Help Is Always Needed

I am not a fan of the “Footprints in the Sand” poem because I believe it misses the very foundation of the Christian life – that we always need Jesus to carry us. There is never a moment when we are sufficient and adequate on our own, but rather we are always in need of God’s mercy, grace, and help.

During our vacation last week, we did a lot of swimming and hiking. Vacationing actively outdoors is my favorite way to vacation, as physical activity is something I enjoy and something that recharges me, especially because my job as a pastor requires very little physical activity. Thus, a physical vacation is a real vacation.

One of our hikes in the Smoky Mountains is the type of hike I would typically love. It was up and down mountainous terrain, and our destination was a waterfall. Perfect, right? I thought so, until we did the hike with 27 people, 17 of whom were my five kids and 12 of their cousins. There were no bathrooms, no drinking spots, and we decided to hike hard with no breaks. And, it took us all afternoon. Again, this would not normally be an issue, but when I failed to be prepared with drinking water (huge mistake) and realized that much hiking for our 5-year-old son, Micah, was quite ambitious, my enjoyment of the hike quickly diminished.

LESSONS LEARNED

Well, I definitely learned my lessons. When you hike with small children, take some breaks and make it fun. When you hike on a hot summer day, bring water – plenty of water; drinking fountains do not exist in national parks.

While we might not look back on that hike with fond memories, I am reminded of an important lesson that applies to all of us spiritually. You and I are never strong enough to do anything on our own.

Micah really was a trooper on that hike and even finished the last 60+ minutes of the hike walking. Before that, though, he rode on my shoulders a lot. He rode on Marsha’s back a lot. He did not have the strength or long legs to keep up with us, and so the “Footprints in the Sand” poem applied well to his situation. Sometimes he could do it; sometimes he needed help. When he needed help, we carried him. And, he finished strong.

The Christian life is so much more than a hike in a national park, though. Every single one of us is so much weaker because of our sin than a 5-year-old is because of his lack of physical maturity. We need Jesus, and we need Him constantly.

Like Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me” (John 15:5).

HUMBLY RESCUED

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing our sermon series through the Old Testament book of MicahWalk Humbly. Going through chapter 5, I hope to help my hearers “Realize the Rescue from God’s Judgment.” Our sin, without exception, makes us deserving of God’s eternal judgment, just like the nation Israel was continuously deserving of God’s judgment in the prophet Micah’s time (and before and after). Yet, if we humbly turn to the Lord – the only One who can rescue us from our deserved judgment – then we receive life in His name.

Jesus came to this earth to rescue us from sin and death – the eternal death we all deserve. Yet, He not only rescues all who call upon His name from the eternal death to come; He transforms our lives now. He carries us now. We need Him today, and we need Him every day.

If ever there is a moment we think we can walk on our own, we will fail. Instead, let us humble ourselves and trust the Lord to carry us. Only He can rescue us, and only He can enable us to live for Him now. Help is always needed, and so we need Him to carry us, and we need one another to grow as He intends. Turn to Jesus. Serve His church. Walk humbly (or rather, be carried humbly).

Photo by Miriam Fischer on Pexels.com
Jesus does not only carry us some of the time but rather all of the time. Are you trusting Him to do so?

What a week in Tennessee!

We had a blast in Tennessee over the past week, spending time with our dear friends the Fries family, followed by vacation with Marsha’s parents, sisters, and their families. Praise the Lord for the amazing gift of family and friends!

To see some photos and videos of our trip, click HERE.

Cliff jumping with the Fries family and white-water rafting with Marsha’s family were probably the two favorite highlights (for most of us) from the trip.

Summer Time before Summer

Summer officially began this past Saturday, but because of COVID-19 and our kids being home from school since mid-March, summer already feels half-over. Here are just a few pictures of us enjoying summer before real summer even arrived…

Sinful yet Hopeful

Do you notice anything off about the picture above? Yes, that trailer is supposed to be hooked to that tractor. That trailer was hooked to that tractor, until one of my children (who will not be revealed in this post) was messing around on the tractor and disengaged the hydraulics. Apparently some other things were done, too, causing said-child to retreat in fear of the wrong that was committed.

Perhaps no one would find out, though. After all, when someone comes to move the trailer back into place for our Sunday morning outdoor worship celebration, he will hook the trailer back up, and no one else will be the wiser. So, nothing was said to Marsha or me about the trailer parked unhooked behind the tractor.

A little later, however, while all five of our children were playing outside, they noticed the tractor rolling down the hill. At least one of them wondered, “Who’s driving the tractor?” Oh, no one was driving that tractor. It was now helplessly rolling down the hill.

