A wedding ring is a powerful symbol. It has special significance – not only to the one wearing it, but for others as well. It communicates a message of commitment, a relationship of intimacy, and a promise of purity. A wedding ring is more than simply jewelry; it is a sacred symbol. Jesus gave us a similar symbol in our relationship with Him. It is the symbol of baptism. It shows on the outside what Christ did for us on the inside. Through His death on the cross, Jesus washed our sins away. When we put our trust in Him, baptism identifies us with His death and resurrection. It is a powerful symbol of faith and repentance. When we are immersed underwater, we are identifying with His death for us – a death we deserved to die for our sin; yet, Jesus died for us. Through baptism, we are buried with Christ. He took our sins to the tomb and buried them. When He arose, He didn’t come back to remind us of our sins but to redeem us from them and offer us a new life! We identify with His resurrection as we come up out of the waters of baptism to walk in newness of life! The Bible puts it like this:

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)

Have you experienced the refreshing power of believer’s baptism? It is the first step of obedience in following Christ. Baptism is a celebration of new life, the life of Christ indwelling us! Baptism also identifies us with other Christ followers. Just as my wedding ring identifies me with my wife, baptism identifies me with all those who have received Christ as their Savior as well! When Peter preached about Jesus on the Day of Pentecost, the Bible says,

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day – about 3,000 in all. Acts 2:41 (NLT)

Each one of these new Christ followers was connected to the other through this powerful symbol of baptism. They were identified with Christ and other Christ followers. It was the beginning of the Church.

This weekend, we will celebrate our annual Super Summer Baptism at Woodlands Church. If you would like to experience the refreshing power of God through believer’s baptism, you are welcome to join us after any one of our weekend services at a Woodlands Church campus near you. You can register online today and let us know which service works best for you! If you’ve already been baptized, invite someone else to take that step this weekend and celebrate it with them!

“As I began to speak … the Holy Spirit fell on them ….” Acts 11:15 (NLT)

A divine appointment is when a seeking soul crosses the path of a willing witness and experiences the forgiveness of a gracious God. If you’ve experienced one, you know how miraculous and life-changing it is! There’s nothing else like the thrill that you feel when God is at work in and through you. The unique effect of a divine appointment is the way in which God works. Whether you are the seeking soul or the willing witness, you both experience God. Through divine appointments, God reveals Himself to both parties leading them to a more personal and intimate understanding of who He is. Both walk away changed! Both enter a deeper dimension in their relationship with God and each other.

Such was the case with Peter and a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment in a city called Caesarea. Peter was about 30 miles north in a town called Joppa. He was in prayer around noon on the rooftop of the home where he was staying. While in prayer, God gave Peter a vision that prepared him for his divine appointment with Cornelius. Through a set of circumstances that only God could engineer, Peter accompanied the men that Cornelius sent to invite him to his home.  This army captain was seeking God. He’s a great example of a seeking soul and the promise that God has given that He “rewards those who sincerely seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) and in Jeremiah 29:13,14 where God says,

“If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me. ‘I will be found by you,’ says the Lord.’”  

God connected Peter and Cornelius to show them both a deeper understanding of who He is. Peter, a Jew, would have never entered a Gentile’s home were it not for the vision he received in prayer. A willing witness is a person of prayer. They look for where God is at work and are restfully available and instantly obedient to His call. When Peter arrived, he found Cornelius and his entire household of relatives and close friends awaiting him and ready to hear whatever message the Lord had given him to deliver. Peter’s message was short and to the point. He spoke of having peace with God and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. As he spoke, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who were listening and they all received Christ and were baptized!  This was a huge turning point in the infant church that began at Pentecost when Peter preached his first sermon. The audience there was Jewish. Now the gospel was spreading and bridging racial and ethnic barriers.

In this divine appointment, God revealed His Son to Cornelius and his household. They were all saved! But that’s not all. Peter learned something as well.

“I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism ….” (Acts 10:34 NLT)

Pray today for God to lead you to a divine appointment. Look for where He is at work.  Be open to learn deeper truths as you obey His voice.

