Turkey Time

I love this country because I love the people, love the culture, love the food, and love the history! Over the past several days, I have really enjoyed my time here with friends. We have had some great conversations about Jesus, and we have enjoyed Turkish hospitality.

Of course, I am greatly looking forward to being reunited with my family and, Lord willing, will be on my way home when this post is published.

Still, I wanted to share some pictures from my trip…

Breakfast at the hotel in Istanbul
Turkish flag
Çamlıca (overlooking Istanbul)
Asian side of Istanbul looking to the European side
Overlooking Istanbul
My dear friend Umut
On a walk to get some Magnum bars
Sea of Marmara
Riding on a ferry in Istanbul
Crossing from the European side to the Asian side
European side of Istanbul (old city)
Coming over to the Asian side
My good friend Necdet
First Bosphorous Bridge (connecting Europe and Asia)
Muş
1100-year-old church building in Muş
Old bridge outside Muş
Night lights
Van Lake
Enjoyed visiting Akdamar Church
Akdamar Church outside Van
The church building is on an island.
The Fortress of Van
Castle entrance
This castle is around 3,000 years old.
Looking down from the castle
The castle with Van in the background

Why I pray THIS for my children…

When I pray each day for my and my family’s purity and biblical faithfulness, I often pray for my children’s future spouses. I pray that my children will walk closely with Jesus Christ and have no desire to marry someone who is not a faithful follower of Jesus. Please understand, too, that I pray this because I want for my children what God wants for my children. Unless they have the unusual gift of celibacy, my children will one day desire to be married. And, God’s desire for them is that they marry faithful Christians.

God’s Word is abundantly clear on this, as we are commanded not to marry unbelievers (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 7:39, which gives a Christian widow the freedom to remarry but only to remarry someone who is a believer – “in the Lord.”). This command, though, is not because we are better than others but rather because God knows we are not.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Ezra 910 on “Reclaimed Repentance.” The ending of Ezra provides a sobering reminder of why we must never compromise our faith in God by marrying those who do not have such faith. Sure, there are times when “things work out,” by the grace and mercy of God. What ends up happening, more often than not, however, is that when a believer marries an unbeliever, the believer ends up compromising his or her faith and betrays the Lord. That happened over and over again in Israel’s history, and it continues to happen today.

Thus, we must pray that God will protect us from such temptation. Pray this for yourself if you are single and hope to be married one day. Parents, pray this for your children. Grandparents, pray this for your grandchildren. Let us pray this for our church family and others throughout the body of Christ. Let us pray that we will be faithful to the Lord, which includes obedience to His Word. When we fail, let us pray for our hearts to be broken and for sincere repentance.

If you have come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, then you have His Holy Spirit living in you. One of the clear evidences of such a salvation and the presence of God in your life, then, is an ongoing desire to turn away from sin and draw closer to the Lord. This certainly includes – and is even much more – than our most intimate relationships.

No such desire for what I am describing above will persist in your life apart from God’s ongoing work in your heart. If you have yet to experience God’s unfailing love as made available only in and through faith in His One and Only Son, please check out The Story.

Silas and Sahari follow Jesus!

This past Sunday morning, I had the amazing privilege of baptizing our son Silas and niece Sahari. Praise the Lord! Also, our dear friend Preston Thompson got to baptize his daughter, Charli. You can watch the testimonies and baptisms below (or skip ahead to any particular one by clicking HERE and following the linked notes from the video)…

Why My Mind Changed About Tattoos

After I became a Christian during my sophomore year of college, I remember having some conversations with a Christian friend about tattoos. In my attempt to convince my friend the err of his ways, I told him tattoos were sinful, as I misapplied Bible verses and took them out of context. I was convinced that getting a tattoo was a sinful act, and surely, one cannot walk faithfully with Jesus and willfully get a tattoo.

As I grew in my Christian faith, however, I began to better understand the Christian liberty my friend explained. Sure, not everyone agrees on the issue of tattoos, and they certainly can be sinful if they, just like anything else, dishonor God and glorify sin. The Bible, despite my early misunderstandings and many others’ misrepresentations, does not condemn those who get tattoos. Rather, there is freedom to get them or to not get them.