Praise the Lord that none of our children were near it when this happened, and no one was hurt or killed! Praise the Lord that no other vehicles were in the parking lot, and no damage was done! Praise the Lord that the tractor came to a perfect stop at the end of the gravel lot, and nothing bad happened! God’s mercy and grace are all over this story.

SIN HAS CONSEQUENCES

Well, God’s mercy and grace are all over this story, that is, until I walked outside the next morning for my (usually) very-enjoyable morning walk. Mercy and grace were not words that would describe my initial attitude toward my children when I saw what had happened.

When I first noticed what you can see in the above picture, I thought, “Why in the world did someone decide to use the tractor and then leave it down there? And, who was it?” That thinking was only for a moment, though, because I quickly realized it must have been something my children did. That was all that made sense.

How did this happen, though. When did this happen? How did my wife and I not know? How are all of our children still alive? Are we the worst parents ever? Do we have the worst children ever?

When everyone was awake, my wife and I questioned our children and quickly learned the truth, including the fact that all five of them knew who was guilty and knew what had happened. None said a word, however. No one told us, somehow thinking we would not find out and/or that it would not be a big deal if we did.

A John Deere tractor that our kids were playing around rolled 200 feet down a hill!

Needless to say, Marsha and I had a long, serious conversation with our children. Furthermore, they proceeded to lose a lot of privileges, and we hope they have learned their lesson.

You see, sin has consequences. In this case, disobedience and disrespect could have led to someone being killed, and death is the ultimate curse and consequence of sin.

THERE IS HOPE

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on how we can “Find Hope in God’s Judgment” (Micah 4). Yes, sin has consequences. Yes, God judges sin. Yes, we all deserve the devastating eternal death that is the curse of sin. Yet, there is hope.

We are all sinful, but we can still be hopeful, hopeful if we know and follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The only hope that conquers sin and death is the hope of the gospel. Do you have this hope? Do you rejoice in this hope? Do you find satisfaction and contentment in this hope? Are you daily living for the God of this hope?

Like our children, we all deserve much greater consequences to our sins than we have received. The fact that we are still breathing, despite our countless failures and rebellions, is living proof. We deserve death but by trusting in Jesus’ death in our place and by believing in His resurrection from the dead, we can have life and have it abundantly.

Look out for the consequences of sin. Look out for God’s certain judgment. Look out by looking up (to Him). Look out by looking back (to the cross). Look out by looking forward (to eternal life). Only then will you have the hope that never dies.

P.S. – “Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

If you have yet to believe the gospel and surrender your life to Jesus Christ, please do not delay.

Having and Being a Micah

In the days of God’s prophet Micah (more than 2,700 years ago), the people of Israel were living in great sin against God, facilitating rampant rebellion and injustice among the people. Micah boldly declared in the midst of the wickedness, “But as for me, I am filled with power by the Spirit of the Lord, with justice and courage, to proclaim to Jacob his rebellion and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8).

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Micah 3 and challenging those at our outdoor worship celebration to “Respond Rightly to God’s Judgment.” God’s judgment is real and certain, so are you prepared? Are you following the trends of the culture and compromising biblical truth, or are you following Micah’s example with a counter-cultural commitment to biblical truth?

WHO’S YOUR MICAH?

While it was a very overwhelming and difficult task, Micah boldly confronted the sins of Israel. Who is your Micah? Do you have someone (or better yet, someones) in your life holding you accountable and confronting you when you fail to follow God faithfully? Do you have people who will speak up when you are blind to your own sin?

We all need accountability because we all fall short of God’s perfect standard, and we are all prone to the pride of self-justification for our shortcomings. Who is your Micah? Who is asking you the tough questions? Who is challenging you to turn from sinful tendencies and follow God according to His Word?

If you do not have people like Micah in your life, please do not delay. Make sure you are actively involved in a Bible-teaching church, and develop friendships with people you can trust to speak Truth into your life. You will not regret doing such an important, life-changing, life-giving thing.

WHERE’S YOUR MICAH?

Likewise, where is your Micah? In other words, where is the Micah inside of you? Are you walking with Jesus yourself and calling sin what it is – rebellion against a holy God? Are you involved in the lives of other Christ-followers, so that you can lovingly speak Truth into their lives?

Just like you need people to be Micahs in your life, others need you to be a Micah in their lives. We need one another.

