Christ Arose

21123This morning is Easter  – Resurrection Sunday.  Today many are celebrating with chocolate rabbits and hunts for colored eggs as well as remembering what happened that day some 2,000 years ago when Christ rose from the grave that briefly held him.  This morning many will be in church to hear the story and to sing the songs we all know and love that tell us about the victory that took place that morning.

One of the songs I hope to sing this morning is one of my favorites.  It was written over 100 years ago by Dr. Robert Lowry, a Baptist Pastor, college chancellor, and composer.  Lowry was known for many hymns that he had written, including, “Shall We Gather at the River” and “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.”  He said in his later years that he wished he was better known as a pastor than a composer, but I think he was not aware of the impact of his music that would continue to echo beyond his life.  The theology and doctrine in his music is strong, and his words are vivid.

The hymn he wrote that I hope to sing this morning is “Christ Arose.”

Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior.Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord.

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Easter is not about the candy, the rabbits, or the eggs.  It is about the victory Christ had over death.  When He died on the cross He paid for our sins, and what a miraculous sacrifice that was, but the death was nothing without the resurrection that took place three days later!  Without the resurrection of Christ there would be no victory over death.  We who trust in His name now have freedom to live!

The gifts I have been given through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ are the driving forces in a Relentless Life.  I have been given so much, and it is now my response to bring Him honor and glory for what He did for me!

Hallelujah!  Christ Arose!

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Open Bar At The Wedding

Jesus Turns Water Into Wine ClipartI’ve started a new devotional book and it is taking me through the book of John over a 40 day period.  I loved that when I hit that first couple of lessons I was met with the instruction to put the book away if I was going to use it to simply go through the motions.  The author was very clear that his words were not important.  What he wanted to see is for the reader to FOCUS on the daily scripture passages and really let God’s Word sink in.

Today the passage I read was John 2:1-12.  Here we get the story of Jesus’ first and probably most controversial (at least among some of the “Old Guard” Baptists I know and love) miracles – the turning of water into wine. (Yes, I believe it was wine and not grape juice. Sorry if I have let anyone down.. Nah.  Never mind.  It’s good!)  I read the passage this morning and kinda let it run around in my head the rest of the day. (There was nothing in there to really keep it from enjoying the space!)

By the time I sat down to go through the devotional reading I had kinda cut my focus to a couple of things.  First, Mary had some pull.  She tells Jesus there is no wine left at the wedding.  Jesus tells her His time has not yet come, and she just turns to the servants:

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” – John 2:5

I don’t know exactly why Jesus changed His mind after His response to Mary, but I wonder if it might have been related to her words immediately after His apparent refusal to help.  His time had not come, but she turned and said to the help that He was in control and something was about to happen.  Whether she intended for Him to go and get some wine at the local 7-11 or what, I am not at liberty to say.  She just took a step of faith and asked some others to do the same.

Right after that, Jesus puts these guys to work:

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. – John 2:7,8

Who were these guys?  Did they know anything of Jesus?  Were they there at His Baptism?  Had they heard Him teach?  What did they know about Him that made them just step into immediate obedience like that?  I wish I had an answer. Put yourself in their position.  There is no wine, this woman tells you to do what this guy says, He tells you to go and fill some pots with water and then take some of the water to the guy in charge so he can taste it.

And. They. Did. It.  Think about that.  They did it.  They just did it! and Voila! Wine!

We read that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.  Well, I see here that the obedience of a waiter/bartender can result in taking tap water and turning it into a fine Chardonnay.  If they had not done as they were told, do you think this story would have gone the same way?  I think not.

Here is the neat thing about obedience to Christ.  When you step out and do something that Jesus tells you to do, you have positioned yourself to be in the perfect position to see Christ do something amazing!  Sometimes the crazier the act of obedience, the bigger the “payoff”.  These guys jumped to action when asked and they were soon partaking in the finest wine ever to be served.  What do you think that did in their lives?  Do you wonder of they followed Jesus after that?  I do.