Pray for hundreds of divine appointments on all our Woodlands Church campuses this weekend as we celebrate life change at Super Summer Baptism 2017! There’s still time to register for baptism this weekend if you haven’t taken that step in your faith journey!  Join the celebration and register now!

“What hinders me from being baptized?” Acts 8:36 (NKJV)

The Book of Acts is one of my favorite books in the Bible.  It is full of miracles as the Holy Spirit moved on the hearts of people radically transforming their lives!  Here’s such a story of life change.  It began with an official from the government of Ethiopia coming to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple in a quest for God.  But, he left as empty as he came.  On the road through Gaza, as he was returning home, he was reading from the scroll of Isaiah continuing his search for God.  Recognizing his honest quest, God spoke to one of His available servants, Philip.  He told him to go and meet this official.  Philip caught up with the caravan as they were en route back to Ethiopia.

Immediately, Philip noticed that the official was reading the scroll of Isaiah so he asked the man if he understood what he was reading.  The official invited Philip to join him in his chariot and explain what the prophet was speaking about.  It was the most powerful Messianic prophecy in Isaiah found in Isaiah 53.

God was at work in the heart of this official, and He honored this man’s honest search for truth as He always will.  Philip began at that very passage and explained to him all about Jesus.  The official’s response was immediate!  Look what happens.

“Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’”  Acts 8:36 (NKJV) 

I love it!  There was no hesitation in this man’s faith and obedience!  He wasn’t waiting to be baptized.  He wanted to make a public profession that he was now a Christ follower to his entire caravan of servants traveling with him!  Listen to his confession of faith.

“Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” (Vs. 37)

The Bible records what happened next in verse 38.

So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.”

Perhaps like this leading Government Official from Ethiopia, you too have pursued an honest quest for God.  You tried religion and nothing changed.  Your heart was as empty when you left as it was when you entered the church or temple.  It’s not about religion.  It’s all about a relationship that is intimate and personal between you and God.  You can have that same fulfilling relationship through Jesus Christ just as this man did!  Jesus died and rose again for you as well!  When you receive Him by faith, simply confessing as this man did, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”, then you can experience His life transforming power!

When you do, you won’t hesitate to take the next step of obedience identifying with Christ in baptism.  If you’ve taken that step, you know how refreshing it was to enter the water as a symbol of Christ’s death for you and come up out of the water with a vivid reminder of the risen Christ who indwells in you by faith!  What a powerful picture of your connection with Christ!  If you haven’t, I challenge you to take that step of obedience this weekend.  If you’re in the Houston area, join us for our Super Summer Baptism Celebration at Woodlands Church following every service.  You can register now.  When you do, check out the video of last year’s Super Summer Baptism and celebrate with us the miracle of life change!

 

 

“If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God.” Isaiah 50:10 (NLT)

We’ve all been there at one time or another. Maybe you’re there now – in the dark. When you’re walking in the dark, you can’t see where you’re going. You may not even know where you are! Fears and doubts often arise when we’re in the dark. It’s perplexing, and we don’t know what to do.

I wonder if the disciples experienced that feeling in the upper room as they gathered and waited for the promise Jesus made when He left them. He told them to wait. He didn’t say for how long. It would have been easy to live on the euphoria of Easter for a while. Surely, they would have replayed their experiences with seeing the risen Christ. No doubt, they reflected on good memories they shared as they followed Jesus for three years. But, then, the days began to pass as they continued to wait. No new revelation was spoken, no miracles, no manifestations of Jesus. God was silent.

What do you do when God is silent? There are seasons in all our lives when we walk in darkness. Israel would experience that as well. The prophet Isaiah gave them wise counsel for those times that can benefit you and me when we find ourselves in the dark. He said,

“If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God.” Isaiah 50:10 (NLT)

Since we walk by faith and not by sight, God will often use the darkness to grow our faith. It’s in the dark where we learn to trust in the Lord and rely on our God. But how do you do that? When you’re perplexed about what God is doing or seemingly not doing, remember His Word. The Psalmist said,

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105 NIV)

God’s Word is like a flashlight when the power goes off. It provides the light we need for the next step. We may not see the destination, but we can see what is right before us and have confidence that God has not abandoned us. His Word assures us that our faith will not go unrewarded. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said it well, “Never doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.”

