The Greatest of Blessings

I have long-made the argument that if our most important relationships are healthy, we can endure just about anything. On the flip side, even if we are successful in our careers, healthy, wealthy, and wise, we will be miserable without healthy relationships. Relationships matter.

Perhaps the greatest curse of sin that we all deal with in this life is broken relationships. Certainly, the greatest curse of sin eternally is broken relationships – most importantly, with God, but secondarily, with everyone else. Eternal death includes the death of all good relationships, namely any chance at a right relationship with God.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 3:26 – 4:7 on “The Promise of Grace.” Without giving too much away before Sunday, I will be discussing the greatest blessings of the gospel of grace. God’s grace is promised and fulfilled in Christ. How? That is what we will consider from this amazing passage of Scripture.

How are your relationships? How is your most important relationship – your relationship with God? While our sin prevents us from perfect relationships (for now), we should certainly pursue and can experience healthy, growing relationships. That is God’s desire for us, but such relationships are only possible (in any lasting way) if and when you turn to the Lord Jesus for help. Jesus alone brings about reconciliation in our most important relationship and establishes for us the second best relationships.

For those who are part of our church family (or who live near us and do not yet have a church family), I pray you will join us Sunday to learn more about the greatest blessings of the Christian life. If not, the message should be available online Sunday evening.

When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Praise be to God!

To experience the greatest of blessings, surrender your heart and your life to Jesus Christ. You can learn more by checking out The Story.

Don’t Believe in Yourself

I have always been a self-confident person, not because I am worthy of such confidence but rather because of my personality, my upbringing, and having two self-confident parents. From the time I can remember, I only recall learning that self-confidence was a good thing. Of course, to some degree it is a good thing. We should want to pursue our goals with confidence and assurance.

When it breeds pride and self-righteousness, though, self-confidence is foolish and evil. And, more often than not in my life, that was (and has been) the reality. You see, we can do nothing apart from God’s grace and kindness in our lives, so when we think we are something on our own, believing in ourselves above all else, we are foolishly and sinfully deceiving ourselves.

That was, to a large degree, the story of my life until the Lord saved me from my prideful sin nearly 24 years ago. More than just self-confidence in sports, school, and conversations, I was confident in my morality.

If you would have asked me when I was a teenager if I was a Christian, I would have confidently answered yes. Then, if you would have pressed a little further and asked how I knew I was going to have eternal life, I would have said – like a lot of people – “Because I’m a good person.” While I may have believed the right things about Jesus, I really believed in myself.

Do not believe in yourself. Do not try to have more faith in yourself. You, like me, are a failure. You, like me, are nothing without the grace and mercy of God.

Do not believe in yourself. Trust in the Lord! Put your faith in Him.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Galatians 3 and challenging my hearers to stop putting their faith in themselves and sincerely put their faith in Jesus. In “Grace with Faith,” I hope to share three characteristics of sincere Christian faith.

Are you trusting in your abilities, your accomplishments, and your goodness to get to heaven? Beware that “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed” (Galatians 3:10). None of us is able to keep the Law perfectly, which means if we trust in ourselves, we are doomed for eternity.

Praise God, though, that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). That is the amazing grace of the gospel! Jesus took the punishment we all deserved when He died on the cross for our sins. He became the curse for us! Then, when He rose from the dead, He won the victory over sin and death forever. Everyone who turns to Him in faith is counted as righteous.

Do not believe in yourself. Believe in Him!

Are you trusting Jesus alone to save you and make you right with God? You can learn more by checking out The Story.

From Legalism to Liberty

Until I was a sophomore in college, I always believed that I was “going to heaven someday” because I was a “good person.” Yes, I believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, but deep down, it was as if I believed in myself more. While I believed the right things about Jesus, my sincere faith and trust were more in myself. What was I doing? What did I accomplish? What did I earn from God?

Basically, I was living like a modern-day pharisee, legalistically trying to check the boxes and earn my favor with God. Now, please realize, I was far from truly being a “good person.” I was not even close to living according to the Law of God, but I tried my best to “put on a good show” and “look the part.” Because I was, what I considered, “better than most” when it came to obeying God’s Word (even though I failed constantly), I was convinced that my goodness made me right with God.

Oh, how wrong I was!