The devotional asked me a question I am going to ask you.  I came up with an answer, and I challenge you to do the same.

“What do you believe God has been asking you to do that you have been sidestepping?”

Ouch.  That was a big step on the toes.  I know I have something that I have been making excuses over for a while now.  I keep looking for that perfect excuse, and I have been pretty good at coming up with one every time I feel that little “push” the Holy Spirit gives me.  That needs to stop.

If I am going to live a Relentless Life for Christ, I need to go ahead and do what He asks me to do.  He knows best, and He will pour into me and then unlock whatever He put inside me that is necessary to accomplish the task.  If it is His plan and goal, it will get done, and I will be blessed to be involved!

I have some work to do, and I’m not sure how it is going to shake out and look like at the end of it all, but I believe it is time to get myself out of God’s way and just do what He asks.  I don’t think it is going to result in an open bar or anything, but all that matters is that God’s best is poured freely into those around me!

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Those Pastor’s Kids…

12821566_922719921179919_8072265062176788583_nI saw this picture on social media the other day. At first glance it made me laugh because I grew up in church and I have seen the extremes that often take place, and seeing the anti-hero Deadpool compared to the virtuous Captain America seemed to be an apt comparison.

As a son of a former deacon, I felt like I could laugh about this picture because of the stereotype that exists there, and even though people don’t like stereotypes, they exist because in many cases, they are true. Not always, but often enough that you can have a snicker from time to time over them. The Pastor’s kids got in trouble because the whole church was watching them The deacon’s kids probably got it the worst from the other deacons more than anyone else. We were a different group, but still in the mix.

After seeing this and thinking about it, I started to see different faces from my childhood – kids from school and church and how they “turned out”. Often they did swing to one of these extremes – “good guy” or “bad guy”. Whoa. Where am I in that mix?

Looking at the two extremes is just a part of the story. You also need to look at where a kid is in the process. They don’t just become Deadpool or Captain America. It’s a process. Some of it takes a long time, and sometimes, time is the best way to help us see where that person might land. I’m not saying I’m Captain America now, but I can say that there was a time that a fairly decent crowd might have considered me well on my way to being a Deadpool! Time was a good thing as it allowed God to work in me. Time is working in a lot of kids right now.

Since time is working on them, we might be better not to judge those kids we see out there. They might be dealing with some issues we don’t know about. They might have more on the ball than we give them credit for. We may have an unrealistic expectation for that kid, or we might just think they should be a little more mature than they really are.

At the end of the day, I don’t see this as a good person or as a bad person. I see them as two very different attitudes. In a way that is a little reassuring, but at the same time, it is a little scary. If it is an attitude, then it can be changed. It is not a defining thing unless you decide to leave it that way. Once you have slipped down a slope, it is harder to get back up. Doesn’t mean quit, but it will be hard.

Anyway, back to the attitudes. Here is how I see them:

Deadpool – “This is who I am. I’m not changing for you or anyone else. My reasons? Why should I try? Nobody expects anything better out of me, and being better than I am is more work than I am prepared to give. It will never be enough to satisfy those people. I know I could do better, but this is how they see me. So, I am just going to embrace it. This is all there is.”

There is so much potential in a Deadpool. So many things that could be done, but self is chosen over others or even a goal. Opportunities are missed, Potential is unrealized, relationships are hurt and sometime destroyed. There are glimpses of heroism from time to time, but they are tempered by a fear form those closest that they will soon decline again.

Captain America – “I might not be the best person for the job, but the job needs to be done, so I am here to do it. I’m willing to go the distance to help another person. I want people to live free and happy. I can follow directions, but I am willing to lead as well. I make mistakes, and I am trying to be better. I’m not satisfied at just being who I am, I want to be better in order to help those who need it”

There is a humility in a Captain America. They may be as gifted or even less gifted than a Deadpool, but they are not focused on themselves. They are focused on others. They are not settling for who they are, they want to grow and develop new skills. They have down times where they feel like they have failed, but they do not let those moments define them. They get back up and keep going because they see the goal is worth the effort even if those around them do not.

