s a time to laugh, make new friends and create lifelong memories. It’s a time for bonfires, roasting hotdogs and hayrides. Whether you’ve been with us for fifteen years or fifteen minutes, we invite you to be a part of the one of a kind Life’s Chili Cook-off.
October, Month of the Family at Life. We kick things up a notch and fill the month with lots of activities and special services. Why? Because family is important to God. In fact, when we look in Genesis, one of the first things God did was create family; Adam and Eve. What makes for a successful family? Pretty simple, make His priorities the priorities of our families. What values should we make important this month? First, make the Word of God the foundation of our home. The Word of God is our instruction manual, road map and the final decision maker in all we do. Second, elevate prayer to an essential part of our family’s culture. Spend time as a family praying together; share your needs and success with one another and God. Make Community Prayer and Saturday at Seven a significant part of your routine. It is in these environments that our kids sense the power and value of prayer. Third, understanding the value of regular church attendance is critical. It is in His house where we learn to worship, experience faith, see miracles and grow in relationship with God. Finally, I encourage you to make spending time together an intentional action this month. We must make “together” one of our highest priorities. Personal devices, social media, gaming, and entertainment will mercilessly steal time from our spouses and families. Play games, ride bikes, take walks; be imaginative, but whatever we do, make creating memories a priority. Let’s make this year’s Month of the Family one that changes the culture and future of our lives.
Solomon, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, gives us a book filled with life’s wisdom. I love Solomon’s reminder that life is full of “times.” Sometimes we forget that life is not static, but full of ebb and flow. Tauren Wells song says it well, “He’s the God of the hills and valleys.” Often, we think of life in terms of seasons; spring, summer, fall and winter, but life is much more than four seasons. This is why Solomon used the word “times.” He wants us to be aware there are moments in our days when we laugh, cry, hurt, heal, mourn, dance, feel peace and difficulty. Living in the 21st century makes this more of a reality than ever. Lives are overwhelmed by instant news, seeing more than we need, unlimited information and more technologies than ever. Anxiety is at an all-time high, there is more pressure on our jobs than ever, and God is being eliminated from much of our society. As we adapt to this new style of life there’s several things to remember. First, don’t judge. We don’t fully grasp people’s battles, the “times” they are walking through. Pray for and encourage them. Second, when we go through “times”, remember that it’s just that, “a time,” it will pass. Live life with an expectancy that it could change at any moment. Finally, invite God into your life daily. Don’t skip prayer and make God’s Word a priority. The quickest way to experience change in your life is to encourage yourself in the Lord. Start today, understand life is a series of times, experience them moment by moment.
For six days God created. After six amazing days of creativity, God takes a day off. He rests and reflects on His work. It seems that He enjoyed His day of rest so much that when He met Moses on Mt. Sinai with the 10 Commandments, He includes rest as one of the commands. The Sabbath, God’s blessing and gift to man, a day of rest. The concept was simple. Whatever your daily job was, take the day off, celebrate God’s goodness, relax and reflect. Years pass and the simple blessing becomes encumbered with rules. Don’t help a sick animal, don’t move furniture and don’t travel more than a mile, just a few of 39 extensions added to God’s original idea of rest. How tragic is it when men burden God’s blessings with rules? It steals away what was meant for our good. As a result, people walk away from God and the wonderful blessings He designed for us. The idea of a Sabbath is nearly forgotten. The principle and blessing is no longer celebrated or lived out. Instead our lives are over-taxed, filled with anxiety and stress and we have little time for our family and friends. The idea of resting, relaxing and reflecting rarely comes to the landscape of our mind. Instead we are constantly looking for something to bring us enjoyment and peace. I suggest that maybe it’s time to schedule a regular Sabbath. A day when we stop and chill. A day when we celebrate and worship God. A day when we take a nap, a walk or bike ride. A day when we enjoy a hobby or simply relax and celebrate what we have accomplished. Be intentional. Take back your Sabbath!
Proverbs 23:23 says, buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding. While there are many who love the worship service, the music and praise or the inspiration they get from someone preaching, it is the daily love and devotion to God’s Word that is critical. As Christians it is important that we have a passion and love for the Word of God. There are several reasons. First, when we have a passion for the Bible, it shows that we have a hunger to know God and desire to grow in our relationship with Him. While being Spirit filled is important, it is only the beginning of a relationship. It’s only through developing a desire for God’s Word and prayer that we actually grow and learn about God. Second, without a working understanding of our Bible, those who speak for God have no accountability. Without people in the pews reading their Bibles, without people knowing God’s Word, men supposedly representing God can take people about anywhere. In the New Testament Paul is continually warning the saints to be on guard of false teachers. These were men with personal agendas, not a Gospel agenda. God doesn’t promise everyone will be healed. He never said that everyone’s prayer request would be met. One of my greatest fears is that we are living in a time when people are falling in love with the “church performance” but not developing a passion to know and please God. Today I’m challenging you to make God’s Word your highest priority. We must know Him and that happens by reading His Word. Buy the truth.
