The Joy of Easter

*This is the devotion I wrote for our Easter Sunrise Service, April 5, 2015*

I’ve been looking forward to today more than I have ever looked forward to an Easter, at least that I can remember.  Last year may have been close, because Kelley and I were volunteers at our church in TN.  They were doing three services for the first time ever, with the thought they could break 1,000 in attendance for the first time.  There was a lot of excitement leading up to this, and the 1,000 in attendance mark was broken.  But this is my first Easter being here with you all.  And it’s my first Easter getting to preach.  Kelley and I love this congregation so much, so it is an honor to get to share this Easter celebration with you this morning.

As I said, this Easter is one that I have been excited about, longing for, and anticipating for a while.  I’ve had today circled on my calendar since about the time we moved here, but this current sermon series we will be concluding in our regular service later today, I have been gathering ideas for for around three years.  But I have a confession to make today as well.  Over the last couple of weeks, that excitement seemed to not be there completely.  At first, I tried to rationalize it.  “It’s just the stress of this time of year”, or “it’s hard to stay that excited about something for so long”, or “I’m just really tired”.  Those were all things I just kept telling myself when I would realize that we were only a few weeks from today, but I just wasn’t feeling the excitement that I knew should be there.

And I really thought that’s all it was.  But this past Monday night/Tuesday morning, when I couldn’t sleep for whatever reason, it finally dawned on me.  I had been lying to myself.  I had lost some of the excitement because I had lost my focus, which is something I do all to often anyway.  I let some things that maybe aren’t perfect in my life make me start worrying about a lot of different things.  In other words, I had let Satan steal my focus.  I was more concerned about things going on around me, that I may or may not have any control over, instead of remaining “Crosseyed” like Hebrews 12 tells us to.

When this all dawned on me, it made me start thinking, which led to even more of a sleepless night, but I was able to work through a bunch of stuff.  It all started making sense, and I don’t think it is just something that I am going through.  When things are good, and we are excited about things and where they are going, it’s easy to lose that focus.  And as we approached this Easter season, Satan used that lack of focus in my life to cause some great havoc. 

When this realization hit, all I had to do was refocus, and you know what, my excitement for Easter returned.  Think about it this way.  In a lot of the same ways, the disciples experienced this almost 2,000 years ago didn’t they?  They were in Jerusalem for the Passover, one of the greatest celebrations for the Jewish people.  Yet they watched their Rabbi be betrayed by one of their own.  They watched Him beaten and crucified.  They watched Him laid in a borrowed tomb.

Their world fell apart when they were supposed to be a part of a huge celebration.  One of my favorite professors from school, when talking about the anguish of watching Jesus go to the cross, would always describe it this way.  He would say, “It’s Friday…But Sunday’s coming!”  In other words, the world around you may be falling apart, but the greatest news in the history of the world is just around the corner.  Jesus not only was crucified and laid in a borrowed tomb, three days later HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD!

That’s all we need to know about why this is an exciting day.  Timothy Keller, a well know minister, wrote this earlier this week on his Facebook page;

If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said?  The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.

In John 11, right before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, He claims;

I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?

It comes down to this, and this alone this morning.  Do you want the excitement of the resurrection, or do you want to let Satan steal your joy?  Just the chapter before, Jesus tells us in John 10:10;

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Let me ask you this morning, as we wrap up, just one question.  John 10:10 again tells us;

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

And John 11:25-26 tells us;

I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?

DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?

Lukewarm?

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through the pages of Crazy Love by Francis Chan, looking for a quote that I was wanting to use in an upcoming sermon.  This book is a favorite of mine, but I have to admit, it’s been about five years since I’ve set down and read it in its entirety.  As I was flipping through the pages, I eventually found the quote I was looking for, but I came across another that struck me hard.  I posted this quote on my Facebook page and said that I would write more about it at a later time.  Well, it’s about a month later, but this quote is what I want to talk about in my newsletter article this month.  So, let’s start with the quote.  Francis Chan states;

“Lukewarm people feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America. Just as the prophets of the Old Testament warned Israel that they were not safe just because they lived in the land of Israel, so we are not safe just because we wear the label “Christian” or because some people persist in calling us a “Christian” nation.”

