Fall, here we come!

Fall has arrived, and this is my favorite part of the year because the weather is great, football is fun, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. Here are some pictures from the last couple of weeks…

We hope you are having a good start to your fall, too. Are there any ways we can pray for you? If so, please let us know. May God bless you as you seek to honor and live for Him!

Like which dog are you?

Our golden lab, Lottie, (and I assume most dogs are this way) has a certain, distinguishable walk when she is in trouble and a very different walk when she is not in trouble. She has a cowardly walk, and she has a confident walk. If she does something wrong and I yell at her, then she puts her tail between her legs and walks – almost crawls – in a hunched-over motion that communicates an overwhelming sense of fear and trepidation. When she knows all is well, though, her tail wags, and she has an energetic bounce to her step. There is a stark contrast between these two walks.

THE INITIAL APPROACH

When Lottie does slouch and cower in fear, she does so for good reason. She does so because she is in trouble, and she knows it. Rightly, she is fearful.

Similarly, when we turn to the Lord for the forgiveness of sins, we ought to come with a posture of shame and humility. We ought to fear His righteous judgment, which we all deserve. Unlike dogs, though, who likely do not feel bad for what they do wrong but more likely are fearful because they got caught, we need to recognize the tragedy of our sin and the resulting brokenness of our relationship with God.

Thus, our initial approach to the Lord our God should be one of shame and humility. While that posture, to some extent, should continue throughout our lives – regularly turning to the Lord in repentance and crying out to Him for forgiveness – there is indeed a difference in our posture when our hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit.

THE CONTINUED CONFIDENCE

When we surrender our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, asking Him to forgive us and restore us into a right relationship with God, our hearts are changed. We receive His promised Holy Spirit and the guilt and shame are taken away. Yes, we still must repent and turn to Him in humility every single day, but the condemnation is gone. For that reason, there is a difference in our continued posture before our holy God.

Yes, we are still sinners. Yes, we still deserve God’s judgment and wrath. Yet, our faith in Jesus Christ makes possible a confidence in our relationship with God because His sacrifice satisfies that deserved judgment, and His resurrection assures our eternal victory.

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering” (Romans 8:1-3).

When our dog goes from a cowering posture to a confident posture, she does so because she knows all is right. She is no longer in trouble. She no longer fears my judgment and wrath. She is like a completely different dog. A fearful dog looks and behaves much different than a confident dog.

Like which dog are you?

Yes, we should always walk in humility and in the fear of the Lord. Yet, we can also walk in confident assurance because of Christ and through Christ. If we have turned to Him in repentance and faith, we can have a completely different posture than we had before.

Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Hebrews 4:16).

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 4:14-5:10 on how “Jesus Offers Better Forgiveness.” Only forgiveness found in and through Christ allows you to “approach the throne of grace with boldness.” Only His forgiveness is superior and enough to make you right with God, and only His forgiveness will enable you to walk with an energetic assurance that points people to Him.

Let us have humility and confidence because of who we are in Christ.

To approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, you must have a right relationship with Him. If you are not sure you have experienced that yet, will you check out The Story?

The Best Rest

Rest is a good thing. We all appreciate rest and are grateful when we feel rested. No one ever says, “I wish I was more tired.” Truly, rest is a gift from God, and we were created to need rest. Even God, who does not need rest, rested on the seventh day after creating the universe in six days (see Genesis 1:1 – 2:3). God rested in order to model for us the gift and blessing of rest. Praise the Lord for rest!

REST MAKES LIFE BETTER

Life is always better with rest, is it not? Without enough sleep and rest, my children are crabby (and so am I). Without enough rest, we get tired. Without enough rest, we struggle to focus. Without enough rest, we are more forgetful. Without enough rest, we make more mistakes.

You ever wake up refreshed and energized in the morning after a great night of sleep? If/when that happens, you feel so much better about the day ahead of you, right? I sure do.

Rested, we are much more equipped to handle the ups and downs of life. Children are better behaved when rested (as long as hyperactivity does not take over – so let us not confuse rest with laziness or lack-of-activity). Parents are more patient when rested. Employees are more productive when rested. Leaders are wiser when rested. Athletes are more successful when rested. The list could go on and on. Rest makes life better.

REST MAKES LIFE MEANINGFUL

When you understand and experience your need for rest, life is more meaningful. In other words, if you are busy and working hard, you cherish the rest you get. Needed and earned rest makes life meaningful. Those who are lazy and lethargic, on the other hand, will not appreciate rest because they will not understand their need for it nearly as much.