What has God told you? Put your trust in His Word and rely on Him. He will always come through! After ten days of waiting, the disciples experienced all that Jesus had promised. Don’t despair. God will come through for you and do everything He has promised!

“Praise the Lord who has given rest to His people Israel, just as He promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises He gave ….” 1 Kings 8:56 (NLT)

“At first Jesus’ disciples didn’t know what these prophecies meant. However, when Jesus was glorified, the disciples remembered that these prophecies had been written about Him. The disciples remembered that they had taken part in fulfilling the prophecies.” John 12:16 (GW)

What is your greatest memory? Creating good memories is a powerful means to building healthy, wholesome, and lasting relationships! In a Psychology Today post published on Creating Good Memories, Cloe Madanes recalls a case study of a couple who struggled to survive a dysfunctional marriage and a conflicted relationship. Rather than cashing in their chips and walking away, this couple sought counseling and found healing by creating good memories together. Madanes says,

“A good relationship – whether with a partner, child, friend, or family member – is one of life’s greatest gifts, and there’s no reason to settle for anything less. When problems and conflicts arise, I counsel against exchanging one relationship for another, like a Christmas gift we take back for a store credit in hope of finding that thing we desire most. I believe most troubled relationships can be transformed into satisfying, rewarding ones. Simply falling into a great long-lasting relationship is about as rare as finding a gold coin on the street. Good relationships take work, but we all have the capacity to create joyful, lasting, deeply satisfying connections in our lives.”

These connections are strengthened when we discover the capacity to create a good memory together. The conflicted couple in her case study was challenged over a two-week period to do one special thing that would create a good memory together.

“The focus on the positive fact that they were capable of creating wonderful memories diverted them from their negativity. As they were able to bring out the best in themselves, they were able to bring out the best in each other.”

Do you bring out the best in others?Relationships are messy, but they’re worth it! I’ve often wondered what the daily dynamic was like with Jesus and His twelve disciples. The Gospels give us some insight over their bickering and competing for position in the Kingdom like the time they argued over who would be greatest in the Kingdom. Yet, Jesus had a unique way of taking every conflict and turning it into a teachable moment that led to a powerful memory. They must have shared these memories with one another after Jesus left them and they awaited the coming gift of the Holy Spirit. They had ten days in that upper room to pray and reflect. Think of the many memories they must have recalled with new understanding. John tells us that, at first, they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand what was really happening until after Jesus was glorified – until after He had died, risen, and ascended back to Heaven. Then, they remembered and understood! Imagine the joy that must have flooded their souls as they remembered the times they shared with Jesus; they had even taken part in fulfilling prophecies with Christ. These powerful memories would overshadow their own individual failures and regrets.

What do you focus on the most? Choose to remember the good times. And, if you can’t remember one, make a choice to create a positive memory with someone.

“It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. … When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man.” Revelation 1:10; 12-13 NLT)

The apostle John saw a manifestation of Jesus like no other he had ever seen! Even though John had spent three years with Jesus as His disciple, witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus on the Mount with Peter and James, and stood at the foot of the cross beside Jesus’ mother, John had never seen Jesus as he described Him in Revelation. He describes this mysterious manifestation as someone like the Son of Man. The experience was so alarming and awesome that John writes,

“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead!” (Rev. 1:17 NLT)

God was giving John a deeper revelation and understanding of who He is. This special manifestation of Jesus was one promised to John in the Gospel narrative that he wrote. Jesus told John in John 14:21:

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.