Before I go any further, this is not intended to be a political debate.  Honestly, I think that our relationship with Christ is far more important than any political holdings we could ever have.  So, for the purposes of this article, I don’t care what voting tendencies you have.  What I am concerned about is the growing statements by religious people around this country wanting the USA to become a “Christian” nation once again.  I grew up thinking that we were a Christian nation, and that my Christianity and my patriotism was the same thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love this country and am very patriotic, but I have come to realize that, if I let it, that can become my religion instead of actually following Christ.

What am I trying to get at?  It doesn’t really matter if the USA is a “Christian” nation.  Just like it didn’t really matter that the Jews lived in the land of Israel.  It matters what we do and what’s in our hearts.  We aren’t safe just because we say we believe in God.  James warns that even the demons believe that there is one God, and they shudder. (James 2:19)

To borrow from our current sermon series, we need to WAKE UP and fall deeply, truly in love with God.  We can’t go on being lukewarm in what we believe.  And that is exactly what we are doing when we claim we want America to be a “Christian” nation again, because we think that makes us safe.  We need to take personal responsibility for our relationship with Christ.  Jesus warns what will happen if we stay lukewarm in our faith for too long.  In Revelation 3, to the church in Laodicea, Christ warns about their lukewarmness.  I’ll let you look up the whole section, for sake of space, Revelation 3:14-22.  But just for reference, here is Revelation 3:15-16, which states;  “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Do I want America to come back to God?  YES!  But more importantly, I want to see as many individuals come to God on fire, not lukewarm.  That is my desire above anything else, finding truly, completely, on fire lovers of God that can sweep across this nation, bringing others the good news of Christ!  That’s the cry of my heart this Easter, and it starts with us, individually deciding what type of relationship we want with Christ.  “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)  God Bless.

Bible in 90 Days Reflections (Day 26)

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for theLord is about to pass by.”   Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:11-13 NIV).

As I was reading through our reading plan today, this is the passage that stuck out the most to me.  It seems to be very relevant to us today.  With all the technology and busyness that we have in every part of our lives, it’s no wonder that we sometimes have a very hard time seeing or hearing from God.  And it makes even more sense, thinking through this passage, that those that don’t know or believe in God have an even harder time.  Christians tend to get asked very regularly, “How can you believe in God with all the evil in the world”.  I think this leads often to the question, “How can you know God is real, because I’ve never seen or heard Him.”

This passage from Elijah’s life sheds some light on this for us.  If Elijah, who was a prophet of God, someone who regularly heard from God, was not able to hear Him in the strong wind, earthquake, and a raging fire, I think that shows us that it’s going to be hard for us to hear Him as well, unless we are able to really listen, and find His voice in the stillness and quiet.  That’s why so many have a hard time finding God.  They don’t quiet themselves down, slow down, and truly listen.  They think we can just keep doing what we are doing and that God will speak louder and louder until we hear Him.  That happens sometimes, but more often than not, it is only when we quieten our lives, minds, hearts, and truly seek Him that we find Him in the gentle whisper in our lives.

I’m not sure how our community of Carlsbad will react, but I have a feeling that many will be asking some of the questions above with the loss of a 9 yr. old boy from our community to a tragic accident.  I couldn’t help but think of this family as I read and prayed today.  My prayer is that God’s comfort will find this family.  That in the midst of their pain and loss, that they are able to seek out God.  Our God is a God who’s peace surpasses all understanding, and that is what I truly pray for this family.  May we all find ways to quieten our own lives, step away from the busyness, and seek God’s voice in the stillness.

God Bless,

Kraig

Outreach (January 2015 Newsletter Article)

So, we are in a new year. It’s almost unbelievable that 2015 is already here. Whether you missed the last Sunday of 2014 at Central or not, I want to recap a little about our year in 2014 and highlight a couple of things we are looking forward to in 2015, one of which we did not talk about last Sunday. I love the new year. It’s a great time to start something new, and build on what happened over the past year. Or it can be a time for a fresh start, forgetting what happened in the past year. But I don’t want to forget what happened in 2014. There was some struggle and hardship, but there has been a lot of good that has come out of all of it as well. Kelley and I got to meet our new faith family and get welcomed to a new church better than we could have ever imagined. Thank you for that Central! We are here for the long haul and look forward to working with you to reach the community in Carlsbad for years to come!