Crawling into bed after a hard day’s work, though, feels great. Resting on a day off after a productive week of work is rewarding. Resting with your family after getting your to-do list done (or most of the important things done) is refreshing. Rest makes life meaningful because it reminds us that we were created to work and then to rest. We need both.

JESUS OFFERS BETTER REST

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will preach through Hebrews 4:1-13 and discuss how “Jesus Offers Better Rest.” You see, in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ, you can experience purposeful rest now and have great assurance in perfect rest for eternity.

Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us fear that none of you should miss it... for we who have believed enter the rest” (Hebrews 4:1…3).

Only Jesus offers the superior rest – the rest that comes with great purpose and hope now and the rest that perfectly endures for eternity. None of us, sinners who have earned God’s judgment, deserve this rest, but this rest is freely given to all who surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. What a gift!

PURSUE THIS REST

In my Sunday morning message, I will discuss how we can (and should) pursue this kind of rest. Simply put, though, we must recognize that we cannot earn it but rather must receive it by trusting in Christ’s substitutionary death for our forgiveness and resurrection from the dead for our salvation. Only as His Spirit changes our hearts and lives can we experience the ultimate rest He offers. Then, we will work hard to live for Him, serve others, and build up His church, resulting in God’s great, fulfilling design for us – satisfactory rest with comfort and assurance now and hope for eternity.

Are you pursing this rest? Are you pursuing Jesus?

If you want to experience the superior rest that only Jesus can offer but are unsure where to begin, please check out The Story.

The Best Leader

I have known a lot of great leaders and am thankful for how God has used leaders to sharpen, encourage, and shape me. Because I know I would fail to mention someone(s), I am not going to start listing all the great leaders who have influenced my life. If you read the Bible, though, you know that Moses was an incredible leader used by God to impact millions of lives (and eventually billions of lives).

Moses, though, was really pointing to someone better. He was one of the best leaders in human history because of Whom He followed. In fact, Moses prepared the way for the Ultimate Leader when he said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to Him” (Deuteronomy 18:15).

You will not often hear successful leaders with an incredibly large following tell you to listen to someone else, and especially someone else who has yet to come. Yet, that is exactly what Moses did. Moses was constantly pointing people to the Word of God, and Moses knew a much better leader was still to come.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will preach on why “Jesus Is the Better Moses” (Hebrews 3). Jesus is better than Moses and better than every other leader in human history because He is not only a man but also the Son of God.

In my message, I hope to communicate our need to submit to Jesus’ authority over our lives and share why He is superior to all leaders for all time. Then, with that being the case, what is our necessary response?

Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. For we have become companions of the Messiah if we hold firmly until the end the reality that we had at the start” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

For you to be one of His companions, though, you must first come to know Him. If you have not yet surrendered your life to Him (or are unsure), would you click the picture below to learn more?

We are all leaders of someone(s). Let us lead well by leading others to the best Leader.

Lead well by leading people to the best Leader – Jesus Christ our Lord. Of course, this must start with surrendering your all to Him and continue with an ongoing commitment to His Word, to His church, and to His mission.

The Better Brother

Like me as a child and like me still today, my children are far from perfect. One of the things that frustrates me most as a dad is probably one of the same things that frustrated my parents most when I was growing up – when an older brother teases his sibling(s). Marsha and I tell Noah and Levi often what we expect of them as the oldest brothers who have professed faith in Jesus Christ. They are to set an example and be kind to their siblings. Sometimes they do well. Sometimes they sin. They are just like I am.

No doubt, though, things go much better in the home when big brothers are kind and helpful. I am sure that was the case when I was growing up, too, although I rarely recall moments of kindness and helpfulness coming from me. As a prideful, foolish teenager, I was anything but the good brother my two sisters needed me to be. I pray I am and will do better now, but what a wasted opportunity from my childhood! I blew it.

Thankfully, my sisters still love me, and my parents did not send me off to some far-away military school (though my dad did threaten that at least a time or two).

There are countless stories of big brothers who have had incredible impacts on their siblings, whether it is because they helped raise them, provided for them, protected them, set great examples for them, and/or continuously encouraged them. Everyone wants to have that kind of brother.

Even I, as the only boy and the oldest brother, often wished I had a brother. What I did not have biologically, though, I did have spiritually, particularly when I was in college. Furthermore, I continue to have such men in my life – men who set godly examples, lead well, and encourage me greatly.

JESUS IS SUPERIOR

What we all long for in a big brother, Jesus is (and so much more). On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will continue our sermon series through Hebrews – “The Journey of Faith” – and preach through chapter 2 on how “Jesus Is the Better Brother.” He is the One who does everything we could ever want and need a brother to do – He pursues, provides, promises, performs, and purifies.

