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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What I Found At The Bottom

water-wellWhen was the last time you felt completely depressed?  I don’t mean, “I had a bad day and people at work don’t understand me.”  I’m talking more along the line of, “I don’t know how much longer I can take this! I am scrambling, dodging, weaving, listening, encouraging, helping, and supporting with all I have and I have reached a point where I AM OUT OF EVERYTHING PEOPLE NEED FROM ME!”

Anyone?  Seriously?  Nobody wants to raise their hand?  Buncha liars out there I guess. OK, maybe it’s just me.  Well, maybe one day you will feel that way, and if you do, this is something I want to share with you. I hope it helps.

At the bottom of you, you will only find the bottom of you.  I know!  We are talking some deep stuff here!  When you dig down deep, and go to the deepest part of you to find what you need for yourself or someone else, you will find…YOU!  Is that enough?  Will it meet your needs?  Will it meet the needs of your family? Friends? Co-workers?

Maybe you are a really deep person with a  lot in the well, but I guarantee that the day will come when you are looking at the bottom of it and you will find a deep, dark YOU staring back at you, and YOU will look at you and both YOU and you will ask, “Is this all I got?” (Unless you are a grammarian like my mother-in-law and then it will be, “Alas! Is this truly all that remains?”)

You see, I am a finite being, and news flash – so are you and YOU! That means that we will always reach a point where we have nothing left, and when that moment comes we are going to fail, flop, and fall.  Not because we didn’t give our best or our all, but because we are not enough in ourselves to get the job done in some situations.

That’s where God loves to show up.  He loves the moments when we realize that we don’t have what it takes and that we really need Him to be in control.  When we step back, give Him control, and do what He asks, we are going to be able to see things happen that we never could accomplish on our own.

He will take our moments of frustration and give us peace in heart and mind.  He will take the fear and replace it with a confidence that we can succeed.  He will take the loneliness and show us that we are never alone because we have Him.  When we feel like we just can’t keep caring, He gives us the ability to love with His love.

It might not always feel good to realize that you don’t have enough in you to do a job, but it does feel good to see something come to fruition that you know was possible only through God’s power.

Relentless Living requires us to keep our FOCUS on God and draw our strength from Him.  On our own, the bottom comes up pretty quickly, but with God, you can just keep going deeper and deeper.  You just can’t find the limit of Him.

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“What Are Those Rocks For?”

a7e550f037ee595ae8d89a7e0fbe4245Last night I made a call to some friends to ask them for some prayer.  My wife and I have been working on getting ready for our daughter’s graduation, and that has led to a lot of hard work and stress.  We have been leaning on each other a lot, and I know we would be struggling more if we were not such a good team! Yesterday it became painfully obvious to me that I was on the verge of losing it at work.  At the end of the day I actually closed the door and worked in the dark for the last half hour so people would think I was gone!

I identified the source of my problem in fighting off feelings of anger, apathy, and a general “Leave me alone!” attitude as a lack of sleep and time in God’s Word.  Once that hit me, I sent a message out asking my buddies to pray for me, and also telling them that I intended to get in the Word last night.

This morning, one of the guys sent me a text to ask how my time in the Word and a good night’s rest helped me.  I felt like telling him that it was great and I felt better, but I “fessed up” and told him the truth.  I didn’t do it last night even though I knew I needed to. Then I told him I was going to take the time to do this morning what I needed to do last night and get in the Word.

I did it.

I read in Joshua 4 how the Israelites set up stones of remembrance on the bank of the Jordan after crossing into the Promised Land.  The stones were to be a reminder to future generations that God had showed up in the lives of His people.  Those stones had two purposes in my mind:20150522_094200

1.       They drew the eyes of those unfamiliar with a living God, and made them ask a question.  God’s plan was for His people to continue to tell His story to those that didn’t know it.

I have a paper on the door of my office where I have written things I am thankful for, and I have encouraged my staff to use it as well.  It has prompted some good conversations, and in a way it is like those stones.  A visual indication that something has taken place.

2.       They made the person who knew the story actually think about what God had done as they told the story.  They had to recall how God did His miracle there, and it probably brought back the feeling of awe at seeing God at work.

After reading my Bible this morning, I came back to my door and read through some of the things I have written and I remembered how I felt when I wrote them.  It was a great reminder to me that God wants to be at work in my life, and is actually there every day – even the days I choose not to notice it.

There was another thing I noticed when I read the paper on the door.  It had been two weeks since I had written anything on it.  Maybe if I had been thinking about what God has been doing for me, I would have been in a better frame of mind.

