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.

Why’s my prayer life so bad?

Probably the biggest ongoing frustration of my 24.5 years of being a Christian is my prayer life. Like all sinners, I have struggled with various things, even since placing my faith in Jesus in 1998. The one thing I am regularly unsatisfied about, though, is my prayer life.

Sure, I pray daily and set aside time for prayer, and while that time in prayer could always be better, what I am especially referring to is ongoing prayer throughout the day. Ultimately, this boils down to prideful foolishness because even though I never consciously think that I do not need to pray and rely upon the Lord, my failure to do so is a wrongful, foolish reliance upon myself and my own abilities. I get busy and try to keep up in my own power and wisdom, both of which are far from sufficient. Like you and every other person on this earth, I need the Lord. Apart from His grace and provision, we can do nothing good.

In thinking about my struggles with prayer, I wanted to share some things that have helped. Also, though, I would love to hear from you. What are some practical things that have helped your prayer life? What follows are some suggestions I have. They are not in any particular order of importance or effectiveness but rather just various things that have helped me over the years.

1. PRAY THE BIBLE.

One thing I am always grateful for when I am disciplined to do it is praying God’s Word back to Him. The Psalms are especially helpful for this, but there are also several other prayers throughout Scripture that you can use – prayers from Jesus, Paul, Jonah, etc. One of my favorites is from Colossians 1:9-12. Adjusting this as a personal prayer, you might pray, “Lord, please fill me with the knowledge of Your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that I may walk worthy of You, fully pleasing to You, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of You. Please strengthen me with all power, according to Your glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy and help me to give thanks to You, who have enabled me to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

A really helpful book with examples, tips, structure, and teaching on this idea is Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney. In fact, if you are part of our church family, we have a case of these books coming soon, so you can have one. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I encourage you to pray the Bible.

2. HAVE SOME STRUCTURE

While we never want to fall into the trap of legalism and simply “checking things off a list,” I have found structure to be very helpful in my prayer life. If I simply think that I am just going to pray about things and be a prayerful person but do not have a plan to do so, I will usually fail. I need some structure.

Unless you are very unusual, you probably need some structure, too. Try to discipline yourself to start your day off right by spending time in God’s Word and in prayer. I have yet to meet someone who regrets getting up 30 minutes earlier (or making some changes to their schedule) for the purpose of seeking God through His Word and prayer before starting their day. Such structure will set the tone for the rest of the day.

Want to have a more consistent prayer life? Have some structure.

3. USE AN APP

Now, this is not for everyone, but I have found a prayer app to be extremely helpful with my need for structure. After using a few, the one I have settled on and used for years now is PrayerMate. I use PrayerMate almost every day, and I can customize it with prayers from the Bible, personal prayer needs, prayers for family and friends, prayers for my church family, prayers for unbelievers, prayers for the advancement of the gospel, etc. Nothing structures my prayer life and helps me not to forget to pray for people more than PrayerMate.

Some people might find an app and the temptation to look at phone notifications to be unhelpful, but if you want to improve your prayer life and have not yet tried something like this, why not give using an app like PrayerMate a shot?

4. TAKE A WALK

This goes along with the structure and app I just talked about, as I really enjoy walking when I get up in the morning and praying through the prayer requests on my daily PrayerMate list, which changes everyday. Not only does this keep things fresh; it also helps me to feel more awake and alert before I dig into God’s Word.

Most of the time, I do this outside, and I especially like these prayer walks in the summer because I can enjoy the sunrise and God’s creation. If there is rainy or bitter-cold weather, though, I might get on the treadmill or even walk laps around our family room while I pray.

Again, this might not work for everyone, but I have found walking while praying to be beneficial, both spiritually and physically. This even helps some throughout the day, too, as I have that mindset of, “Hey, while I’m walking from here to there, why not pray?” Take a walk.

5. SET REMINDERS

While technology can often distract us from praying and can even be used as evil and lead us astray, technology can also be used for good. One really simple way this is true is to set reminders to pray for certain things. In fact, it can be as simple as, “Hey, Google (or Siri or Alexa or _____). Remind me tomorrow morning at 7 to pray for Tom’s surgery.” Then, just like that, you have a reminder set on your phone (or smart speaker, computer, tablet, etc.) to pray for something specific at a particular time.

