Thanksgiving. For some, it’s become, not a day about giving thanks, but the day that earmarks the beginning of Christmas shopping. Instead of taking the time to reflect on the incredible blessings and favor we have as Americans, it has become a frenzied day of greed and self-centeredness. While I recognize that our country nor our lives are perfect, we must admit that we are abundantly blessed. For most who are reading this article, we have a warm home, food in our cabinets and a car to drive. Even for those who have little or nothing, there are caring charities who attempt to provide for the basic needs; clothing, food and shelter. While we may not realize or appreciate it, even those who we would call poor are often better off than many in this world. That is why it grieves me when I see such a lack of thankfulness. In one of the most blessed countries of all times, I have been amazed and saddened by the anger, rioting and general discontent in people we’ve seen this year. When will we stop to count our blessings? When will we be satisfied with the abundance that we have? At what point will there be a pause, a reflection and a genuine heart of appreciation and spirit of gratitude? How about this week? It doesn’t have to be an “around the table” moment or a long prayer, but there should be a true spirit of thankfulness in our Thanksgiving. God is good and God has been good to us. Give thanks!
Today we celebrate 15 years of Life. From a garage sale and weekly Bible studies in our home, to the Goddard School, to Brooks School Elementary and now, to its current campus, on 126th, it’s been quite the journey. It’s surreal to think that Life has been a church for fifteen years. In so many ways March 7, 2004 seems like yesterday. That was the day we stepped into Brooks School Elementary for our first weekly service. We were naive, young and unexperienced. I was 40, Mary was 36, Gentry was seven and Risa five. That Sunday about forty of us joined together to worship and over the next five years we watched as the congregation grew. Sunday services were at Brooks School and Wednesday’s in our home. In the fall of 2007 we got the miraculous call from the Coffey family, and I heard the words I’ll never forget, “we want to donate five and a half acres to the church.” Plans began to form, construction began in 2008 and in 2009. It was during that time that Bill and Anita James saw the vision and jumped in during our construction phase. In April of 2009 we moved in and later that year we celebrated five years with Pastor Chester Mitchell from Ashburn, Virginia. Finally having a home, Life began to grow and new team members came on board. Willie and Ashley Travis and Erik and Brittany Poling soon made Life their home and suddenly Life began to minister in new dimensions. 2010 and 2011 brought musical groups, Royal Taylor and The Experience Band. It was our time with the Experience Band that we met Korey Elkins and a few years later he began to lead our worship. In 2014, we celebrated 10 years as a church and our personal 25 years of ministry. Rex Johnson came from Austin, Texas and challenged us to “follow the Spirit.” The last five years brought both tremendous challenges and changes, but through commitment to prayer, following after God’s leading and continuing growth that brought amazing people to help, we watched as God did miraculous things. The growth brought challenges to our Kids and Youth ministry and it became obvious that we needed to expand. With the vision of our Board of Directors, Don Baldwin, Tarren Cruz, Milford Hudson, Andy Purcell, Lance Russom and Don Starks we broke ground in the fall of 2017. As we celebrate 15 years today, we have nearly completed Phase Two. Where do we go from here? We cannot rest, God has given us more to do! “Church without Walls,” taking life to the world through live video, is coming soon and plans are already complete for Phase Three; an expanded lobby and nursery, a social gathering space with a small café and several large educational rooms. Beyond that, who knows where God will lead. But today we stop to give Him glory for all He has done and celebrate 15 incredible years of Life!
The calendar says it’s still spring. The activities and heat say it’s summer. Heat and humidity are here and plants and grass are already gasping for water. What we need is a storm. A gully washer. A downpour. Though we enjoy the fun of the sun, we need the storms. Without storms we don’t get the necessary rain. Storms slow us down. Storms bring clouds to shade us from the sun, breezes that purge the dead limbs, and water to the areas that are in drought. What is true in nature is true in the spiritual. We enjoy the good times, when troubles are few and life is light. But then God sends a storm. Something that rocks our world, slows us down and brings us to our knees. Not always what we want, but often what we need. Without storms we can burn ourselves out. Without storms, areas in our lives that need a purge, would never be cleaned out. Without storms, the refreshing of God’s Spirit that brings our hearts back to life, wouldn’t come. Going through a storm? Be thankful. He see’s something in our lives that is dying. Something in our heart or soul that needs watered. He allows a spiritual rain, disguised as a storm, to come into our lives. He sees we need a pause. A rest. A time of refreshing. He’s the God in the storm and when it’s time He’ll say, “peace be still.”
Over the past month I’ve taken notice that many retailers are returning to age old tradition of being closed on Thanksgiving. I’m glad to see this trend because over the past few years it has seemed that Thanksgiving was disappearing, being discarded by greed and materialism, the very opposite value that Thanksgiving is all about. In a time that is so filled with anger and hate I think it’s important that we take time to pause and re
flect on the many blessing we have as Americans and Christians; to say thank you, I’m grateful and I’m blessed.
If we are not careful we’ll miss the fact that we are surrounded by so many awesome people and cultures who call Life their home. If we don’t stop or pause, we’ll miss something very special that is right in front of us. One of the great pleasures we all get to share in is the many cultures that make Life their home, our kids get to interact with people from the nations of Pakistan, Indonesia, Congo, Mexico and Guatemala just to name a few. Though I am a simple hamburger and fries or pizza guy, Mary and I been afforded to have cultural dinners from Pakistan and Indonesia and participate in a Pakistani wedding and let me say, if you haven’t been to a Pakistani wedding, you have missed something unique. There are so many wonderful stories here at Life and if we don’t slow down, we’ll miss them. Stories like the one of Scott Gascho carrying extra clothes in his car for 14 years so that if Keri ever decided to be baptized, she would have fresh clothes to wear afterwards. Now that is faith! Stories about our wonderful heritage, like the one we heard from Phil Yadon earlier in the year about the faith and miracles that was a part of his early life. I was so inspired by his testimony, my faith for miracles went to a new level for this generation. Stories about the prayers of Jim Coffey’s mom while he was a kid. Imagine neighbors setting out on their porches listening to her prayers as they filled the valley, waiting to hear their name as she called out each family.
