Our third son, Silas, turned nine on Sunday. Like pretty much all nine-year-olds, he was pretty excited it was his birthday. He was happy to talk about it and thrilled to get some gifts, his choice of supper, and his favorite (and my favorite) dessert – cheesecake. No one who spent any amount of time with Silas this past weekend would have failed to realize it was his birthday. He was too excited to hold in that good news!
Really, is this not the way it is for all of us? I do not mean that we all love and talk about our birthdays like children do. What I mean is that we all talk about exciting, good news. If something is important to us, we are compelled to talk about that something.
So, what is important to you? What good news are you sharing with others?
If you have believed and experienced the Good News – the gospel of Jesus Christ – then you will long to talk about this Good News. Advent – the Christmas season when we Christians celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ our Savior and longingly anticipate His Second Coming – begins Sunday. Do those who know you see in you a love for the Christmas story, the gospel story? If you have placed your faith in Jesus, the answer is surely yes.
On Sunday morning, I will begin a new Advent sermon series – The Light Has Come. Jesus, of course, is the Light of the world, and He came to our dark world to bring salvation to all who turn to Him. In this series throughout December, we will be considering the Christmas story according to the gospel of John and challenging one another to respond rightly to the Light.
If you respond rightly to the Light by turning away from your sins and trusting in Him for forgiveness and eternal life, is there any better news in all the world to share with others? What would a close examination of your life tell others about your greatest convictions, commitments, and passion? Is new life – eternal life – in and through Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, at the center of top of those priorities?
Again, I sincerely believe that if you have experienced new life, the answer surely has to be yes. When you have new life in Christ, you are either passionately talking about Him, or you are convicted that you need to be talking about Him.
A week ago tonight, I returned from a great trip overseas with a couple brothers from our church and some other brothers in the area. I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with friends to visit old friends in Turkey. Praise the Lord!
One of the things all seven of us men wanted to do while we were in Turkey, was get gifts for our wives. Why? Well, not only because we love our wives but because we are grateful for their sacrifice in letting us go.
Five of us have small children at home, so our wives graciously agreeing for us to leave the country for two weeks is no small thing. And, when you realize that and are filled with gratitude, you want to give. While we did not have a lot of extra time while in the country, it seems like every little bit of extra time we did have was spent trying to figure out how we could bless our wives.
Although I do not believe I did a very good job in the gifts department, I am definitely reminded of the truth that grateful people are giving people.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be finishing my short Thanks & Giving sermon series, preaching from Exodus 35-36 on how “Gratitude Leads to Giving.”
Do you desire to give of your treasures, your time, and your talents for the glory of God? Do you long for the gospel to advance and, as a result, long to be a part of that advancement (via your treasures, your time, and your talents)? If you cannot answer those questions with an enthusiastic yes, I believe something critical is missing in your life. Only a changed heart and life – a new heart and a new life – will generate what is necessary to experience this kind of passion for God’s glory and God’s gospel.
Turn to God and to His Word today. Surrender your all to Him. Let us be grateful people who, as a result, are giving people.
There are several differences, of course, between those who know God and those who do not. God points out a very distinct difference, for example, in Malachi 3: “So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (verse 18).
SERVING AND NOT SERVING
Many claim to serve God but really just go through the motions, not really serving Him at all. What a dangerous trap that is, especially when people assume they will be counted as righteous, only to find out they are among the wicked.
When I was a teenager, for example, I considered myself to be a Christian. In fact, I considered myself to be a devout Christian. I was in church services every Sunday and Wednesday. I was actively involved with our church youth group. I read my Bible often. I prayed even more often. I talked and sang about Jesus.
I was serving God, right? No, I was not. I was not following Him and thus certainly could not be serving Him. Sure, some people may have thought I was. I even thought I was. But, everything I did was for myself. I was going through the motions in hopes of impressing girls, pleasing my parents, and getting what I wanted from God (not what God wanted from and for me).
Really, I was worshiping myself and my happiness. The lords of my heart were my pleasures and my dreams and my goals. All the while, I claimed to be a follower of Jesus and claimed to belong to Him. I did not, however, “fear God and have high regard for His name” (Malachi 3:16). Rather, I feared what others thought about me and had high regard for my own name.
