May 20 – Defining Moments – Jesus’ baptism

Read Luke 3:1-38

When we consider that God incarnate would submit Himself to be baptized by a mere human, it is powerful.  The opening of the Heavens and the Spirit descending as a dove (Luke 3:23) are moments where Jesus hits a newly recognizable level;

Messiah. 

However, there is a verse in Luke chapter 3 that is set apart as a defining moment in this account. It reads as:

“Even tax collectors came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’

Luke 3:12

The value of society’s collective hate for the ancient tax collector cannot be understood in full by our present-day culture.  It is hard to conceptualize the contempt for the ancient tax collector when Americans reap the value benefit of tax breaks that we get when we give to church and charity. I am not saying that any of us like paying taxes or that we don’t see deep flaws and live frustration among the political landscape and the IRS code.  However, our current tax brackets, write offs and refunds pale in comparison in generating the hate that the ancient world tax collector felt.  The ancient world collector was a cheat and liar who capitalized fortune off of common people while exploiting the poor.  But, in this defining moment, even the tax collector was baptized and (don’t lose sight of this), was baptized chronologically before Jesus the Messiah.

Luke chapter three is clear; John’s words were powerful, cutting and convicting.  He was bold and different. Who else had so boldly stood up for justice while calling for the repentance of sin (verses 3-9) among all people? He even had the tenacity to call out Herod, the tetrarch, on a godless marriage and “all the other evil things he had done” (verses 18-19).  This led to people thinking in their hearts that he must have been the Messiah (verse 15).  Yet, the one who was greater, the true Messiah, Jesus seeks baptism from John…just like the tax collector did!

This defining moment strengthens the reality of incarnation: God among sinful people.

Ancient religions throughout the world carry a similar theme: Powerful god/gods/goddesses existing in realms of superiority where the acceptance of the human race is contingent on approval measured by efforts, ceremony and ritual.  However, the one that stands defined, set apart exclusively, is the one where the incarnate walks in the footsteps of the tax collector and brings God to live among the level of those who need Him most.

Do you ever feel that what you have done holds you back from the full life you have in Christ? This defining moment is so powerful because even the most hated in that culture was responding to the good news of Jesus and finding new life in Him…even before His ministry started!

Who you were and what you have done doesn’t disqualify you from the hope of Jesus. In Jesus, you have forgiveness and a new life!

In what way have you discovered the glory of your new life in Christ? What impact has His forgiveness made in your life and in the lives of those around you?

Joe Rubino

May 19 – Defining Moments – Jesus’ birth

Read Luke 2:1-52

I don’t know about you, but one of the most defining moments in Jake’s and my life was when Mattie was born. Here we were, this young couple, married just under 2 years, with a baby about to be born. I mean, it was a lot and we still had a lot to mature in and figure out, even when it came to a successful marriage. There we were, welcoming a tiny human into our lives and hearts…everything changed as we knew it. Time was spent differently, Money was looked at more closely…

Nothing would ever be the same after this baby boy.

In Luke 2, we not only see the defining moment of a young couple’s life changing, but we see prophecy come to be fulfilled.

The story of Jesus’ birth is just the beginning of things changing for Israel and the Gentiles. Little did most everyone know that this tiny human would also be sovereign, save mankind, and go on to be one of the greatest teachers of all time. 

For so many years, people prepared for the birth of the Messiah. Not only prepared but did so with expectation and prepared with anticipation.

Now, here He was.

There is a song that the Worship team introduced our church to at Christmas of 2020 which always comes to mind when I think of the birth of Jesus. The lyrics read: 

You can see my promise
Even in the winter
‘Cause You’re the God of greatness
Even in a manger
For all I know of seasons
Is that You take Your time
You could have saved us in a second
Instead You sent a child, oh

Though the winter is long even richer
The harvest it brings
Though my waiting prolongs even greater
Your promise for me like a seed
I believe that my season will come
And when I finally see my tree
Still I believe there’s a season to come

Like a seed You were sown

For the sake of us all

From Bethlehem’s soil

Grew Calvary’s sequoia

You see, the defining moment of Jesus’ birth was so much greater than changing the lives of two young people…the Lord used Mary and Joseph as vessels to bring forth a greater plan that would be Jesus’ rise, fall and, ultimately, His victory.