Now, this is not a post to defend the case for tattoos or condemn the practice. A short and potentially helpful article on battling with that in your own mind is here. Rather, I simply want to make the point that what I once thought to be a form of godliness (judging others on issues of liberty, like tattoos) was actually a great deal of spiritual immaturity and ungodliness.

Do you have issues in your life like that? Are you finding yourself stumbling spiritually over the freedoms of others? If the Bible is clear on something, then let us stand up for such Truth. When the Bible is unclear, though, let us not divide.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on the “Weaker Believer Syndrome” (1 Corinthians 8:8-9; Romans 14). “Food will not make us acceptable to God. We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat” (1 Corinthians 8:8).

Are you letting debatable things like food (and tattoos) rise to the level of that which makes us “acceptable to God?” If so, you are struggling with what Bob Ingle calls “weaker believer syndrome.” By the grace of God and a growth in spiritual maturity, you can grow past such struggles of conscience and pursue biblical unity in the body of Christ.

No, I have no desire or plans to get a tattoo. While I used to tell my parents I was going to get one as soon as I turned 18 (because they would not let me as a child), that desire diminished. I am thankful for that because I had planned on getting a really silly one that I would certainly regret today. Still, I in no way think that a Christian who gets a tattoo (as long as motives are pure and God is honored) is any less faithful to God’s Word.

Telling a Christian he is in sin for getting a cross tattoo on his forearm is no different than that same Christian telling me I am in sin if I do not get the tattoo. We can feel differently, respecting one another’s freedoms while uniting in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Have you embraced the gospel and the resulting reconciliation with God (and His family)? If not, would you consider watching and/or reading The Story?

Spring into Prayer

Spring is a time of new beginning and growth. Praise the Lord – He is always at work in people’s lives, bringing forth new beginnings and growth! Just as the grass grows and the flowers blossom, so God brings about spiritual growth and development.

Of course, we are completely incapable of experiencing that growth and development apart from God’s grace. We must continually rely upon Him by seeking Him through His Word, walking with Him in prayer, serving alongside His church, and being committed to His mission.

Do you have people in your life to challenge, sharpen, and encourage you to walk with the Lord? Have you sincerely surrendered your life to Him? Are you continually depending on Him?

Knowing how much we need prayer and how much we need one another, I wanted to share some ways you can be praying for our family right now…

  • Please pray that we will love, serve, and honor Jesus Christ above all.
  • Please pray that we will be good stewards of our resources.
  • Please pray that we will be disciples who make disciple makers.
  • Please pray that we will faithfully serve and build up our church family.

How can we pray for you? Please let us know.

Finally, praise God for His continued kindness and goodness! Here are some recent picture highlights, with a throwback included.

Back with the Body

One of the clearest evidences that someone is a follower of Jesus is that the individual loves the church of Jesus (John 13:34-35). The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated this, as Christ-followers who have quarantined and consequently missed gathering with the church have longed to return. That return is sweet and precious, and we believers understand that, perhaps now more than ever.

Most have returned, while others remain isolated, to some degree, for various reasons. In conversations with many of those individuals, I can sense their heartache as they long to be back with the body of Christ. Hopefully, that return will be sooner rather than later.

Then, there are others who are not with the body because they are out of the habit of gathering and have failed to make corporate worship and fellowship a priority. For most, this is likely because no genuine relationship with Jesus exists. “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).

For others, though, perhaps they have fallen into unrepentant sin, or they are about to fall into such a trap. Rarely is someone walking with Jesus while simultaneously willfully neglecting the body of Jesus – His church.

Whatever your situation, would you consider your values and priorities? Is corporate worship important to you? Is church involvement a priority? Even if, for health reasons, you are currently unable to gather with your church family, are you staying connected for the sake of growing closer to Jesus and helping others grow closer to Jesus?