If you have come to know and follow Jesus Christ, then you have received His Holy Spirit (see John 14:6, 26; 16:8; Acts 2-28; etc.). And, like Micah, you should gladly declare with purpose, “But as for me, I am filled with power by the Spirit of the Lord, with justice and courage, to proclaim…

The Spirit of God will not allow you to be content to live in sin (see 1 John), and the Spirit of God will not allow you to be content with others living in sin (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2).

No, you will not come down on others in prideful condescension but rather with a loving urgency to respond to the Lord in faith and repentance. We all need Micahs in our lives, and we all – by the work of the Holy Spirit – are called to be Micahs in the lives of one another.

Are you compelled to stand up for God’s Word and declare His Truth? If not, would you turn to Him and ask Him to take over your life?

THE ONLY PERFECT MICAH

Only the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, perfectly fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Only He was and is the perfect Micah – the One who could always speak Truth into people’s lives because He is the Truth. And, only He can change your life in such a way that you too will desire to have people like Micah regularly speaking into your life, as well as being a Micah in the lives of others.

If you want to both have a Micah and be a Micah, make sure you have Christ. Make sure you faithfully serve Him and serve His church. Let us walk alongside one another to bring God the glory and to be a blessing to others.

Learn and trust the Good News of the gospel. Check out The Story.

Eternal Heart Health

Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Proverbs 4:23). In other words, what we do is a reflection of our hearts. Sincere kindness is a reflection of goodness. Hatred toward others is a reflection of evil. Love for God and others is a reflection of goodness. Idolatry, lust, and stealing are a reflection of evil. Sacrificial service is a reflection of goodness. Racism is a reflection of evil.

Sure, people with good hearts changed by God still commit acts of evil because we are all sinners. Likewise, people with evil hearts still do good things because God is gracious and merciful and sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).

Ultimately, though, the health of our hearts will determine our eternal status before God. How is your eternal heart health?

THE IMPACT OF THE HEART

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Micah 2 on our need to “Accept God’s Judgment,” as I continue our Walk Humbly sermon series. Right away in the beginning of that chapter, we see the impact our hearts have on our lives. “Woe to those who dream up wickedness and prepare evil plans on their beds! At morning light they accomplish it because the power is in their hands” (Micah 2:1). Their hearts were full of wickedness, and they used their power to accomplish evil.

Some things never change. It happened then, and it continues to happen today. Why? Because the heart is evil apart from the grace of God.

Why, after all that has happened, is racism still a problem in our country? Because the heart is evil apart from the grace of God.

Why, after all of the advancements in this country and with all that we know to be true, does police brutality still exist when most cops are good cops who serve and protect like they should? Because the heart is evil apart from the grace of God.

Why, with all that is abundantly clear in the Word of God, do so many ministry leaders have massive moral failures? Because the heart is evil apart from the grace of God.

The problems in our country right now, the problems in every country throughout human history, the problems in all of our hearts… I believe the problems stem from the same thing: pride. Pride, it seems, is the root of every other sin that exists.

Think about it – pride is not limited to the outwardly arrogant. Pride is simply thinking of yourself more highly than you should. Pride is putting yourself and your wants and your needs and your comfort at the top of your priorities. Pride is pushing God off the throne of your heart and putting something or someone else there. Selfishness comes from pride. Lust comes from pride. Hatred comes from pride. Racism comes from pride. Can you think of a sin that does not find its root in pride? I cannot.

This is why the spiritual health of our hearts is so vital. Our hearts (and whether or not they are consumed with pride) affect everything.

THE NEED OF THE HEART

Pride cannot be fixed or defeated, at least not by us. We need help. The need of every single one of our hearts is the gospel of Jesus Christ. While policies and procedures might help to a certain extent, only the gospel changes lives because only God changes hearts eternally.

Now, I am certainly not implying that we should not have laws, policies, procedures, etc. After all, even the government is “God’s servant to you for good” (read Romans 13:1-7). Rules and regulations will not fix the heart, though. They can help administer justice when done properly, but as we have seen lately (and, as has always been the case), evil hearts will still lead to evil actions. Injustice will still happen. Lives will still be ruined. Sadly, that will not change on this side of eternity because pride will not be gone until Jesus Christ returns.

Still, we should stand up for justice and love our neighbors as ourselves. We should pray for God’s mercy and help, that we might see our country and our world changed for the better. We should speak Truth and plead with people to turn to the Lord. All the while, we do not lose hope in the midst of the evil around us because we know that God will indeed one day restore all things. If you know and follow Jesus, you have the promise of eternal life and perfect restoration. Praise the Lord!

Let us ask God to protect us from the evil of pride, and let us hold one another accountable. Do you have people who will speak into your life when pride begins to consume you? Do you seek God daily through His Word and walk with Him in prayer? How’s your heart, and how can you get better?