Legalism is wicked and sinful because it distorts the truth of the gospel and is a mockery of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Essentially, legalism – adding to the Word of God a works-based burden that none of us can bear – declares that Christ’s substitutionary atonement was unnecessary. When you try to live a moral life for the wrong reasons – to earn God’s favor, rather than serving Him because of the gift of His favor through faith in Jesus, you have no way to actually earn God’s favor and instead will earn His eternal wrath in hell. Harsh as that sounds, it is the truth of the gospel. We need Jesus. He alone can save us from our sins, and He alone can enable us to grow in obedience to God’s Word.

Praise God for His grace! Until I was 20 years old, despite growing up in church and being “confirmed” in a Lutheran church when I was in eighth grade, I wrongfully believed that my standing with God was based on what I could do, rather than on what Christ had already done for me.

Thankfully, He opened my eyes in the fall of 1998 to see the truth. Then, I went from legalism to liberty, meaning I was released from the overwhelming and unachievable burden of trying to be good enough to earn God’s favor. Instead, I experienced the work of God’s grace in my life, realizing and embracing the freedom to trust in Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection for my salvation. Praise be to God!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Galatians 2 on “The Work of Grace.” What a great chapter explaining the difference between legalism and liberty! Have you experienced the work of grace in your life?

No one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified” (Galatians 2:16-17).

For so many years, I was trying to be justified (made right with God) by being good enough – by trying to obey the law, but I just kept failing and failing.

Well, I still fail, but now my sincere faith is in Jesus and what He did. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:19b-20).

Not ironically, I am actually more obedient to God’s Word now than I was when I thought I had to earn His favor. That is not because I have somehow figured things out and am a better person. Rather, it is because of the work of grace in my life. The same grace of God in Christ Jesus that saves me is the grace that changes me every day. Thank you, Jesus!

Are you trusting in Jesus alone to save you from your sins and enable you to follow Him each day? If not, check out The Story and turn to Him today.

Who just called?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite songs was “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder. I am unsure if that is something about which to be embarrassed or proud. Depends on your taste in music, I suppose. I had that song memorized, though, and I loved listening to Stevie Wonder sing.

In life, we get a lot of calls, especially now, right? We carry our phones in our pockets and set them on our desks while we work. There are days when it seems like I spend more time responding to text messages and phone calls than anything else. Now, I am a pastor, so to some degree, that comes with the territory, and I am grateful for technology that allows me to respond so quickly to prayer concerns and ministry needs. No one has ever “just called to say, ‘I love you,'” though. But, I think I am okay with that. 😉

When it comes to the most important calls, however, we want to make sure we are available, do we not? If we know something really important is likely to come, like the birth of a child, important medical news, the result of a spouse’s job interview, etc., we want to be ready for those calls.

How much more so should that be the case for God’s call on our lives? While He does not, as far as I am aware or have heard, use cell phones for such communication, He does indeed call us. The only way we can be certain of His calling, though, is by seeking Him through His Word. Knowing His Word is the only way to know His calling on our lives.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 1:11-24 on “The Calling of Grace.” I believe we can learn some lessons from Paul’s apostleship that apply to all who are called to follow Jesus. Have you heard and responded to that call? Are you fulfilling your calling as a follower of Jesus?

God does love you and proved that love by sending His Son to die on the cross for our sins. God did notjust call to say, ‘I love you,'” though. He called to say much more.

By the grace of God according to the Word of God, we can understand and follow His gracious calling on our lives. To do so, however, we must be in His Word, serving in His church, and living according to His mission (being a Christ-follower who is helping others to be Christ-followers). How are you doing? How are you helping others? Let us hear and respond to the most important of calls!

To understand where the most important call begins, please check out The Story.

One Way = ONE Way

When we lived in Turkey, I learned to look both ways when turning the correct way onto a one-way street. The reason? It was not safe to assume others were all going the correct way. In fact, I have even continued that habit here in America because, while people do tend to be more aware and more obedient to traffic laws in this country, failures and rebellions still occur.

Last month, I was one of those failures. Somehow, I missed a one-way sign when turning onto a road in a town in which I am not familiar driving, and my family noticed a lady standing in front of a business glaring at me and shaking her head in disappointment. Oops! Thankfully, I did not meet any other vehicles before I was able to turn off that street. What I did, though, did not change the law or the reality that I was going the wrong way.

