Where’s the honor?

One week ago, we brought home the newest member of the Drake family – a two-week-old Golden Labrador we named Lottie. Having grown up with labradors, I knew it would not take me long to fall in love with little Lottie. It has not taken Marsha and our kids long either.

One thing I love about Lottie, and I think most people love about dogs, is how excited she is to see me when I greet her after being away from her. For example, when I walk into our garage at 5:30 in the morning and wake her up, she is thrilled to see me and seemingly happy to be awakened. Then, as I go for a walk outside, she follows me around, not even needing a leash (not yet, at least).

Lottie makes me feel honored, in a way. Granted, I am not honored if and when I have to clean up her poop, but I am honored by her sincere excitement and loyalty.

PUPPY LOVE WILL NOT DO

While some might be tempted to think, though, “I’ll honor God like my dog honors me,” puppy love will not do. Sure, Lottie shows me a great deal of love and affection, but she would do the same thing if another owner came along and took her for a walk in the morning. Puppy love, at its core, is shallow and immature. Yes, it can be a blessing in some ways, but God deserves so much more than just puppy love.

God is our “great King” (Malachi 1:14), and He is worthy of all of our praise and devotion. He does not share that honor and glory with another, as He is the only One who is worthy of such honor.

Dogs are great at honoring and showing love, but their honor and love can be misguided, not to mention pluralistic. We can learn something from dogs about unconditionally loving people, but we ought not model our love for God after our dogs’ love for us.

Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Dogs are good at loving their neighbors (i.e. their masters) as themselves. Let us do better at loving one another and loving those around us. God, though, deserves much more love and much more honor. Let us love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds. Otherwise, we dishonor Him.

DISHONOR IS DEVASTATING

As God made clear in Malachi 1:6-14, anything less than complete devotion to God is equal to despising God. Then, as you can read in chapter 2 – from where I will preach, Lord willing, Sunday morning – the result of that dishonor and despising is devastating.

If you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart to honor My name,” says the Lord of Hosts, “I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings. In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart” (Malachi 2:2).

What is more devastating than being cursed by God? If you only love your God as much as your puppy loves you, God’s curse is your promise. Do not settle for puppy love. Give God and God alone your everything.

EXAMINE YOUR HEART

We would all do well to sincerely ask ourselves, “Am I honoring God with my life? Is He truly glorified through my attitude, words and actions?” Where is the honor?

If you lack the desire to honor God above all, perhaps you have yet to fully surrender your life to Him. He sent His Son Jesus to make a way for you to be right with Him now and for eternity.

If you have truly turned from your sins and surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, still continue to challenge yourself each day to consider if you are truly honoring Him. Make sure you have a church family and some reliable Christian friends holding you accountable.

Puppies are cute, and puppy love can be adorable, but puppies and puppy love do not save us from sin or enable us to endure. Seek God through His Word, be committed to His church, and be faithful to His mission.

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Don’t Ask Dumb Questions

Have you ever asked God, like the Israelites did in Malachi’s time, “How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). Even if you have not verbally spoken those words to God, surely you have at least thought them. We all have our moments of weakness, discouragement, selfishness, and foolishness. And, in those moments, we tend to lose sight of the big picture, if not lose sight of the truth itself.

THERE ARE STUPID QUESTIONS

We have all heard people say that there are no stupid questions, but that is not true. There are stupid questions – questions of foolishness. “God, how have you loved us?” is an example of a stupid question. In fact, is there a more foolish question than this?

Stupid questions are questions that, by intention, fail to recognize and/or remember Truth and rather attempt to justify our own shortcomings. Israel, for example, was an ungrateful people in Malachi’s time, often failing to remember God’s amazing love for them and instead, complaining about their circumstances. They forgot what God delivered them from, and they were instead focused on always wanting more.

Their question was filled with foolishness, much like a child who might ask his mother after not getting what he wants, “Don’t you love me?” Stupid question, whether we want to use such descriptives or not.

GOD’S LOVE IS UNDENIABLE

We would run out of time – run out of physical life – trying name all the ways God has proven His love for us. I will not even try to accomplish such a huge task. Instead, I want to briefly talk about one such proof – Vacation Bible School (VBS).

Our church had our annual VBS a couple weeks ago, and there are few pictures of God’s great love that are clearer than VBS. There are several reasons why VBS is so special, but I will stick to three… three reasons VBS is a great example of God’s undeniable love.