One of the main issues people have with Jesus is that they don’t see Him for who He is. Jesus wasn’t just another baby, He was/is the Son of the living God! This baby would turn water into wine, heal the sick and raise people from the dead…including Himself! This baby would give His life so that those who believe in Him can have the hope of eternal life!

What place does Jesus have in your life? Are you actively giving Him the praise that He deserves? Just as this baby grew to change the world as we know it, He can and will do the same in your life, if you let Him.

Kelly Lawson

May 18 – Defining Moments – Paul

Read Acts 9:1-43

One of the things I enjoy the most about being a part of the body of believers at Grace Church is baptism.  It is so powerful to hear the stories of life transformation that has taken place in the lives of believers.  Everyone has a different story, but we all have one thing in common: 

Our lives have been eternally impacted by Jesus and we will never be the same.

Perhaps the most impactful conversion story I have ever read is that of the apostle Paul, which is recorded in our reading today of Acts 9.

The apostle Paul (then Saul) was a man bent on persecuting Christians. This chapter begins by telling us that Saul was “breathing threats and murder” against the followers of Jesus.  Just chapters before, we see Saul giving the consent to the murder of Stephen. This event was witnessed by and given the stamp of approval by Saul.

Saul was well versed in the Old Testament.  He was a Pharisee and was educated by Gamaliel, who was one of the most notable teachers of the Jewish Law.  But Saul wanted to stop the spread of this new religious sect known as “The Way”.  He wanted to devote himself to seeing those who were followers of Jesus persecuted, imprisoned, or even killed because of their faith.

While on a trip to Damascus to arrest the Christians there, he had a life changing moment.  An event that would not only change his life for eternity but also an impact so massive that we are still seeing its effect today.

During his journey, a light from heaven flashed around him and Saul heard a voice calling out to him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Jesus stopped Saul in his tracks and made certain that he would never be the same again.

Jesus was no longer physically on the earth.  If you persecute followers of Jesus, you are persecuting Him.

Given the history of the persecution of the early church by Saul, it would be safe to say that the believers there would not have been very likely to trust Saul.  It would be as if Osama Bin Laden, who spent decades of his life terrorizing the United States, showed up in our country and claimed to be a devout patriot of the United States. 

Crazy. Very unlikely.

Yet, this is precisely what God did.  There was no going back to the old way of life for Saul.  At that very moment, his life was changed forever.  The passion he once had for persecuting the followers of Jesus was replaced with a desire to see all people (Jews and Gentiles) come to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is available in Jesus alone.

The man who once sought to destroy the church would now be a church planter.  He would be shipwrecked, stoned, and left for dead, beaten, imprisoned, and whipped for his faith.  The one who sought to stop the growth of the Christian faith now became its most important missionary. Saul would become Paul and would author the majority of the New Testament, preach, and teach the gospel and ultimately give his life for this faith in the one he once persecuted, Jesus.

Just as Jesus did the miraculous in Paul’s life, He can do the same with you.

Are you holding onto anything that you should surrender to Him? Are you in a place where you are able to be used by God?

If you open yourself up to God and His plan for your life, it’s safe to say the world could very well never be the same.

Nate Mills

May 17 – Defining Moments – Stephen

Read Acts 6:8-7:60

Who do you look up to? 

A teacher, athlete, actor, friend? 

I have some friends who I greatly admire.  These friends, first and foremost, love the Lord and their families.  But, I’d have to say, the people I look up to most are my parents.  My mom was a Proverbs 31 woman.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:30

She supported my dad, served in her church, cared for her family and had an inner beauty that was unmatched.  My dad is a disciplined man, who serves in his church and was extremely successful in the business world, working with a high standard of ethics for himself and those who worked under him.

