Made in the image of God, by God, and for God, Adam and Eve were living in unimaginable joy as God’s creational caretakers. They found their identity in God, got their purpose from God, and lived a life of meaning and significance through God in a place that is rightly described as Paradise. Then the saddest thing imaginable happened. They turned away from God, seeking to become their own gods.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were open, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:6-8)

What happened in the Garden of Eden only makes sense in light of the second chapter of Genesis, where God gave Adam and Eve one prohibition. That’s right; God gave only one prohibition, over and against all His profound provision.

The Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

And die they did! In the instant they ate of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were immediately “cut off” spiritually from their Creator. They were, for the first time, aware of their nakedness and ashamed. At the first sound of their heavenly Father approaching, they ran from Him. Tragically, they were hiding from the only One who could fix their problem!

I have no idea what “God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” with Adam and Eve was truly like. But it’s clear that they heard and knew the sound of God’s approach, so this was not the first time this had happened. It suggests to me that Adam and Eve had regular, intimate fellowship and communion with their Creator in Paradise. Can you think of anything better than that? And yet they forsook that relationship and entered into rebellion.

In their attempt to displace Divinity, our first parents plunged themselves and all of creation into utter ruin. Everything is broken because of their horrific act of cosmic treason. Truly this has to be the saddest thing that has ever happened in all of human history.

But . . . the story does not end there! God promised to send a Savior (Genesis 3:15), telling Adam and Eve—and all of us today—that the way out of this mess is forward to the cross. We are not heading back to a Paradise lost; rather, we are moving toward a never-before seen Paradise, a new heavens and a new earth, where there will be no more tears, sorrow, sin, or death. The saddest story ever told turns into The Greatest Story Ever Told through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN! 

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Today is Memorial Day, a time to remember all those who paid the ultimate price in defending our great nation. Sadly, for far too many Americans, it is merely a day that marks the beginning of summer and the end of a three-day weekend.

So . . . what does Memorial Day represent for you?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16)

There is no greater demonstration of love than to lay your life down for another (John 15:13). The freedom we enjoy in this country is not free! It came at great cost to so many. All paid some, and some paid all so that we might live in the greatest country on earth. The men and women from all of our armed forces—and their families also—paid a great price so that every U.S. citizen could enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

How thankful are you for that freedom today? In a Memorial Day speech in 1884, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who would later serve on the United States Supreme Court, said:

“Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death—of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”

Holmes, who was himself a veteran of the War Between the States, was saying that our brave military men and women, who laid their lives down upon the altar of freedom, would want us to focus on the results of their sacrifice: life . . . and living it to the fullest. This is the best way to honor their sacrifice.

Holmes’ exhortation rings true for those who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior. We remember and proclaim His death every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper. But Jesus has called us to focus on life, not death, and to live a life of abundance for the glory of the Almighty.

I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

Are you currently living an abundant life for the glory of God? God never called you to muddle around on the mudflats of life. He has called each believer to soar on wings like eagles and pour ourselves out for something much bigger than a life marked by self-survival, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. And we have been given this great privilege because Jesus was willing to lay His life down for us.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

On this Memorial Day it is right to give thanks for every person who has ever served this great nation, particularly all those brave American soldiers who laid down their lives for our freedom. If you have the opportunity to thank a veteran in person, do it. Yet behind this great temporal blessing is an even greater eternal blessing to keep in the forefront of our thoughts: Jesus paid the ultimate price for sin on our behalf; He gave his life as a ransom for many . . . and He did it because He loves us that much!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!    

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Dear Brock,

Your mother and I find it hard to believe that today has arrived so quickly.  Starting in the late afternoon of December 28th, 1996, God gave us our third greatest gift (after salvation and our marriage)… YOU!!!  Here we are on this day where you will walk across the stage and receive your high school diploma from Westminster Academy in the class of 2015!

To say a flood of emotions is filling us to overflowing would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions.  Today we pause to thank everyone who has partnered with us in the parenting process: your teachers, coaches, administrators, countless classmates and teammates, extended family members, and of course, your siblings, Jenna, Katie, and Tank.  Most importantly, we thank our God for giving us the privilege of being your parents throughout this journey.  To be sure, it was all God’s grace flowing through a community of people that has grown you from a little boy into a young man after God’s own heart.

In the fall you are heading off to Stetson University in Deland, Florida on a voice music scholarship.  From the age of 3 years old, when Mrs. Jan Forester first identified your gift of song and you were chosen to sing “Happy Birthday, Jesus” in the Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant, we knew God had a special plan for your life that included music.  This was confirmed when God brought you under the musical teaching of Mrs. Lisa Wilson, who both instructed and inspired your musical talents during those formative years.  And God placed His exclamation point on this entire process when you were given the Lisa Wilson Fine Arts Award during Senior Award Night.  With Rick Krive’s guidance and encouragement, you have helped lead worship at The Cross since Easter Sunday 2013, and we have watched God “fan into flame the gift that is in you!”  Clearly God orchestrated each step in this process, using so many to do so much.  He has opened this door leading into a new chapter in your life story that God is writing daily.