1. VOLUNTEERS SERVING

VBS is impossible without volunteers, and our church had more than 40 volunteers who served this year. Wow! Many of these volunteers showed up to our church facilities after a full day of work to then work for three more hours at VBS. And, let us be clear – VBS is work! VBS is hard work. VBS is exhausting and often overwhelming, but VBS is worth it. That is why so many volunteers serve.

God loves us and loves our children through volunteers who sacrifice their time, their energy, their resources, and even, at times, their happiness for the sake of serving others during VBS. God loves us through His church, and His church does amazing things during VBS.

2. CHILDREN RESPONDING

Children are a blessing from the Lord, even when they do not behave like blessings from the Lord. Oh, what a joy it is, though, when children respond to the gospel message during VBS (or any time)! If we know and follow Jesus, surely we must agree with the Apostle John: “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).

That joy is true of our biological children and our spiritual children – those with whom we have the privilege of discipling and encouraging in “the truth.” What a great picture of God’s love when children respond to Him.

In their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for their sake – that they get to know and follow God. In their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for our sake – that we get to be a part of their journey. And, in their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for His sake – that He loves people enough to draw them to Himself.

Praise the Lord! God loves us by loving our children and opening their hearts to the truth about Jesus.

3. JESUS SAVING

None of this would matter – VBS, volunteers serving, or children responding – if not for the ultimate picture of God’s love: Jesus saving (saving people from sin and eternal death). We have VBS because Jesus saves. We prioritize VBS because Jesus saves. We exist as a church only because Jesus saves. Volunteers serve but not in vain because Jesus saves. And, children would have no reason to respond if not for the truth that Jesus saves.

How has God loved us?

God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8) If you have yet to experience this love, would you surrender your life to Jesus today?

Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series – The Greatness of God – through the book of Malachi. And, as is the point of this post, I will be talking about our “Great God of Love” (Malachi 1:1-5). Do you realize and rejoice in God’s great love for you?

VBS Children Performing One of the VBS Songs during Our Sunday Morning Service on July 28th

July was a fun month!

August is already here, and it feels like July never even existed. Busy as usual, July was a fun month with a lot of family events and church activities. Praise God for His kindness toward our family and our church!

COX FAMILY VACATION

We had a great time, as always, with Marsha’s family during the first week of July. For the third straight year, we spent our extended family vacation at Windermere Christian Camp outside Roach, Missouri. With 17 kids and 10 adults, this vacation is never dull. We love spending time with Marsha’s family – swimming, playing basketball, cliff jumping, hiking, playing games, doing the ropes course, playing archery tag, visiting, and just hanging out.

Below are some highlights via pictures, and you can see more by clicking HERE. The pictures below can be seen in full by clicking on them.

CHURCH AND DAILY LIFE

Below are some more pictures, but to see some more highlights from Vacation Bible School, click HERE.

Your Reputation Matters

We had Vacation Bible School with our church family this week, and dozens of parents and grandparents dropped off their children or grandchildren for three hours each evening, trusting that the children would be cared for and loved. Why such trust? In most cases, the trust was a result of relationships with one, if not many, of our volunteers working with the children. In other cases, there was a general trust in the church and the proven VBS program.

Simply put, reputation matters. This is true for us as individuals, and this is true for the church. This is true for everyone.

If our church or individuals in our church had a bad reputation in our community, who would trust us to teach and serve their children? Rightly so, most would not.

On Sunday morning during our VBS family celebration and worship service, Lord willing, I will be preaching through the short letter of 3 John and talking about the “Proof from Reputation” for genuine Christian faith. I hope to challenge people to ask themselves three questions for self-examination regarding personal character and reputation. The message, along with others in the series, will be available Sunday afternoon HERE.

In the meantime, I want to encourage you to consider three requirements of a godly reputation.

1. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES TRUTH

Truth is essential when it comes to reputation. By this, I do not mean that everyone knows the truth about you, although that certainly affects your reputation. What I mean, and what John made clear in his letter, is that your understanding and commitment to the Truth are critical.

We must be “faithful to the truth” and “walk in the truth” (3 John 3-4) in order to be people of godly character, resulting in godly reputations. How? Well, only by God’s help “because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2). That “truth that remains in us” is the Spirit of Truth when we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, resulting in faithfulness to the Word of Truth.

Have you ever met someone who is faithful to God’s Word but does not have a godly reputation? No such person exists because someone who faithfully obeys the Word of Truth will be proven to be a person of character and integrity. A godly reputation requires Truth.

2. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES LOVE

John wrote a lot about love in his three letters. He was certainly an expert, or as close to an expert as a human can be, for he was, after all, the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” John experienced God’s love in and through Jesus Christ, and he embraced Jesus’ command that we love God and love others. John knew love was essential for genuine Christian faith and likewise essential for a godly reputation.

Specifically in 3 John, there is an emphasis on the commitment to the mission of the church that demonstrates sincere love for God and others. If you truly love God, you will be committed to His mission. And, if you are committed to His mission, you will love and serve others; you will love and serve His church; you will long for others to experience the love of God through Christ Jesus.

Gaius and Demetrius are great examples of this in 3 John. Gaius, for example, was showing his faith by supporting Christian missionaries, including those he did not even know (verse 5). In other words, Gaius’s love for God was proven in his commitment to God’s mission, and his commitment to God’s mission was proven in his love for others in God’s church.

What was the result? A godly reputation. Have you ever heard of someone known to not be loving and yet known for a godly reputation? Of course not. A godly reputation requires love.

3. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES GOODNESS

Are you known for your kindness and goodness toward others? This goes along with the love John mentioned earlier in the letter but is more about the visibility of love. Whereas the love is ultimately an issue of the heart, the goodness is about your actions, particularly those actions seen by others.

John shared a few contrasting examples in the letter, and in all three examples, it was each individual’s reputation that was proof of his goodness. Furthermore, goodness is proof of faith.

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11).

While people can “fake it” for a while and sadly deceive others, the truth eventually comes to light. And, most importantly, God knows the truth. He knows our real reputations because He knows our hearts. He knows if we are doing what is good or doing what is evil. Others will know and see this, too, though, which is why there is ultimately proof from reputation of genuine Christian faith.

If you were to sincerely examine your own heart and life right now, can you see faithfulness to the Truth of God’s Word, a love for God’s mission, and a desire for good, not evil? If not (if any of those three proofs are missing, would you humbly ask God for His help? Would you willingly surrender everything to Him? Only a new life can bring about such radical change.

The amazing volunteers of Richland Baptist Church exemplified godly character and sacrificial service this week, and I praise God for them! They are the reason so many parents and grandparents gladly dropped off so many kids each night and why those kids wanted to keep coming back. Thank you, Richland Baptist Family!

These are most of the kindergartners Marsha and my mom had the pleasure of teaching and leading this week in VBS.

Guatemala Highlights

Noah and Levi had the great privilege of going on a mission trip to Guatemala earlier this month with Marsha’s parents and eleven other members of our church family. Below are some of their highlights.

NOAH’S TESTIMONY OF FAITH

You can also listen to Noah’s quick testimony about the trip that he shared with our church family by clicking HERE.

LEVI’S TESTIMONY OF FAITH

PICTURE MEMORIES

NOTE: Some of the pictures are cropped below but can be seen fully by clicking on the image.

THANK YOU

A huge thank you to our church family and others who supported Noah and Levi through prayer, encouragement and financial assistance! This mission trip was obviously a life-changing experience of which they are beyond grateful to have been a part. Thanks be to God!

Change Required

It is that time of year when we are trying to keep up with all the flowers around our house – watering them, pruning, deadheading, keeping the weeds away, yelling at the rabbits who keep eating the flowers, etc. Zoe (above), for example, is pretty proud of her potted flower on our back deck and has been very diligent about making sure it is well-watered and growing.

If a plant has life, the plant will grow. Yes, flowers need pruning and deadheading at times, but they prove they have ongoing life by their petals and their color and their beauty. A dying plant, on the other hand, withers and wastes away.

CHRISTIANS ARE CHANGED

The Christian life is relatable to plant life, as Jesus explained very clearly in John 15:1-8. Plants are dependent on good soil, sunshine and water to survive. Christians are dependent on God and one another.

And, when someone comes to know Jesus Christ, God gives that person new life. That life is never the same again but rather is in a constant state of change. The ongoing change is what proves God has saved that person from sin and death.

When a flower blooms, it proves it has life. When a tree grows beautiful green leaves, it proves it is getting the nutrients it needs. When a bush grows and needs to be trimmed, it proves it is healthy.

When a Christian continues to change – drawing closer to God with an increasing desire to live for Him and serve others, the Christian proves He belongs to God. Rather, God proves through the changing life of that individual the legitimacy of that person’s faith.