Do not simply say you will pray for someone. Pray. Set reminders, if and when necessary, and make prayer a priority.

6. PRAY WITH OTHERS

Having a conversation with someone who needs prayer? Why not pray with them right then? Usually, this is not only appropriate but appreciated. If not, set a reminder and/or pray silently in that moment.

Does your church have a prayer meeting like we do (our weekly prayer gathering is at 9:00 on Sunday mornings)? Join that prayer meeting and pray with others. Pray for others. Pray for God to be glorified in the life of your church.

Do you have family or roommates with whom you live? Pray with them. Pray for them. Ask them to pray for you. My wife and I pray each night before bed, and while I am sometimes tired and/or lazy and might not desire to pray, not once have I prayed and thought, “Well, that was a mistake. Shouldn’t have thanked God for all He does and shouldn’t have asked for His help.” We pray with our kids before they head to school in the mornings, and we need to be better about praying together during the summer months. Again, though, never do I regret praying with my kids and having them pray aloud for various things.

Pray with others. Prayer is not the last resort but rather our first priority because we always need the Lord, and He is always worthy of our praise.

7. KEEP A LIST

Perhaps you will do this through journaling, with a prayer app, on a notepad, on a piece of paper you keep in your Bible, on a dry-erase board on your fridge, or in some other way, but keep a list. This can help you from getting distracted, remind you of prayer needs you might otherwise forget, and even be a useful tool in reminding you to pray throughout the day.

Our memories can fail us. Our structures can crumble. Our discipline can be insufficient. Keep a prayer list.

8. PRAY OUT LOUD

Maybe you struggle to stay awake while praying, or maybe you struggle with your mind wandering. If so, you are not alone. One of the most helpful ways to combat struggles like that is to pray out loud. Not only that, but praying out loud (whether you are by yourself or with others) can better train you to get more and more comfortable praying with/for others out loud.

Have you ever been asked to pray but were not comfortable doing so? Pray out loud in your personal times of prayer each day, and this can help you get used to praying out loud in public. While being comfortable praying out loud in public (like at a church prayer gathering) is not necessary for one to be a faithful Christian, you can really be a blessing and example if you do so.

Regardless of your comfort level around larger groups of people, be intentional about praying out loud regularly, even if you are only doing so alone and with people in your household, small group, friends, etc.

9. SING PRAYERS

This is something I do not do nearly enough, but I always love singing prayers and praises to God. Why do I not do so more often?! Sometimes, I might be sitting in my quiet home office before the kids are awake, and I do not want my prayers to come out like a curse. The same might be true if I sing too loudly outside…

If one blesses his neighbor with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be counted as a curse to him” (Proverbs 27:14).

Still, I really have no excuse as to why I do not sing prayers more often. There are plenty of great songs of prayer and praise that I have memorized, and so this would be a great way to improve my prayer life.

10. PRAY FOR PRAYER

Many days, the first thing that comes to my mind when I wake up in the morning is how pathetic I was the day before in persistently praying throughout the day. Thus, I might pray immediately, “God, please help me to be more prayerful today. Please remind me of Your presence throughout the day. Please give me a growing desire to seek You and trust You and depend on You.”

Not only that, I find myself asking others to pray for my prayer life. In fact, I would ask if you would pray for my prayer life? And, if you have any other tips for me, I would love to hear them.

Pray for prayer. We need the Lord, so let us not fail to constantly turn to Him and give Him thanks.

Have you truly turned to the Lord for forgiveness, salvation, and a new life? If not, your prayers are in vain. Would you consider checking out The Story and turning to the Lord today?

The Hardest Pain of Pastoring

I love being a pastor. Really, there is no other job I want, nor one that has ever been so fulfilling. Furthermore, I love my church family – one of the primary reasons I so love being a pastor. Richland Baptist Church has been so good to my family and me, and we regularly praise the Lord for the blessing of having such a great church family.