You will be the first of our four children to be dropped off on a college campus.  As we imagine looking at you in the rear view mirror in just a few months, we are as emotional as we are excited for you.  You know “Papi” is tearing up right now as I am writing this.  For 18 ½ years, every day of our parenting has pointed to this day.  We know you are ready in spite of our imperfect parenting; we have raised you imperfectly, we have disciplined you imperfectly, we have loved you imperfectly…and boy how I coached you imperfectly out on the baseball field as the ogre dad pushing my plan for your life that would bring us to Fenway Park.  Yet, God has rained down His grace, growing us as parents as He was growing you.  It was our daily prayer to simply point you to Jesus with the ultimate goal of sending you off to college not with a religion to continue practicing, but with a right relationship to continue pursuing with the Lord Jesus Christ.  So with glad and grateful hearts, we echo these words of John …

“We have no greater joy than to hear that our [son Brock] is walking in the truth” (3 John 4).

Now just like our imperfect parenting, you will pursue Jesus imperfectly.  But because your Christianity is rooted in a relationship rather than a religion, you will look to the One who loves you unconditionally and forgives you completely.  Your understanding of the gospel will give you both the motive and the motivation to continue making forward progress, regardless of the bumps and bends in the road.  God’s goodness and grace has you ready to begin this new season of life.  To be sure, our daily prayers will be with you.  But better than that, God’s divine presence will be in you every step of the way.  You know, by way of personal experience, that greater is the power that is at work within you than any power that will come up against you.  And because God is for you, it really doesn’t matter what comes up against you.

Congratulations, Brock.  We are so proud of you and look forward, with positive anticipation, to what God has planned for your life.  I will never forget the counsel I received early in my walk with Christ from Lee Eaton, a godly man and friend who said, “Raise your child to love the Lord in such a way that when they go off to college and don’t have to come home any more, he wants to come home anyway.”  God truly blessed Mr. Eaton’s prayer and we trust that He will bless ours.  I really am having a hard time closing out this word of encouragement to you.  Perhaps it is best to let God have the last Word in a familiar passage your mom and I have used for countless graduates we have coached, mentored, and trained over the years.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”  Jeremiah 29:11-14

We love you son,

Mom & Dad

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When was the last time God seemed distant in your life because of trial or circumstances you were experiencing? If you feel that God is distant, I can tell you this with absolute certainty: God did not move away from you; you moved away from God!

When You said, “Seek My Face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” (Psalm 27:8 NKJV)

You may want to reread that unimaginable word of comfort from David’s psalm once again. And then perhaps you should marinate in it for . . . let‘s say . . . the rest of your life!

At first glance, we begin to catch a glimpse of just why God called David “a man after My own heart.” These words, “Your face, Lord, I will seek,” sprang from the vocabulary of a man who was in hot pursuit of God, regardless of the cost or circumstance.

And notice that David said this from the bottom of his heart. David’s heart was beating for nothing less than being in the presence of the Almighty. But don’t miss why! God had given David an “inspired invitation” to seek Him. God has given you and me the same invitation today and every day that follows.

The psalm reveals the God who created all things inviting David into His presence. As transcendent as God is—wholly other, above and beyond all of His creation—He is also immanent: present, personal, and desiring an intimate relationship with His people. David took God’s invitation to intimacy seriously, and he lived a life marked by seeking the presence of God.

You and I must remember that this man after God’s own heart did not seek God perfectly. As much as David loved his God, there were times when he loved other things more. When he should have been leading the army of Israel, he was having an affair with another man’s wife. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he tried to cover up his shameful sin by deliberately ordering the woman’s husband to the front line of a battle so that he would be killed. And yet God still called David “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22). How is that possible? Because in this life, walking with God is not about perfection; it’s about direction. David loved God, but he loved Him imperfectly, just like all of us.

In all of our imperfection, Perfection has invited us into daily communion. God doesn’t say, “Seek my face when you are good” or “Seek my face after you get cleaned up” or “Seek my face when you promise to seek nothing smaller than me ever again.” God simply gave David an inspired invitation to seek Him . . . even when he was seeking other stuff he ought not to have been seeking. And that welcoming word is offered to you today.

The next time God seems distant or heaven is silent, remember who moved. God invites you to seek Him in spite of your imperfections. What is your response?

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN! 

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Heavenly Hope

Far too many people see “hope” as something static and passive. You hear people make statements like, “I hope such-and-such will happen” or “I wish this particular trial would go away,” which is the clearest indication that their hope is an earthly hope.

But this is not for you! This is not the kind of hope the Bible tells us to have.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. (Psalm 31:24)

David’s psalm reveals two very important things to all those who have put their hope in the Lord about what heavenly hope does. Let’s take a look . . .