For seven hours, thirty-six racers competed for thirty-three slots in the Indianapolis 500 yesterday. For months, plans had been made, sponsors gathered and hours of practice had taken place. At the end of the day, regardless of the investment, three drivers weren’t good enough; they didn’t qualify. I am thankful that my salvation isn’t predicated on qualifying. It’s not my work but the work that Jesus did that makes the difference. Jesus took care of our qualifying. He went to the cross, shed His blood, resurrected and ascended. That finished it. His work on Calvary qualifies us for salvation, eternal life and heaven. Our job? Simple, run the race. Believe that Jesus’ work qualifies us. Obey His Gospel. Have a relationship with Him. Seek Him daily. Live in repentance and be water and Spirit filled as He said in John 3:5 – 6. We don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to live in fear and we don’t have to worry that there are only so many spots. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “come ALL who are weary and heavy burdened.” It’s not based on men, organizations or good works, it’s open to all who come to Him humbly. I love how the author put it in Hebrews 12, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” Today, I have three words for you. Run your race.
Let’s take just one typical moment in a child’s life; a bicycle crash. A dad’s response, “I’m sorry, let’s get a band-aid, you’ll need to be more careful next time.” A mom’s response, “oh honey, what have you done, come here, let me give you a hug, it’s okay let those tears flow, let’s get a Kleenex for those tears, let’s wash off that cut, let me get some medicine before I get a band aid, we need some cookies and milk to make it feel better.” A Godly mom; God’s gift to the world. If you are a woman, a mom, you are hard wired to be a manager, nurse, doctor, chauffer, Uber driver, cook, chef, maid, house cleaner, seamstress, instructor, tutor, janitor, gardener, decorator, activity coordinator, psychologist, sociologist and just about any other job you might think of. Godly moms are prayer warriors, prophets, pastors, and teachers with words like, “I pray you…, don’t make me tell you again and didn’t I tell you that would happen.” They give, not because they have too, but because that is the way God wired them. They are often the first one’s up in the morning and the last to bed at night. They care more than they are supposed to, they have an intuition that is laser like and hearts that are bigger than the Grand Canyon. Today we applaud the beautiful women that are a part of Life, whether single, hoping to be a mom, mom, grandmother or great–grandmother, you are a gift from God, uniquely made to make the world work. Happy Mother’s Day!
Jesus didn’t just resurrect, He made Himself accessible to people. He comforts the heart of Mary. He walks with overwhelmed disciples as they return home after the Passover. He eats some fish with ten disciples and then makes a special appearance again so that Thomas can experience what the ten had. He shows up on a sea shore where weary fishermen have spent the night catching nothing and He shows up to a gathering of over 500 believers. Why does He spend forty days in communion with people before ascending into heaven? Because He wants us to know; He wants us to know he cares about our grief and pain. He wants us to know that He understands our uncertainty and fears. He shows up to show us that He cares when seven disciples haven’t caught any fish. He shows up when 500 disciples (I Cor.15:6) need just one more visit. Why is that important to us? Because, if He cared for those who had already seen Him, how much more does He care about those who haven’t, who are walking by faith? I believe Jesus stayed around and showed up so our faith would be stronger. If He will show up for a doubting Thomas, He will show up for you. If He’ll walk with two overwhelmed disciples, He will walk with you. Nearly every time Jesus showed up, the person was shocked and overwhelmed. Overwhelmed? Dazed? Confused? Hurt? Don’t be surprised when Jesus shows up in your world. That is just who He is and that is just what He does. He just shows up.
Digital Friendships. They give us the impression that we’re connected, but the reality is that we live in a time when we are lonelier than ever. A friendship, it use to mean physical connection. It meant sharing an interest, understanding each other’s goals and enjoyed doing life together. The average American now has 300 Facebook friends but only two actual friends and a quarter of Americans say they have zero friends. We all need someone (and to be someone) who cares, who listens, who will let you vent and will let you cry. We have become a society of isolation. We push a button, pull into our garages and shut the door behind us. We go into different rooms and watch tv and movies. We set around the same restaurant tables, but separated by our devices. We have become alone, together. In Genesis 2:18, right at the beginning of time, God said of Adam, “it is not good for man to be alone.” Isolation is one of Satan’s greatest tools. When did Satan tempt Jesus? When he was alone. The great challenge of our day is to protect and build relationships, to connect. How do we do it? Three things to look for as we fight for connection. A friend that will challenge you, make you better. A friend that will help you grow in God and grow your faith. A friend that will tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it. If we can find the right friends, we may be one friendship away from changing our destiny.