Our church really is our family. For that reason, the most painful part of pastoring is not the long hours, the continued necessary preparation work, the middle-of-the-night calls or texts, the occasional confrontations, or even the funerals, as overwhelming as those can be at times. Because church is family, the hardest pain of pastoring is when people leave the church family.

Now, I am not talking about when people leave because they moved away. Sure, that is not easy either, but it is obviously understandable. No, what I am talking about is when people leave without explanation or with an unbiblical explanation. They might leave for another church nearby or for no other church at all, but it always hurts.

It’s not personal, but…,” might be something that is said if an explanation is given, but as a pastor who loves my church family, it is personal for me when people leave. How could it not be? Would anyone really want to be part of a church in which it would not be personal to leave?

If someone in your family said to you, “You know, I’ve decided that I don’t really want to be part of this family anymore. There is a family that lives in a nearby town that I am going to join instead. It’s not personal against you, but I’m leaving our family for them. They’re going to be my new family,” would you take that personally? Of course. Would it hurt you deeply? Of course, if you love your family.

You might be thinking, “Nick, that’s ridiculous. You can’t compare leaving a church to leaving a family,” but why not? Some of the closest relationships I have are with my church family. The people I spend the most time with on a consistent basis (next to my immediate family) are the people who are active in our church (which, of course, includes my immediate family). The people with whom I share the most important beliefs, values, priorities, commitments, and goals in life are the people with whom I have covenanted with in church membership. Our church is our family is a statement of truth that makes up part of the mission and purpose of our church.

When a person leaves a church – at least a church as defined throughout the New Testament – he or she is leaving a family. That hurts, as it should.

PONDERING THE PAIN

This summer, I have been incredibly blessed to be on a short sabbatical for the purpose of rest, spiritual renewal, and more time with my wife and children. By far the hardest part of my sabbatical has been missing much of my church family (thankfully, I have still seen and spent time with some at our Saturday Men’s Fellowship and other visits and meetings), worshiping with them on Sunday mornings (I have been attending other church services and learning from other pastors and leaders), and enjoying the various times of weekly fellowship on Sundays and Wednesdays.

Why has that been the hard part of the sabbatical? Well, because my church is my family, and I need my family. Returning at the end of next month will be a sweet reunion for me, and I look forward to that, even though the sabbatical really has been a huge blessing and encouragement.

One of the best parts of my sabbatical, second only to being able to spend more time with my family, is more intentional time in prayer, reflection, and reading. Sure, all of those things are things I do a lot anyway (as a pastor and as a Christ-follower), but so much of my time spent doing those things is for the purpose of sermon and Bible study preparation, counseling, and church ministry. My focus this summer has been more on how I can be a better Christian, a better husband and dad, and a better pastor.

More than I have in years (or maybe ever), I have done a lot of time just “being still” this summer. Less rushed to finish my next sermon, prepare for the next Bible study, get to the next meeting, etc., I have been incredibly blessed to be able to slow down when reading my Bible, praying, reading encouraging Christian books, and just thinking about things.

When thinking through pastoral ministry, though, I cannot shake the pain of all those who have left our church in my nearly-nine years here. Please do not misunderstand me – the blessings of pastoring and being part of this church family far outweigh the discouragements, but the pain hurts. For whatever reason, perhaps because my sinful flesh has led me to dwell on the past rather than focus on more consistently rejoicing in the Lord and looking to the future He has for us, I have thought a lot about the pain of loss this summer – the loss of people leaving.

Regardless of why this has been on my mind, the truth is still the same for me (and I imagine for many other pastors) – the hardest pain of pastoring is when people leave.

The same reason the hardest part of the sabbatical has been missing my church family is the reason the hardest pain of pastoring is when people leave our church family. Our church is our family.

As I have pondered this reality recently, I have realized that so often my response to the fear of more people leaving has been sinful. Rather than trusting the Lord for purpose and identity and relying on Him to be the husband, dad, and pastor He has called me to be, I so often focus on how I can do better to make others happy and not push people away. Granted, we should desire that others be happy and not be pushed away, but that desire should be rooted in our identity in Christ and our obedience to His Word and our fulfillment of His purpose for our lives. Only then can we truly be happy, content, and satisfied.