Years later, while exiled on the Roman penal colony at the Island of Patmos, John would experience such a manifestation of the Son of Man, a title used many times in the New Testament in reference to Jesus as the Messiah. Yet, here, Jesus appears as the mighty Son of Man! It would challenge his own mental picture of Jesus. Visualize the description John gave of what he saw, and it will challenge your own mental image of Jesus:

He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across His chest. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance.” Revelation 1:13-16 (NLT) 

What image comes to mind when you think of Jesus? A baby in a manger? A meek and mild man? A suffering Savior on a cross? Maybe a famous painting, movie character, or Sunday School art comes to mind. Do you ever picture Jesus like John saw Him with a gold sash, snow white hair, eyes like flames of fire, feet glowing like polished bronze, a voice that sounds like mighty ocean waves and a face that shone like the brilliance of the sun? John had witnessed the resurrected Christ when Jesus appeared to him and the others after He rose from the dead, but this appearance is truly the manifestation of the glorified Christ! His powerful presence transformed John’s life. The gold sash across Jesus’ chest signifies His High Priestly office, who enters the very presence of God to obtain forgiveness of sin for those who put their faith in Him. His white hair indicates His wisdom and Divine nature. Daniel also had a vision of Jesus that he records in Daniel 7:9

I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame….” 

John’s description of Jesus’ eyes, that burned like flames of fire, and the two-edged sword that came from His mouth symbolizes His judgment of all evil. No wonder John fell down as though dead! As overwhelming as this mysterious manifestation was, John said,

“He laid His right hand on me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look – I am alive forever and ever!” (Rev. 1:17-18a NLT)

Pause for a bit today and visualize such a manifestation of Jesus. Allow His powerful presence to transform your life and deepen your perception of who He is.

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9 (NIV)

At first glance, what Peter says in this passage seems out of place when you consider those to whom Peter is writing and what they are going through. He is addressing Christ followers who are experiencing extreme trials. They are exiles who have been scattered from Jerusalem throughout the Roman world due to severe persecution. He says they are suffering grief in all kinds of trials. (Vs. 6) Then, he puts a new perspective on these problems by pointing to a faith that transforms our outlook when we face trials. In his comments on 1 Peter, Warren Wiersbe says that faith carries with it a present dynamic that can turn suffering into glory today, not just one day when you die. How can you enjoy the glory now?

The first way to turn suffering into glory now is to celebrate God’s love! We don’t have to see Jesus, Peter says, to love Him! Faith is not based on seeing – but believing! If we love Christ more than we love ourselves, we can experience the glory now! Peter offers some insight into problems. Problems have purpose and, although Satan wants to use life’s trials to bring out the worst in us, God uses them to bring out the best in us. Another way we can turn suffering into glory now is by believing God. Peter says,

“… even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy!” 

That kind of faith involves trusting Christ. Love and trust go together. When you love someone, you trust them. As you grow in that intimate kind of relationship, no matter the circumstances or adversity, you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy! Are you enjoying the glory now?

Peter says that we can receive the end result of our faith today, the salvation of our souls! All of this and Heaven too! Don’t wait until you get there to enjoy the glory!       

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” 1 John 1:1-4 (NIV)

Faith is not a blind leap in the dark. It is a step into the light based on physical evidence. Jesus wanted there to be no doubt about His bodily resurrection among His followers. That’s why John could write as he did in 1 John when he gave eyewitness testimony to what he had seen with his own eyes, touched with his own hands and heard with his own ears. This would be true of each of the disciples who encountered the risen Lord in the forty days that Jesus remained with them until He ascended into Heaven. While faith is a matter of believing, it is belief based on historical facts. When you compare the resurrection appearances of Jesus, it’s interesting to note that, on most of those occasions, He challenged His disciples with the opportunity of testing the fact of His resurrection. He spoke with them face to face. They touched Him. He ate with them. He wanted there to be no doubt that He was not a ghost. Look at this exchange that Luke, the physician, records in the gospel named after him.

“While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at My hands and My feet. It is I Myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, He asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it in their presence.” Luke 24:36-43 (NIV)

The evidence was unquestionable. In each of His post-resurrection appearances, Jesus was providing proof that He really did rise from the dead. This was essential for the disciples if they would become the Apostles who would bear witness of His identity as the Messiah that the prophets predicted would come! He was preparing them for their apostolic ministry that would turn the world upside down! The word Apostle means “a messenger, envoy, delegate, one commissioned by another to represent him in some way, especially a man sent out by Jesus Christ Himself to preach the Gospel” according to Strong’s Concordance.

