Who’s Your Shepherd?

We all have people, things, dreams, and/or ideals that we follow. While we fail and get off-track at times, life is not aimless. Good or bad, we are all following something. Who/what are you following? Who’s your shepherd – the one(s) leading you and convincing you to follow a certain path?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 10 – 11 on what it looks like to be “Renewed and Right” – renewed by the Lord and right with the Lord. How can you know you are following the right One and going along the right path? What are the contrasting realities of who and/or what you follow? I hope to answer those questions Sunday morning, looking at a couple of chapters that talk a lot about shepherds.

In the meantime, would you consider the shepherd of your soul? Who or what compels you to live the way you live, prioritize what you prioritize, spend what you spend, say what you say, go where you go, etc.?

The world is full of shepherds – full of people and things seeking your devotion and following. Many can be enticing and convincing, promising to lead you where you want to go.

Ultimately, what we all want is a life of purpose, meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Is money the answer? What about comfort and security? What about popularity? Could family be the answer? Could it be success? Maybe, religion? Perhaps drugs and alcohol will satisfy. How about hobbies and fun? While all of those (and many others) can appear to be the answer to our longing for fulfillment, they will all let us down.

Ultimately, what we all need is to be right with the One who created us. We need to follow Him as the Shepherd of our souls, as only He can renew our lives and lead us along the right path (see Psalm 23). He is also the only One who can give us that purpose, meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment for which we all long.

The Only One who can meet our greatest needs is also the Only One who can fulfill our greatest desires. His name is Jesus Christ, and He alone is the Good Shepherd (see John 10). He alone will make you right with God, lead you where you need to go, and satisfy your God-given longings that you might not yet even realize that you have.

First, though, you must surrender your all to Him. Then, you must continually trust and depend on Him by seeking Him through His Word, leaning on Him through prayer, growing in Him through a church family, and living for Him through mission. In other words, follow Him and help others to follow Him. You will never meet someone faithfully doing that who is not satisfied with his place in this world.

Praise the Lord! Let us help one another and glorify the Only Shepherd who can satisfy our souls.

To begin this journey with the Good Shepherd, please check out The Story.

Expecting the Best

Unfortunately, what we feared and what we expected – the worst-case scenario for Ukraine – happened with the Russian invasion of Ukraine early Thursday morning. This is devastating, particularly for the people of Ukraine. For specific ways you can pray for the people directly affected by this crisis, please click HERE.

As I prepare for my Sunday morning message from Zechariah 9 (“Renewed and Expectant“), I am reminded of the many expectations we face in this world. With the Russian troops on the Ukrainian border and because of what we know about Russia and their evil president, we were expecting what happened yesterday to happen. I am not aware of anyone who was surprised. Our fearful expectations were fulfilled. May the Lord be gracious and merciful to those negatively impacted by this devastating conflict!

To be clear, though, the Lord God Almighty is still in control. While brokenness like this is difficult to comprehend and explain, the truth of God’s Word is still the truth. God is sovereign over all, and justice will be done. As Zechariah 9 and so many other passages of Scripture make clear, judgment for sin is coming. We can and should expect just and righteous judgment.

Unfortunately for every single one of us, though, we deserve that judgment. Publicly exposed acts of evil are not the only sins that justify judgment; all sin is deserving of judgment. And, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Not only do those who wrongly invade a country commit acts of evil; those who wrongly rebel against the Word of God in any way commit acts of evil. We are all guilty.

Now, this is certainly not to diminish the heinous evil on display in Eastern Europe right now, but rather to remind us that none of us deserves to expect anything good from God. Praise Him, though, that He made a way for us to not only expect better but to expect the Best! When we turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, we are “Renewed and Expectant” – renewed by Him and expectant of His promised faithfulness. We are renewed in our relationship with God, and we are expectant of Jesus’ Second Coming – when He will restore all things to Himself.

Yes, there will be judgment – eternal judgment that we all deserve. Only those who are not renewed in the Lord, however, will receive such judgment. Those who are renewed in the Lord will receive restoration and life. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I hope to clearly communicate this hope-filled truth by sharing two certainties we can all expect because of God’s faithfulness.

Is your faith in the promises of God growing? Expect the Best by trusting in Him today.

If you are unable to live with assurance and expect the Best because of what (and Who) is to come, please check out The Story and turn to the Lord today.