“They chose Stephen a man full of faith and the Holy spirit…

Stephen, a man full of God’s grace …

they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke…

he had the face of an angel.” Acts 6:6,8,10,15

Stephen was a man to “look up” to.  He was a man of faith, grace and wisdom. He was chosen to help care for the widows and for distribution of food.  The Jews began to argue with Stephen, but could not stand up to his wisdom, given him by the Spirit.  So, in their anger, they seized him and brought him before the Sanhedrin where he was falsely accused of blasphemy.  Stephen spoke of their history –   Abraham to Moses, and to Jesus the “Righteous One”.  Stephen rebuked them for their unbelief. 

“…they killed those predicting the coming of the Righteous One. 

And now you have betrayed and murdered Him” Acts 7:52

At this they took Stephen outside and stoned him to death. 

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit,

looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God,

and Jesus standing at the Right Hand of God”Acts 7:55

In his suffering, Stephen looked up and saw the heavens “rolled back like a scroll” (Rev 6:14).

Did you catch that? 

He saw Jesus, STANDING! 

Jesus who is “seated at the Right Hand of God” (Luke 22:69, Hebrews 12:2), is standing!  Jesus saw the suffering of Stephen and stood up for him.  When Jesus sees you suffering, know that He stands up for you!  Jesus took on our nature and took that nature-flesh back to Heaven, so that He could be seen by human eyes-Stephen’s eyes. Jesus, through His death on the cross, tore the veil that separated us from Heaven. Heaven is now opened up to man and Stephen is able to commune with God. Stephen was in the presence of the Omnipresent God.

This presence gave Stephen strength in the midst of his suffering.

It gave Stephen hope in the midst of a hopeless situation.

It gave Stephen peace in the midst of a violent scene.

Stephen chose to look Heavenward, physically with his eyes and spiritually with his heart. This defining moment in Stephens’ life, wasn’t the fact that he was stoned, or that he spoke truth, and was willing to die for the truth. 

The defining moment in Stephen’s life was looking up at the exalted and standing King.

Where do you look for strength? Do you look up to people in your life?  The people we choose to look up to should point us to Christ. Are others looking up to you? For those who may be looking up to you, do you point them to Christ?

“Look up” to the God who created the heavens and all their glory and is our strength. The God who gave His Son for our salvation and is our hope. The God who promises His constant presence, who is our peace.

Begin today, to define your moments, by “looking up.”

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up…”  Acts 7:55

Janene Nagel

May 16 – Defining Moments – Nathan and David

Read Psalm 51:1-19 and 2 Samuel 12:1-14

Until Nathan confronted him, David was stuck in his own secret prison of shame from the darkness of what he’d done. “For I know my transgression, and my sin is always before me,” he’d written in Psalm 51. Not only had he taken the wife of another man, he’d secretly had that man murdered. So, I have to wonder if the exposing of David’s secret sins released a high-pressure valve in his heart as Nathan spoke on behalf of God.

All the shame and the guilt David had been carrying alone was found out.

Murder, adultery, lying, deceit.

He’d been trying to hide it in his heart, but God had seen it all. As soon as David heard that God knew his secrets, he was undone. So, he quickly confessed. And David’s broken confession became wholehearted repentance, a turning point for him.

“I have sinned against the LORD.”

2 Sam. 12:13a

We know from what he wrote in Psalm 51 that he missed the intimacy he had enjoyed with the Lord for so long. And so, spirit-crushed and utterly broken, David affirmed his wrongdoing and was forgiven just as soon as it was said.

“Nathan replied, ‘The LORD has taken away your sin.’”

2 Sam. 12:13b

David was a broken man who had fallen hard into sin and guilt and shame. I imagine it was among the darkest times of his life. But his brokenness was all that God required.

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

Ps. 51:17

David needed to turn from his pride and stop trying to keep his shameful secrets from the only One who could save him from them.

