Living the Dream

We have all heard it, and most of us have probably said it, whether in seriousness or in jest – “living the dream!” What does it mean to be “living the dream,” though? Of course, the answer to that question is subjective because “living the dream” can mean different things for different people. Generally and simply put, though, the statement implies that life is good. Things are going well. You are happy and thankful.

Are you “living the dream?” Why or why not?

CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

From a Christian perspective according to the Word of God, living the best life we can live means living according to God’s plan for us. Oftentimes, this is in conflict with the typical idea of “living the dream,” though, because God’s plan is in accordance with God’s Word. And, God’s Word calls us to do things that are often uncomfortable and often not so “dreamy.” Loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, rejoicing in suffering, surrendering your life, and calling people to repentance, for example, are not usually statements associated with “living the dream.”

“Living the dream” – if meaning the best life we can live – is different when you have a Christian perspective, though, because your eternal status impacts your present reality. Because of what is to come for all who know and follow Jesus Christ, we can find great contentment and satisfaction now, even when things are difficult. While we might not be “living the dream” according to cultural and material expectations, we can be consumed with the hope and peace that people truly long for when they think of “living the dream.”

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on perhaps the most important section in Hebrews (chapter 10, verses 19-39). Verses 19-25, in particular, are really an amazing summary with which the author of Hebrews seems to be challenging his readers throughout the book. In this message, I hope to help you understand why “Jesus Gives the Better Life,” and this is the living reality now and eternally.

CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

To live the superior life – the life consumed with objective hope today because of the certainty of tomorrow – you must know and follow the One who gave you life. The Author of life is certainly the One who knows best, and if we try to “live the dream” apart from His plan, we will be disappointed soon and more importantly, for eternity.

Instead, “Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

Are you “holding on” and doing so with confident assurance? If so, then you understand what “living the dream” really means because you know nothing/no one else satisfies like Jesus satisfies. Does that mean earthly riches and great health and ongoing comfort? No. What it does mean, though, is a “true heart in full assurance of faith,” (Hebrews 10:22), and while the world’s riches can be taken away, those riches (eternal life and the assurance of it) can never be taken away.

CORPORATE IMPLICATIONS

For those reasons, those who have genuine faith in Jesus Christ are “living the life,” and they are doing so in community with others who are “living the life.” As we will see Sunday when looking at verses 24-25, the expectation and assumption is that sincere Christ-followers will remain faithful not only to Christ but also to His church. The Bible does not speak of a Christian who does not both endure in the faith and remain with the church. Such an idea is contrary to what the Bible clearly teaches.

The Apostle John, for example, when speaking of those who had abandoned their local church, says, “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19). When he said “none of them belongs to us,” he was declaring that those who are without a church family are without Christ.

The author of Hebrews, then, is not trying to convince Christians to gather with their church but rather is declaring that sincere Christians will gather with their church, whereas those who are simply professing faith in Christ but not truly possessing faith in Christ will eventually abandon Christ and His church.

Do you possess saving faith in Jesus? If so, your values and priorities will reflect such faith as you seek to grow closer to Jesus, grow in service to His church, and grow in commitment to His mission. If not, would you consider surrendering your life to Him today?

If you live in or near Callaway County and do not yet have a church family, please join us on Sunday mornings at 9:30 for family groups and at 10:40 for worship. Learn more at MyRichland.org.

What can we even give?

Yes, I know Thanksgiving is not even here yet, but supposedly some people are already Christmas shopping. My mom asked for my list, and she might already be done shopping for me. Christmas is only six weeks from today!

You have probably heard it said and have maybe even said it yourself, “What do you give someone who already seems to have everything?” We often say or hear things like this when referring to our parents or grandparents, especially in this country where most of us truly have more than we really need. We are materially blessed far more than the vast majority of people on this earth. So, what can we even give someone who really does not need much, if anything?