What I have realized that happens when I am obsessed with doing whatever I can so that someone(s) stays involved and does not leave the church is that I am a pathetic husband and dad. You see, never am I concerned that my wife is going to leave me. She is godly, faithful, loving, kind, and patient. Her leaving never even crosses my mind. Likewise, I am never concerned that my children will leave. Really, they cannot – at least not yet. Who would pay their bills and meet their needs? Plus, they have an amazing mom, even when their dad is a failure.

And, what happens when you have something secure but are fearful of losing something else? You focus on that something else and potentially neglect what you already have. Shame on me. I am neglecting my wife and children because I am fearful of more people leaving.

Church members leave, though. While I have so many great friends (family) in our church, history does not lie. Great friends (whom I considered family) left before. Thus, I cannot shake the feeling that what if more leave? No, it is not about the attendance numbers. While I care how many people are here and desire for us to reach more and more people for Jesus, helping more and more people to be disciples who make disciples, God has protected me from obsessing over numbers. I have no desire to leave for a bigger church. No, it is not about the numbers; it is about the people. It is personal for that very reason. Numbers are not personal. People are personal. So, when people leave, my heart hurts.

I have wept over people leaving. I have lost sleep over people leaving. I have wondered why people were leaving. I have not stopped thinking about people who have left.

Last week, I started to count in my mind the people who have left Richland in my time here, and I realized that I could not keep count without paper and pen, so I gave up. I realized that I ponder this pain so often because it is the greatest pain of being a pastor.

PRAYING FOR THE PEOPLE

When I add someone to my regular prayer list after they join our church, I do not remove them from that list when they leave our church, regardless of the reason. I continue to pray for them. Perhaps they left for sinful reasons. Perhaps they faded away and have proven themselves to not be genuine followers of Jesus (see 1 John 2:19). Perhaps I or someone in our church family sinned against them, and they have not been able and/or willing to get past that. Perhaps the Lord called them to a new place, including a different church. Regardless of the reason, I am praying and will continue praying, by the grace of God.

Would you please pray for me, too? Pray that I will keep my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Pray that I will be a better husband, better dad, and better pastor by being a better follower of Jesus.

Would you please pray for our church? Pray that we will be gospel-centered, biblical, united in Christ, and faithfully committed to God’s Word, His church, and His mission.

Would you please pray for at least one person you know who might be leaving his/her church for the wrong reasons? Maybe this person is living in sin and will not repent. Maybe this person is holding a grudge and will not forgive. Maybe this person looks at church like a consumer and desires something else because of what he/she can receive. Whatever the reason, that individual needs your prayers, just like we all need prayer.

May God help us to love Him in such a way that we desire to love and serve others, promoting the biblical unity of the church and investing ourselves in God’s only plan for fulfilling His Great Commission – the local church.

Is church not really a priority for you right now because you are not sure it is worth the effort? Are you unsure about following God and what that means? Would you consider checking out The Story to learn what it means to know the Lord, experience His salvation, and live for Him? Check it out HERE.

Are you in or out?

When it comes to commitments in life, we are often tempted to “ride the fence.” How will this commitment benefit me? How will it make me feel? What will it do for me? When we get favorable answers to those questions, count us in, right? Otherwise, we will teeter back and forth on our commitments (or at least be tempted to do so).

Usually, though, when it comes to the most important commitments and responsibilities, riding the fence will not do. This is especially true in our relationship with God. You are either in, or you are out. The King of kings and Lord of lords does not settle for half-hearted devotion and commitment, and He should not. Otherwise, He would cease to be Lord.

In 2 Kings 17, you can read about such an attempt at half-hearted devotion to God with the nation of Israel. “They feared the Lord, but they also worshiped their own gods according to the custom of the nations where they had been deported from” (2 Kings 17:33). Their supposed fear of and commitment to the Lord God Almighty was insincere. If they truly feared Him, they would have worshiped Him and Him alone.

And, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Another person’s shipwreck ought always to be a beacon to us.” Those who claimed to follow God in 2 Kings 17 were not truly following God. Let us learn from their failure and cry out to the Lord for His help to be sincere in our devotion to Him. If you read 2 Kings (and the rest of the Bible), you will recognize God’s clear judgment for sin. Yet, you will also recgnize His incredible mercy, grace, love, compassion, and forgiveness for all who turn to Him.

Are you in or are you out? If you are still breathing, it is not too late for you to fully surrender yourself to the Lord. Do not settle for less than sincere commitment and devotion.

Let us be inall the way in. To God be the glory!

Do you want to make sure you are fully committed to the Lord and all in? Seek Him with all your heart and surrender your life to Him today. You can learn more by checking out The Story by clicking HERE.

Life Is Like Movies

While I do not watch as many movies as I would often like, I really enjoy movies. I enjoy watching movies in the theater, and I enjoy watching them at home. Top Gun: Maverick, which I watched with Noah and Levi a few weeks ago, might be the best movie I have seen in a theater since my all-time favorite movie, Saving Private Ryan, back in 1998. Thankfully, my wife and I usually enjoy the same kinds of movies – action, adventure, and suspense. My kids have a similar taste in movies, and we have also enjoyed some good family-friendly movies with all seven of us over the years.

One of the reasons people often enjoy movies is because of the escape from reality, right? You can immerse yourself in a movie, be entertained, and kind of forget about other things for a while. Although that is not necessarily a good thing, that is the reality for many.

Because of that, though, we tend to think that movies are movies, and life is life. “It’s a movie,” someone might say when explaining or even defending something ridiculous on the screen. Usually, we say life simply is not like the movies, but in a couple of very important ways, life really is like movies.

1. THEY TELL A STORY

Life is a story, and movies tell a story. You have a story. I have a story. Everyone has a story. History tells countless stories.

One of the primary features that makes great movies great is the great way in which they tell their stories. Your story is your life. Movies tell stories, sometimes about the lives of people like you and me. In that way, life is like movies (or movies are like life).

2. THEY FAIL TO SATISFY

Movies also fail to satisfy our deepest longings, as does life. Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a second, that’s not true. Life does satisfy my deepest longings.” Or, maybe you’re even thinking that movies satisfy your deepest longings. While I doubt the second is true, I am sure many think the first is.

Please understand, though, that we were created to find our satisfaction in so much more than just this life can offer. Yes, life can be great. There can be many fantastic people and things and experiences in this life, but no person or thing or experience can satisfy our deepest longings for lasting hope, joy, contentment, and peace. And so, life is like movies in this way.

Movies can help us escape, can deeply entertain us, can make us happy, can give us fulfillment, can give us hope, and can even – depending on the story – give us a sense of peace. None of that will remain, though, and so it is with the greatest pleasures of life. We can find so much good, and yet what happens when that person or that thing or that experience fades away? The satisfaction will fade away (or quickly vanish).

When I watched Top Gun: Maverick last month, I was deeply satisfied during the movie. I was reminded of my childhood, when the first Top Gun movie came out, and I got immersed in the story yet again, finding myself entertained and delighted. Even when I left the theater, I am pretty sure I had a smile on my face. Weeks later, I still enjoy reminiscing about the movie with other people who enjoyed it. Still, the benefits of that movie did not last. They are far less now than when I was sitting in the theater.

Top Gun: Maverick satisfied me for over two hours, and while I can get split-seconds of satisfaction with some reminiscing or maybe eventually if I watch it again, the satisfaction has greatly waned.

Life is like movies in this way. There are extremely satisfying moments in life, but then the satisfaction disappears. “Absolute futility,” as Ecclesiastes declares. Things can seem so great, and then everything can come crashing down, like a fighter jet in the sky. That is life. Life tells our story, but life fails to satisfy. We need more.

LONGING FOR SOMETHING MORE

You and I were given life by the Creator of the universe, but we were also created for much more than this life, much more than what this life can offer. This life, like the movies, fails us because life, like the movies, will end. We need more than this life. We need eternal life. We need to know and follow the God who created us and has the perfect plan for our lives – lives that will never end if we trust in His One and Only Son for our salvation.