The pastor’s kids really aren’t any different than the rest of us; they just live under the microscope. Take any cross section out there and if you just want to take a snapshot of that moment in time, you will see the extremes, but the reality is that there is a near constant swing in kids as they are figuring out who they will be. Personally I see a lot more Captain Americas start showing up around the late twenties and early thirties. Life has a way of helping you see things in a different way.

There were a lot of comments and a lot of Scripture being taken out of context where I saw this pic. I saw a ton of legalistic talk, and I felt ashamed by that. It’s easy to draw lines sometimes when you don’t really know what you are talking about. I’ve never been a PK. Never felt the stress of living up to an expectation that I didn’t ask to be a part of. I know what it feels like to be held to a higher standard though…

I see that photo now as a warning to me. How do I look at people around me? We all have an internal struggle, and we will choose whether to take that struggle and use it as an opportunity to serve ourselves or to serve God. I hope that people see me as a guy who is Relentless in his drive to grow and make the right choice. I hope they see my failures as pivotal moments for me to stand up smarter, and stronger for the struggle rather than weak for failing. I hope I see the same in those around me.

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Grace And The Church – Grace Part 3

Last year I was asked to help in writing a book of devotionals for our church campaign on grace. It was the first time I had been asked to write something for a book, and I really appreciated the opportunity. I have decided to post these devotionals every other day over the next couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy them and that they make you think about the wonders of the grace of God.

You can see the previous posts by clicking the links below:

scriptureongraceWhat Are We Here For?

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. – Acts 6:8

Have you ever wondered what the purpose of the church is? A support system?  A source of community benevolence?  A place for  people to worship? A place for friends to get together?  A place to learn how to be abetter person?  Well, I think it is all of those, but it is more than that.

Think about what we have been given as believers.  We are given the grace of God that has given us salvation!  We are blessed with eternal life and a source of power for living.  We have had the truth of God’s love, mercy and grace revealed to us through His Word and his people, and we have been given a direction for its use.  Are we supposed to just sit on that?

No.  Absolutely not!

Stephen was called to be a deacon in the church, and he took his job seriously as he went out to serve people. Acts 6:8 says he was “full of grace and power.”  A man like that isn’t going to sit still waiting for Sunday morning and the Adult Bible Fellowship or Sunday School class to share what he has been given.  Stephen was out talking to people, sharing the work of Christ in His life in whatever way he could.  God was giving him the ability to do amazing things, and he made sure to not let Him down.

What is different from Stephen than you and me?  Do we not know the same God?  Do we not have the same access to His power?  Does the God Stephen served not allow us to speak out boldly in our faith?  What is holding us back? We have the same Spirit of God at work in us, and we have the same grace in our lives.  Where is the power?  Is it possible that we could do amazing things in the lives of those around us if we let God work in us?

Think about the things that people are enduring every day – cancer, divorce, loss, addiction, emotional abandonment, and the list goes on.  What difference might be made in their lives if a person full of grace and power from God were to get personally involved in their lives?

There are so many opportunities in a day for us to speak of the goodness of God and His life changing work in our lives.  While the Christian faith is under more persecution here in America than at any other time, we still have the ability and freedom to show God’s grace to those around us.  How you do it is up to you and your skill set, but there is nothing stopping you or me from doing it.

We can show the grace of God by not getting irritated with person at work, by giving someone the benefit of the doubt in a moment of annoyance, by showing humility in a confrontation.  We can show sympathy and empathy to those who are struggling.  We can share out life stories and how God works in our circumstances to show us how He is always there, and in that, we can show people the ultimate grace – extending God’s offer of salvation to them!