GOD AND CHURCH

When a plant is thirsty, it begins to wither, but when it gets the water and sunshine it needs, it begins to flourish again. Similarly, when a Christian is failing to walk in complete dependence on God and failing to remain in fellowship with God’s church, he begins to wither. He needs God. He needs the church.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I plan to preach through 1 John 4:7-21 on the “Proof of God” in the life of a Christian. What are the life-evident proofs that someone “has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). “This is how we know…” is a phrase that is all over 1 John, and so there are constant reminders of the proof seen in and through the life of those who know Jesus.

You can listen to that message (Sunday afternoon) and previous messages from this sermon series HERE. More importantly, though, I want to encourage you to consider and examine your life. Is there ongoing spiritual fruit growing and proving your faith in God to be legitimate? If not, what needs to change?

Genuine followers of Jesus love God and love others, longing to walk closely with the Lord, serve the church and make disciples.

EVIDENCE OF CHANGE

With Richland Baptist Church, we say, “Our passion is the gospel. Our church is our family. Our world is our mission.” And, we try to remind one another often that all three of those go together. They are not mutually exclusive. Either all three are evident in the life of a Christ-follower, or none is evident.

When God changes a life for eternity, evidence of that change is a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ, a longing to be actively involved with a church family, and a growing commitment to live a life on mission. Someone who knows and embraces the gospel loves the church and wants others to know and embrace the gospel, too. Period.

Gospel. Family. Mission. Are any of those evidences of change missing in your life? If so, very likely all three are missing, and if that is the case, God can change your life forever and give you the evidence of change if you will simply surrender everything to Him.

Photo by Hoang Le on Pexels.com

The Impact of Knowledge on Trust

No, Pack, No

If you were to walk up to my house one day and find one of my children outside wearing a cheesehead and an Aaron Rodgers jersey and chanting “Go, Pack, Go!,” you would be extremely surprised, if not shocked. Why? Well, because you know the Drake family better than that, right?

What if, though, said child proceeded to tell you, “My dad told me to do this. I’m cheering for the Packers because my dad said I had to.”? Surely, you would not believe what you just heard. You know I am a Minnesota Vikings fan and would never cheer for the Packers (unless a Packers’ victory somehow helped the Vikings), let alone ask or require my children to cheer for the Packers (or Bears or Lions).

You see, your knowledge of me would lead you to believe something just is not right with this scenario. Because you know about my unfortunate loyalty to the Vikings, you trust that I would not allow my children to chant and cheer for the Packers (or Bears or Lions) while still under my authority. Such horrendous things are forbidden in my house.

Understanding Required

Knowledge impacts trust. The more you know someone, the more you are able to trust him (or, the less you trust him if he proves unworthy of your trust). In fact, there are obviously many situations in which wisdom requires knowledge before trust. For example, you would never trust people to care for your children without knowing who they are. Trusting a random person with your children would not be wise.

While there are exceptions, many a fool has been made because of “blind faith.” Would you trust just any person with your money and investments? Of course not. “I don’t know you and realize that you don’t work for a bank or investment company, but here’s my life savings. Would you please do what you think is best with it?” said no one ever.

Understanding is required for proper trust. You cannot possibly trust with sincerity what you do not know in truth.

Knowing God

God is no exception, as He does not ask us to trust Him without understanding who He is. No, we cannot possibly understand Him fully, but we must understand Him some. He gave us His Word, so that we can gain a better understanding of who He is and who He created us to be.

He sent us His Son to reveal Himself to the world, so that we could truly know Him and have a right relationship with Him.

He gives His Spirit to all who know Him, so that we can experience His presence and continue to grow in our knowledge of Him.

Trusting God

And, the more we understand who He is, the more we naturally trust in Him. If you do not know who He is, though, according to the Truth of His Word, then your trust in Him will fail you. Your trust will be without a foundation. Your trust will prove to be illegitimate.

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now” (1 John 4:2-3).

Do you know and believe the right things about Jesus Christ? Only then can you sincerely trust and follow Him.

Victory

And, only those who sincerely trust and follow Jesus have eternal victory, and that victory begins the moment you turn away from your sins and surrender your life to Him.

You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Are you seeking to grow in the knowledge of Him while sincerely surrendering to Him every day? Only then will your faith continue to grow.

Photo by Wendy van Zyl from Pexels
Photo by Wendy van Zyl from Pexels

Keep up with my Sunday morning sermon series through 1 John, including this coming Sunday’s message, by clicking HERE.