Before you can run the race, you have to be on the team.

Levi had his first high school track meet Tuesday, and it was particularly fun to watch him run in the 4×400-meter relay. The last event of track meets, the 4×400 is exciting and intense.

Imagine for a moment, though, if you and I and a couple of other people decided we wanted to run in the race. So, we show up with our baton and walk onto the track to participate. Hopefully, we would not be allowed to participate. I say hopefully because our world seems to be allowing for more and more insanity, but that is a topic for another blog post.

We cannot simply walk onto the track and expect to compete regardless of our status. Likewise, we cannot declare, “Just let me show you what I can do, and I’ll prove that I belong here,” and then expect to compete. On Tuesday evening, only those high school student-athletes on the track teams participating in the meet were allowed to compete in the events.

Before you can run the race, you have to be on the team. Only those qualified to compete are permitted to compete.

So it is when it comes to life and our relationship with God. In order to do what God called you to do, you have to be who God created you to be. You have to be in a right relationship with Him before you can do His will for your life. You have to be qualified before you can compete.

And, only God can make you qualified. Only He can make you whom you were created to be. That happens in and through a saving relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Luke 10:25-37 on “Receiving Mercy.” Before we can truly give or show mercy, as God has called us to do, we must receive mercy. Before we can have compassion on others, we must experience the Lord’s compassion.

Before you can run the race, you have to be on the team. Are you on His team? Have you received and experienced His mercy?

If you have yet to experience the amazing mercy and compassion of God, would you consider checking out The Story and turning to Him today?

I love winning!

Whether in a basketball game, card game, trivia contest, or any other competition, I have always loved winning. All five of our children are the same way. They desire to win, and they get upset when they lose. I was reminded of this recently with a “friendly” game of basketball with some of their cousins in Windsor Valley (above). The winners were much happier than the losers when the game was over, and to be clear, there are no ties in the great game of basketball.

Really, don’t we all love winning? Sure, there are various levels of competitiveness, depending on the person, but no sane person ever says (or thinks), “I love to lose!”

God created us to love winning, I believe, because we were made in His image, and He never loses. He wins for eternity, and the only way we can experience such victory is in and through a right relationship with Him.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 13 – 14 on being “Renewed and Victorious.” When you experience new life in Christ, you are promised eternal victory in Christ. No other victory is so sweet and satisfying!

This is especially true when considering that what we actually deserve is eternal defeat and death and destruction. We are not worthy to share in the Lord’s victory, but the gospel makes it possible for us to win and win forever.

I have always loved winning, but no victory is more exciting than the victory of experiencing the forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. This is true when we experience such victory, and it is true when we see others experience such victory. Praise the Lord!

Have you experienced victory in Jesus? If so, your pursuit of other victories will pale in comparison to your pursuit of victory in Him – victory for yourself and victory for others.

If you have yet to trust in the Lord for everlasting victory, would you consider checking out The Story and turning to Him today?

Do you have security?

I am thankful to say that, as a child, I never wondered if there was going to be food on the table when I came home for supper. Never did I question if I would have clothes to wear to school. Not once did I doubt that there would be shelter over my head when it was time for bed. I had a lot of security regarding my basic needs, security I certainly took for granted.

Still today, I take that security for granted. Shame on me.

Looking back to my childhood, though, why did I have such security? The assurance definitely was not because of anything I had done or could do. Rather, my security was in my parents and their continued provision for me. I believed my parents would continue to meet my needs, as they so consistently did, and so I was secure in their love and provision. My faith in such security was based on them, not based on myself.

I believe that is why Jesus made the powerful statement, “I assure you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3).

Like children? Yes, like children – having childlike faith with absolute trust in the Lord to meet your greatest needs: the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. Unless you turn from your sins and have complete faith in the Lord, like a child trusts in parents who provide, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven and have eternal life.

Such childlike faith is essential for salvation, and such faith leads to lifelong transformation. Then, just like I had certain security in my parents’ provision for me, you can have certain security in the Lord’s provision for you.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 12 on being “Renewed and Secure.” Where do you find satisfaction and security in your life? What do you think about in regards to your future and why?

