Our Forney and Kaufman locations are now open for limited-capacity Sunday services by reservation only.
If you are unable or not quite ready to join us in person on our physical campuses, we encourage you to join us at our online campus! We will be streaming the 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. services at clifec.com/live, on Facebook Live and on our YouTube channel.
For a full statement from our co-pastors about our phased reopening strategy, visit clifec.com/update!
God never ceases to amaze me. I love the way he reveals himself. And the unexpected times are my favorite times, like Sunday during the sermon. As I began to listen, the subject of the new series, A Spirit-Filled Life, was recently familiar. And then it dawned on me: it was the exact material we have been preparing and recording in the kids and preschool ministries for the month of July. We had no way of knowing it was lining up with the sermon series that way, but God did! (Side note: If you are a parent/grandparent/etc. of an elementary or preschool-aged child at c|Life, July will be a fun month for conversation. Be sure that you tune in on both sides, and then talk about the Holy Spirit together!) All of this is to say that I write this from a well-studied point of view… if you are a preschooler! And that is exactly where I want to jump in today, because sometimes, seeing things through the eyes of a child is the best place to start.
When we teach subjects like the Trinity — God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — to little ones, it can get really interesting. Their little literal minds just cannot quite comprehend how one can be three. We sing songs and use visuals to lay the foundation for them to build their faith on. We have a song we sing and the words (condensed a little) go like this:
God the Father, God the Son,
God the Spirit, three-in-one.
God the Father loved me so,
gave his word so I would know.
God the Son, he died for me.
For my sins his blood he gave,
then he rose up from the grave.
God the Spirit lives in me.
Day by day and hour by hour,
helps me witness by his power.
After singing this with the children, we will use a visual of some sort, such as an apple, for example. When you cut an apple in half, you see a visual of an object that is three-in-one. The skin represents God. He is our creator and protector, surrounding us with his Word. The flesh represents Jesus, who took on the form of human flesh and came to earth to save us from sin. And the seeds represent the Holy Spirit, planted in us to grow (faith), become stronger, and then sow to others. Each part is different, with a special purpose, but all part of one apple.
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized ever yone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
— Acts 2:38
During this series, we are focused on the Spirit. The Spirit that is always there, because it is part of the Trinity but, as Peter describes it, it is a gift from God, awakened by the act of salvation. Repentance leads to the awakening of the gift that has been inside us all along. The Spirit is our Helper, as we tell the kiddos. He helps us make good choices in our lives. From the moment we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are dead to our old selves and raised to walk in new life, with a new name: Child of God. The Spirit then awakens to act as our compass, guiding us through our lives with fresh, new eyes. We are now part of the church, the Body of Christ. As we will teach our little ones in July, as part of the church we have an important job to do. We are to be leaders in our circle of influence. The world will look at us differently, as they should. We are to talk about Jesus to everyone we meet, telling them about how he loves them, and we are to do so without fear. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the wisdom and words to say, the courage to step out in faith, and the calm to make good decisions as they apply to our lives.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere.”
— Acts 1:8
Because the Spirit lives in us, we do not have to be afraid. There is no reason to live in fear when times are uncertain. We do not have to hide in our “Upper Room”. Instead, we can put our trust in the Lord, casting our fears and doubts on his shoulders, receiving the gift of the Spirit through acceptance of Jesus as our Savior, and walk with confidence that the Holy Spirit will lead us, even when we cannot see too far down the road. We no longer have to crawl, but we walk tall. Today, let’s all take the time to rejoice in the gift we have been given through the Holy Spirit. Let’s live out the Lord’s teaching, and sow our seeds in the world so others can receive the gift of Salvation and new life in Christ!
“Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” — Matthew 11:28
In Max Lucado’s book, Traveling Light, he talks about one of the problems that Christians have in life. It is the problem or tendency that we have to try and carry burdens that we are not supposed to carry alone. In the book, Lucado tries to show his readers how it is best to lay these unintended burdens down and let our God help us carry the load.
We do seem to carry a lot of stuff around with us on our journey through life. There is the suitcase of guilt and the sack of discontent or jealousy. There is the backpack of doubt and the overnight bag of loneliness. We often carry a trunk full of fear, uneasiness and activity. That is too much stuff. It is hard to get around as we should with the weight of all of this baggage. We need to learn to travel light. Jesus invites us who are weary to lay down the heavy load. We are invited to rest in Him. We are invited to rely on His strength. Traveling light means trusting God with the burdens you were never intended to bear.
He wants to use you. But how can He if you are to busy and exhausted? How can you help and minister to others if your arms are full of burdensome baggage?
God knew that we would have a tendency to get “self-reliant” In fact he knew that we would at times actually take pride in proving to others how much baggage we could carry around with us. However, that is unhealthy. You can get hurt carrying heavy stuff around all by yourself. It can also hurt our soul. Jesus invites us to come to Him and find rest.
Surrender and lay your worldly burdens down at the foot of the cross. Travel light and in God’s love. It will be a benefit to you. It will be a blessing to those you love. It will empower you to more effectively love and serve our God.
He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.
— Psalm 23:3
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:7–10
As a counselor, I primarily work with suffering people. Most don’t choose to come to therapy until things have gotten so bad that their pain pushes them outside their comfort zone and into my office. (This is not always the case; over the years, I have had some come to see me because they wanted to take their lives from good to great.) For most, though, it’s about seeking relief from the pain.