Unfortunately, the same problem that has existed throughout human history still exists today – the lie of “my truth.” Yes, it seems to be much worse now, but I think that might only be because of social media, our country’s growing liberal agenda, and the ease of disseminating information. People have always been tempted, however, to replace the truth with their own personal truth.

Regardless, one way is one way. The truth is the truth, no matter how you and I feel about it. Sure, I can go the wrong way down a one-way street and claim the street does not need to be one-way. “Cars can fit in both directions, and I’m only going a block,” I might declare. The law is still the law, though, and I have broken the law. My feelings and/or logic cannot change that truth.

So it is with God’s Truth according to His Word. There is one way to have eternal life, and every other way leads to eternal death. There is One God who rules over all, and every other supposed god is false and unworthy of our devotion. There is One Savior of the world, and every supposed prophet or messiah who contradicts Him is a liar.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Galatians 1:6-10 on “The Way of Grace.” The way of grace is the singular gospel of Jesus Christ – His life, death, and resurrection for our salvation. No other way will do.

For that reason, “If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!” (Galatians 1:9). That is strong, harsh language for anyone who tries to promote another way besides Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Are you tempted to trust another way? Eternal damnation will be the result. Are you tempted to proclaim another way? Eternal damnation will be the result. One way = ONE way. No other way will satisfy beyond the fleeting pleasures of this short life.

Trust, live, and proclaim the way of grace alone. You will not regret it. To God be the glory!

To understand the way of grace and experience eternal life, check out The Story and turn to Jesus today.

God doesn’t need me.

Have you ever thought to yourself, “God sure is lucky to have me on His team. He’s done so much for me, but now He needs me to _______ for Him.”? Maybe you have said and/or thought less-pompous things than that but still consider yourself to be needed by God to complete “your end of the deal.”

For years, this is how I viewed things. Sure, I believed everything the Bible says about God’s love, the basics of the gospel, and my sin. Yet, I thought my eternal life depended on a combination of God’s work and my work… God’s grace and my good deeds.

No, I do not ever recall thinking that God had let me down or that He was insufficient, but my sincere theology said otherwise. After all, if God depends on me (or you) to complete the work of salvation, then His Son’s death on the cross for our sins was insufficient. And, His Son’s resurrection from the dead did not accomplish victory.

The gospel is enough, though. Thankfully, my mind and heart have changed since I was a young man, and I want to challenge you to consider what you believe. Here are the two options and how I went from death to life.

MY WORK + GOD’S WORK = DEATH

Again, while I believed the right things about Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection for as long as I can remember, my hope for life was just as much in my efforts and accomplishments. Practically and theologically, I was living as if, “Jesus did His work. Now, He needs me to do my work – to hold up my end of the deal.”

No matter how hard I tried, though, I could never find peace. My legalism (good works to try to earn God’s favor) grew and grew, but inner peace did not reciprocate. So, I just tried to do more and more, getting even more legalistic. For example, instead of just reading my Bible, I started highlighting chapter numbers as I read them, just to “check them off the list.” Instead of just attending church services, I volunteered for different ministry opportunities and even some volunteer leadership roles. Talking the talk, I appeared to those around me like I was also walking the walk. Deep down, though, I knew something was missing. Was I not working hard enough? Are peace with God and assurance of salvation just not things that are possible? My good works surely outweigh my sins, though, right? So, is that not enough?

Really, that is what it came down to for any sense of assurance I (along with Satan, I believe) tricked myself into finding – my good outweighs my bad, so I am fine. Still, there was no lasting peace. I may have become more and more religious and more and more “proper” when people were watching, but I could sense something was missing.

That, of course, was the work of God in my heart and mind. He was convicting me of sin, despite my efforts to push Him aside and do things in my own power and self-righteousness. I was headed for eternal death in hell because I had not truly trusted and surrendered my life to the Lord.

GOD’S WORK + 0 = LIFE

God is perfectly holy, and so one sin is enough to condemn me (and you) for all of eternity. One sin makes us guilty before a God who is without sin. Even human law, which is not perfect, does not allow good deeds to cancel out broken laws. How much more, though, does our perfect God require perfection in His presence? Thus, only our perfection and complete obedience to God’s Word would warrant our works playing a role in our salvation.