In my message, I hope to clearly communicate three ways to find your security in who the Lord is. Just like it was not because of me that I was confident I would have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a bed in which to sleep, it is not because of us that we can have hope, peace, satisfaction, and security in what is to come.

Praise God for His sovereign provision! Do you have security? Are you trusting and finding your security in Him? No other security will endure.

If you have yet to “turn and become like a child,” as Jesus calls all of us to, would you check out The Story and ask for God to help you trust in Him?

Who’s Your Shepherd?

We all have people, things, dreams, and/or ideals that we follow. While we fail and get off-track at times, life is not aimless. Good or bad, we are all following something. Who/what are you following? Who’s your shepherd – the one(s) leading you and convincing you to follow a certain path?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 10 – 11 on what it looks like to be “Renewed and Right” – renewed by the Lord and right with the Lord. How can you know you are following the right One and going along the right path? What are the contrasting realities of who and/or what you follow? I hope to answer those questions Sunday morning, looking at a couple of chapters that talk a lot about shepherds.

In the meantime, would you consider the shepherd of your soul? Who or what compels you to live the way you live, prioritize what you prioritize, spend what you spend, say what you say, go where you go, etc.?

The world is full of shepherds – full of people and things seeking your devotion and following. Many can be enticing and convincing, promising to lead you where you want to go.

Ultimately, what we all want is a life of purpose, meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Is money the answer? What about comfort and security? What about popularity? Could family be the answer? Could it be success? Maybe, religion? Perhaps drugs and alcohol will satisfy. How about hobbies and fun? While all of those (and many others) can appear to be the answer to our longing for fulfillment, they will all let us down.

Ultimately, what we all need is to be right with the One who created us. We need to follow Him as the Shepherd of our souls, as only He can renew our lives and lead us along the right path (see Psalm 23). He is also the only One who can give us that purpose, meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment for which we all long.

The Only One who can meet our greatest needs is also the Only One who can fulfill our greatest desires. His name is Jesus Christ, and He alone is the Good Shepherd (see John 10). He alone will make you right with God, lead you where you need to go, and satisfy your God-given longings that you might not yet even realize that you have.

First, though, you must surrender your all to Him. Then, you must continually trust and depend on Him by seeking Him through His Word, leaning on Him through prayer, growing in Him through a church family, and living for Him through mission. In other words, follow Him and help others to follow Him. You will never meet someone faithfully doing that who is not satisfied with his place in this world.

Praise the Lord! Let us help one another and glorify the Only Shepherd who can satisfy our souls.

To begin this journey with the Good Shepherd, please check out The Story.

Expecting the Best

Unfortunately, what we feared and what we expected – the worst-case scenario for Ukraine – happened with the Russian invasion of Ukraine early Thursday morning. This is devastating, particularly for the people of Ukraine. For specific ways you can pray for the people directly affected by this crisis, please click HERE.

As I prepare for my Sunday morning message from Zechariah 9 (“Renewed and Expectant“), I am reminded of the many expectations we face in this world. With the Russian troops on the Ukrainian border and because of what we know about Russia and their evil president, we were expecting what happened yesterday to happen. I am not aware of anyone who was surprised. Our fearful expectations were fulfilled. May the Lord be gracious and merciful to those negatively impacted by this devastating conflict!

To be clear, though, the Lord God Almighty is still in control. While brokenness like this is difficult to comprehend and explain, the truth of God’s Word is still the truth. God is sovereign over all, and justice will be done. As Zechariah 9 and so many other passages of Scripture make clear, judgment for sin is coming. We can and should expect just and righteous judgment.

Unfortunately for every single one of us, though, we deserve that judgment. Publicly exposed acts of evil are not the only sins that justify judgment; all sin is deserving of judgment. And, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Not only do those who wrongly invade a country commit acts of evil; those who wrongly rebel against the Word of God in any way commit acts of evil. We are all guilty.

Now, this is certainly not to diminish the heinous evil on display in Eastern Europe right now, but rather to remind us that none of us deserves to expect anything good from God. Praise Him, though, that He made a way for us to not only expect better but to expect the Best! When we turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, we are “Renewed and Expectant” – renewed by Him and expectant of His promised faithfulness. We are renewed in our relationship with God, and we are expectant of Jesus’ Second Coming – when He will restore all things to Himself.