Although I thought I was considered righteous by God because I was a “good person,” I was headed straight toward hell with no earthly idea.
Living in mid-Missouri, I do not often see many of the people I knew as a teenager in north central Iowa. I cannot help but wonder, though, who knew I was living a lie? Who knew I was going through the motions? How many people did I actually fool?
Of course, I cannot accurately answer those questions, but I am confident that any genuine followers of Jesus who truly knew me then surely knew I was not who I claimed to be. I wonder why no one told me, though? Why did no one challenge me with the truth? Perhaps they tried, and I just would not listen.
One who definitely did know that I was counted among the wicked and not among the righteous, was God Himself. He knew, and, thankfully, He put people in my life during my college years to reveal His Truth to me. For the first time, as a sophomore in college, I heard and understood the gospel. I turned from my sins and asked Jesus to forgive me and take over my life.
Finally, I was made right with God in and through a personal relationship with His Son.
JESUS IS THE DIFFERENCE-MAKER
The truth is that none of us is righteous. Not on our own anyway. None of us can do a single thing to make ourselves right with God. “As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one.There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
This is terrible news! And, the terrible news is for all of us.
“But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8). That is the good news.
Jesus is the difference-maker. He is the One who made a way for us to be righteous – counted righteous today and made righteous for eternity. If you have yet to experience the joy of knowing and following Him, would you consider surrendering your life to Him today? Check this out for a helpful summary of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
There are very few things I believe differently today than what I believed as a selfishly wicked teenager on my way to hell. What I do and how I do what I do with my beliefs, though, are drastically different. Not because I “have arrived” or figured out the tricks. No, I am different because Jesus is the difference-maker. Jesus has changed me.
I am no longer content to go through the motions and call that “serving God.” If and when I do go through the motions, God’s Holy Spirit convicts me to repent and follow Him faithfully. Daily I need His help, His guidance, His provision, His leadership, His grace, and His compassion.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I hope to preach on our “Great God of Compassion” from Malachi 3:13-18. I pray that I can encourage and challenge you to believe in and be changed by the Greatness of God.
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.
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?
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!
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
NOTE: Some of the pictures are cropped below but can be seen fully by clicking on the image.
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!
No doubt the vast majority of Americans are, in some way or another, celebrating Thanksgiving today. We are giving thanks for various people and various blessings, whether we talk about them while we sit around the table together, share about them through social media, or remind ourselves of them in our own hearts and minds.
When you “give thanks,” though, to whom is your thanksgiving? Sure, you might be thankful for your spouse, for your family, for your friends, etc., but towhom are you thankful?
Generally, we give thanks to someone who has done something beneficial for us. For example, on a typical evening I certainly ought to give thanks to my wife for a delicious supper, for a clean house, and for the seemingly constant care she provides for our children. All of us ought to be able to think of people not only for whom we are thankful but also to whom we give thanks.
Most importantly for followers of Jesus Christ, of course, is our thanksgiving to God. Everything good we have is from Him and for His glory.
On Thanksgiving (and always) we ought not only to say, “I am thankful for ________.” We also ought to be saying, “Thanks be to God for ________.” And, at the top of that list should be resurrection life.
Lord willing, during our worship service with Richland Baptist Church Sunday morning, I will be preaching on “The Victory of Discipleship” from Mark 16:1-8. As I have been studying this passage of Scripture this week, I cannot help but think we do not rejoice and give thanks to God nearly enough for the victory that was and is won by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
If not for this victory of discipleship, my grief over the physical death of my dad (seen in the picture above teaching my sister Steph how to cut the turkey in 2013) would be too much to bear. If not for this victory, our lives would be hopeless. If not for this victory, we would ultimately have nothing for which to be thankful.
The victory over sin and death is the most important thing that has ever happened, and so God is the most important One to whom we need to give thanks.
Is your mind set on truly seeking and thanking Him, or are you more set on yourself? Are you intent about honoring Him, or are you more concerned about getting honored?
Seems like I have heard multiple people say (and I agree completely): the more life is all about you, the more miserable you are. May the Lord help us have the right focus and the right thanksgiving!