Yet, none of us is perfect. Not even close. One sin would be great – one sin per day – but we have all sinned more times than we can count, and that is probably just today. There is no amount of work we can do to take away our sins. Even our best efforts are insufficient.

All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6).

Thankfully, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this – that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). What Jesus did on the cross and accomplished in the resurrection have no need for our help. The victory is already won. We simply have to trust in Him. We simply have to receive the gift. We simply have to turn to Him. No work but rather faith.

Now, the Bible is abundantly clear that faith without works is dead (illegitimate). See James 2 for more on that. The good works are what prove sincere faith to be real, though. Those who have experienced the grace of God in Christ do not do good works to earn God’s favor but rather because we have already received God’s favor.

Not ironically, I do a lot more “good works” now than I ever could when I thought they were necessary for my salvation. That is not because I am somehow better now and have “figured things out.” Rather, it is because I have received the Holy Spirit, who enables me to grow in obedience to God’s Word. What a blessing for all who know and follow Jesus!

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Yes, we are created for those “good works,” but salvation is 100% God’s gift. The works, when they continue and endure to the end, prove the salvation is real.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series through Galatians on A Gospel of Grace. Preaching my first message from Galatians 1:1-5 on “The Grace of God,” I hope to communicate that God does not need us for our salvation to be realized. His grace is free, or it would not be grace.

God does not need me. He does not need you, either. Yes, we are responsible to rightly respond to Him in faith and repentance. Then, works will follow. May we never fail to realize, though, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of grace.

If you yet to experience the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, would you check out The Story and turn to Him today?

Russian Roulette Is Not Love

When was the last time you held back saying something to someone, though you knew you should have, because what needed to be said would have been hard to hear? We have all been there, right? Perhaps we even hold back sharing truth under the supposed act of “love” for that person. We might say or think something like, “Well, I love them and don’t want to hurt them, so I’ll just look the other way [(or accept them as they are) or (let them live their lives)].”

To be clear, though, that is not love. Love demands truth.

You cannot claim to love someone, for example, while at the same time being okay with them playing Russian Roulette. If you know what Russian Roulette is, you know that “dangerous game” is an understated description. Furthermore, if someone continues to play Russian Roulette, they will eventually “lose” (and die). Love, then, demands we share the truth with them.

To say something foolish like, “I know playing Russian Roulette makes you happy, and I want you to be happy. If that makes you happy, play on,” is not a loving thing to do. No, the loving thing to do is to beg and plead with them to put the revolver down and live. Do not take such chances with your life. Please!

As dangerous and devastating as Russian Roulette can be, how much more dangerous and devastating is the eternal death that comes as a result of sin. It is the death we all deserve because of our sin, but God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to “take that bullet” for us. Now, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Refusing to turn from sin and surrender your life to Jesus, though, is like playing the ultimate horrifying game of Russian Roulette. The consequences are so much worse than a bullet to the brain and the end of physical life. The consequences are eternal death.

We cannot be sure when this life will end for any of us. We cannot be sure when Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. And, once this life is over, the chance for repentance and faith will be too late. That is why God’s Word appeals to all, “‘Don’t receive God’s grace in vain.’ For God says: ‘I heard you in an acceptable time, and I helped you in the day of salvation. Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation‘” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

Do not play Russian Roulette with your spiritual life. Do not be content with any plan other than God’s plan for you (according to His Word). And, do not think that the loving thing to do is to sit by while others play Russian Roulette with their spiritual lives. We cannot take the gun out of their hands, but we can love them enough to tell them of the consequences and plead with them to surrender their all to Jesus and let God “take the gun.”

We discussed in our adult Bible study with our church family last night the calling of Jesus on our lives – “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

If you were so blinded from the truth that you thought Russian Roulette was the right thing to do, would you not want someone to tell you? Would you not want someone to do whatever they could to get that gun out of your hand and help you experience hope and healing? Of course you would! To love someone is to act on that love. To love someone is to speak the truth into their lives.

God alone saves. He alone has the solution to our eternal problem. Have you surrendered your all to Him and begun to experience that solution? Do you love others enough to tell them?