There will always be moments when we are tempted to cut our losses and run but often God is saying, “stay.” Ruth is a beautiful example where logic seemed to be saying go back, but faith was saying, “stay.” Ruth 1:16 says, “But Ruth said, do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”I believe Ruth understood that the moment was more about who would be her God than her physical circumstances.She believed in Naomi’s relationship with God, and because of her decision to stay, she was catapulted into an introduction to Boaz. There are two things that we need to do if we are going to be where God wants us. First, ask some questions. Where is God asking me to “stay?” What does God want me to pursue? More family time? More spiritual development? If so, stop pursuing your dreams and follow His. Second, be a finisher. God often uses the very things that we hate, that hurt and are difficult to rewire and transform us. If you’ve quit something that you should have stayed with, have the courage to make it right. Joseph stayed with the process and the closing line to his story was, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” I challenge you, find your “stay” and see where it takes you.
Learning to Stop. It sounds easier than it is. It’s just one more cookie. It’s just another minute or two on social media that turns into thirty. Learning to stop takes time and experiences. Time and experience create wisdom, it’s life experiences, yours and what we learn from others and wisdom is God’s navigational tool that helps us to make right decisions and helps us to stop making or repeating wrong choices. Have a major decision in front of you? Here are three processes to help. First, stop! Use wisdom from your experiences or glean wisdom from others who already walked through your situation. Often the best thing we can do is take a time out. Hit the pause button. Sleep on it. Next, ask yourself these questions. “Where will this end up? Is this the story I want to write? Is this God’s story for me?” Finally, visualize the outcome long-term. Visualizing can help us connect the dots from where we are too where we want to be rather than where we are and how did we get here. Taking time to implement these three techniques can help us to stop and start us in a new direction. What is God asking you to abort, abandon, to stop, so you can live to tell a better story and have a better life? Hebrews 12:1says, “Lay aside every weight and sin.” What is the one thing that is really hindering you? Seek God’s help, pray, read your bible and fast and I believe you can begin a stop today.
In the first session of our new Wednesday night series, Divine Direction, we learned that regardless of our past, the future and the number of chapters still to be written, is unknown. Because we have no idea of how many chapters are left to be written, we can choose to start writing a new chapter today. We also discovered that just because we’ve been handed one blueprint does not mean we have to build on it, we can ask God for another blueprint and build something new. Regardless of where we’ve came from, what we’ve walked through or what we’ve experienced, we have the choice to build a different kind of life, family and home. Rahab is a beautiful example. Her early chapters were about being a harlot. Simply by having faith in God and putting a scarlet scarf out her window, she changed her story. She started a new chapter and changed her family’s heritage forever. From a harlot to the bloodline of Jesus! That’s an amazing transformation. Want to start building something new, start a new chapter? Here’s five principles to implement. 1. Pray, ask for God to give you strength and wisdom. 2. Assess, do an honest assessment of who you are and who God wants you to be. 3. Focus, on one single change for this year. 4. Daily, work on that one change and remember it’s a process, not a moment. 5. Start! Simply start doing one new thing today!
AT&T’s new commercials that “just okay, is not okay” are both humorous and true. When looking for a surgeon or someone to install your brakes, you don’t want someone who is “just okay.” And I would suggest that while surgery and brakes are important, of more importance is your eternal destination. You don’t want to be in a church or under a ministry where the certainty of your eternal destination is in question. I don’t want tradition, religion or opinion to be my standard, I want Jesus, His Word to be my source. In John 3 Jesus and Nicodemus are having a conversation about seeing the kingdom of God, and Jesus uses a word, that I can’t get past. The word “unless.” Talking about eternity Jesus says to Nicodemus, “unless a man is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.” That is a bold proclamation. There’s not a lot of wiggle room. As a pastor, we don’t want the confidence that you have about your eternity to be “just okay.” That’s not okay! While you might survive an okay surgery or an okay brake repair, we don’t want to risk “okay salvation” with your soul. So, we preach Jesus. We preach the cross. We preach His blood covers. We preach the resurrection. We preach baptism in His name. We preach baptism in the Spirit with an unknown language as the initial sign of infilling. We preach living for and growing in relationship with Him. We preach what we know to be the most secure message for your soul. Why? Because when it comes to eternity, “just okay, is not okay!”
God wants relationship. From Adam to the Apostles it has always been about relationship. He longs for people who desire to commune with him. Could David’s great quality and what brought an eternal lineage simply be, that he longed to be in God’s presence? Relationship is key and the disciples missed it. It’s the Passover and hours before Jesus will go to the cross and what does He earnestly want? Communion. Fellowship. He is hours from away from suffering and what does Jesus desire? To have dinner with His disciples. He wants His disciples to know that He’s going away. He wants them to know that whatever they’ve done or will do, that He will still want relationship with them. We miss that. We get caught up in the cup and the bread, but hear Jesus’ heart, “I want fellowship”. Relationship. In that moment, more than anything, Jesus just wanted someone to sympathize, to care, yet all the disciples could care about was themselves, their position and greatness in the kingdom. What happened then can happen today. We can get so caught up in our world that we miss Jesus’ desire. To have a relationship with us. Communion, it’s more than a cup and a piece of bread. It’s a reminder that more than anything God wants our attention. He wants to talk to us through His Word, to hear from us in our prayers and be with us by His Spirit. Make communion a lifestyle, not a moment.