If you do not yet know the hope and peace that are only found in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ, will you turn to Him today? Learn more by checking out The Story.

Judgment for Injustice

On Wednesday afternoon, I wept. Rarely do I cry when by myself – much less often than I probably should, particularly over my own sin. Yeah, I get emotional and shed tears sometimes when I preach and get passionate about God’s grace and forgiveness. When alone, though, I rarely get that way because, for whatever reason, the tears seem to come more when I am talking (or trying to talk) about something emotional.

On Wednesday, however, reality overwhelmed me. I have no idea what it feels like to be discriminated against. More importantly, I have no idea what it feels like to be choked to death. It sounds horrifying, though. It looks horrifying, as so many people learned like I did after the recent video of George Floyd’s murder. I saw the video Wednesday.

In February, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, and the men known to be responsible were not charged with anything for weeks, until the video of the shooting was released. How is that possible?

How is it possible that George Floyd was allowed to be murdered by one police officer while other officers stood by?

THE BLAME

Please realize – I cannot imagine how difficult it is to be a law enforcement officer. I know several law enforcement officers and know them to be great people and great officers. I am grateful for what they do to serve and protect our community. They have a job that is beyond difficult. What certainly should not be difficult, though, is getting your knee off a person’s neck when the person is hand-cuffed and no longer struggling, and you have back-up. Surely, of all the difficulties that come with being a police officer, that should not be one of them.

What brought me to tears (and continues to bring me to tears even as I write this), however, is not the blame I place on law enforcement. What about me? How much of what is wrong with this country and the continued racial divide is my fault? My sinful pride is just as disgusting and just as damning as that of a racist or a criminal or a murderer.

What is wrong with this country? What is wrong with this world? I am. Pride like my pride is what divides. Sin like my sin is what destroys.

I really want to point my finger at those who are at fault in our country and in our world. I want to yell and scream and cry out, “Injustice!” First, I must point that finger at myself.

Sure, I have had black friends for as long as I can remember. My wife and I have an Ethiopian daughter and a Chinese son, and while I have never seen myself as a racist, my prideful sin that has harbored bitterness and resentment against others is no less appalling.

I, too, am guilty, and until I come to grips with that and realize the horror of my own sin before God and before others and repent, then I can never help those around me make our community better.

THE SOLUTION

Change needs to happen. Things need to get better. Injustice needs to be addressed.

Our country has to be better than it was decades ago when it comes to racial equality, right? I do not know. Some things are obviously better, but then again, it does not seem to be any better than when I was a kid during the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles.

I wish I had the brilliant solution that would fix the racial divide and allow for conversations and actions that would facilitate good change. Although I am really not that smart, I hope I can at least play a role in that process, even if just among my own community.

Here is what I do know about the solution, though… The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that will solve our problems. The gospel is the only thing that will cleanse me of the guilt within and allow me to stop pointing the finger at myself and others. You see, the gospel allows me to point my finger at the cross because Jesus Christ took the judgment that I deserve. He died in my place for my sins. Then, He rose from the dead to win the victory over sin and death, so that everyone who turns to Him to forgiveness and eternal life will be made new. The gospel is a solution like no other because the gospel is the only solution that is eternal.

Whether you think you struggle with racism or not, would you look at yourself before looking at others? Whether you have contributed to injustice or not, would you recognize that you, too, are guilty? Whether you have experienced injustice or not, would you realize that no sin anyone commits against you is as bad as your sin (and my sin) that put Jesus on the cross?

Yes, black lives matter, and that is okay to say because it is true. Yes, blue lives matter, and that is okay to say because it is true. Yes, all lives matter, and that is okay to say because it is true. Remember, too, however, that we are all sinners, and the solution to our sin and brokenness is only found in and through Jesus Christ. Only He can change me, change you, and change our community for good.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series through the Old Testament book of Micah – Walk Humbly. How ironic (or not) that the first message, from Micah 1, will be on our need to “Recognize God’s Judgment.” Will we recognize the judgment we deserve? Will we recognize the judgment our nation deserves? Will I recognize the judgment I deserve? Will we recognize that the only solution to that judgment is Jesus?

Let’s trust God to change the world by changing us first. Check out The Story.

Spring Picture Highlights

Well, this has certainly been a unique spring season. While we obviously pray for a quick end to this pandemic, we praise God for the time we have been able to spend together as a family. He has been gracious to us, so we are grateful for His love and provision, our health, our family, our church family, and much more.