So, to the guys that were praying for me, I say, “Thank you!”  God used your prayers to turn my heart this morning.  I am still fighting the weariness and irritation, but I am very aware this morning of God at work in me, and I am relying on Him more today than I have been the last week or so.  I guess those stones on the banks of the Jordan still get the job done!

I could have just wallowed in my misery and enjoyed a big old pity party, but Relentless Growth will not allow that.  I want to thrive in the life that God has given me, and I am glad that He has loved me enough to give me His living Word and good friends I can talk to that care enough to talk back!

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42 – What Happens Next?

Answer_to_Life“42 was found to be the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. Unfortunately, it was not known exactly what the question was, so nobody is any the wiser.”

– ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’

Well, another year has come and gone, and I hope that I am a bit wiser for the last 365 days of spinning around the sun.  I know there are several people who would probably like to weigh in on that one, but they will have to do so in the comments below, and since that seems to be a fairly untrodden patch of dirt,  I feel pretty safe.

I have been trying to think of something witty to say for my 42nd birthday blog.  What type of topic would best fit such a year of significance?  Douglas Adams gave us the number 42 as the answer to everything, but as he said, if we don’t know exactly what the question is, 42 just falls kind flat.  So, that makes me ask, what has been the big question of my last 12 months?

“What happens next?”

Yep.  That has probably been the biggest question of the last year.  It has led us down roads that felt ominous, filled with worry and concern.  What is Tammi’s job going to be like?  What is my job going to be like?  What does school look like for the kids next year?  What is my Men’s Group going to look like?  What should I do about teaching? What should I be thinking about my future ministry opportunities?

Well, Tammi’s job smoothed out and things are going well.  I’ve seen a lot of change in my role at work and things have been getting steadily better there.  We are seeing the college situation for BOTH kids coming into focus.  I think the Men’s Group is in a state of change, but may very well be on the cusp of something amazing.  Teaching is still in the air, but future ministry opportunities are looking more and more interesting, even if they are on a slight pause at this time.

Monday I was reading in Joshua 1.  Joshua has just taken up the mantle of leadership for the nation of Israel, and is standing at the border of the Promised Land.  Moses is dead, and he is looking around at all these people who are looking at him expectantly.  I imagine the thought, “What happens next?” went through his mind.

I like to wonder if God saw these doubts in Joshua’s mind.  It makes sense that He did since He immediately came to Him to have a chat:

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. – Joshua 1:5-6

Imagine that. God Himself speaking to you and saying, “No man can beat you for the rest of your life. I am with you. Always. Get ready to be strong and show courage because I am going to use you to fulfill MY promise to these people!” Got any goosebumps yet? I do! God goes on to tell Joshua two more times to be strong and courageous; reinforcing His promise to Joshua and the people of Israel.

I would think that after that, Joshua had to be feeling a bit better. He had been reassured by God and had been given a promise of protection and victory! The next step was to address the people. He told them to prepare for battle. He reminded them of promises made by God to them, and of promises made by the people to God. Things are looking pretty good, and then the people answer him:

And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” – Joshua 1:16-18

What a coincidence!  These people, who I do not believe heard God talking to Joshua, tell him the exact same thing that God did!  Why it almost makes you think that God might have used them to reinforce what He had just told Joshua!  That would probably be because that is exactly what He did!  God used this interaction with the men that he led to speak truth into Joshua at a time and in a place that he would know God was at work.

I have had a lot of these moments over the past year. “Coincidences” that just seem to come out of nowhere as someone tells me something “out of the blue” that I had just read that morning in the Bible.  I have had people walk up and make offers to do things that were direct answers to prayers that I had just prayed about that morning!  Some people would call it coincidence, luck, karma…  I call it God, and when it happens I find myself asking an old question in a new way – with expectancy!

“What happens next?”

I don’t know. I am on the cusp of a new year. I have never been closer to God than I am right now. My relationship with my wife and kids is better than ever. God has brought four men into my life that are the closest friends I have ever had. They speak truth into me and are often telling me in their own ways to be strong and courageous. I am looking at the future of what God is going to do with my life in regards to ministry, and I see His hand has been moving me toward a change for some time. Now I see it just over the horizon as I look at the opportunity to join in the work at Starwood Ranch and Overboard Ministries.

What happens next? I don’t really know, but I know that the Relentless Life I have been pursuing in my relationship with God has brought me here. It is taking me into new territories where I will need to trust Him not only for wisdom and strength, but for the courage to go the distance with Him.