We talked publicly about some of the plans we have for Central in the coming year last Sunday, and I want to recap some of them, and let you in on another. We want to focus on spiritual maturity in the year to come, and plan to do this a number of ways. This includes an emphasis on Bible study, in fact starting January 1 many of us are attempting to read through the Bible in 90 days. We also want to emphasize our Sunday school and Bible study programs. Our sermon series for the year will be concentrated around the idea of spiritual maturity. And we also announced that in the fall of 2015, we will be launching a church wide small group program. We are excited about all of this, and we feel that God has His hand in all of these plans.

Along with spiritual maturity, we want to focus on outreach to our community, specifically to those that are not attending church somewhere. This is what I want to draw your attention to now. I had it in the announcements of the last newsletter, but wanted to highlight it in my article this month. Valarie Waddle is in the process of beginning a stay at home moms group for moms in our community. This will be a group designed around encouragement for moms but it’s also going to serve as a potential outreach for Central Christian Church to our community. We don’t have many stay at home moms in out church right now, so many of these moms that Valarie will be reaching will be unchurched moms. What better way to reach out than providing a support group with other moms. We want to support Valarie in this effort, whether we see any actual growth in our attendance on Sundays or not. This is where you come in. First, we ask for your prayer for this effort, but also, if you know of any stay at home moms in the community, let Valarie or myself know, so that we can reach out to them. Let’s start reaching our community for Christ, one person at a time.

          Because of Him, Kraig B.

What dcTalk taught me about reaching others

When I was growing up during the early to mid 90’s, I was introduced to a music group called dcTalk.  At the time, I didn’t realize that there was such a thing as Christian music outside of what you would sing in church on Sunday mornings.  I was more of a country music fan at the time, but the first time my cousin Josh let me listen the Free At Last album by dcTalk, I was hooked.  They quickly became my favorite group, and honestly they still are to this day, even though the three members of the group have all moved on to other Christian groups now.

My first concert that I ever went to was dcTalk’s Jesus Freak tour, with dcTalk headlining, and a little group opening called Audio Adrenaline.  I was blessed enough to be able to see them in concert one other time, on the Supernatural tour.  I can’t remember all the groups with them on this tour, but The W’s with their one hit, The Devil is Bad were there.  dcTalk’s music influenced much of my life, and it changed the face of Christian music, which has allowed for bands playing just about any style of music with a Christian theme to be possible.

Arguably, dcTalk’s biggest hit, although they have many, would be Jesus Freak.  The chorus of the song, if you haven’t heard it before, goes something like this;

“What will people think
When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak
What will people do when they find that it’s true
I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak
There ain’t no disguising the truth”

If I was forced to pick my all-time favorite song, I think I would have to go with this one.  There are other songs that come close, but it makes me want to live my life like a Jesus Freak.  In fact, part of my blog name comes from this song.  I have told my wife on countless occasions, in all seriousness, that I want this song played at my funeral, because I hope that I have lived my life as a Jesus Freak, living completely sold out for Him!  We had a live band play our prelude, entrance, and exit music for our wedding.  My groomsmen and I walked into my wedding with Jesus Freak being played.  To say that this is an important song to me would be a huge understatement.  And there is a lot we can learn from the song as well.

Over the first couple of weeks of November 2014, Kelley and I have had the opportunity to attend two separate Christian concerts.  We saw 7eventh Time DownFamily Force Five, and The Newsboys here in Carlsbad, NM.  Then we went to the opening night of WinterJam in Rio Rancho, NM.  I bring this up because dcTalk hasn’t been together since the late 90’s or 2000, and Jesus Freak is now close to 20 years old.  But during both of these concerts, Jesus Freak was played.  Granted The Newsboys lead singer is Michael Tait, one of the members of dcTalk, but it still shows the influence we can have if we are able to present the message of living sold out for Christ in a way that truly changes the way people see it.

I’m not saying that we need to change our message.  The message of Christianity and what it means to this world is the best message anyone can ever receive.  The message of the cross, and the grace that God shows us through the cross is the best story that has ever been told.  And the best part is that it is completely true!  But we have to find ways to tell this story in such a way that we can bring in the masses.  dcTalk changed the course of Christian music by being willing to push the envelope.  They found new ways to present a 2,000 year old message, without watering down or changing the message itself.  And because of the way they did it, 20 to 30 years later, their form of the message is still being used to try and tell the greatest story ever told!

May we learn from them, and may we be able to reach the world with the most important story that they will ever here.