Sure, enjoy some movies, as long as they have redeeming qualities and do not cause you to stumble into sins like lust, hate, rebellion, gossip, etc. Likewise, enjoy life, as long as you do so seeking the One who gave you life, and the One who is able to give you eternal life. Otherwise, you will never be satisfied, and you will eventually be horrified.

So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).

If you have not been “raised with the Messiah,” turn to Him today. Only then will your life (now and forever) be better than even the greatest of movies.

If you have yet to experience resurrection life in Jesus Christ our Lord, please consider The Story and cry out to Him today.

Is God listening to you?

Do you ever feel far from God and wonder why? Do you sometimes wonder if your prayers are in vain? Because you, like me, are a sinner, the answer to those questions is surely yes, at least occasionally. Why, though? Why do we sometimes not feel as close to God as we would like (for those of us who desire such closeness)?

While there are a lot of things we could discuss regarding closeness to God, I want to focus on prayer. To be clear, though, feeling distant from God is never God’s fault. He is not playing hide-n-seek and desiring for you to feel alone and abandoned. Rather, feeling far from God can only be the result of our sin – our failure to sincerely seek Him, surrender to Him, serve Him, and obey Him.

God does not make mistakes. We do. God is perfectly faithful. We are not.

Specifically, then, what does this mean about our prayer life? Is God listening? Similar to our awareness of God’s presence in our lives is the promise of God’s ear to our requests. If we are genuinely seeking Him in faith, then we can be assured of His presence and provision (spiritually). He is not a genie, though, that is simply waiting for our wishes regardless of our hearts’ affections.

Anyone who turns his ear away from hearing the law — even his prayer is detestable” (Proverbs 28:9).

In other words, if you are not seeking to honor God with your life, He despises your prayers to Him. If ever I am struggling in my prayer life and in my relationship with God, I must examine my heart and consider, “Have I been turning my ear away from hearing God’s law?” If so, it is no wonder I am struggling.

Let us consider such important truth, then. Are you walking with God? If not, do not expect Him to listen to your prayers. You have no such guarantee.

The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8).

And so, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29).

The primary problem, then, is that none of us is righteous. We are all sinners and thus only deserving of God’s judgment and wrath (see HERE). Praise God, though, that in and through Jesus Christ, we can be counted as righteous (see HERE).

Thus, that is the first and most important thing you must do – make sure you have trusted in Jesus for your salvation and righteousness. Otherwise, you have no right to even bring your requests to God, let alone for Him to listen to them.

Then, though, you must also make sure that you are continuing to walk with Him according to His Word. Otherwise, as referenced above in Proverbs 28:9, your prayer is detestable.

A blind man healed by Jesus was right when he said, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him” (John 9:31).

We are all sinners, but if you have trusted in Jesus by faith and are walking with Him (the proof that you have trusted in Him), then your status with God is one of right standing. Worship Him and live according to His Word, and you will be aware of His presence and experience the closeness that He desires for you.

Is God listening to you? If you know and follow Him according to His Word, then yes, He is. If not, cry out to Him today. He desires that you do and is faithful and merciful to our sincere surrender.

If you are not experiencing God’s presence and provision in your life, turn to Him today.

Why is forgiveness so difficult?

Perhaps the greatest visible devastation of the fall of mankind is the reality of broken relationships. Does anything hurt more than when a meaningful relationship is broken? How many of those relationships are broken because of a failure to ask for forgiveness and/or a refusal to offer forgiveness? The vast majority, I imagine.

Why is forgiveness so difficult?

In thinking through the devastating tragedy of unforgiveness recently, my heart has been hurting for those who are stuck in that horrific rut of unforgiveness. How many relationships could be healed by forgiveness? How many churches could be united once again by forgiveness? How many lives could be eternally changed by forgiveness?

While difficult to embrace and live, the need for forgiveness is simple. There are a few things we must do to experience the freeing joy of forgiveness. Together, these three things are essential and inseparable, I believe…

1. ASK FOR FORGIVENESS

Start by looking in the mirror and examining your own heart. We all need to do that and do so more often, do we not? From whom do you need to ask for forgiveness?