Yes, there will be judgment – eternal judgment that we all deserve. Only those who are not renewed in the Lord, however, will receive such judgment. Those who are renewed in the Lord will receive restoration and life. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I hope to clearly communicate this hope-filled truth by sharing two certainties we can all expect because of God’s faithfulness.

Is your faith in the promises of God growing? Expect the Best by trusting in Him today.

If you are unable to live with assurance and expect the Best because of what (and Who) is to come, please check out The Story and turn to the Lord today.

God’s Not a Genie

More times than I can recall, people have said to me, “I prayed but God didn’t answer,” or, “I don’t understand why God seems so far away,” or, “I asked God for wisdom and peace, but I’m miserable.” God did not create you to go through life alone, and His desire is not for your hopelessness and misery. If you feel far from God, there has to be a reason.

STOP TRYING TO RUB THE BOTTLE

I once said to someone who was frustrated that God would not answer her prayers, “You just admitted that you are not following God or obeying His Word, but you expect Him to give you what you want. God’s not a genie.”

She replied, “Really? I thought He was like a genie.”

So often, we want from God while refusing to turn away from our sins and refusing to turn to Him. God is not a genie, though. Treating Him like one not only fails to bring forth helpful results but also sets the stage for deserved judgment.

START TRUSTING AND READING THE BIBLE

Stop trying to rub the bottle, and instead, start trusting and reading the Bible. Find hope in the Lord and experience His presence by knowing and obeying His Word.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do what is evil” (1 Peter 3:12). Thus, in order to be close to God and experience His unquestionable presence in your life, you have to be counted as “righteous.” Since none of us is righteous, though, that requires that we trust in and follow the Only One who is. Our sin makes us evil, but God declares us righteous when we surrender our all to Him.

For that reason, if anyone ever tells me about their frustration of feeling far from God, I ask them to consider if they are holding on to sin in their life. Are you walking with God and obeying His Word, or are you trying to do things your way?

The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29).

When you surrender your life to Jesus Christ by repenting of your sins and trusting Him alone to save you, He begins a work in your heart that never ends. Best of all, He takes away your sins and makes you righteous in God’s eyes. You go from wicked to righteous by the blood of Jesus. No, we are still not perfect, but it is as if we were – in the eyes of God – because of the perfect sacrifice of His Son in our place.

TRANSFORMATION REQUIRED

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 78 on the beauty of being “Renewed and Transformed.” When Jesus saves us from our sins, He transforms our hearts and lives. That ongoing transformation is evidence that we have been made right with God.

Like Israel in Zechariah’s time, though, you might be tempted to think that going through the religious motions will suffice. Perhaps God will be pleased with your occasional church attendance and empty prayers and non-sacrificial offerings. Then, when you want or need something from Him, you can rub the proverbial bottle and get from Him what you need.

God is not a genie, though. He is worthy of so much more than your occasional efforts and comfort-level praises. He deserves far more than your half-hearted “commitments” and selective “obedience.”

Just as I called, and they would not listen, so when they called, I would not listen,” says the Lord of Hosts.(Zechariah 7:13).

Are you calling, but He is not listening? Listen to His Word. Trust in His salvation. Experience transformation.

To begin a growing relationship with God, check out The Story and turn to Him today.

Birthday Boy

Well, I suppose we will not be able to call him the birthday boy again next year, as he will officially be a man. What?!?! Yes, Noah turned 17 last week.

We thank God for Noah and for the ways the Lord has blessed Noah over the years! Per usual, we did not do much to celebrate, except Noah picked out the delicious meal Marsha made (chicken spaghetti) and his birthday cake (DQ Reese’s ice cream cake). We enjoyed time together as a family and shared things about Noah for which we are thankful.

Praise God for Noah and for the rest of my family! I am beyond thankful and blessed!

Poor Noah was born into a Vikings’ fandom that he surely would not have otherwise chosen. Still, born in Kansas City, Noah is also a Chiefs fan, so at least he has had something to celebrate regarding his sports teams in his lifetime. We Vikings fans have very little to celebrate. #skol

The Problem with Promises

As I was sitting in my comfortable office working on my sermon this week, I cannot recall the number of times I looked out my window with thankfulness that I was not working outside. Looking out at a cold and snow-covered parking lot, I am grateful for the blessings of heat and shelter.

