“When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared His death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life.” Romans 6:4 (NCV)
Baptism is a beautiful celebration of our new life in Christ! The water doesn’t wash away our sins, but symbolizes our identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When writing to the Christ followers in Rome, the apostle Paul said,
“When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared His death.”
We share in the death of Jesus through baptism by dying to our old way of life controlled by sin and self-interest so that the risen life of Christ may empower us to live a new quality of life that has no other explanation but Christ in us! The rest of the verse puts it like this:
“So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life.”
Have you ever wanted to just begin again? You can! The same power that raised Christ from the dead is available to transform you into the person God wants you to be! Through baptism, we celebrate that new life! Erica described her baptism celebration like this:
“My baptism experience at Woodlands Church was amazingly special. All the smiles of the congregation watching the baptisms performed were beautiful. I was overwhelmed with love and peace after being baptized. My husband had our daughter on his shoulders to watch me get baptized. In due time, she will understand the step of obedience I took. I always want to be a good example for my daughter, and a faithful Christian. Post baptism, I feel more of a responsibility to be a faithful servant. I want to spread His word, and follow the path He has set for me.”
While watching her sister being baptized, Catherine said,
“The energy at Super Summer Baptism was powerful. Hundreds of people erupted in applause for Lisa as she was baptized! Lisa wanted to show her lifetime commitment to live her life as an example of God’s love. She did it. I’m so proud of her!”
These are just two among the thousands of people we have had the joy of celebrating their new life in Christ through baptism at Woodlands Church. Here’s a video from last year’s Super Summer Baptism celebration!
If you missed Super Summer Baptism last weekend, we have a second chance for you or someone you know to celebrate new life in Christ this weekend at Super Summer Baptism 2! Register now and join us at a Woodlands Church campus near you!
“Young man, your sins are forgiven.” Luke 5:20b (NLT)
Imagine this young man. Luke tells us that he was a paralytic and was carried to Jesus by some friends. They believed that, if they could just get their friend to Jesus, he would be healed. The crowd was too great to get near Jesus. So, they took extreme measures and carried their friend to the roof. They removed some tiles from the roof and lowered him right in front of Jesus while He was teaching the crowd! Imagine how that would stop a service in progress. The focus shifted to the paralyzed man on the mat who was suspended in front of the teacher. But, what Jesus said surprised them even more. Jesus said to the man,
“Young man, your sins are forgiven.”
Only later, after some discussion with the indignant religious leaders, did Jesus turn to the paralyzed man and say,
“Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home.”
The man received both physical and spiritual healing. Luke tells us that he “jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God.”
Jesus went deeper than the man’s physical needs. How often do you stop there in your prayers? Jesus saw the man’s heart. It was paralyzed with guilt and sin. The good news is that God offers the same forgiveness given to the paralytic to you and me. The Greek word for forgiven is aphiemi, and it means to let go, to release or to send away from oneself, to be released from a debt. He was forgiven! His sin was put away! He could now let go of the past.
Are you still holding on to hurts and sins that haunt you from your past? Isn’t it time to let them go? Jesus paid the sin debt that we all owe. His death on the cross satisfied the judgment of God against sin so that sin can no longer be held against the one who trusts Jesus as their Savior. When you turn from that sin to Christ, the guilt caused by sin is removed and replaced by the righteousness of Christ. That’s ultimate forgiveness! You are so forgiven in Christ that, in God’s eyes, it is as if you had never sinned!
If you are carrying a heavy burden of guilt for sins you have committed, confess them to Christ and receive aphiemi – ultimate forgiveness! Then, like this paralytic, you will jump up with a clear conscience praising God! You are forgiven!
“Then Peter stepped forward ….” Acts 2:14a (NLT)
What a difference grace makes! Shortly after Peter’s encounter with Jesus on the beach, we see the impact of his restoration. Though he once shrank back denying he even knew Christ, Peter courageously stepped forward before thousands of Jews at the annual feast of Pentecost and boldly proclaimed the risen Christ! He shouted,
“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has raised this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” Acts 2:36 (NLT)
His words pierced the hearts of those who may have even been among the crowd that shouted, “Crucify Him!” Under deep conviction of the Holy Spirit, they asked, “What shall we do?” Peter replied,
“Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” (Vs. 38)
The impact of his message was huge!
“Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day – about 3,000 in all.” (Vs. 41)
This is the difference grace makes! When God restores our lives, He activates us for service! Our mess becomes our life message. Jesus gives purpose to our pain and uses it to heal our broken hearts. Peter stepped into his destiny and became a fisher of men! What’s keeping you from stepping into your destiny? Ask God to restore your life, and then step forward in faith! You’ll never have to look back again! This was the case for a young wife and mother who was recently baptized. From the ashes of great loss, God is restoring her life as she steps into her destiny. Just watch her story and consider the difference grace can make in your own life.
“Do you love Me more than these?” John 21:15 (NLT)
The scene took place by a campfire at dawn on a beach beside the Sea of Galilee. It was an experience that would change Peter’s life forever. The whole experience was redemptive! Jesus would lovingly restore Simon Peter to ministry with a simple question and a command. Anyone who has fallen can understand the pain of personal failure and the regret that can haunt you with guilt and shame. It’s disabling. You feel washed up. Jesus knew that Peter had to overcome such regrets if he would be restored to accomplish his divine destiny. Jesus wanted Peter to know that he wasn’t washed up but that his past failures had been washed away! God had so much more in store for Peter than he could even imagine!
God has a plan and purpose for your life as well, one that is immeasurably greater than you can possibly imagine. It is your divine destiny! Could it be that, like Peter, you too need to deal with some past regrets that have been a barrier to God’s blessing in your life? The campfire scene that Jesus chose must have taken Peter back to another campfire beside which he had warmed himself when he denied Christ. The pain of that personal failure was more than he could bear. Beside this campfire, Jesus asked Peter:
“Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
What was Jesus asking? Do you love Me more than these fish? Peter was a fisherman by trade. Was Jesus asking if Peter loved Him more than fishing? Maybe, but I think it was much deeper than that. Perhaps, Jesus was asking Peter, “Do you love Me more than these other disciples?” “Do you love Me as much as you boasted you once did?” Three times, Peter had denied Christ and, three times, Jesus dealt with the heart of the matter. Do you love Me more than life itself? Peter loved Jesus and yet came to an understanding of the limitations of his own human love through personal failure. But, this didn’t stop the love of God for Peter. Jesus wanted Peter to realize that it wasn’t the measure of his love for Jesus as much as it was the measure of God’s love for him that mattered most! It was the love of God that restored Peter and recommissioned him for service. Jesus had a work for Peter to do. He was called to be a fisher of men, to shepherd the flock of God. It was his destiny, and Peter would never be the same. He wasn’t washed up; his sins were washed away, and he was restored by the love of God!
It’s the enemy’s deceit that convinces us we are washed up! If you’re not dead, God’s not done! Experience the cleansing tide of Jesus’ blood that washes all our sins away! It’s beautifully illustrated through baptism. If you haven’t experienced this refreshing power, join us this weekend at our second Super Summer Baptism Celebration. Through His cleansing power, you too can have a fresh start. Just watch the new beginning that God gave this young couple in our church when they came to Christ and took that step together at last year’s Super Summer Baptism weekend. It could change your life as well!
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in Me through their message.” John 17:20 (NLT)
Did you know that Jesus prayed for you? In fact, it is the longest recorded prayer in the New Testament. You can read His prayer in John 17. It takes the entire chapter, and it occurs the evening before His crucifixion! As He prays for His disciples, Jesus includes you and me specifically! He says,
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in Me through their message.” (Vs. 20)
What did Jesus pray on our behalf as He interceded to the Father for us?
- He prayed for our protection from the evil one. (Vs. 11-15)
- He prayed for us to be holy. (Vs. 17-19)
- He prayed for our unity. (Vs. 11; 21-23)
This world is a battleground! The normal state of affairs for every true child of God is spiritual warfare. But, we need not despair because, in Christ, we have over overcome the world, and greater is He who lives IN us than he who lives in the world. Or, as one friend of mine put it, “Greater is He who is in me than he who is after me!”