GIVING IS INADEQUATE

Regardless of what we might decide to give to those we love, we tend to agree that there is nothing we can give that sufficiently expresses our love for those about whom we most care. Giving is inadequate for that purpose, just as it is inadequate to earn their love in return.

Even more inadequate and insufficient, though, is any attempt we make at giving back to God to earn His love and favor. We are simply unable, as sinful human beings, to sufficiently give enough to a holy God. In fact, our attempts to give offerings and sacrifices for the purpose of fixing our sin problem are garbage. Even if we had everything this world can offer, we would not have enough to earn God’s love and favor. He is God. He is perfect. He is holy. We are none of those things.

RECEIVING LEADS TO GIVING

Our reality, in our sinful state, is that we have nothing to offer God unless we first receive what He offers us. We must receive His mercy, grace, and forgiveness before we can give to Him our lives. We must receive the free gift of salvation in and through His Son before we can give to Him our devotion.

Perhaps you are under the false assumption that you must figure out what you can give in order to win God’s approval. What you must understand, though, is that you will never truly give what God desires of you until you realize you have His approval in the cross of Jesus Christ.

We cannot give enough and therefore be accepted. We are accepted in Christ and therefore we desire to give.

This begins when we experience the mercy, grace, and forgiveness God offers in the gospel, and this continues when we daily grow in our faith and dependence on Him.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 10:1-18 (“Jesus Is the Better Offering“). He alone can and did offer the sacrifice that was necessary for our reconciliation with God and our eternal salvation. Furthermore, He alone is able to equip us through the work of His Holy Spirit to be whom God created us to be and to do what God created us to do.

Have you trusted in His superior sacrifice? Are you continuing to trust Him to enable you to endure until the end?

Watch THE STORY.

Sub, please!

If you play and/or watch sports, you know about the value of substitutes. Players get tired and need a sub. Players get hurt and need a sub. Players play poorly and need a sub. Or, in the case of my daughter’s 3rd-4th-grade basketball team, subs are rotated in every four minutes to assure equal playing time. In competitive sports, though, rarely is a team good without good bench players – substitutes. This is because even the best athletes get tired and/or hurt and need subs occasionally.

WHAT’S THE POINT?

Typically, the point of a substitute is to take the place of something or someone else for reasons of unavailability, inadequacy, or recovery. Sometimes the replacement is temporary, and sometimes the replacement is permanent. Substitutes are a part of life. Sometimes we need a substitute ourselves, and sometimes we need a substitute for something or someone else upon which we rely.

WHAT’S OUR NEED?

Without question and without exception, every one of us has a critical need for the most important of all substitutes – someone to take the punishment we deserve for our sins. Sure, we might be able to tough our way through a minor injury without a sub. Yeah, we might be able to push through exhaustion without a sub. We might be able to endure an illness without a sub.

None of us, though, can endure the wrathful judgment of God, and so we need a sub. The judgment we deserve because of our sin is eternal death in hell, so we need a sub. No matter how hard we try, we cannot fix our sin problem and make ourselves right with our holy God, so we need a sub. For this reason – and because God loves us so much – He sent His One and Only Son Jesus to take our place, to take our punishment, to be our sub.

WILL YOU TRUST THE SUB?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 9 (“Jesus Is the Better Substitute“). Jesus is the Substitute we need to take our deserved punishment, so we can inherit eternal life. He is the better Substitute because He is the Only One who can accomplish the impossible task of making us righteous.

He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

Will you trust the Sub, then? Will you recognize your need for Him and surrender your life to Him? Only then can you receive the redemption and resulting restoration we all need.

If you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your substitutionary sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins, are you growing in your faith and reliance upon Him? Your need for the Sub is no less today than it was the day you turned to Him for the first time.

Zoe (22) playing defense in her most recent game.

Church Is Family

With our church, we say, “Our passion is the gospel. Our church is our family. Our world is our mission.” We say this because we believe it, and we know that to follow the Lord and grow in our relationship with Him, we must sincerely embrace and prioritize His gospel, His family, and His mission. All three of those are part of knowing and following Jesus Christ.