God didn’t show us grace to have us sit in a building on Sundays.  If grace was just meant to put my body in a chair on Sunday mornings then I am doing no good for God here on earth.  He gave us grace so we can show the reality of a life changed to those who do not yet know Him.  As the church, it is our mission to reach out and show a bit of Christ everywhere we go.  Stephen understood that mission and embraced it.  How about you?

  • Who do you know that could benefit from a friendship with someone who can share God’s grace with them?
  • Who are you encouraging in the church to reach out to others?
  • What next step will you take to living a life “full of grace and power?”

Father, you gave your grace to us to save us in your mercy, but you also gave it to us so we can share it with others.  Give us your heart for the hurting that we can bring them to know you.

Over the last several years I have been slowly coming to the understanding that as part of the Church (the bride of Christ) I have been commanded to share the gospel not only in how to come to Christ, but in how Christ in me is changing me.  Relentless Growth comes from surrendering to Christ’s call through the Spirit to share what He has done.  Not every work that God has done in me is a miracle, but in giving Him the credit and the glory for what has happened, I believe He is giving me more power to speak of His gift and involvement in my life.  That is where the growth happens, and it is what every believer is called to.

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My Take On Election Year 2016

DvELet me start off this post by saying that this year I have made a point of trying to stay out of the political arguing and banter going on out there.  I have made it a personal goal to not get into any political arguments or take off on any social media rants like so many are fond of.  I might slip a time or two, but for the most part I am trying to stay out of it for my own sanity as well as the heath of relationships.  We all have opinions and those opinions are not always held by those we call friends.

That being said, I want to make a couple of comments here and address what I feel to be a big issue in these times in which we live.  You may not agree with me, and that is your right.  I just hope that we can all take a moment and think about things like adults.  I admit to being a little handicapped in that area, but I promise to do my best.

I read an article the other day asking Christians to avoid voting in this election because there are no candidates that would be a good choice in God’s eyes.  While I do agree that the moral integrity of the candidates that are basking in the media spotlights right now is somewhat suspect, I don’t think that is a good reason for us to abstain from voting.  We need not be fearful of making a “wrong” or “flawed” choice.  We are all human, and flawed humans picking a leader from a pool of flawed humans will always succeed in selecting a flawed human as their leader.  Face the facts.

I have often walked into the voting booth picking “the lesser evil” with my vote.  Not exactly an inspiring thought when putting someone in a position of authority like that, but it really is about all I can do.  When I go into the booth I am doing my part to make a good selection, but the system does not always allow for us to have a “best choice”.  We do what we can with what we are given.  Frankly, I am not going to get that worked up about it.  I will continue to vote and be a good citizen, but I often feel that my part in the process does not matter in the grand scheme of things.

My family has been talking extensively about the candidates still available to us for next week’s primary, and we are discouraged.  There are no candidates that match our values.  We see the frontrunners as untrustworthy and dangerous to not only the dignity and safety of our country, but also to our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy.  It is disheartening to sit and look at the choices available and not only feel a sense of malaise, but an actual fear.  What does all of this mean for the USA and for us?

Allowed to run unchecked, these fears can bring us into a near panic over our situation.  What will happen to us?  Isn’t there anyone that can save us in this troubled time?  What is happening with our country, and why can’t the majority truly see the truth of who these candidates are?  There must be better choices than those we are allowed to actually vote on.  What am I supposed to do as a believer?  Where does my sense of responsibility begin and end?

Basically, I have decided I can do four things:

Pray – The Bible tells me that it I should worry about nothing and pray about everything.  The thing to remember is that I need to be praying for the right things.  God’s will to be done is the first and foremost thing to remember.  He will allow the person to be elected.  That is not mine to decide.  My part in this is to ask God to show me how to rightly respond to how that person will eventually lead this country.  I might not agree with what they say, but I can still respond appropriately.  I need to pray in preparation for whatever God decides to bring into my life.

