From Legalism to Liberty

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

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

Oh, how wrong I was!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Roulette Is Not Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. DISTANCE FROM EXTENDED FAMILY

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

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

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

2. GRAVEL ROADS

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

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

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

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

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

Practice!?

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

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

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

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

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

Click HERE for some pictures of both training camps.

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

Memories in Minnesota

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Don’t Love Isolation

Our dog, Lottie, spotted a turtle walking across our driveway yesterday morning and was immediately curious. After watching the turtle slowly advance toward the house, Lottie decided to check it out for a quick sniff. Then, as the turtle remained still, Lottie proceeded to lie down and rest in the turtle’s company.

This is not unusual behavior for our golden lab. She does not love isolation but rather is always interested in the company of others – humans, other dogs, other animals, etc. While she gets plenty of alone time when the kids are at school and Marsha and I are working (and Lottie is “guarding” our front yard), she never chooses alone time when opportunities for company are available. If anyone in our family is outside, whether paying attention to Lottie or not, she will be right there. Busy doing something else? No problem – Lottie will lie next to you.

I believe we can learn a lesson from a lab here. Yes, there are times when we need to be alone, and some people need more alone time than others. Even Jesus “often withdrew to deserted places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). We ought not love isolation, though, but rather should long for the company of others. This is especially true if you are a follower of Jesus, the One who created you to live in fellowship with Him and with His church (i.e. see Hebrews 10:19-25).

Labs love to be around others. This is one of their characteristics and one of the reasons, along with their loyalty, that dogs are traditionally called “man’s best friend.”

Christ-followers love fellowship and worship with other Christ-followers. Our care and concern for one another is what proves our relationship with Jesus, as He said, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Loving others requires relationships, and good, loving relationships require time together.

Do you love being with other Christ-followers? If you are a Christ-follower, the answer can only be yes. If you are quick to answer no to that question and/or you are trying to justify your lack of desire to be around other believers on a regular basis, please examine your heart and your faith to make sure you have truly surrendered your all to the Lord.

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15), and He certainly commands our faithful commitment to a local church (i.e. see 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Ephesians 3; and again Hebrews 10:19-25).

In Matthew 16, Jesus founded the church. In Matthew 18, Jesus established the church’s authority. In Matthew 28, Jesus commissioned the church. And, throughout the book of Acts and church history since then, Jesus has grown the church through the power of His Holy Spirit, the partnership of His people, their proclamation of His gospel, their perseverence in the midst of persecution, and His continued provision in keeping His promises.

Please understand, the church was and is Jesus’ idea, not our idea, and there is no plan B. Thus, it is not possible for a genuine follower of Jesus to lack in his or her desire to be in fellowship with a local church. Sure, circumstances will arise (sickness, military deployment, temporary work requirements, etc.) when involvement becomes inconsistent, but the desire will always be there. The commitment to return will be obvious. Otherwise, saving faith is surely missing, is it not?

John made this clear when he was talking about unbelievers who proved themselves so when they were no longer involved in local fellowship with believers in the church: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).

Those who love Jesus love His church and thus love being with His church. Those who do not love the church and isolate themselves from her prove themselves to also not love Jesus.

Do not love isolation. Follow Jesus and love His church. If this is a struggle for you, pray for the Lord’s grace, mercy, and help. He desires that you walk with Him and find fulfillment in Him. The church is part of His plan for that to happen.

Learn a lesson from Lottie, and do not pursue isolation. Pursue the company of those who love Jesus and will thus love you and help you to grow closer to Him. All glory be to Christ!

To learn more about what it means to truly know and follow the Lord, please check out The Story.