When strangers call or come by my office asking for money or some other sort of assistance, something I always ask in those conversations is, “Do you have a church family?” I ask that question not only to open the door for a spiritual discussion but also to tell them that difficult times are an important reminder of how much we need a church family.

I love my church family! And, I know that if I was ever in a difficult situation and needing help, there are dozens of people I could call. No, I do not mean that I would need to call the church office and get official assistance. I mean I could call individuals and get help in the midst of difficulty because our church really is family.

Of course, we do not join a church family for what we can get out of church membership, just like we do not surrender our lives to Jesus Christ for what we can get out of Him. Rather, we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ in order to have a right relationship with God and know Him, and we join a church family to glorify God and serve others.

Yes, there are obvious benefits to the Christian life, including eternal life, peace that passes all understanding, joy that transcends difficulty, hope that cannot be taken away, and forgiveness of sins. Ultimately, though, we turn to Jesus to be made right with God because we want to know and follow Him.

Likewise, there are obvious benefits of church family, including encouragement from other believers, partnership in the gospel, accountability, help in bearing your burdens, and fellowship centered on the gospel. Ultimately, though, we join a church family to obey the Word of God, honor Him, and because we need one another. We cannot function, grow, and thrive – as God intends – apart from faithful church involvement.

If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

This is how things are supposed to be because church is family. We need one another.

Do you have a church family? If not, what are you waiting for? Do not fall into the trap of hopping around from church to church, never committing to a church family that can hold you accountable and encourage you in your walk with Jesus. Join a church that preaches the gospel and lives according to the Word of God. You need the church, and every church needs spiritually healthy church members.

Before you can join a church family, you need to be joined to Christ. Have you come to the point of turning away from your sin and surrendering your life to Him? If not, please consider THE STORY and turn to Jesus today. Then, profess your faith through public baptism and committed church membership.

Better than Perfect

If someone gets 100% on an exam, is there still a way he can do even better? Now, I am not talking about extra credit or the silly idea that someone can give you 110%. Is there such a thing as better than perfect, though? Yes, if that perfection extends beyond just himself to others in his class.

There were plenty of times when I was in school that I would have gladly accepted someone else’s exam score, especially if that score were 100%. Of course, that is not how school works. You get the grade you earn on the exam, and if you happen to get 100%, you got a perfect score. Nothing beats that, right? What if something could beat that?

PERFECT REPRESENTATIVE

If you knew there was no way you could do well on an exam, let alone get a perfect score, but you were allowed to have someone take the exam for you, how great would that be? Your representative takes your place, and you receive the score he earns. What a deal!

Of course, in a much more significant way, this is what Jesus Christ does for us when we call on His name in repentance and faith. Unlike an exam for which you and I might prepare in school, though, we cannot get a perfect score before the holy God of the universe. Only Jesus can because only He is perfect. He fulfilled the Law of God perfectly when He lived a perfect life and did everything the Father asked of Him.

Not only did Jesus do everything perfectly, though. He is our perfect representative if we place our faith in Him. That is why His perfection is even better than perfect – because His perfection extends to all who turn to Him.

BETTER-THAN-PERFECT COVENANT

The Old Covenant that God made with His people is not flawed. What He made is already perfect, but the reality is that none of us can hold up our end. None of us can be perfect like we need to be. “But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). A better covenant? Better than perfect? How can this be? Well, this is because it is better for us.

The perfect Old Covenant cannot save us from our imperfection, our sin, because God did not design it to do that. Rather, it was simply a “shadow” of what was to come in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our perfect Representative, Jesus, ushered in a covenant that is even better than perfect because this superior New Covenant is better for us. Jesus not only took and perfected the exam; He also took the punishment you and I deserve for failing the exam. The good news of the gospel is that, if we turn away from our sins and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for our forgiveness and eternal life, God looks at us and sees the perfection of Jesus. It is as if we never sinned, as if we lived a perfect life, as if we were perfect. This is better than perfect because Jesus’ perfection is given to us (if we believe).