Learn – We are told to be wise.  That means that we are supposed to learn about the candidates.  We shouldn’t just listen to the media sound bytes and read the stuff on social media.  What are the real facts about the candidates?  Take some time and dig in to see what is actually there.  A Christian should never vote based on what they saw on Twitter. C’mon, everyone.  We need to be smarter than that.

Vote – We have a duty as citizens of our country to vote.  God is OK with it. I promise!  Christ showed us the importance of paying our taxes and the apostles wrote of the duty we have to be subject to the authority that God has placed over us.  Why would God tell us to pay taxes and be subject to our rulers set over us if He did not also want us to be involved in the process?  It might not be a command, “Thou shalt vote/not vote for the _____________party”, but there is definitely an understanding that we have a governmental system that God intends us to work with.

Pray Some More – After the election it will be time to pray some more!  The person in office will need to be lifted up in prayer.  The leader of the USA is probably under more pressure than any other leader in the world.  Like the old saying, “Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.”, we need to be praying for wisdom, protection, and guidance for our President as they will be under a heavy burden while in office.

At the end of the day, all the talk, arguing, and shouting about politics pretty much just leads to a ton of anxiety and anger.  I’ve decided that I don’t need that.  I would rather FOCUS on living a Relentless life.  The political environment breeds fear, and emotional turmoil.  I choose to try to live in the peace that God brings to the situations around me.  Peace like God tells us about in Isaiah:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

The election is coming and there will be a President.  God already knows who that will be. He will not be surprised, and He will still be on the throne of the universe.  I’m going to rest in that.  It gives me peace no matter what happens in the arena of politics.

Pray. Do your homework. Vote. Pray some more.  In all of it, TRUST GOD!

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The Trinity and Grace – Grace Part 2

Last year I was asked to help in writing a book of devotionals for our church campaign on grace. It was the first time I had been asked to write something for a book, and I really appreciated the opportunity. I have decided to post these devotionals every other day over the next couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy them and that they make you think about the wonders of the grace of God.

You can see the previous post by clicking the Link below:

0e2858935_1391320609_sermon-image-02022014-the-love-and-peace-of-the-triune-godGalatians 4:6 – And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Growing up in church and Christian school I was taught about the Trinity form an early age.  One God in three distinct parts all being equal in power.  The Trinity has been a source of argument for centuries as people try to nail down exactly how God could be complete and whole, but separate and distinct.  As a kid it was REALLY confusing, and these were my impressions on the “breakdown” of the triune God:

  • God the Father – We know He loved us because He sent His Son, but looking through the Old Testament, He was not a person that you wanted to upset. Much of the teaching I heard as a kid at church and school went so far as to make me feel threatened at all times by His wrath if I stepped out of line.
  • God the Son – He died on the cross for our sins after living a perfect life. His death gave you salvation, and you should try to live like He did.  You won’t be able to do it, but you should do your best to do it because if you don’t, see above…
  • God the Spirit – ? Well, think of it like your conscience… Something nobody really seemed to understand, but they knew it was there to help us and it could keep us out of trouble.  Again, see above…

As  I said in the last post, grace is a good gift given to someone who does not deserve it.  Taking that definition and looking at the Trinity, you can start to see where grace flows through each part of the Trinity all the way down to us as His creation.  Each member of the Trinity acts to bestow grace on us independently, in their own distinct way.  This verse speaks of  each member of the Trinity, and when we look at the members of the Trinity and what we know of them, we can see how they use grace in their own distinct way in order to reach into our hearts and lives.

  • God the Father shows grace to us as a father who provides for His own. We sinned, and while His holiness demands separation, His love extends the gift of eternal life.  Not only did He send His Son, He calls us sons if we have put our faith in Him.  We can approach God Himself as a child approaches his father!  That is amazing!
  • God the Son created us (John 1:1-3), and while His creation chose self over Him, He showed grace in giving His perfect blood for us and in giving us a Helper.
  • God the Holy Spirit is our Helper. More than a conscience, the Spirit is there to facilitate change in our hearts through promptings and patience.  Where we are weak it gives strength; where we have failed, it allows us another chance.  It also provides us the power to live as God intended – fully alive for His service and glory! A gift from God that we do not deserve for the expressed purpose of growing us in our relationship with God.