Jesus set the example of how we are to live. Jesus provides for our needs and builds us up. Jesus sacrificed His life and took the punishment we deserved when He died on the cross for our sins. Jesus won the victory over Satan, sin, and death. Jesus brings us to the Father when we trust in Him. Jesus changes our hearts and lives. Jesus never leaves us nor forsakes us. Jesus is the only One who can do all of this. He is the better Brother. Jesus is superior.

WE NEED TO BE BETTER

While none of us is Jesus, we can and must be better. We do so not by thinking we can be Him but rather by turning to Him. As He changes us from the inside out, He helps us do better in obeying His Word. He does indeed make us more like Himself, helping us to love the Lord our God with all that we are and love others as we love ourselves. Let us be better by asking Jesus to change us. Let us be better by asking others to hold us accountable. Let us be better by recognizing that God’s Word is the standard for how we are to live. Let us be better by being in the Word, serving in our church, and being disciples who make disciples.

We have not yet arrived. We need to be better. Lord, help us!

Right before leaving for their first day of school on Tuesday, the kids were kind enough to let us take some pictures of them. Surprisingly, one take was enough. Yahtzee!

Angels Didn’t Save My Dad

Six years ago yesterday, my dad lost his physical battle with cancer. Active and healthy prior to his diagnosis, my dad was only 57 years old when he died. I still miss him a lot.

Often, when people think of death and heaven, they think of angels. They might talk about guardian angels or heavenly angels. Really, though, angels are very limited in their power, as they are messengers of God who are sent to do as God calls them to do. Their power is limited to God’s will and God’s purposes for them, and so we are not to pray to angels or worship angels or even trust in angels. Rather, we are to seek the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in Him. In fact, “All God’s angels must worship Him” (Hebrews 1:6).

When my dad was dying of cancer, could God have sent His angels to comfort my dad? Sure. Angels could have ministered to my dad in various ways, but they could not and did not save my dad – not from physical death caused by cancer nor from eternal death caused by the curse of sin.

Only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus is God in the flesh. Only Jesus could take our sin upon Himself, die in our place, satisfy the wrath of God that we deserve, and rise again to defeat sin and death.

Jesus Is Better than Angels.” That is the message, Lord willing, I will be preaching on Sunday morning from Hebrews 1, hoping to share some unique truths about Jesus that make Him (and Him alone) worthy of worship.

Thankfully, a couple of years before my dad lost his physical life to cancer, he received eternal life when he professed his faith in Jesus Christ. One of my life’s greatest privileges was getting to baptize my dad at his and my mom’s then-home-church – First Baptist Church of Marshalltown, Iowa – in December 2012.

Angels did not save my dad. Jesus did.

Whom are you trusting to give you hope, life, and a right standing with God? Jesus alone can do all three, so please look to Him today and every day.

One of the many things I miss most about my dad is how great he was with our kids. They LOVED playing with Grandpa Robbie, just like Silas was playing the “handcuff game” in this picture, which was taken on December 8, 2012.

Because of Faith, Not Politics

When I became a Christian during my sophomore year of college, a lot of things changed in my life – praise be to God! About a year after trusting in Jesus, I began to think a lot about the kind of woman I would want to marry and began to desire getting married, particularly after I met and got to know my amazing wife-to-be. Truly, of all the things I wanted most in a future wife, genuine faith in Jesus Christ was the most important. Growing Christian faith was a non-negotiable for me, as I had no desire to marry someone who did not believe what I believed and was not committed to following Jesus.

Do you know what never even entered the equation? Politics. Never once did I consider political parties or voting history when having the initial conversations I had with Marsha about our future.

Yes, there are certainly plenty of times when faith and politics intersect, but because Marsha and I both desire to follow Jesus and live according to His Word, we completely agree on those “political” issues that are what we believe to be important (i.e. protecting the lives of the unborn, preserving traditional marriage and the family, religious liberty, caring for the vulnerable, etc.).

Are you Democrat, Republican, or Independent?“, though, was never a question we asked one another. Foreign and economic policy are not issues we discussed, not because I did not or do not enjoy talking about politics. I do enjoy it.

Faith, not politics, though, is the foundation of our unity, and I praise God for Marsha’s enduring faith in Him. I want to plead with you too, Christ-follower, to make sure faith, not politics is your reason for unity… our reason for unity.

Faith in Jesus, not politics, transcends culture and religion to form a foundation that cannot be shaken (by the grace, mercy, and power of God).

Faith in Jesus, not politics, creates a unity that is eternal (when our hearts are set on Him and not giving in to sinful temptation and division).