Perhaps you can relate to the darkness of secret shame and the isolated prison of guilt. Maybe you need a turning point, too. Maybe you’re tired of trying to hide it from the God who already sees it. If so, this good news is for you! Come clean with God. Just agree with Him about the shame, let Him know that you know. Tell Him that you’re broken and seek forgiveness. He is ready to restore you, to walk you to the turning point just like He did with David. It’s time to turn to Him and let Him rebuild you.

It’s time for God to make you new.

Bria Wasson

May 15 – Defining Moments – David and Bathsheba

Read 2 Samuel 11:1-27

It all started out so innocently. 

There was no intention of sin when King David walked up on his roof one spring evening.  As he glanced out upon his kingdom, something caught his eye.  From the roof top of his palace in Jerusalem, he looked down and saw a beautiful woman bathing.  We all know better than to stick around and take a closer look.  And King David was no different.  In I Samuel 13:14, it says that David was “a man after God’s own heart”.  He was one who historically was obedient to the Lord, even in the craziest circumstances.

This time, David let his guard down.  The warning signs were flashing in his head.  STOP!  Do not take a second look!  She is not yours! However, David ignored the warning signs and. what started out as something innocent, ended up as adultery and murder.

It’s easy for us to read this and be judgmental about David.  He had to know better.  He was a married man; she was a married woman.  His mistake ends up in a plot to cover up his sinful act and, when that plan fails, he takes it a step further and has Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, put in the most dangerous place on the battlefield so that Uriah would end up being killed.

2 Samuel 11 is a section of scripture that should scare each one of us to death.  If King David, a man after God’s own heart, can fail, then we can all fail.

How can we make sure that we do not fall into this same pit that David did?

We must be proactive!

The first thing we all must do is to put up a wall. Keep the enemy out. Make it difficult to fall into temptation. The beginning of 2 Samuel 11 says “in the spring when kings march out to war”.  David sat this one out. He stayed at home and was not where he should have been.  How about you?  Are you visiting websites you shouldn’t?  Taking a second glance?  Reaching out to people of the opposite sex on a social media platform?  Communicating/flirting with someone who is not your spouse?  Staying up late when your spouse is in bed?

Another important part of the construction of your wall is accountability. We need to have people who are willing to ask us the difficult questions and challenge us when needed. These are people who are in the battle with you.  These are individuals who you want in your foxhole during a battle – people who encourage us, not by telling us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.  The type of people who can peel you back like an onion and see how you are doing inside.  This takes openness and honesty on your part but is oh so vital.

Work on constructing your wall daily by studying the Word of God and spending time in daily prayer.  Make reading the Bible a priority.   Memorize the Word so that, when you are tempted, you have something to encourage you.  Spend time in prayer communicating with God.  Lean on God in times of trouble.

When you are tempted, do not fight alone.  Tell God about it in prayer.  Contact your accountability partners, your battle buddies, and let them fight with you.

If David could fall, we can too.  But if we have the proper boundaries in place, it will be more difficult to fail. 

Be proactive and build your wall!

Nate Mills

May 14 – Defining Moments – Rahab

Read Joshua 2:1-24

Defining moment: a pivotal decision that changes the trajectory of your life and consequently impacts the lives of others, even future generations.

Rahab’s life was a series of defining moments. 

As a harlot in the wicked city of Jericho, she had a revolving door of men. Each time she opened the door to another man, she was faced with a choice. Another knock. Two more men. But this time she stared at a life changing decision, a decision more foreign than the faces of the Israelite spies that stood before her. Rather than her accustomed use and abuse of her body for profit, she made a radical choice to hide and protect the men.

The books of Joshua, James and Hebrews make it clear that this was an act of faith.

Little did she know that defining moment would alter her, her family’s and future generations’ spiritual direction.  As instructed, she tied a scarlet cord in her window, a lifesaving sign that would provide safety for her and her family, if she held to her oath and remained inside the house at the time of the city’s destruction.