God’s Not a Genie

More times than I can recall, people have said to me, “I prayed but God didn’t answer,” or, “I don’t understand why God seems so far away,” or, “I asked God for wisdom and peace, but I’m miserable.” God did not create you to go through life alone, and His desire is not for your hopelessness and misery. If you feel far from God, there has to be a reason.

STOP TRYING TO RUB THE BOTTLE

I once said to someone who was frustrated that God would not answer her prayers, “You just admitted that you are not following God or obeying His Word, but you expect Him to give you what you want. God’s not a genie.”

She replied, “Really? I thought He was like a genie.”

So often, we want from God while refusing to turn away from our sins and refusing to turn to Him. God is not a genie, though. Treating Him like one not only fails to bring forth helpful results but also sets the stage for deserved judgment.

START TRUSTING AND READING THE BIBLE

Stop trying to rub the bottle, and instead, start trusting and reading the Bible. Find hope in the Lord and experience His presence by knowing and obeying His Word.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do what is evil” (1 Peter 3:12). Thus, in order to be close to God and experience His unquestionable presence in your life, you have to be counted as “righteous.” Since none of us is righteous, though, that requires that we trust in and follow the Only One who is. Our sin makes us evil, but God declares us righteous when we surrender our all to Him.

For that reason, if anyone ever tells me about their frustration of feeling far from God, I ask them to consider if they are holding on to sin in their life. Are you walking with God and obeying His Word, or are you trying to do things your way?

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

When you surrender your life to Jesus Christ by repenting of your sins and trusting Him alone to save you, He begins a work in your heart that never ends. Best of all, He takes away your sins and makes you righteous in God’s eyes. You go from wicked to righteous by the blood of Jesus. No, we are still not perfect, but it is as if we were – in the eyes of God – because of the perfect sacrifice of His Son in our place.

TRANSFORMATION REQUIRED

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 78 on the beauty of being “Renewed and Transformed.” When Jesus saves us from our sins, He transforms our hearts and lives. That ongoing transformation is evidence that we have been made right with God.

Like Israel in Zechariah’s time, though, you might be tempted to think that going through the religious motions will suffice. Perhaps God will be pleased with your occasional church attendance and empty prayers and non-sacrificial offerings. Then, when you want or need something from Him, you can rub the proverbial bottle and get from Him what you need.

God is not a genie, though. He is worthy of so much more than your occasional efforts and comfort-level praises. He deserves far more than your half-hearted “commitments” and selective “obedience.”

Just as I called, and they would not listen, so when they called, I would not listen,” says the Lord of Hosts.(Zechariah 7:13).

Are you calling, but He is not listening? Listen to His Word. Trust in His salvation. Experience transformation.

To begin a growing relationship with God, check out The Story and turn to Him today.

The Problem with Promises

As I was sitting in my comfortable office working on my sermon this week, I cannot recall the number of times I looked out my window with thankfulness that I was not working outside. Looking out at a cold and snow-covered parking lot, I am grateful for the blessings of heat and shelter.

Another thing I considered, though, is how many plans get messed up by the weather? The weather is kind of like a breaker of promises. Sometimes, the promises of the weather radar and forecast themselves are broken. Other times, weather (like the snow on the ground now) breaks the plans and promises that others make.

How many things were supposed to happen over the past few days but were canceled because of the weather? Church activities, school days, sporting events, meetings, etc… plans and promises broken (or delayed).

That is the problem with promises, right? Whether because of sin and unfaithfulness or because of circumstances beyond our control, we have a hard time keeping promises. No one in their right mind is happy about broken promises and failed plans, but they are regular parts of life, unfortunately.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 56 on the amazing blessing of being “Renewed and Promised” in the Lord. The problem with promises in this life is that we are sinful, imperfect people. The problem with promises is that we are unable to control our circumstances, like the weather. God is different, though. God is perfect. God can and does control the weather. He is the Creator of the universe, the Giver and Sustainer of life.

The problem with promises for us is no problem for God. Thus, if you have a born-again relationship with Him through His Son Jesus – the yes to all of God’s promises, then you can and will trust and hope in the promises of God.

Do you believe? Are you finding your hope in Him? Of course, let us truly seek to be faithful keepers of promises ourselves, but let us also recognize that the only perfect Keeper of promises is the Lord Almighty. Let us be sure and hopeful in Him. Praise the Lord!

If you have yet to trust and turn to the perfect Keeper of promises, will you please check out The Story and look to Him today?