On my intake paperwork is a question about strengths. I ask each potential client to identify assets we can leverage to help them achieve their goals. Countless people have left this question blank. Their struggle is so overwhelming, exhausting and frustrating that they cannot recognize any positive qualities in themselves. The ironic thing is, the people who come to counseling are some of the strongest I’ve ever met. Many of them have survived horrific trauma and kept on going. They have the humility to admit they need help, immersed in a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps society that looks upon self-sufficiency as a strength and equates humbleness with weakness. They dig deep, finding the courage to risk reaching out to me and fight for what they want and need. Tons of strength there, but they don’t recognize it.
Being a counselor also means that I get to witness the intimacy between my clients and God. The struggle and the pain have the power to bring people close to the One who loves them wholeheartedly. Truly, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). And it’s his nearness that takes my breath away. They are weary, soul-beaten, and in that vulnerable state they can feel the presence of God like never before. It is a life-transforming experience to know that you know that God is real and he is really near, sustaining you. Not every person gets that life-transforming privilege. Those who have felt the Lord in such a tangible way are forever changed.
How can this be the “best year still”? Because our pain is often the portal to the power of Christ. When we are weak, Christ’s strength manifests itself clearly, undeniably. Maybe God wants to rescue you from your “thorn in the flesh.” On the other hand, maybe he wants to use that thorny struggle to break down every barrier between your heart and his. Either way, the ultimate result will be to our benefit and his glory! And you will be transformed more into the image of the Son, who suffered and died so that he could be near to you.
My favorite author of the New Testament is the apostle Paul. I love his use of philosophy and his ability to talk for hours about the love and complexity of God. Paul authored 13 books in the New Testament, Romans and 2 Corinthians being two of them. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul reminds us that in our weakness, God’s strength is shown.
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:7–10
What is interesting to me is that often times during difficult seasons, rather than seeing the strength of God on full display, we question his power and authority. All throughout the New Testament Paul mentions his desire to travel to Rome to preach the gospel, yet while on his third missionary journey in Corinth, he concedes to the fact that he will never travel to Rome and decides to writes a letter — a letter that gives some of the best and most rich theology of the New Testament. If you visit a church today and look at their doctrinal statements, you will see the influence of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
I often wonder how Paul felt about God telling him “no”. Was Paul angry that God said, “no”? Did Paul ever plead with God or make his case that great things would be accomplished for God if he would let Paul go to Rome? I wonder if Paul ever got mad at God. I wonder if Paul ever pouted about his situation.
I ask these questions because that is what I do when God tells me no. I get angry, I plead, I get mad, and sometimes I even pout about my situation. I imagine there are times you have acted the same way.
But here is the cool part of this story. Are you ready for it? Imagine the day that Paul meets Jesus face to face, and let’s just pretend that Paul asks these questions: “Why didn’t you let me go to Rome? Why did you tell me no?”
Now imagine this: Jesus pulls out a Bible, and he explains how, after the disciples died, the message of Jesus was spread because of the Bible. Jesus then goes on to explain to Paul that he had a huge impact on the Church because of the letters he had written and that his letter to the Roman church was extremely beneficial for believers throughout the ages, especially to a guy named Martin Luther.
In the midst of their conversation, Jesus turns it back to Paul’s question and informs Paul that if he had traveled to Rome, there would have been no need to write a letter, and decades of believers would have missed out on this detailed letter.
You see, Paul was correct. He would have had a huge impact on Rome had he visited there, but by writing the book of Romans, he had a greater impact and influenced generations to come.
Maybe, just maybe, the reason that God has allowed a difficult season for you has nothing to do with God saying “no,” but because God has a bigger purpose than even you can imagine!
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor Frankl
I absolutely love the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Without giving much away, Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who lived through World War II. He was taken prisoner and spent years in Nazi war camps. While in the camps, he took note of how the impossible circumstances were impacting his fellow prisoners, and developed theories as to why some lived and some died.
Sunday morning, Casey reminded us that sometimes God signs off on our suffering in order to grow us, change us and, most importantly, to remind us of his grace and his presence with us. Some suffering is circumstantial, and we know that an end is in sight. Other suffering can be described as our “thorn in the flesh,” that chronic area of weakness that seems to be a constant stumbling block. In either case, Frankl’s words ring true. There is opportunity for growth and freedom.
We have to choose, though. We all have a “thing” that we turn to when we are in pain — drugs, alcohol, food, sex, Amazon, Candy Crush. When pain hits, we seek comfort and distraction. It is a natural human response. Frankl reminds us, though: between that moment when the pain hits and the moment we respond, there is an opportunity to choose how we will respond. Will I choose to seek comfort in earthly things, or will I accept the opportunity to lean into God’s strength, to make healthier choices, to find healing, to grow and, ultimately, to allow God to use my pain for his glory?
Freedom may look like the removal of the thorn, or God miraculously changing our circumstances, and he is capable of both of these things. But, more often, freedom comes from sitting in the hard moments and leaning into God’s strength. It comes in those moments of growth.
Pain is not our enemy. Viktor Frankl took what could have killed him and turned it into something that has greatly impacted the world of psychology and psychotherapy as we know it. We have an advantage over Frankl: we have Jesus! He doesn’t waste our pain. He wants to use it both for our good and for the good of others, if we will let him.
I hope you’ll take some time to sit with the following verses today. Perhaps God wants to encourage you through them:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
— Joshua 1:9
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for god, for those who are called according to his purpose.
— Romans 8:28
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
— 2 Corinthians 12:9
Likewise the Sprit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
— Romans 8:26
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
— James 4:6
Here’s the bottom line: God is near, and he is gracious. Difficult days are a guarantee, but as believers we get to choose how we respond. My prayer is that we choose to respond by leaning into the truths of Scripture and watching how God comforts, strengthens and changes us in the process.