Jesus didn’t pray that God would remove us from the world but that, while we were in the world, God would protect us from the evil one so that we may live holy lives. The distinctive difference of a Christ follower is the conduct of their lives. It should be demonstratively obvious by what you do and say and are that Christ lives and reigns in you. Jesus gave Himself for us as a holy sacrifice so that we may be made holy by His Word. Your time in God’s Word changes you from the inside out, making you holy so that those who encounter you can see that there is a quality of your life that has no other possible explanation but Christ in you! That kind of life glorifies God!
Jesus prayed that we would be one in Him as He is one with God! Our unity is by virtue of His presence indwelling us! He alone makes us one. Look for the Christ in others that lives in you and celebrate your unity in Him! Jesus said that kind of unity would change the world! One of the great identifying symbols for that unity that Jesus gave us is baptism. Baptism identifies us with His death, burial and resurrection as we are immersed in the water and raised to walk in newness of the risen life He shares with us today. Baptism also identifies us with one another as Christ followers. Our unity is in Christ, just as His unity was in the Father.
If you haven’t experienced the joy of that unity through baptism, I want to personally invite you to join us this weekend at Woodlands Church for our Super Summer Baptism 2 Celebration! Almost 600 people took that step of believer’s baptism earlier this month, and we are extending that opportunity to you this weekend at all of our campuses following each service.
Register now to join us for the celebration! Let’s be the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity.
“And He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:6 (NKJV)
As a father and grandfather, I’ve come to appreciate a verse in Proverbs more and more the older I get:
“Grandchildren are the crown of old men, And the glory of sons is their fathers.” Proverbs 17:6 (NASB)
It grieves me is to see a generation of children and parents estranged from one another by the lies of our culture. We’ve put so much ahead of our most important relationships and sacrificed the greater joy and glory that could be ours for promises that can never deliver. But, there is a verse at the very end of the Old Testament gives me hope! God promised that, before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives, He would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers….” (Malachi 4:5-6)
One of the great joys of ministry is getting to see that kind of reconciliation! Recently, a father in our church shared his own experience of reconnecting with his sons, one with whom he had been estranged from for 13 years. Here’s Rodney’s story:
“I had signed all of my parental rights to my son over to his mother when he was 6 years old. The Father’s Day Message at church was hard for me as our pastor was talking about sons without their dads. That set off a fire in me to find my son. I finally found him on a social network site that wasn’t blocking me. After a couple of days and a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to send him a friend request. He accepted, much to my surprise. After a week or so, I sent him a private message telling him that I was so sorry for what I had done in the past and that I would really like to get to know him. Two days later, he replied and said he forgave me for everything I had ever done to him. We continued to message back and forth and, out of the blue, he sent me his phone number so we could talk. He agreed to let me come and see him, so we drove to where he was in college and got a room. When he came up to the room, we sat down and the first question he asked was Why? I didn’t feel that I had anything to hide from him if I was going to have any chance at a real relationship with him, so I told him, ‘I made a huge mistake that I have lived with every day for 13 years and that, without God, I would not have had the courage to talk to you.’ He said that he saw us as ‘the prodigal son and the lady that was going to be stoned’ and that he felt it necessary to forgive me. He said he had come to Christ not too long before I did, and he had given his testimony to kids who were in the same situations as he was.
We continued to talk, text and go to his baseball games. He began calling me and introducing me as his ‘dad’ and telling me that he loved me. Words cannot describe how that makes a dad feel. After the battle my other son went through with cancer, I felt I was lucky to have one kid, and now I had both sons! As we talked, we decided that there was no way that we could have ever had a relationship without us both coming to God because he hated me all those years.
He is such a blessing, and a big heartache is mending in the both of us every day as we walk with Christ hand in hand. This has been such an amazing journey that almost doesn’t seem real. I can’t tell anyone the emotions that I have felt and unloaded. God’s grace and power are never to be understood as He delivers way more than any one person can ever imagine while on this earth.”
God is still turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers! When it happens, it is the greatest joy either will experience! If you want to win the hearts of your children, begin by reconciling your heart with your Heavenly Father. In repentance, turn from the sin of going your own way and ask God’s forgiveness. Then, ask Him to engineer the circumstances for you to reconnect with your son or daughter and establish a relationship that honors God. Risk the awkwardness to admit your own failures and humbly ask forgiveness for the pain you created. Don’t force the relationship, but give room for God to work in both of your hearts!
“Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message.” Acts 10:44 (NLT)
The transformational power of the Holy Spirit is no respecter of persons. Wherever the good news of Christ is shared, the Holy Spirit is at work transforming lives! Much to the surprise of these Jewish believers, the Holy Spirit moved on Gentiles as well as Jews! In Acts 10, Peter finds himself telling an Italian Roman Officer named Cornelius about Jesus. As Peter spoke, the Bible says,
“… the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too.” (Acts 10:44-45 NLT)
That may seem strange to you and me today, but we are not much different. Too often, we become exclusive in our understanding of faith and limit the work of the Holy Spirit to our little circle. But, Christ came for everyone! The Bible says,
“For God so loved the world …”
No one is outside His reach or love! Have there been those that you may have excluded? You thought they wouldn’t respond to the gospel. Jesus had told His followers in Acts 1:8,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
As you read through the Book of Acts, you will find that it took persecution in Jerusalem to drive the believers out to those regions beyond. Cornelius was among the first Gentiles to respond to the Gospel. When Peter saw the undeniable evidence of the Holy Spirit in the life of this Gentile, he asked,
“Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” (Vs. 47)
With no objections, Cornelius and his entire group of relatives and close friends were all baptized to show their allegiance to Christ and their connection to His church. This infant church was now crossing ethnic and racial boundaries! The Holy Spirit was breaking racial barriers. God’s love knows no boundaries! I love to see baptisms like that! How exciting to see the church bridging racial and ethnic prejudices with God’s love and grace! Pray that the Holy Spirit may lead you to those in whom He is at work, drawing them to faith in Christ. Let God surprise you with His grace as He did with Peter!
“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as My Father promised. … the Holy Spirit fills you with power from heaven.” Luke 24:49 (NLT)
If you track the exponential growth of the church from Pentecost in the Book of Acts and throughout church history, it is nothing short of miraculous! It is what I call the transformational power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of Christ followers. It began when three thousand new believers were baptized on the day of Pentecost! Wow! Imagine that baptismal celebration! Then, word quickly spread throughout the known world! Those new Christ followers returned home completely changed from that Jewish feast in Jerusalem. They began to gather in homes where churches were planted throughout the Roman world, proclaiming the risen Christ! By the time the Apostle Paul finally got to Rome, a dynamic, growing young church was already developing before he even arrived! Although the apostles planted many new churches in their missionary travels, the same was true in Colosse where Paul had never visited. This is the transformational work of the Holy Spirit! It’s when God is moving in the hearts and lives of those who hear the good news about His Son and respond in simple faith, trusting Jesus as their Savior from sin and receiving His life in exchange for their old sinful life!
Dr. Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Holy Spirit as a sequel to his Gospel of Luke, chronicles this Holy Spirit momentum from the beginning in an upper room where 120 Christ followers gathered following the ascension of Christ. They were doing what Jesus told them to do when He left them. After His resurrection, Jesus told them,
“‘And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as My Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.’ Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting His hands to heaven, he blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up to heaven. So they worshiped Him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy.” (Luke 24:49-52 NLT)
Luke picks up the narrative in his second book, Acts, and tells us that these followers gathered in an upper room to pray and wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came, they were empowered and emboldened to proclaim the good news wherever they went! If you track this Holy Spirit momentum that Luke records, you’ll find what began with 120 believers in an upper room expanded to 3,000 new believers at Pentecost. Then, from 3,000 at Pentecost in Acts 2 to over 5,000 in Acts 4:4. By Chapter Five, Luke says,
“Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord – crowds of both men and women!” (Acts 5:14 NLT)
In Acts 6:1 he says that the believers “rapidly multiplied.” The math shifted from addition to multiplication! By this time, “… many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.” (Acts 6:7b)
I could go on and on. Even when persecution against the church in Jerusalem broke out, the church simply spread wherever Christ followers fled until the message of Christ reached the ends of the earth! Wow! You can’t stop the power of the Holy Spirit! I am so excited to see that same transformational power at work in so many lives today! It’s contagious! If you’ve been exposed to the transformational power of the Holy Spirit, you can’t help but share the good news!
“Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” Ephesians 5:16 (NLT)
One of the characteristics of successful people is that they don’t waste time. They make the most of every opportunity regardless of the circumstances. How do you do that? One of my Bible heroes is Paul, the apostle. He was a giant in the faith! When he wrote to the Christ followers in Ephesus and challenged them to make the most of every opportunity, he provided an example for them through his own life.
At the time he penned these words, he was in prison for sharing the gospel with others. Despite being chained to Roman guards, with limited to no freedom, he saw opportunity before him and made the most of it. Since he could no longer travel in his missionary journeys to the churches he established or pioneer new ones, he used the time in prison to write letters to those churches that became much of our New Testament today. And, when he asked for prayer, it is striking to me that he never requested them to pray that he may be released from prison or that his chains would be removed but that he would continue to speak fearlessly about Jesus in spite of them.
Then, in another prison letter, to the church in Philippi, his pages radiate with joy! How could he remain so joyful and find opportunity amid such difficult and restricting circumstances? Being unfairly imprisoned would cause most of us to give up or become bitter, but Paul saw it as one more opportunity to share the Good News of Christ!
When you compare the two letters that Paul writes from prison you find the answer. The Life Application Bible shares this insight:
“Paul realized that his current circumstances weren’t as important as what he did with them. … God can use us in any circumstance to do His will. Even as we pray for a change in our circumstances, we should also pray that God will accomplish His plan through us right where we are.”
If you want to make the most of every opportunity even in these evil days, consider that your current circumstances are not as important as what you do with them. Seize the day! Look for where God is at work and your joy will overflow!
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
When God begins a work, He always completes it! You may not feel like you’re making much progress in your faith or that you’ve even stalled, but take heart, God is not through working on you or me! I find so much encouragement in this verse that Paul wrote to Christ followers in Philippi. As difficult as I find the Christian life to live today, I can’t imagine what these struggling saints experienced in the first century. The church was in its infancy and the New Testament was not even available. Yet, Paul writes these words of encouragement to strengthen their new-found faith in Jesus. Let’s unpack this verse and discover some liberating truths that will encourage us in our walk with Jesus today. Maybe you just began that walk or maybe you’ve been on the journey of faith for years. Either way, consider this:
First, God began the work He is doing in your life! He chose you! He sought you and found you when you were hopelessly lost and ensnared by destructive habits. How awesome is that? From our perspective, we sometimes think we found God; but, in truth, He found us! Jesus told a seeking tax collector named Zacchaeus that He came to seek and to save those who were lost. (Luke 19:10). Make no mistake. It was God who began the work He is doing in your life!
Second, the work that God is doing in your life and mine is a good work! You may not think you are the person you should be all the time, but be encouraged – you’re not the person you used to be! God is doing something good and wonderful in your life! In Ephesians 2:1-5, the Bible says,
“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world … All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. … But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by grace that you have been saved!)”
He brought us from death to life in Christ! Through His grace, He began a good work in us that is transforming us into the very likeness of His Son by the power of His indwelling Spirit!
Third, the very God who began a good work in you will continue His work until it is completed! Don’t lose heart! He’s not through working on you! And He won’t quit! He won’t give up on you! He will finish what He started! Even when I don’t feel like I am making progress, God is still at work completing what He began! Let the process continue. In fact, God will continue His good work in you until it is finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
What is the work God is doing? His work for us began when Jesus gave His life for us on the cross to reconcile us to God. His work in us began when we first believed and received His grace to save us. He works through us by His indwelling Holy Spirit to accomplish His good purposes for us making us more like Jesus every day. This is the process of spiritual growth and maturity that began when we accepted Christ as our Savior from sin and continues until we see Him face to face! It’s how He develops the character of Christ in us.
The really great news is that He does the work! The Christian life was never about you or me trying our best to imitate Jesus. That’s a recipe for frustration and failure. Only Jesus can be Jesus. So, let God be God in your life. Let Him do the work as you yield to Him daily and deepen your relationship with Him. It will take the pressure off and allow you to enjoy the process!