Faith in Jesus, not politics, is our source of hope and peace (if we have trusted the gospel).

Faith in Jesus, not politics, is our reason for joy and contentment (as we continue to trust in the gospel).

Faith in Jesus, not politics, is what unites and sustains a biblical church.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I am going to finish our short “political” sermon series – The Red and The Blue – and preach through 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 on “Unity in Jesus, Not in Politics.” Unity in Jesus is unity we ought to long for and unity we ought to sincerely seek.

How about you? Is Christian unity something you value and prioritize? Or, are you allowing lesser things to control your time and energy? Do not settle for less than Jesus has for you. Trust and follow Him, and let faith, not politics (or anything else), be your foundational source of unity.

If you find yourself unsure of whether or not you have the saving faith that is necessary for Christian unity, will you check out THE STORY?

Family Idolatry

I love my family! Over the past six weeks, we have had the great pleasure of going on vacation with Marsha’s side of the family one week and with my side of the family another week. Both vacations were a blast, and I praise God for them (and more importantly, for family).

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing our short sermon series – The Red and The Blue – preaching through Psalm 146 and challenging those listening to be careful not to make politics an idol. The same can be said about anything, though, including family. Idolatry consists of placing anything or anyone other than God on the throne of your heart. Bad, evil things can be idolized, but so can good things. Please realize – this does not mean that, in order to avoid idolatry of family, for example, we ignore or neglect our families. That would clearly be sinful and dishonoring God and His Word (i.e. see 1 Timothy 5:8). Rather, what this means is that we should not ignore or neglect God and our relationship with Him in order to prioritize as ultimate (worship) someone or something else. That is idolatry.

Of all the things in this world that I am probably most tempted to idolize, family – along with my own selfish comfort and security – is probably at the top of the list. Whether you are like me or not, there are certainly things you too are tempted to put before God. Thus, you can replace the word “family” with anything that might be a temptation for you. To keep with the theme of family, though, I am going to ask you (and myself) some questions to consider if you are making an idol of your family…

1. DO YOU NEGLECT TIME WITH GOD AND BLAME FAMILY?

We prioritize what we believe to be important. Are you prioritizing daily time with God in His Word and in prayer? If you believe your relationship with God is important, you will surely prioritize seeking Him and learning better how to follow Him, right? Do not hide behind your family and blame them for a failure to commit yourself to God and His Word. Make time for what is important.

I used to get up at 6:00 or 6:30 each morning to spend time reading my Bible and praying. Typically, though, at least one of my kids was getting up by 6:15 or 6:30, and I found myself getting annoyed by their distractions, even losing my patience with them while reading my Bible. What a sad, ironic contradiction for me to lose it with my kids while claiming to seek after God. Pathetic, really. So, I decided to change my routine and get up at 5:30 each morning. Now, I typically get an hour of uninterrupted time with the Lord before any of my kids are awake, not to mention they are old enough now that they distract me less in the early hours of the morning. This change, although hard at first, has been well worth it.

Let not your family be an excuse for neglecting daily time with God. Make time for what is important.

2. DO YOU LOOK TO FAMILY BEFORE GOD WHEN YOU ARE HURTING?

Whether it be discouragement, sorrow, physical suffering, or all of the above, do you cry out to God first, or is family your default for hope and comfort? Do not get me wrong – we certainly do need one another, and we are called to bear one another’s burdens. We certainly should pray for one another and ask for help when we are down, but not in place of giving our worries and cares to God. He must always be the One we turn to first and turn to continually, even while also turning to one another. Yet, so often we might be tempted to turn to the Lord only after all other options have failed us. He is the only One who never fails, though. Seek Him first.

3. DO YOU “VENT” TO FAMILY RATHER THAN PRAYING TO GOD?

Gossip is a temptation for all of us, I believe, but gossip is a sin, even if we call it “venting.” Simply put, gossip is saying behind someone’s back what you would not say and have not said to that person’s face. Instead of gossiping about someone when you are frustrated, what if you brought your concerns to God in prayer? You will not be gossiping then (He already knows everything), and God can use your prayers to bring about healing, including healing in your own heart toward people with whom you might be upset.

When you “vent” to your family rather than go to the Lord, you are pushing the Lord off the throne of your heart and falling into the trap of prideful idolatry. Beware and ask for God’s help. He knows we all need it.