Prideful fools claim they do not need to be forgiven. We all need to be forgiven. We all make mistakes. We all sin against God and against others. We all need to ask for forgiveness.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Ask for forgiveness. You might be one of the very rare people who does not need to ask for forgiveness from another person (at this time – though you certainly will need to eventually), but there is no doubt you need God’s forgiveness. No broken relationship is more eternally devastating than a broken relationship with the God who created you. Start by asking for His forgiveness, as well as asking for His help to know whom else you need to ask for forgiveness.

Can you imagine how much better life would be if we were all better about asking for forgiveness?

2. OFFER FORGIVENESS

Ultimately, bitterness hurts the one who is bitter far more than it hurts anyone else. Do not hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness. Offer forgiveness to others and forgive them! I do not believe we will end up regretting having hearts of forgiveness. Sure, we might get burned, but who has ever said, “I sure am glad I refused to forgive and instead, held on to that bitterness!“? Plenty of people have held on to bitterness, but I have never met someone who was glad he or she did.

In the great words of Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame, “Turns out resentment is corrosive, and I hate it.

More importantly, in the words of Jesus Christ, “If you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matthew 6:15). To be clear, Jesus did not put conditions on that. He did not say that we have to forgive people who “earn” our forgiveness. Rather, He said that if we fail to forgive others, God will not forgive us.

Do you realize how big this is? Eternal life is not possible without forgiveness from our sins, and so, if you do not forgive others who sin against you, eternal damnation in hell is your only option. No exceptions.

Ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness.

3. RECEIVE FORGIVENESS

If you do not ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness, then you will not receive forgiveness. Praise God, though, that such forgiveness from Him truly is free when we sincerely turn to Him in faith and repentance, trusting in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our salvation.

Now, while God is perfect in His gracious forgiveness, we are not. People are not. Still, when we are humble enough to admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness, we can and will see the benefits of such behavior. How many of our broken or severed relationships could be restored?

Turn to the Lord to receive His forgiveness, and humble yourself enough to seek and receive the forgiveness of those you have wronged, even if it is not “all your fault.” God honors humility, and He expects it from those who know and follow Him.

You might be thinking, “What about the people who have sinned against me?” Well, if you are faithfully doing the three things above, only then can you rightly respond to those who have sinned against you. I would encourage you to check out Matthew 18:15-20 and follow Jesus’ advice on dealing with those who are sinning against you, sinning against the church, and/or simply living in clear, unrepentant sin.

In the meantime, though, first make sure that you are asking for forgiveness, that you are offering forgiveness to others, and that you are receiving forgiveness. To God be the glory!

To know and experience the forgiveness that leads to eternal life, check out The Story.

Is customer service dead?

As inflation continues with the prices of most products and services continuing to rise, does it not seem that customer service is dying? After a couple more extremely disappointing experiences with terrible customer service this week, I told my wife that I honestly cannot remember the last time I experienced good customer service, let alone great customer service.

Because I do not wish to throw any individuals or businesses “under the bus,” I will not share any specific examples. If I was selling products or services at significantly higher prices than just a few months ago, though, and I made mistakes in providing such services, I sure hope I would apologize and do my best to serve others with kindness and consideration. That kind of service appears to be dead, however.

Well, to say such customer service is dead is an extreme generalization and obviously untrue, as there are still those who care (and try). Customer service sure feels dead at times, though.

Whether my recent experiences are a good picture of reality or not, we will always have times of poor customer service. Sinful people do sinful things, including you and me.

So what should we do?

1. SHOW GRACE

When you receive terrible customer service, “Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (God’s command as recorded in Leviticus 19:18). Show grace.

Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets” (Jesus’ command as recorded in Matthew 7:12). Do you want others to show you grace and patience? Show grace and patience to others. Notice, too, that there are no exceptions to this rule.

Show grace.

2. BE BETTER

Whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44‭-‬45). Be better and serve others.

For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. Honor everyone…” (1 Peter 2:15‭-‬17). Again, there are no conditions on our expected behavior. Be better and respect everyone, no matter what.

Be better.

Even if customer service to you is dying, serve others.

Be better. Respond better. Treat others better.

To experience the only change that will lead to you responding and serving as you were created, please check out The Story.