May I encourage you to stop this month, put the brakes on all the things of life that you feel have to get done and get to know some of the great people who worship with you, who are a part of your church family. If we don’t, we’ll miss stories about how people met and married, how they came to their walk with God and stories about how God did the miraculous in their life. We’ll miss stories that will encourage our faith, strengthen our resolve and we’ll miss the opportunity to be blessed with new friends and relationships. Make a plan in November to hit the pause button. If you will, you’ll be more thankful, grateful and blessed this Thanksgiving.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets,
and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers
By definition the word pastor simply means, a spiritual overseer. It is important that throughout our lives we have men whose job is simply to oversee our spiritual life and wellbeing. They are to give us guidance, instruction and principles from the Word of God to help us in our journey. They are to pray over us and be concerned about our eternal destination. This month I wanted to take a moment to focus, reflect and thank the men of God who have shaped my life, family and ministry.
I first want to recognize my dad as my first spiritual overseer. I’ve watched as my dad has led our family; navigating us through turbulent times. He taught me that church was not an option, it was a privilege. We made every service, every week. If there was a revival or a prayer meeting, we were there. If there was a call to fast, we fasted. When he saw that his son was struggling with church and God, he made the change to get me and his family to a better place. He never questioned or compromised doctrine, always stood for truth and when he was called to serve, he did. He sang, worked with youth, taught Sunday School, ushered and has served on church boards for over 30 years. An indelible mark he left on my life was one of the few times I saw him cry. I had just walked in for prayer before a Sunday night service. When I walked into the prayer room, he along with other board members were wailing and sobbing, I thought someone had died, but in reality it was that his pastor was leaving. This is the kind of love my dad showed me for God, church and his pastor.
The second man of influence is Pastor N.A. Urshan. He was a man of vision, he understood that the church must remain relevant, a man ahead of his time and a man who wasn’t afraid to go against the religious norm. He wasn’t aware of the influence that he was having on a 13-year-old life, he didn’t realize that one day I too would pastor and had no idea that his beliefs and ideals would become mine. We came to his church in a time where my interest in God was waning. It was a time where it seemed churches preached against everything that was “fun.” Pastor Urshan went against the grain. He understood who he was, he understood his time and he understood what it took to reach the next generation and the world; he preached more about a relationship than rules. It wasn’t too long after we arrived that our family got a TV, I went on my first gym bowling day and high school football game…I thought that I had arrived! He had young people in the orchestra who played basketball on the high school teams and young people who didn’t have it all together in the choir. My parents approached him about his methods at one point and paraphrasing him he said, “as long as they are here I have a chance for the gospel to change them.” It wasn’t but a few years later that I was filled with the Spirit and felt my call to the ministry. Now forty years later, I find myself pastoring much the same way as Pastor Urshan. I pastor as I do because I watched how Pastor Urshan never wavered off the doctrine yet had understanding for the need to stay relevant. I learned what he understood, that methods may change, but the message never will. Today, I try to mimic his methods in my generation and teach the next generation the same.
The third man of influence is Pastor James Larson. He came into my life at a critical time and tattooed my heart with a love for prayer and worship. He was 25 years old, was 6’8” and loved basketball and God. I was 15 and when I saw his passion for the things of God I decided that was what I wanted too. He had more faith than common sense, but his faith built what is still one of the largest church auditoriums in Indianapolis and tried whatever to get people to Jesus including billboards, commercial radio spots, bumper stickers and even an egg hunt in a park. But it was his passion for prayer that forever changed my life. Every Sunday night an hour before church he would be in the prayer room crying out for God to pour out his Spirit. He would circle and every once in a while you would feel his shadow as it stopped over you and you knew it was coming, his hands would go on your head or back and he would pray over you like Jesus was coming that night. He had all night prayer meetings and weeks of prayer and fasting and I saw how it changed the church and reached a community. He attacked the platform the same way, tambourine in hand and the spirit of worship in his heart. I know there were times when he had more stress and more problems than we could ever imagine, but when it was time to worship, he came to worship. He’s been away from my life for over 30 years now, but the influence of prayer he put in my life has shaped my beliefs and my ministry in a way like no other. If you wonder why I’m so driven for prayer, it was because of my pastor and his love for prayer. James Larson gave me the passion and understanding of the power of prayer and I if I can pass anything on to another person or generation, it would be the same. Pray.
Time prohibits others who mentored me from a distance but I must mention men like Pastor James Kilgore who taught me how to live and preach with humility and Pastor Anthony Mangun who gave me a passion for the world and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Then there are those men who influenced Mary, thereby influencing me. I recently heard a message by her dad, Pastor Wayne Odum, preaching on the power of the Holy Spirit. She speaks so fondly of Pastor Kenneth Haney, his incredible faith and joining him and others at the church at 5 a.m. for prayer and it was Pastor Stephen Drury and his love for kids at the Tupelo Children’s Mansion that has created such a love for kid’s ministry in her. These, along with Paul Mooney, and so many others, God put in our lives to shape us, our family and me as a pastor. It is because of them that Mary and I are together, have the type of home and family we have, and love God and His church the way we do. We are a product of the wonderful men who have poured into us, prayed for us and shepherded us. We have been blessed by so many so that we could bless others, we’re thankful for our pastor’s, our heritage and what they have put in us so we could serve others.