About ten days later, the walls of Rahab’s fortified city came tumbling down. And, of all places, her house was on the wall! She was living on the city wall! (Joshua 2:15) Even though destruction and terror rained down around them, Rahab and her family remained in the house, huddled together, waiting in stillness to be rescued, placing all of their hope in the scarlet cord that hung in the window.

Recently, my daughter shared with me a video of a mother eagle protecting her three eaglets from an intruder.  At the alarm of their mother’s screeching, the three dependents took a “dive and cover ” posture, while she spread her wings of protection over them. The triplets didn’t squawk or frantically run around the nest in fear, but stayed perfectly still under her wings until all danger had passed.

Danger, destruction and death hovered all around the city of Jericho as the Israelites invaded, except at Rahab’s house. (see Joshua 6:22,23) It was the only house left standing on the wall unscathed because of being under the protection of God’s wings of refuge.

“Surely he will save you… He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Psalm 91:3-4

We, too, are under His wings when we accept the scarlet blood of Jesus as our only source of salvation.

That decision is the most defining moment of your life.

Are you placing all of your hope in the sacrificial blood of Jesus?

Are you still and quiet, seeking refuge under His wings? Or are you living in fear and terror because of the destruction you see all around? Claim the words to the familiar hymn, Under His Wings:

“Under His wings I am safely abiding;

Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,

Still I can trust Him- I know He will keep me,

He has redeemed me and I am His child.”

Rahab’s defining moment secured her as God’s child. It changed not only her life, but later in Scripture we learn that she became the great grandmother of King David and, more importantly, part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ!

In spite of her immoral past, her stained life was cleansed. Rahab experienced safety, security, and salvation the moment she chose scarlet. You can too.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood.”

Ephesians 1:7

Charline Engle

May 13 – Defining Moments – Moses

Read Exodus 3:1-4:31

About 6 years ago, my granddaughter, Kalie, chose quilting for her 4-H project.  Since neither she nor her mother could sew, I was elected to be her helper and, since my sister had experience with quilt making, the project soon became a “family affair”.  

Throughout the project, Kalie and I often expressed frustration when we made a mistake, if a seam wasn’t perfectly straight or if the fabric was cut a little crooked. But time and time again, my sister would assure us that it would all work out in the end.  And she was correct!  Once it was all put together, the mistakes and imperfections seemed to disappear into the overall design.

After one quilt, Kalie moved on to other interests, but I had fallen in love with quilt making! I love seeing how the random scraps of fabric can be pieced together to make beautiful designs, often ones I had never envisioned in the beginning.          

That is what happened to Moses. 

There is no doubt that God had had His hand on Moses’ life from the beginning. He had escaped certain death at the hand of the pharaoh by being plucked out of the river by none other than the pharaoh’s own daughter! Then it just so happened he was returned to the arms of his very own mother to be nursed and raised in the knowledge of God. God continued to protect him throughout the rest of his life until finally Moses came face to face with God at the burning bush! 

That was the defining moment for Moses!

The pieces of his life were being put together into a powerful “quilt” to free God’s people from bondage and God was ready to reveal it to him.  

Like Kalie and I, Moses wasn’t so sure that the plan was going to work.  He wasn’t a good speaker.  What if they didn’t listen to him?  Who should he say sent him?  Moses was looking at all the crooked seams and not the big picture that God saw.  But God was ready for him with assurance that it would all work out!

Do you know what God’s plan is for your life?  Does His plan match yours?  What are the random pieces of your life that God is putting together in His design for you?  Are you resisting like Moses and pointing out every flaw and fear you might have? Or are you trusting that whatever it is He wants you to do, He will also equip you with skills and hidden talents, even some you never knew you had? 

What will your life quilt look like?

Will it include singing, teaching, praying, writing, speaking out for God, volunteering, cooking, talking to your neighbor, holding the hand of someone who is hurting, or possibly the ministry?

Are you ready to answer His call for your life? 

Are you stepping forward saying, “I am here Lord, use me?”