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Hebrews 8 on how “Jesus Provides the Better Covenant.” Do you trust Jesus alone to make you right with God? Have you embraced the good news of the superior covenant?

The Story explains how you can experience that which is better than perfect.

The Best Friend in the Highest Place

More often than not, a saying that holds true is, “It’s not about what you know but who you know.” We all want friends in high places, right? We are grateful to have “connections” with people who can accomplish for us what we simply cannot accomplish on our own.

During my junior year of college, for example, because of a previous internship I had with a news station, I was able to stand on the sideline of a Minnesota Vikings game and then go into the locker room after the game to interview players like Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and John Randle. Did I do anything to earn that privilege? Not really. Did any of the guys in that locker room know me or invite me? Definitely not. Really, this was a classic case of it being all about who you know. There was nothing I did to gain access to the sideline and locker room, except that I had a connection with a television station that afforded me a media pass. My connection made possible an opportunity that otherwise would have been impossible.

THE SUPERIOR CONNECTION

Of course, the ultimate friend in the highest of places is Jesus Christ our Lord. How often, though, do we take for granted the fact that, as sinful human beings who are completely unworthy of approaching God, we can go to Him any time (and are encouraged to do so) in the name of Jesus?

Because He ([Jesus]) remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore, He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:24-25).

Wow! Jesus is always able to save those who come to God through Him, and He always lives to intercede for them. If we place our faith in Jesus, we are both made right with God forever and represented by the Son of God.

Talk about a case of it not being about what you know but rather about Who you know! Really, it is not about what you do but about Who you know. Jesus is the ultimate friend in the ultimate place.

THE APPROPRIATE RESPONSE

The good news is that, even though there is nothing we can do to earn eternal life, Jesus accomplished what needed to be done when He died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead to win the eternal victory over sin and death. That gospel message is indeed a very important what to know, but knowing the what is useless if you do not know the Who of the story – Jesus.

The appropriate response to this truth is to daily surrender your all to Him. Of course, this must start with knowing Him by asking Him to take over your life. You can learn how to do that HERE. That response must continue every day, though, through hope and obedience that endure, the endurance which will prove the legitimacy of your faith in and dependence on the Lord.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 7 on how “Jesus Is the Better High Priest.” Do you know the Superior High Priest? Are you going to God through Him? Are you responding rightly to His Lordship? Does your daily life prove your devotion to Him?

My Word Isn’t Enough

Each month, I take Zoe on a daddy-daughter date. Usually, our dates involve eating out and doing something fun, like playing basketball, going to a ballgame, playing at a park, or even the annual daddy-daughter dance.

Recently, though, our date did not go as planned. What I had promised Zoe was supper at a local high school softball game (yes, she loves to eat concession stand food, and I kind of do, too). As we were getting ready to go to that game, though, I learned that COVID-19 restrictions would not allow us to attend. Then, my back-up plan fell through. Thus, I ended up taking her to her team’s basketball practice early to shoot around, and that was it. Yes, our “date” involved shooting hoops and nothing else. Chalk that up as yet another father failure for me. Thankfully, though, Zoe was very gracious and still acted like it was fun (or maybe she even thought it was fun). Still, not the kind of daddy-daughter date about which one brags to their friends.

WE ALL FAIL

Do you ever say something like, “You have my word,” when making a promise to do something? Most of us have likely said that or something similar, and if we are trustworthy people, our word can go a long way.

Still, we are sinners who cannot always keep our word. We fail. We make mistakes. We misread situations. We make plans that fall through. We make promises that, even with the best intentions, we fail to keep. Even when our failures are not the result of sinful dishonesty (I did not lie to Zoe about our date, but rather I failed to plan properly and was caught by surprise.), our failures are still failures. We are not big enough or strong enough or smart enough or powerful enough to make continuous guarantees.