Here are some picture highlights from the past couple of months, followed by a video the kids did in reflecting on our adoption of Micah three years ago…

Covering the Smoke Doesn’t Save You from the Fire

My family loves bonfires, and we have really enjoyed them in recent days. Few things are more satisfying than sitting around a fire with people you love. I even love the smell of a good fire.

Interestingly, though, one thing I do not like is the smell of my clothes after I leave the fire. While the smell does not affect me during the fire, apart from a face full of smoke when the wind changes directions, the smell is less than pleasing afterward. In fact, the clothes you wore must be washed, or they will continue to stink.

Likewise, if you do not shower and wash your hair, you will continue to stink. Simply changing clothes only does so much. The smoke gets into your hair and skin, and while a clean set of clothes and some cologne will mask the smell for a while, that smoke smell eventually reappears.

In preparing for my Sunday morning message – “Living Difference” (Romans 13), I noticed a spiritual correlation with this idea of fire and smoke.

OFF AND ON

In the same way that simply ridding yourself of a smoke-absorbed coat will not permanently change your smell, simply ridding yourself of sinful habits will not permanently change your life. You must both put off and put on. “Discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). If you continue reading the passage, you will see what is to be discarded in verse 13 and what is to be put on in verse 14.

Put off sin and put on Christ. Flee from sin and follow Jesus. Run from evil and cling to what is good.

If I am somehow able to rid myself of a sinful habit but do not surrender myself to Jesus, then I will simply return to said-habit or replace it with another sinful habit. And, even if I do not return or replace it with another sinful habit, the smell of smoke is still there. The stain of sin is not yet washed away. The evidence of fire still exists.

ONLY ONE ANSWER

The only One who can rescue us from sin and deliver us from the eternal fire of death in hell is Jesus Christ our Lord. He died on the cross in our place for our sins, taking all the smoke of sin upon Himself. The wrath of God that we all deserve was poured out on Jesus. On the third day, though, Jesus rose from the dead to win the victory over sin and death. Now, everyone who turns away from sin and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness and new life receives both. The smoke is washed away, and the stain of sin is gone. Even though we are still sinners, it is as if we were perfect because we are counted righteous in Jesus Christ.

This only happens, though, when we are cleansed from our sins by trusting in Jesus. Then, He takes off the old and covers us with the new.

If I try to cover the smell of smoke on my own, I cannot save myself from the fire. But, if I ask Jesus to take away the smoke and make me clean, He does so in a way that is eternal.

Have you put off the old and put on the new? As we will discuss Sunday morning, Lord willing, the evidence will be not only in how you relate to God but also in how you relate to others, including the church and the government. Again, see Romans 13.

If you have not yet made the decision to surrender your life to Jesus, will you do so today? You can learn more HERE. Let us flee from immorality and follow Jesus with all our hearts!

Back-to-back fires (right above this past Saturday, followed by the top picture on Mother’s Day)

No Silly Barking

When my kids drive their remote-controlled car, our dog, Lottie, goes crazy. She chases and barks at the harmless toy as long as it moves. Never does she tired from such activity, even if it goes on for several minutes. These are just 24 seconds of evidence…

If we fail to have a gospel-centered perspective in our response to evil against us, we will be just like Lottie. We will bark and bark, and while the barking might make sense to those of us barking, it is ultimately ridiculous. Only the right perspective will allow us to see that, though.

GOSPEL PERSPECTIVE REQUIRED

When we only think about ourselves and our situation and our frustration, we will not respond to evil in a God-honoring way. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “Living Good” (Romans 12:17-21). In that message, I hope to communicate two gospel-centered responses to evil, challenging you to respond to evil based on God’s response to you.

The gospel does that for us, changing our perspective so that we do not respond to evil like barking dogs. Sure, there are times when barking is necessary, but how often do we bark when simply surrendering our cares to the Lord is required?

If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). If you surrender your life to Jesus Christ and ask Him to give you a new heart, He not only saves you for eternity; He changes you now. He begins a work in your heart that affects everything about you, including your response to evil. Living at peace with others because of the peace God has given you becomes a desire, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

BARKING OR PEACE?

How about you? Do you find yourself constantly barking, whether outwardly or inwardly, or are you experiencing a growing sense of peace – peace with God and peace with others? If you are struggling and really just want to bark, would you consider crying out to God for help instead? Only He can give you the peace that passes all understanding, and that peace will only come when you embrace the gospel and follow after Him.

Some day, if not sooner than later, we will see our barking for what it is – fruitless futility. Yes, we should pursue justice but not apart from the perspective that justice ultimately and perfectly belongs to the Lord. In that truth, we must have peace. Praise be to God!