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Will you share this with someone today?

The Only Two Things I Really Dislike About Living in Callaway County

I love living in Callaway County, and the reasons I love living here (family, church family, the community, the schools, etc.) are far too numerous to list and explain. Praise God for this great county in this great state in this great country! Truly, this is a great place to live.

No place is perfect, though, and sometimes that reality sets in more than others. The two things I truly dislike about Callaway County have been on my mind lately for the reasons you will see below.

1. DISTANCE FROM EXTENDED FAMILY

Since nearly all of my family lives in Minnesota, I do not get to see them nearly as often as I would like. Also, one of my sisters, my brother-in-law, and two nieces live outside Chicago. Thankfully, they make it to Callaway County at least a couple of times each year, and we visit them, but we still do not see them nearly as often as I would love to see them.

My grandmothers (pictured below) are dear to me, and I wish I could see them weekly, not to mention a lot more often than once every year or two. Same for my aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Well, the distance from family (not the fault of Callaway County) is the biggest thing I dislike about living here. The second thing is very much the fault of this county, though (or at least people making some important decisions).

2. GRAVEL ROADS

I absolutely despise the high volume of gravel roads in Callaway County. We are unable to open our windows in the summer time because the dust from the gravel roads west of where we live is so overwhelming. And, we do not even live on a gravel road, but the roads southwest and west of us are gravel. Furthermore, many people in Callaway County live on gravel roads, and I visit a lot of people. If you have a tire business, this would be a great place for you to live because vehicle tires surely cannot last very long with all the gravel travel.

You might think, “Well, this is a farming community. Of course there are a lot of gravel roads.” Consider, though, that there are subdivisions on gravel roads in this county! There are roads where dozens of homes exist, and yet those roads are gravel. Regularly, there are gravel trucks and road graders “fixing” our roads. I never thought I would long for asphalt so much!

Now, you might be wondering why I am writing such a post. Despite my venting and complaining above, particularly about the gravel roads, I write this to say – this county must be pretty great if those are really the only two things I can think of that I sincerely dislike. And, one is not even the fault of Callaway County but just the reality for me (and some others like me).

So, if you can put up with some gravel dust but want to be around great people in a conservative county with good family values and good churches, consider moving to Callaway County. The cost of living is low (I would be happy to make it much higher for paved roads 😉), and the location is actually really good (rural and yet close to Jefferson City, Columbia, and the Lake of the Ozarks).

Gravel roads stink, but other than those, Callaway County does not. Praise the Lord for my home where I have now lived longer than any other place in my life!

Practice!?

In the past week, we have enjoyed attending training camp practices for the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs, the two NFL teams for which we cheer.

During the first one – our trip to the Twin Cities – we were sitting in the stands of the TCO Performance Center (the Vikings’ amazing practice and training facility), when Marsha told Micah, “Okay, it’s almost time for their practice to start.”

Micah’s reply was priceless. He said with exasperation, “Practice?!” He was thinking that surely, with thousands of fans waiting in a packed house, we must have been waiting for something more than practice.

Still, it was fun, especially considering how close we were to the players. Everyone except Micah – not yet much of a football fan – really enjoyed the experience.

At Missouri Western State University, home of the Chiefs’ training camp, Zoe waited by a gate for 2.5 hours with the hopes of getting Patrick Mahomes’ autograph (it was QBs and RBs day for autographs). While she did not get Mahomes’ autograph, she did get a couple others, along with some great experiences, including Jody Fortson coming right up to Zoe, signing his gloves, and giving them to her. Needless to say, we are now huge Fortson fans, as well as bigger fans of Mercole Hardman (Zoe got his autograph on a jersey for Noah), Juan Thornhill, Justin Watson, and Austin Edwards, all who took a lot of time to come over, visit, and sign autographs.

Click HERE for some pictures of both training camps.

Also, HERE is the video of Fortson coming up to Zoe.

Memories in Minnesota

We have had a great week in Minnesota this week, even though we were in the Mall of America when an active shooter was there (Thursday afternoon). Praise God for His sovereign provision (I will have to share more someday about some of the things that happened)!

Below are some pictures of our time in Lanesboro, Chatfield, Rochester, and Minneapolis. You can see more pictures HERE.