We all fail.

ONLY ONE WORD IS PERFECT

God alone always keeps His word and never fails. He is the only One who is perfect, and thus only His word is perfect. Why, then, would we ever consider looking to anyone or anything else for our hope, peace, and salvation? Why would we dare think we can come up with a better plan than the plan of the One who created us? Why do we worry about tomorrow, as if something is going to catch God by surprise?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 6:13-20 on how “Jesus Is the Better Way.” I hope to share two reasons we need to trust God’s plan (in and through Jesus) for salvation and for sanctification. God is the One who saves us from our sins, and God is the one who grows us to be the people He has called us to be. His word is perfect, and His Word (the Bible) is perfect. Let us look to Him for purpose and fulfillment.

While our word can fail us and fail others, God never fails. His promises always come true. His goodness is unending.

Yes, I failed Zoe on our last daddy-daughter date, and I had to apologize. What an opportunity, though, to teach about the One who is never surprised, who is always in control, and who never fails to keep His word!

Are you looking to God and trusting His plan for your life? Before you can do that, you need to know Him and walk with Him. Praise the Lord – when we surrender our lives to Him, “We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because He has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20).

While we sinners are unworthy to enter there – to enter God’s presence – we can be counted as worthy when we turn to Jesus and follow Him. Thanks be to God!

Hooping it up in Crane’s Gym – Hatton McCredie Elementary School.

Destined for Disappointment

As a lifelong Minnesota sports fan – particularly of the Vikings, Twins, and Gophers – I almost feel as though I am destined for disappointment in my fandom. Yes, the Twins won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, but they now own a record of futility that will likely never be broken by any professional sports team in all four of the major American sports – 18 straight playoff game losses? Do you realize how difficult it is to lose that many straight games when the playoffs are played in a best-of-3, best-of-5, or best-of-7 series? There is a reason that the only other professional sports franchise to even come close to the Twins’ losing streak is a hockey team way back in the 1970s (when the Chicago Blackhawks lost 16 straight playoff games). Simply put, according to some experts, the odds of doing what Minnesota has done are 1 in 131,072. Yikes!

As a Minnesota sports fan, am I destined for disappointment? Perhaps. For now, at least, the disappointment cannot be denied.

DIFFERENT DISAPPOINTMENT

What was different about Wednesday’s disappointment of the Twins being swept out of the playoffs yet again is that my hopes were not very high. Sure, the Twins were the #2 seed in the playoffs, playing the #7 seed in an expanded pandemic-induced playoff setting. Sure, the Twins should have won the series, let alone at least a game in the series. Sure, both games were in Minnesota, and the Twins had just won another division title and were playing a team with a losing record. Yet, because of the continued futility of the Twins (and seemingly all Minnesota sports), my typical optimism has slowly but surely been shifting to realism.

I have little reason to feel otherwise. Still, I am disappointed and wish the teams for which I cheer were better.

What really makes this disappointment a different kind of disappointment, though, is because we are just talking about sports. Yes, sports are fun and can offer a lot of great lessons for life, but they certainly are not life. Sports are nothing more than entertainment for most of us, so when we are disappointed by our favorite teams, that disappointment is quite different than disappointments that destroy relationships or ruin health or cause lasting devastation.

DELIVERED FROM DISAPPOINTMENT

While my teams (and anyone’s teams) can let us down, we ought to have the proper perspective that disappointment from a game is nothing compared to disappointment that lasts. And, I mean disappointment that lasts forever.