I wonder sometimes if the reason we didn’t learn much about the Holy Spirit back then was because there was not a focus on how grace is a gift that is for life rather than just for salvation.  We were saved by grace, but then we were told to follow the law.  In truth, we were saved by grace, and then brought into a life where we obey God through the grace He gives us to do so.  The Holy Spirit in us is, in my opinion, the greatest expression of grace.  You cannot understand the Holy Spirit if you do not understand grace.  A perfect gift (the Spirit of God) in our imperfect bodies.

  • How do you see the members of the Trinity?
  • How do you see the grace of each part working in you?

Father, You are a God of grace in all your being.  Thank You for showing it to me through all three parts of the Trinity.  Help me embrace that grace in service to You.

Grace is what makes Relentless Growth possible.  I fail almost daily, but through God’s grace I am encouraged by His Spirit to get up and go again.  I am inspired by the example of Christ, and I am compelled to obey my heavenly Father to bring Him glory for what He has done for me.

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Where Grace Begins – Grace Part 1

Last year I was asked to help in writing a book of devotionals for our church campaign on grace.  It was the first time I had been asked to write something for a book, and I really appreciated the opportunity.  I have decided to post these devotionals every other day over the next couple of weeks.  I hope you enjoy them and that they make you think about the wonders of the grace of God.

poured-outEphesians 1:7 (ESV) – In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

Salvation.  The most amazing gift we could have from God.  It’s not a gift we deserve, but how often do we get one that we really deserve?  The thing is, we could never even come close to deserving this gift.  It is a gift given to us expressly because we DON’T deserve it.  It is the gift of God’s unconditional, unfailing, unending love to us.

Grace, simply put, is the giving of something good to someone who deserves nothing good.  If you are drawing a breath, then you, like me, are a person who deserves nothing good. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, mankind experienced a separation from the best thing – relationship with God.  That separation is a birthright that all mankind has shared from that day forward. God could have left it like that, but the Son offered Himself as the redemption for us.  His perfection offered to us, the imperfect.

Why did He do it?  Think about who Jesus is.  He is the embodied Word of God.  The world was spoken into existence by Him.  He created man.  We are His creation!  Have you ever made something?  If you have, you feel an attachment to it.  It belongs to you, and there is a little bit of you in it. We belonged to Him, but we turned away.  He was willing to set aside His position, come to earth, live as we did, and die for us in order to bring that relationship back. Not because He had to do it, but because He felt we were worth it.

Grace was the motivation for Him. He is rich in grace, and we were chosen to experience that gift of salvation because of His ability to forgive and restore His most prized creation.  Because of His grace, we live eternally.  Because of His grace, we are given the Holy Spirit. Because of His grace we are God’s children.  Because of His grace we are heirs with Christ.  Because of His grace, we have access to God.  The riches of God’s grace given to us at salvation are just the beginning of it!

Grace for the purpose of salvation was not the end.  It was the beginning.  When you know Christ, you have experienced the first taste of grace in salvation.  Jesus is not done there.  His riches in grace are open to you now, and He wants you to grow in those riches.

  • Have you experienced the grace of God in salvation?
  • How do you see forgiveness as a component of grace?
  • What are some ways that you can model that forgiveness and grace in the lives of those you know who are not yet believers?

Father, we thank You for Your grace that allowed us to be back in relationship with You.  Please help us to remember that grace and tell others about it so they can know it too.

Grace is a gift.  It plants the seed in us to grow to be like Christ.  As we put our roots deep into the Word of God, we experience Relentless Growth in Him. We grow stronger in Him. His grace begins to spread into other parts of our lives until it covers those we come in contact with, and eventually it bears fruit as we are given the opportunity to plant that seed of God’s grace in others.

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