Remember, church is not just about you. Primarily, church is about the glory of God. Secondly, church is about building up His people. We need one another, so when you are tempted to think, “I don’t need the church to worship God,” remember that the church needs you. And, really, you do need the church. We all do. Jesus established the church, in part, because we are to be interdependent on one another, needing one another to grow as He intends.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will begin a new sermon series on the power of repentance and returning to God in worship. Looking at Nehemiah 7:1-5 and 8:1-8, I hope to encourage our church family to value and prioritize “True Worship.” Nehemiah led the efforts to identify the people of God, rebuild the wall for protecting those people, and return to faithful worship with those people. While we do not have a need to rebuild a wall, we do have a need to identify what it means to be a Christ-follower and regularly turn to Him in faithful worship.

What will it take for you to gather back with the body? Please understand, I am not asking this question to those who are waiting for the vaccine and are thus self-isolating for health and safety reasons (for a time). Rather, I am asking this question to those who are willfully neglecting the church – the family of God. Will you return? Will you let us walk alongside you? Will you tell us how we can help and how we can pray for you?

If you do not value the church because you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, would you turn to Him today? You can learn more by watching or reading The Story.

Relationships Matter

When our children get along and play well together, life is so much more enjoyable than when they are not getting along. Duh, right? Last Saturday, I walked outside and saw my wife and kids playing together in the snow, and my heart was made happy. They were having fun, and life was good.

Relationships matter, and when our relationships are good, life is good. Rarely can I think of exceptions, as there is perhaps no greater dictator of our contentment than the status of our relationships. When times are tough financially or politically or physically, those storms can be weathered when our relationships are healthy. On the flip side, though, even if everything else in our lives is great (health, job, weather, political climate, sports, etc.), we will find very little enjoyment in all that greatness if any of our most important relationships are broken.

Relationships matter.

JESUS’ EXPECTATIONS

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 13:1-19 on how “Jesus Calls for Better Relationships.” Genuine faith in Jesus Christ impacts our relationships in a way that should bless and encourage us and bless and encourage others. If we truly know and follow Jesus, our relationships should honor Him. The way we behave and relate to others is important, and the Bible is full of instructions emphasizing this.

Jesus declared, in fact, that the entire law of God is summed up by relationships – our love for God and our love for others (see Matthew 22:37-40).

How are your relationships? How is your faith impacting your relationships? Whether we recognize and admit it or not, faith impacts relationships for the better or for the worse.

WHAT WE NEED

As the author of Hebrews made clear, we need to “run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a). Prioritizing our relationship with Jesus will, in turn, improve our attitude and behavior toward others. Does that mean everyone will love and appreciate us? Of course not. What happens when we put Jesus first, though, is a resulting love and concern for others that only His Holy Spirit working in our hearts can generate.

Our relationships with others are better when our relationship with Jesus is sincere and faithful. Jesus calls for better relationships, and so when we know Him and strive to live and walk according to His Word, our relationships will reflect that.

Because we are all sinners, healthy relationships are not a given. Lasting, healthy relationships require hard work and commitment, and I believe there is no greater indication of the curse of sin in this world than broken relationships. First and foremost, of course, our relationship with God is broken until we trust in and surrender our lives to Jesus Christ.

The curse of sin affects other relationships, too, though – all relationships. Thus, we need to turn away from sin and turn to Jesus and continuously ask for His help, that we will treat others the way we would like to be treated. We need to depend on Him to enable us to live according to His Word, which calls for better relationships.

What relationships in your life can be better? What can and will you do to fix them? Really, rather, will you ask the Lord for help and obey His Word in how you think, speak, and act? Let us do better by turning to Him first!

If you long for better relationships but are not sure if your most important relationship – the one with your Creator – is right, will you read and/or watch THE STORY and turn to Him today?

What a week in Tennessee!

We had a blast in Tennessee over the past week, spending time with our dear friends the Fries family, followed by vacation with Marsha’s parents, sisters, and their families. Praise the Lord for the amazing gift of family and friends!

To see some photos and videos of our trip, click HERE.

Cliff jumping with the Fries family and white-water rafting with Marsha’s family were probably the two favorite highlights (for most of us) from the trip.