What’s Guaranteed?

When I brought our van in for its 6,000-mile tire rotation and alignment last week, I was shocked and disappointed to learn that I actually needed to buy new tires. You see, the supposed guarantee of the tires we bought a few years ago was 70,000 miles. Yet, at only 36,000 miles in, they were worn and needed to be replaced.

Sure, the warranty and expectation of 70,000 miles is for “perfect conditions,” but surely they should not be wearing out more than 30,000 miles sooner than warrantied!

When I was given the bad news and proceeded to ask what the deal was since I bought these expensive tires from the same place I was visiting, I was asked a series of questions…

Have you rotated and aligned the tires regularly? Oh, I see here in our computer that you certainly have – every 6,000 miles like you’re supposed to.” Yep.

Do you live on a gravel road?” No.

Maybe you drive kind of rough.” No, this is a minivan, and my wife usually drives it. She drives like an old lady (safely, slowly, and cautiously).

Maybe there was something off on the alignment. Oh, nope, I see that the alignments have been done twice per year, and the tires are worn evenly.” Yeah.

I don’t know what to tell you, Mr. Drake. This really doesn’t make any sense.” No, unless these supposed 70,000-mile tires are a scam.

Well, thankfully I received somewhat of a discount on new tires, but new tires are indeed what I purchased that day. What’s guaranteed? Another “70,000 miles“? Yeah, but I have certainly learned my lesson not to put too much hope in such guarantees. Really, it is not guaranteed but rather a claim, and the claim appears to be according to a dream-scenario, at best.

What is guaranteed, though?

What if the mileage rate on tires was actually according to normal driving conditions that the vast majority of drivers face, rather than ideal driving conditions that probably no drivers face? That would certainly be more practical and helpful, but I suppose it would not sell as many tires.

What is an expected warranty, though, if based on unreal conditions? What is guaranteed?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 4 on what it looks like to be “Renewed and Strong.” While life is full of supposed guarantees and warranties and promises and claims, rarely can we be certain such expectations will be fulfilled. Yet, our Creator makes promises that are impossible (for us), and He never fails. Strength in Him truly is guaranteed.

‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

Like our tires, many things are going to let us down in this life. We are going to let ourselves down, especially when we rely on our own strength and might. God, though, will never let us down. He is always faithful, always sure, always right, and always true. He never fails. His strength is guaranteed.

If we were to only drive our van perfectly on a perfectly maintained track, we would probably get those 70,000 miles out of those tires. We do not drive perfectly, though, and Missouri roads (like most roads) are far from a perfectly maintained track.

How similar is this for our lives, too?! The world around us is far from perfect, and we are far from perfect. We do not live perfectly, and our environment does not function perfectly.

Jesus Christ is the Only One who lived a perfect life. As the Son of Man, He fulfilled the perfect law of God and took the punishment our sins deserve by dying on the cross in our place. As the eternal Son of God, He then rose from the dead and defeated sin and death for all of eternity. Now, everyone who calls on His name is not only saved from sin and death but is also renewed and strong now. Still far from perfect, we can find great hope and assurance in Him, though, if we simply turn to and follow Him.

Are you renewed and strong in the Lord?

If you have yet to experience spiritual renewal and strength in the Lord, would you check out The Story and turn to the Lord today?

Snatched from the Fire

One of my favorite things to do with family and friends is to sit around a fire. I love the sound, the smell, the nostalgia, the company, and the fire. If not for the grace of God, I fear I may have ended up, at best, as a crazy fire man who has done even more dumb things than I have already done, or, at worst, as an arsonist who starts unnecessary and possibly illegal fires for fun. While I do enjoy playing with fire sometimes, I do not break the law with such fun and am usually able to avoid much fire-foolishness.

One of the things that people like me enjoy doing, though, is putting sticks in and out of fires to see them glow, stoke the fires, and simply satisfy our pyromaniac tendencies. Have you ever pulled a stick out of the fire, though? The stick will be burned, but it is still a stick. You snatched it from the fire before it was consumed.

In Zechariah 3, we have a recorded vision of an Israelite priest named Joshua representing the people of God and standing against the accusations of Satan. The Lord said, “Isn’t this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:3). In other words, Joshua was facing the judgment and consequences of his sin (and the people’s sins), but God redeemed and restored him (and them). What a great picture of redemption in the Lord!