This is going to be a big year for me. I’m going after it with my God, my family, and my friends. I’ll let you know what happened in 365 days!

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Caleb – A Whole-Hearted Man

caleb (1)Imagine with me for a moment.  It is a dry and dusty day on the border of the Promised Land.  40 days earlier, Moses sent 12 men to look at the land of Canaan to see what  was waiting for them there.  Tension is high as everyone keeps looking to the hills to see if they can see any sign of the scouting party.

Finally, there they are! As they draw closer to camp, you can see that they are carrying a huge cluster of grapes.  The fruit is so large it is being carried by two men!  As questions begin to fly, the men report that the story God had told them was true!  This truly is an amazing land that holds vast resources for all the people of Israel.

As excitement fills your heart, you see another man step forward waving his arms.  He begins to speak, and you are told that there are also giants there.  Formidable armies encamped in huge cities that you would never be able to overthrow.  There are enemies wherever you look.  Defeat fills your heart as you hear those words.  How can God do this to you after He promised this paradise?  Anger begins to rise.  Some of it is directed at God, some at Moses, some at these men.  Your doubts and fears are carried along with the rest of the people and soon the noise is palpable.

Wait, who is that?  Another person is stepping forward.  Is that Caleb?  He was one of the men that went to spy out the land.  He is waving his hands and getting people’s attention.  The crowd dies down and Caleb speaks,

“Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”

7599303_f520Caleb came from the tribe of Judah.  I have found a couple listed meanings of his name.  One meaning is “dog”, – not that flattering – but the other is “whole-hearted” or “all of the heart”.  As names in that culture usually carried great meaning in the  individual’s life, I have to wonder if the name “dog” might have had something to do with a tenacity that he showed as a very young boy.  Maybe when he set his teeth in something, he just would not let go.  I’m not sure, but if you continue to read about Caleb’s life (and we will, Dear Reader), you will see a Relentless determination in him.  He is definitely an “all-in” kind of guy.

Think about what he must have felt as he walked back into the camp with that big cluster of grapes.  The people were all looking at these 12 guys with excitement.  The Bible doesn’t say who spoke first when the scouting party returned. Caleb was the first speaker identified in Numbers 13:30, but I wonder if he and Joshua were the two carrying the grapes.  I wonder if Joshua spoke up with Caleb and told the people about all the good things that were there. What did Caleb think when another member of the scouting party gave the doom and gloom message?  “What are you doing?  Don’t you see you are going to scare them?  We don’t have anything to worry about because we are God’s people!”  Did he throw down the grapes and rush forward yelling for their silence?  All I know for sure is that when Caleb stepped up to speak, the people got quiet enough to hear him.

As we know, they didn’t listen for long.  The people turned on Moses, decided they would ask for a new leader, and it looks like Moses and Aaron appeared to be afraid for their lives as you read the beginning of chapter 14.  It says they fell to their faces in front of the congregation.  Things were looking pretty dicey, and then:

“And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” – Numbers 14:6-9 (ESV)

What boldness to step out like that!  These guys knew that God had the entire thing under control.  They knew that He would lead them and that they would have everything God had promised.  They didn’t hesitate to stand up.  They did and said the right thing.

So, as you would expect, the people decided to stone them.  I’ve had days like that…  Just as it looks like they are going to die, God Himself steps in to stop the people, and He is not happy.  God is ready to wipe out the whole bunch of them, Moses ends up begging for the lives of the people, and God lets them live. He punishes the people by telling them that because of their unbelief, everyone over the age of 20 will not see the Promised Land.  Instead, they will wander around the desert for the next 40 years until every last one of them dies.  Well, almost all of them.

 “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” – Numbers 14:24

Caleb had a different spirit.  I think it was that Relentless tenacity of a pitbull that was whole-heartedly determined to follow God.  As God saw Caleb’s heart and actions, He rewarded him for the stand that he had taken for God.  Caleb may fade into the background a bit, but whenever we see him, he is still standing strong and giving it all. Eventually he did enter the Promised Land with Joshua.  He fought for God, and he claimed the promise of God for his family.  The best part is he did it with that same tenacity!

Caleb has been a hero of mine since I was a little guy.  As an adult I see the lessons in his life more clearly, and he has grown even more significant.  He showed a Relentless pursuit of the things God promised, and as he followed God, he was blessed with health and strength for the journey that took him even into his eighties.  I want to be that kind of man.  His name resonates in my heart as a man’s man.  Even more, as God’s man.  One day I would like God to say of me that I was a servant of His with a different spirit because I had followed Him fully.

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