Heartbroken but Hopeful

When considering what 12-year-old Wyatt Salmons and his family went through this past year, with Wyatt having lost his physical life last Friday, how can we understand such tragedies? How do I make sense of one of my son’s friends and classmates suffering and dying from a rare form of cancer?

To some extent, we simply cannot wrap our minds around things like this. We cannot fully comprehend or sufficiently explain tragedies. Rather, we are heartbroken and reminded of the brokenness of this world. Still, I believe we can experience hope in the midst of heartbreak. Specifically, I believe there are two ways that provide hope above all else.

1. HOPE FROM THE GOSPEL

Firstly and most importantly, we find hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot fathom how people get through any sort of tragedy and suffering apart from the hope of the gospel. Before I came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, I experienced far less tragic suffering in my life (as a child and young adult) than I have since then, and yet in the midst of those losses, I was far more discouraged.

I remember moments when I felt complete hopelessness and despair, and those moments were nothing compared to losing my young dad to cancer, for example. When my dad passed away in 2014, my heart was broken, and yet I never felt hopeless. I never felt despair. While I was grief-stricken and missed my dad (and still do), I had (and still do) a sense of hope and peace that I never understood before placing my saving faith in Jesus.

Please realize, this hopefulness is not because I figured things out and mastered some method of finding purpose and meaning. Rather, God changed my heart and life. My purpose and meaning are in Him, and because of the promise of what is to come, loss in this life cannot rob me of that hope. This is the reality for those who know and follow Jesus, as long as we keep our eyes on Him.

2. HOPE FROM ONE ANOTHER

One of the greatest blessings of coming to know and follow Jesus is being a part of His family. We say all the time with Richland, “Our church is our family.” God knows, of course, that we not only need Him; we need one another. For that reason, most of the commands in the New Testament are corporate commands – commands for the body of believers and not just for individual believers.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “Living Unity” (Romans 12:15-16). Church family unity that is centered on the gospel is a unity that endures. And, part of that unity is our need to love and care for one another in the midst of suffering. We are not strong enough to endure tragedy on our own. We need God, and we need His church. The temptation for many when tragedy strikes is to withdraw, but withdrawal is the very thing we do not need. Instead, we need to comfort and/or be comforted. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). This is a corporate command for us because God knows best what we need.

If you have a personal relationship with Jesus, are you prioritizing your relationship with Him and your relationship with your local church? Are you prioritizing unity, not just for your sake but also for the sake of God’s glory and the good of others?

If you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus, I plead with you to turn to Him for the hope, peace, and salvation only He can give.

If you want to experience the hope and peace that endure forever, please check out The Story.

“Shelter in Place” – Blessings and Curses

During these strange times in the midst of the current pandemic, we can learn a lot. Of course, every situation in which we find ourselves can be an opportunity to learn. A good question to ask ourselves is, “What is God trying to teach us?” How can we grow closer to Him and closer to one another, even when circumstances are not ideal?

COVID-19 has changed our lives, at least for now. Will the changes lead to blessings or curses, though? How can we experience the former and not the latter? While I certainly do not have all the answers and realize we are all are different, I do think there are some ways we can see (and experience) blessings in the midst of the chaos. “Shelter in place” offers at least four unique opportunities that God can use for our good.

1. TIME WITH FAMILY

For the vast majority of us who do not live alone but rather live at home with our families (or at least with our spouses), most of us are obviously seeing our families more than usual. For my wife, this includes a lot more reading and schooling (like in the picture above) than she is accustomed to, and I praise God for her efforts! She is doing a great job, and our kids are blessed to have a stay-at-home mom who is adjusting well to the recent changes.

Are you enjoying extra time with your family?

The blessing – If we have the right attitude, recognizing that family is a gift from God, then we will be blessed. Let us use this time to have fun together, to play together, to pray together, to read God’s Word together, to say nice things to one another, and to build up one another. Sure, there will be times we get sick of one another and lose our patience with one another. Will we pray for God’s help, though, that He will use our increased time together to bless our family?