We, too, are like burning sticks in the fire, deserving of condemnation and judgment and yet completely unable to deliver ourselves from such devastation. And, unlike the sticks and logs that do not burn themselves but that I place in a bonfire, we are the ones guilty of sin deserving of eternal death. Our sin condemns us to that fire.

Praise the Lord, though, that He loves us so much that He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to satisfy the just fire of His judgment. Jesus took God’s wrath upon Himself when He died on the cross for our sins. Then, He defeated sin and death for all of eternity when He rose from the dead. If you simply repent of your sins and believe in Him alone to save you, then He snatches you from that eternal fire.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from that passage in Zechariah on what it means to be “Renewed and Restored.” What does God do for us when He snatches us from the fire? What are the results? What are the truths of such restorative redemption?

Do not be deceived into thinking you can snatch yourself from the fire, and do not be deceived into thinking that you are not deserving of the fire. We are all deserving because we are all sinners who fall far short of God’s perfect standard, but we are also completely unable to save ourselves. We need the Savior of the world to snatch us from that fire. Have you trusted Him to snatch you from the fire, and are you sharing the good news and urgency of such salvation with others?

Only in and from the Lord can anyone hear the words, “See, I have removed your guilt from you, and I will clothe you with splendid robes” (Zechariah 3:4). To Him be the glory!

If you have yet to experience the joy and peace of being snatched from the fire, please check out The Story today. Jesus loves you and is the Only One who can deliver you.

The Good Jealousy

If I was a jealous husband that badgered my wife and demanded that she talk to no one else in the world but me, I would not be a good husband. Such jealousy is wrong. My wife needs other people in her life, too. She has family and friends, and we have children. Those relationships are essential for her, and if I was jealous of those relationships, I would have a serious problem.

What if I said, though, that there is a kind of jealousy that is a good kind of jealousy? That may sound crazy, but I think many people would agree…

If I was jealous for my wife’s physical love and affection that is reserved for a husband and wife according to God’s perfect plan (i.e. Genesis 2:24-25; Mark 10:6-9), then I would be displaying good jealousy. In fact, if I was not jealous for such intimacy and was okay with that intimacy being shared with others, I would not only be wrong, but I would cease to be a good husband. My supposed love would be tainted and incomplete. To truly love my wife is to be jealous for her physical affection and intimacy that are reserved for me as her husband. Likewise, she should be jealous for the same from me and expect nothing less.

It grieves me, then, to hear about couples who have “open relationships” and do not reserve their intimacy for one another inside biblical marriage. They are missing out on God’s beautiful design and will not experience the fulfillment and satisfaction that are only found in His plan for our lives. Furthermore, they cannot experience a right and growing relationship with Him if they are content to disregard the truth of His Word and instead serve their own false idols (whether that be sexual lust or anything else that is outside God’s plan as declared clearly in His Word).

Biblical marriage, after all, is a beautiful picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 5:21-33). And, to be jealous for the exclusivity of marital intimacy is right and good.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 1:7 2:13 on what it looks like to be “Renewed and Chosen” (by God). And, while the sermon will be about much more than good jealousy, one thing that jumps out at me from this passage of Scripture is the ultimate example of good jealousy – God’s jealousy (Zechariah 1:14).

When you are chosen by God and turn to Him for salvation, He is jealous for you. Just as He was jealous for His people in Zechariah’s time, He is jealous for His people today. God alone is worthy of our worship, and so it is right and good for Him to be jealous for us to seek to glorify Him alone, just as it is right and good for me to be jealous for my wife to be married to me alone. We were created to have one spouse and one spouse only, and we were created to worship One God and One God only.

What is your response to God’s jealousy for you? As we will consider Sunday, He is sovereign over all things, and how we respond to His sovereign control (and jealous love) is immensely important. Absolute and total surrender to Him (and Him alone) will suffice.

If you have yet to experience the love of God that is only found in and through Jesus Christ our Lord, would you consider checking out The Story?

What’s keeping you from turning to the Lord?

If God called you to Himself, what would keep you from turning to Him? Please know – He is calling you to Himself. He desires that you have a right relationship with Him.

You might respond, “Well, I’ve done too many bad things to be right with God.” No, you have not. True, we have all done too many evil things to have a right relationship with God, but His Son came to save and restore all who turn to Him. Thus, if you are still breathing, you still have an opportunity to know and follow God by turning to Him.