As Christ followers today, we have historical evidence and eyewitness testimony to the fact of the resurrection. We stand on solid ground in sharing the Good News today as His disciples did then. Why is this so important? If you follow the evidence, it will lead you to the truth. The evidence demands a verdict. Have you made a decision about Christ in your life?

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, He was seen by more than 500 of His followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then He was seen by James and later by all the apostles.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 (NLT)

Have you ever been surprised by God? Of the eleven post-resurrection appearances of Christ, the one that may have been the most fun for Jesus was when He met personally with his half-brother, James. You may remember when Jesus visited His hometown early in His ministry before the crucifixion and said,

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (Mark 6:4 NIV)  

Such was the case for Jesus!

“When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Mark 3:21 (NIV)

John’s Gospel adds,

“For even His own brothers did not believe in Him.” John 7:5 (NIV)

This is why I think it would have been fun to be in the shadows watching when Jesus showed up to see James, his half-brother. The Bible doesn’t say how far apart they were in age, but we know that Jesus was the elder as the firstborn. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like growing up with an older brother who was Jesus! I wonder if James ever heard Mary or Joseph say, “Why can’t you be more like your big brother?”  “Well, Mom, because Jesus is God and I’m not!” Still, if there ever was a hard sell, it must have been for Jesus’ family to grasp the concept that He was God in the flesh! He was the Messiah! Is there anyone more difficult to share your faith with than your own family?

Whether they believed or not, they loved Jesus and must have been heartbroken to see Him die and watch their mother grieve the suffering of her firstborn son! Did they think He was deluded all the way to the cross? Whatever their opinion, the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus would personally encounter his brother, James. I’ve often wondered if He walked quietly up behind James and said, “Boo!” However the encounter happened, it changed James forever! James and his brother, Jude, would later write two of the New Testament Epistles named after them. It’s interesting that neither one opens the introduction of their letters using the “brother card” to introduce themselves. Both James and Jude call themselves a “servant of Jesus Christ.” Jude adds, “… and a brother of James.” Their lives were humbled by their unbelief and the grace of the Lord Jesus to reach out to them. Despite their rejection, He accepted them and would visibly appear to them, preparing them for their role in His Kingdom. James became a prominent leader in the church at Jerusalem after Pentecost. Though much less is known about Jude, he too was clearly a church leader and wrote to believers with authority in the letter that bears his name.

God loves to surprise us! He shows up when we least expect it and in ways we would never imagine!

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” Hosea 2:14, 15 (NIV) 

What happens when life shoves you through a door you didn’t choose? It could be a door of loss, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, the death of a dream, a door of divorce, a door of disappointment or delay, a door of depression or disease. You didn’t choose this door. It came uninvited and unexpected. What do you do? Where is God?  How can this be a divine door He would permit? These are painful, unwanted and undeserved doors of disappointment that can disillusion us and rock our world. Take heart. God can take these doors and turn them into His purpose. You are not out of God’s will when bad things happen. Jesus said,

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting Me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world. John 16:33 (MSG)

How can God guide you when you’ve been shoved through a door you didn’t choose?  This was the case for Israel as described by Hosea. In Hosea 2:14, 15, God said,

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”  

The passage refers back to Joshua 7 where a man named Achan stole from God and brought death and defeat on the nation of Israel right after their great victory over Jericho. It was a painful and shameful setback for the entire nation of Israel. Achan’s selfishness shoved everyone else through a door of defeat and disappointment. Yet, God spoke tenderly to His people and promised them that He would turn the Valley of Trouble into a Valley of Hope! In fact, the verse goes on to add:

“There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” Hosea 2:15b (NIV)

The Living Bible puts it like this:

“There I will give back her vineyards to her and transform her Valley of Troubles into a Door of Hope. She will respond to me there, singing with joy as in days long ago in her youth after I had freed her from captivity in Egypt.” 

The word “hope” in the Bible doesn’t mean wishful thinking. When the Bible speaks of hope, it is with certainty. Jesus Christ is called our Blessed Hope! He promised He would turn our mourning into joy! If you’ve been shoved through a door of loss or disappointment, look up to God and ask Him to transform that door of trouble into a door of hope! Let Him turn your sorrow into joy!