4. DO YOU NEGLECT ACTIVE CHURCH COMMITMENT UNDER THE LIE OF COMMITMENT TO FAMILY?

I say “the lie of commitment to family” because for a self-professing Christian to claim commitment to family while not being faithful to the local church is a lie from the pits of hell. The best way we can be committed to family so that they are loved now and impacted for eternity is to put God first. And, putting God first includes prioritizing active church membership and service (see 1 Corinthians 12; 1 John 2:19; Romans 12; Philippians 2:1-11; Hebrews 10:23-25; Ephesians 4; the Book of Acts; etc.).

Yet, so often people neglect the local church to “spend time with family.” Why not do both? Serve God’s church with your family. Attend worship services with your family. Set a godly example for unbelieving family members by being faithful to your church. No one ever regrets faithful church involvement because God created us to need one another, serve one another, worship alongside one another, and grow together.

Love your family by loving God and loving His church.

5. DO YOU MOST LONG FOR YOUR FAMILY TO BE PLEASED WITH YOU?

Whose approval do you most treasure? If God’s approval is not the answer, then you have not (or are not) surrendering to His Lordship over your life. His honor and glory are what matter above all else, so why would we ever dare seek another’s approval above His?

Let us declare with the Psalmist, “Hallelujah! My soul, praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 146:1-2). This will only happen, though, if you desire to serve and please Him above all else. And, that desire only comes when He changes your heart and life forever through the transformational truth of the gospel. Has He changed you? Are you seeking to bring glory to Him above all?

Again, I want to be clear – love your family! Take care of your family. Spend time with your family. Serve your family. Just do not idolize your family (or anything else). Include your family in your commitment to God and His church.

I sure do love my family and pray for them daily. Here are a few more pictures of our time together last week…

Fun with Family

We have had a great time with family in Illinois this week. I love my job and can think of no other job that I would want more. But, I am beyond grateful to the Lord for vacation, as it allows me to spend uninterrupted time with family that I never get otherwise. Praise the Lord for my church and for my family!

Prioritizing Worship

A few weeks ago, a couple of our kids gained a sudden passion for drawing. While they have certainly drawn pictures many times before, this was an interest at a whole new level. Multiple times each day, they would be drawing various pictures, asking for ideas, requesting more drawing notebooks, showing off their work, and having a lot of fun. In the current age of so much digital entertainment, this desire to draw with a pencil is quite refreshing to me.

Now, I am unsure how long this new hobby will last, but it is a reminder to me that, when we are passionate about something, we prioritize that passion. Even when outside on a beautiful day (like in the above picture), we would find our kids drawing. Proof of interest is seen through actions.

WORSHIP IS A LIFESTYLE

Our relationship with God is no different. If we sincerely love Him and want to know Him more, then we prioritize our relationship with Him. We seek Him through His Word, walk with Him in prayer, and talk about Him with others. Simply put – we worship Him. Followers of God are worshipers of God.

And, worship is a lifestyle. We who know God worship Him not just on Sundays with our church family but every day as individuals, as families, and as friends. We worship Him not just in good times but also in the difficult times. We worship Him not just when thinking about His love but also when thinking about His justice.

Unlike other hobbies and interests, though, the worship of God by a true believer of God never goes away. Sure, there are times in our sinfulness that we might struggle and times when we stray from the path on which we are called to walk, but we will never abandon worship like a hobby in which we no longer are interested. Those who do abandon the worship of God (whether privately or publicly) prove their supposed faith to be illegitimate. The Apostle John made this clear when talking to believers about those who are no longer involved with a 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).

WORSHIP IS A PASSION

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will finish our sermon series through Micah – Walk Humbly. I plan to preach through Micah 7 and share two reasons God alone is worthy of worship. He is always worthy, whether we feel like worship or not and whether we recognize and understand His worth or not.

Everyone worships. We worship that about which we are passionate. Who or what are you worshiping? Sometimes people worship evil things like false gods, drugs, alcohol, pride, selfishness, etc. Sometimes, people even worship good things like family, careers, sports, hobbies, etc. When a good thing becomes a god thing, though, it becomes an evil thing.

Sure, you might be passionate about a lot of good things, and that is okay. If that passion surpasses your passion for knowing and following (and worshiping) God, though, you will never be satisfied. You will always long for something more, something better. Only Jesus can fulfill our hearts and satisfy our souls, as we were created to worship Him with our greatest passion and commitment. Anything less will leave us empty.

What about you? Do you desire to worship God? Do you prioritize worship – both as an individual Christian (through prayer, Bible study, discipleship, evangelism, etc.) and also as a faithful member of a local church? If not, what needs to change in your life so that right worship – the worship of the Lord our God as a daily lifestyle – is prioritized?

To sincerely worship God with all your heart, you must follow Him with all your heart. Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? If not, would you consider watching this short film and turning to Him today? Please let us know how we can pray for you.