You might respond, “I don’t NEED God.” Yes, you do. We all do. Life might seem great for you right now, but what is next? What happens when this life is over? Are you certain of what your future holds? Are you certain of your eternal destiny? God is, and He alone can assure you of eternal life.

The simple reality is – we can either turn to the Lord in repentance and faith before this life is over, or we will experience His righteous, eternal wrath.

There are many more reasons people give for why they refuse to turn to the Lord than I can address in this post. I cannot help but wonder, though, how many of the reasons are rooted in fear? Are you refusing to turn to the Lord because of fear of what others might think? Are you fearful of God’s call on your life? Are you fearful of how things might change? Are you fearful of not knowing all the answers? Are you fearful of surrendering your all to a God you cannot see? Are you fearful of trusting in a God you cannot yet understand?

If we feared God like we should – the God of creation, the God of judgment, and the God of salvation – we would turn to Him without hesitation. Instead, though, the temptation is so often to fear everyone and everything except God. What an eternally dangerous mistake!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will begin a new sermon series through Zechariah called NEW. God is able to make all things new, and He wants to renew and restore you. For this first message, I will preach through Zechariah 1:1-6 about what it looks like to be “Renewed and Returning.”

Is fear holding you back from turning (or returning) to the Lord? The name Zechariah means “the Lord remembers.” What a great name for a prophet of God who authored a book about God remembering His promises and faithfully keeping those promises!

Do not let fear hold you back from trusting in the Lord with all your heart. If you do turn to Him, the amazing promises declared in the song below are yours to embrace. Praise be to God!

Happy New Year!

Well, 2021 is almost over, and we would like to wish you a happy new year! May we seek the Lord, honor Him with our lives, and glorify His name in 2022 and beyond! If you want to learn more about what it means to know and follow the Lord, please check out The Story.

If you have yet to do so, you can read our recent Christmas letter HERE. After publishing that Christmas letter, though, we were blessed to spend great time together with our families over the past week. Below are some picture highlights of our time together celebrating the birth of Jesus and giving each other unnecessary gifts.

All I want for Christmas…

What do you want more than anything else for Christmas? Questions like that get asked every year, and some of the results have led to songs like “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” by Mariah Carey, and “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” which my dad used to sing to kids who lost their two front teeth. Oh, the memories!

Really, though, what is the one thing you would like to have at Christmas? Might I propose that perhaps the one thing you and I want more than anything else is one of the many things we take for granted? Love is what I am talking about. Because the question of what we want for Christmas is often asked by those who love us, we do not stop to consider what it would be like if we desperately longed for love.

What if you did not have family or friends who cared about you? What if you had such family and friends but recently lost them? What if the holidays were a time you dreaded because of the memories of loved ones that you greatly missed? These scenarios and/or others are the reality for many, and such people might say that they just long for that love again this Christmas – that company, that sense of belonging, that warm embrace, that care and concern, that love.

Really, we all long for that love. We all need that love. God created us for that love. The problem, though, is not only that we take love for granted, but that we look for lasting love in the wrong places. The very reason we might find ourselves feeling unloved is because we have been let down by someone or something incapable of the kind of love we all desperately need – love that endures.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Luke 1:39-55 about the amazing example of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Mary understood and embraced enduring love in such a way that her life was changed. In my message Sunday morning, I hope to communicate three realities of love that endures.

Ultimately, of course, this message is about the love of God. Mary realized the vastness of God’s love and declared one of the most famous hymns (or poems) ever recorded (Luke 1:46-55).

And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and His name is holy” (Luke 1:46-49).

How true it is!

Like Mary, we must find our source of identity, fulfillment, and love in the Lord our God. Otherwise, we will be deeply disappointed and constantly find ourselves let down and longing for the “next best thing.” That “next best thing” will never come, though (or will never last, at least), because God alone can meet our deepest longings and satisfy our greatest needs. Most perfectly and sacrificially, He did so in and through the death and resurrection of His One and Only Son. Now, if you surrender your life to Jesus, you can and will experience the greatest of all gifts – enduring love.

Jesus alone made such love possible, and only when we find our hope, joy, and peace in Him, will we find ourselves continually satisfied and fulfilled. Most importantly, only then will we be made right with God and be able to rejoice like Mary did.

May the Lord help us to say with all sincerity, “All I want for Christmas is to know and experience the love of Jesus and help others to know and experience the love of Jesus!”

If you have yet to experience such lasting love, will you turn to Jesus today? Learn more by checking out The Story.