Pat Arnold

May 12 – Defining Moments – Jacob

Read Genesis 32:22-32

Have you ever been touched by God?  I was recently in a bizarre car accident that could’ve killed me. But God protected me. The accident resulted in two hip replacements and my kneecap that was broken in 8 places. I find it difficult to actually know if God touched me or if this is just something that happened by chance (see Ecclesiastes 9:11).

I do not think it was chance. I can’t prove it. But I have recovered from all of that and have been blessed by God.

Your two hips are pretty durable. You probably know somebody who has arthritis of the hip. They can’t walk very well and they limp. They need a walker or a cane or a wheelchair to get around and can’t run around. Arthritis is one of the most common causes of pain in the hip today.

Jacob was a man who probably did not have arthritis. But he was touched by God. But not in a way that we may think that God touches someone. Jacob was touched and he never walked the same again. He limped but he also thrived. To thrive today means to lose yourself and follow the upside down kingdom of Jesus Christ. You have the opportunity to thrive every day by following Jesus Christ, despite pain such as arthritis and other events that can knock you down.

Jacob was a man who wrestled with God, who took the form of an angel. Jacob must have been a strong wrestler because this angel could not overpower him. So, God, in the form of an angel, disabled his hip.

Perhaps the angel was able to defeat Jacob, but his goal was not to defeat him but to bless him.

Have you been blessed in a similar way?

We wrestle against the desires of the flesh, against sin and the influences of the world, so this passage of scripture (v 22-32) is something that we can all relate to. God wrestled with Jacob in order to transform him, to bring him to a place of submission so that Jacob could no longer run from his problems.

What challenges are you walking through currently? Do you believe that God can use it for His glory? Maybe when you get knocked down – that is an opportunity that God has given you to thrive and change perspective. You get knocked down. Get up. You’re still standing! (Psalm 40:2).

Tom Weckesser

May 11 – Defining Moments – Abraham

Read Genesis 12:1-20

Here is a man, who is well in his years and probably established in his hometown with his wife and an occupation. Seemingly, out of nowhere, He is asked by the Lord to move somewhere that the Lord is going to wait to tell him where.

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

Here is Abram, a follower of God Almighty who has this trust relationship and he is asked to leave all he knows behind him, all he has claimed to be and is.

How would you respond?

Do you think you would freak out? Go? Stay calm? Ask a ton of questions?

Being completely transparent, I would freak out and ask a ton of questions. That’s my MO. I am a high communicator and a Type A planner. So, my flesh does not do well with “the unknown”.

Does anyone do well with the unknown?

There is a defining moment in this story. It’s not when the Lord commands Abram to get up and go and explains the promises to Abram and his family. The defining moment is in verse 4;

“So, Abram went, as the Lord had told him…”

I remember so many times in my walk with the Lord where He asked me to trust Him without seeing the “where” or the “why” and the “how”.

I am living in that moment now.

As I am writing this, I am sitting in the hospital with Jake, my husband. Some medical things have taken place that need all the attention, monitoring and answers. Just this morning, a close friend asked me how I was doing. My reply was that I feel like my faith is being tested and that I am in a constant state of striving for surrender and trusting that the Lord sees it all.

James 1 continues to replay in my heart and mind:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”

“Consider it all joy” … joy, the testing of our faith. Do you know why God would want me to consider this joy? Well, my definition of joy is “God not only knows about our problems but cares about them”. So, in this, speaking of considering this testing to be joyous is knowing that I can trust in the God who sees my unknown.

He sees it, allows it and has much bigger plans for it than I could ever imagine.

Abram’s defining moment was trusting in the Lord to know what was to come and walk in a trust exchange. This wouldn’t be the first time the Lord tests Abram’s faith, it wouldn’t be the last time Abraham had to walk in complete surrender, knowing that the Lord sees what is to come and just lean on Him.

Where would you say your faith is in these defining moments? Do you cling to the Lord? Do you question the happenings?

Do you surrender, joyously?

Kelly Lawson