There is only One who can deliver us from that kind of disappointment, and His name is Jesus Christ. While we all deserve (because of our sins) eternal disappointment that comes with the devastation of spiritual death and separation from God, we can receive deliverance from that disappointment by turning away from our sins and placing our absolute trust and faith in Jesus to save us and make us right with God.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Hebrews 5:11-6:12 on how “Jesus Is the Better Promise.” We might be inclined to put our hope in all kinds of promises in this life, but Jesus is the superior promise and hope. He is the only One who can deliver us from the eternal, devastating disappointment we deserve because of our sin.

For that reason, although life is full of disappointments – many of which are my own doing, I am grateful for the satisfaction I have in my Savior.

As a Vikings and Twins fan, I cannot help but think I might be destined for disappointment. More importantly, in and of myself, I am certainly destined for disappointment. In Christ Jesus my Lord, though, I am delivered; I am set free; I am rescued; I am at peace. Praise be to God!

Let us remember this important perspective when that which is temporary causes disappointment in our lives.

If you want to experience the hope and peace that last forever, would you consider checking out The Story?

Fall, here we come!

Fall has arrived, and this is my favorite part of the year because the weather is great, football is fun, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. Here are some pictures from the last couple of weeks…

We hope you are having a good start to your fall, too. Are there any ways we can pray for you? If so, please let us know. May God bless you as you seek to honor and live for Him!

Like which dog are you?

Our golden lab, Lottie, (and I assume most dogs are this way) has a certain, distinguishable walk when she is in trouble and a very different walk when she is not in trouble. She has a cowardly walk, and she has a confident walk. If she does something wrong and I yell at her, then she puts her tail between her legs and walks – almost crawls – in a hunched-over motion that communicates an overwhelming sense of fear and trepidation. When she knows all is well, though, her tail wags, and she has an energetic bounce to her step. There is a stark contrast between these two walks.

THE INITIAL APPROACH

When Lottie does slouch and cower in fear, she does so for good reason. She does so because she is in trouble, and she knows it. Rightly, she is fearful.

Similarly, when we turn to the Lord for the forgiveness of sins, we ought to come with a posture of shame and humility. We ought to fear His righteous judgment, which we all deserve. Unlike dogs, though, who likely do not feel bad for what they do wrong but more likely are fearful because they got caught, we need to recognize the tragedy of our sin and the resulting brokenness of our relationship with God.

Thus, our initial approach to the Lord our God should be one of shame and humility. While that posture, to some extent, should continue throughout our lives – regularly turning to the Lord in repentance and crying out to Him for forgiveness – there is indeed a difference in our posture when our hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit.

THE CONTINUED CONFIDENCE

When we surrender our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, asking Him to forgive us and restore us into a right relationship with God, our hearts are changed. We receive His promised Holy Spirit and the guilt and shame are taken away. Yes, we still must repent and turn to Him in humility every single day, but the condemnation is gone. For that reason, there is a difference in our continued posture before our holy God.

Yes, we are still sinners. Yes, we still deserve God’s judgment and wrath. Yet, our faith in Jesus Christ makes possible a confidence in our relationship with God because His sacrifice satisfies that deserved judgment, and His resurrection assures our eternal victory.

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering” (Romans 8:1-3).

When our dog goes from a cowering posture to a confident posture, she does so because she knows all is right. She is no longer in trouble. She no longer fears my judgment and wrath. She is like a completely different dog. A fearful dog looks and behaves much different than a confident dog.

Like which dog are you?

Yes, we should always walk in humility and in the fear of the Lord. Yet, we can also walk in confident assurance because of Christ and through Christ. If we have turned to Him in repentance and faith, we can have a completely different posture than we had before.

Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Hebrews 4:16).

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 4:14-5:10 on how “Jesus Offers Better Forgiveness.” Only forgiveness found in and through Christ allows you to “approach the throne of grace with boldness.” Only His forgiveness is superior and enough to make you right with God, and only His forgiveness will enable you to walk with an energetic assurance that points people to Him.

Let us have humility and confidence because of who we are in Christ.

To approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, you must have a right relationship with Him. If you are not sure you have experienced that yet, will you check out The Story?