The curse – If we do not receive God’s favor and seek God’s help in honoring him through our families, then this additional time together can certainly become a curse. Rather than doing the above, we might find ourselves saying things we regret and acting like idiots who do not deserve our families. Beware, be careful, be wise, and be loving.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

2. TIME WITH SELF

This is obvious if you live alone and are practicing self-distancing right now. Even if you live with others, though, you might have more time alone than you typically do. Again, this can be a blessing, or it can be a curse.

The blessing – If we use the extra time with self to develop healthy habits (consistent exercise, healthy eating, regular prayer and Bible study, reading more, etc.), then this increased time alone can be a huge blessing. Furthermore, perhaps you will have even more time than usual to keep up with others via your phone and the internet. This has certainly been the case for me. While I do not have my usual meetings, visits, church services, etc., I have found myself to be even more busy over the past two weeks just trying to keep up with phone calls, text messages, emails, etc. This can be a blessing if we seek to honor God in the time He gives us.

The curse – If we allow the time alone to discourage us, rather than lead us to seek God more and maintain regular contact with others, then this time with self will quickly become a curse. We need God, and we need one another. Be careful, therefore, not to develop habits of self-distancing that will continue when the shelter-in-place orders are lifted. That would be a curse for you and for those who know you.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

3. TIME APART

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, my family and others throughout our church family will be alone in our homes watching my sermon on our church’s YouTube channel. Physically, we are spending time apart as a church family because of the current directives given for the purpose of limiting the further spread of COVID-19.

Of course, this time apart not only affects churches; it affects nearly all of our relationships outside of our households.

The blessing – If we pray that God will use this time apart to give us a greater longing to be together, He can certainly use this time apart as a blessing. God is always in control, and COVID-19 has not surprised Him. Perhaps He will use this to strengthen and grow His church. Perhaps we will have a greater appreciation for corporate worship and fellowship. Perhaps we will not take our need for one another for granted, but instead will become more committed to our church family. With that perspective and a proper response, our time apart can be a blessing. This can be true with all relationships, and I pray that it will be especially true for our commitment to our church.

The curse – If we allow this time apart to discourage us, it can be a curse. If we take isolation too far and fail to keep in touch with one another via phone, email, social media, etc., it can be a curse. If we do not pray for a longing to be back with family, friends, church family, and other Christ-honoring communities, this time apart can be a curse. If you do not have a community you long to return to when the distancing orders are lifted, you truly are cursed.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

4. TIME WITH GOD

Possibly the greatest gift that this sheltering in place can offer is more time with God. With the right attitude and intentional actions, God can use this in mighty ways.

The blessing – Maybe you have struggled to be consistent in your commitment to seeking God through His Word and through prayer. If so, what a better time to develop good habits of daily Bible study and ongoing prayer! Even if you are faithful in doing these things each day, what a blessing it could be to have even more time in the Bible and prayer! None of us is where we need to be in our relationship with God, and we will not be on this side of eternity. Thus, this extra time with God can be a huge blessing to seek Him more faithfully and know Him more fully. What changes can you make in your daily schedule to better prioritize your relationship with God? What can you do with your family to better seek after God together? How can you encourage others in their relationship with God via online meetings, phone calls, text messages, emails, and prayer?

Do not use this additional time at home to sleep in later. Go to bed on time, get a good night’s sleep, and start your day off with the blessing of prayer and Bible engagement.

The curse – If you fail to take advantage of this opportunity to spend more time with God, what a travesty that would be! If you refuse to develop consistent, godly habits that afford you the opportunity to grow in your relationship with God, you will surely regret your actions. Of course, the greatest curse in all of this is not being able to spend more time with God because of not having a relationship with Him. Do not wait if you have yet to call on Jesus Christ for eternal life. He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead to defeat sin and death for everyone who surrenders to Him. You can experience the blessing (both now and eternally) of a relationship with God by placing your faith in Jesus.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

ARE YOU BLESSED OR CURSED?

Depending on our attitude and actions, our current situation can be used for good or used for evil. What are you experiencing? What changes can you make in your daily routine to better facilitate good? Pray for God’s help, and maintain healthy relationships with those who will hold you accountable. Let us experience the blessings in the midst of the pandemic!