Be Strong

We are actually strong when we acknowledge our weakness, because where we are weak, He is strong. JB Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English rendered 2 Corinthians 12:10, “My very weakness makes me strong in him [Christ].” The strength David’s psalm is calling us to display is not an inner strength; it is the strength of the Creator of the universe, which resides in us in the presence of His Holy Spirit. When we understand this truth, we see our strength as a stream flowing from the Fount of every imaginable blessing, giving us all the strength we need to do all the things God is calling us to do.

Take Heart

Used together in the Scriptures, the words “Take heart” form an idiom that is designed to encourage and empower us to press on with boldness and courage, regardless of the opposition we are facing. Why? Because of the place where we have placed our hope! If our hope is located in anything smaller than God, it will always fail us. But when our hope is in the Lord, we can be assured that the victory has already been won and we need only to walk in it.

When the young shepherd boy David faced the giant Goliath after the “fighting men” of Israel refused to answer the Philistine’s brazen challenge, David was living out the truth of the very Scripture God inspired him to pen. His strength and courage were not found in himself, but rather in his God. His hope could not fail him because he was hoping in the only One who had promised never to fail him.

So . . . are you currently being strong in the Lord? Or in yourself? Have you been trusting in the Lord or in yourself? Be strong and take heart, because the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that resides in you (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Hope in the Lord . . . and let that lift you to the heavens!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Are you full of it? You might quickly reply, “That depends on what ‘IT’ is . . .” The Scriptures make it clear that there is much we are to be filled with as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. After we receive the Holy Spirit at our conversion, God begins the life-long process of growing us into maturity and conforming us to the image and likeness of Christ. In other words, we are being filled with Christlike character.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

What a wonderful metaphor the apostle Paul uses to describe the character and conduct of the believer!

So . . . how fruity have you been lately? Are you full of it . . . “it” being the Spirit of God?

Here’s another question: how many fruits are on Paul’s list? We see nine individual fruits listed, but in the original Greek there is only ONE. As I sat under the teaching of my friend, Greek professor, and Knox Seminary president, Dr. Sam Lamerson, I learned that the Greek word for “fruit,” karpos, is singular here. Paul is identifying a group that goes together as a unit, not separate individual units.

We must remember that God is at work within us “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). God is the One who is working this grace in our lives. To be sure, we cooperate with God by actively seeking to grow to maturity, using all of the means of grace He has given to us. But it is never the means that grow us up; it is always our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

All of these graces flow through the believer as a single unit, making us a new creation in Christ. And just as our salvation began with “For God so loved the world,” you and I cannot have the love of God in Christ Jesus without joy . . . or peace . . . or patience . . . or kindness . . . or goodness . . . or faithfulness . . . or gentleness . . . or self-control. Love is the foundation upon which all of these graces grow.

And yet upon closer inspection, we can all see some aspects of this fruit in our own lives that are stronger and more evident than others. Some areas are simply more developed than others. In my own case, those who know me best might suggest that patience has been taking a very long time to come to fruition!

How is it with you? In what areas are you strongest and where are you weakest? You need not fret over your self-discovery, because God is at work within you, and is He not finished with you yet! What God began in you, He has promised to complete (Philippians 1:6). Should you realize that you are a bit deficient in the “fruit department,” simply focus more on the grace of God growing you in that area.

Paul wrote that “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14), and the more we focus on His love for us, the more we bear the fruit of the Spirit to those we come in contact with. The grace that saved you is the same grace that is growing you and filling you with the Spirit of Christ. The first guarantees the second!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!    

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There is an old saying I remember Momma telling us kids when I was growing up: “NEVER SURPRESS A GENEROUS IMPLUSE!” My mother was essentially telling us how to cultivate a generous spirit.

We all know people who have not yet been seized by this biblical truth; they seem to squeeze the quarter so tight is makes the eagle scream! And yet there are others who seem to always be giving . . . and giving with both hands. They live lives marked by generous giving of their time, talent, and treasure. Their generosity gives us a wonderful picture of our generous God.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5)

God is in the business of filling our cup to the overflowing. He overflows our cup with His mercy. He overflows our cup with His grace. He overflows our cup with His goodness. He overflows our cup with His forgiveness. He overflows our cup with His blessings. And He does this over and over again. Who reading this right now has ever had their cup run dry?

Luke’s gospel provides us with a wonderful biblical truth to help generate the spirit of generosity and keep it going and going and going. Our Lord said,

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38)

Let me be clear: we must not give in order to get. When we give, expecting nothing in return, we see another picture of our generous God, who is in the business of giving to His people. When we keep in view just how generous our God has been, is, and has promised to continue being to us, how can we respond in any other way than by generously giving to others . . . ALL others?

Remember, Jesus gave with both hands, and He has the nail scars to prove it. Jesus gave all of Himself to us so that we would be able to spend eternity with Him and all the saints of God. He withheld nothing to redeem us from the dominion of sin, Satan, and death. He paid the ultimate price with His precious blood, graciously letting it flow out of Him and over us in order to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

So . . . how are you doing in the area of never suppressing a generous impulse? When we keep our eyes fixed on the generous Author and Finisher of our faith, the generous impulse will be the confession of our lives.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!    

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