Another thing I considered, though, is how many plans get messed up by the weather? The weather is kind of like a breaker of promises. Sometimes, the promises of the weather radar and forecast themselves are broken. Other times, weather (like the snow on the ground now) breaks the plans and promises that others make.

How many things were supposed to happen over the past few days but were canceled because of the weather? Church activities, school days, sporting events, meetings, etc… plans and promises broken (or delayed).

That is the problem with promises, right? Whether because of sin and unfaithfulness or because of circumstances beyond our control, we have a hard time keeping promises. No one in their right mind is happy about broken promises and failed plans, but they are regular parts of life, unfortunately.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 56 on the amazing blessing of being “Renewed and Promised” in the Lord. The problem with promises in this life is that we are sinful, imperfect people. The problem with promises is that we are unable to control our circumstances, like the weather. God is different, though. God is perfect. God can and does control the weather. He is the Creator of the universe, the Giver and Sustainer of life.

The problem with promises for us is no problem for God. Thus, if you have a born-again relationship with Him through His Son Jesus – the yes to all of God’s promises, then you can and will trust and hope in the promises of God.

Do you believe? Are you finding your hope in Him? Of course, let us truly seek to be faithful keepers of promises ourselves, but let us also recognize that the only perfect Keeper of promises is the Lord Almighty. Let us be sure and hopeful in Him. Praise the Lord!

If you have yet to trust and turn to the perfect Keeper of promises, will you please check out The Story and look to Him today?

What’s Guaranteed?

When I brought our van in for its 6,000-mile tire rotation and alignment last week, I was shocked and disappointed to learn that I actually needed to buy new tires. You see, the supposed guarantee of the tires we bought a few years ago was 70,000 miles. Yet, at only 36,000 miles in, they were worn and needed to be replaced.

Sure, the warranty and expectation of 70,000 miles is for “perfect conditions,” but surely they should not be wearing out more than 30,000 miles sooner than warrantied!

When I was given the bad news and proceeded to ask what the deal was since I bought these expensive tires from the same place I was visiting, I was asked a series of questions…

Have you rotated and aligned the tires regularly? Oh, I see here in our computer that you certainly have – every 6,000 miles like you’re supposed to.” Yep.

Do you live on a gravel road?” No.

Maybe you drive kind of rough.” No, this is a minivan, and my wife usually drives it. She drives like an old lady (safely, slowly, and cautiously).

Maybe there was something off on the alignment. Oh, nope, I see that the alignments have been done twice per year, and the tires are worn evenly.” Yeah.

I don’t know what to tell you, Mr. Drake. This really doesn’t make any sense.” No, unless these supposed 70,000-mile tires are a scam.

Well, thankfully I received somewhat of a discount on new tires, but new tires are indeed what I purchased that day. What’s guaranteed? Another “70,000 miles“? Yeah, but I have certainly learned my lesson not to put too much hope in such guarantees. Really, it is not guaranteed but rather a claim, and the claim appears to be according to a dream-scenario, at best.

What is guaranteed, though?

What if the mileage rate on tires was actually according to normal driving conditions that the vast majority of drivers face, rather than ideal driving conditions that probably no drivers face? That would certainly be more practical and helpful, but I suppose it would not sell as many tires.

What is an expected warranty, though, if based on unreal conditions? What is guaranteed?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Zechariah 4 on what it looks like to be “Renewed and Strong.” While life is full of supposed guarantees and warranties and promises and claims, rarely can we be certain such expectations will be fulfilled. Yet, our Creator makes promises that are impossible (for us), and He never fails. Strength in Him truly is guaranteed.

‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

Like our tires, many things are going to let us down in this life. We are going to let ourselves down, especially when we rely on our own strength and might. God, though, will never let us down. He is always faithful, always sure, always right, and always true. He never fails. His strength is guaranteed.

If we were to only drive our van perfectly on a perfectly maintained track, we would probably get those 70,000 miles out of those tires. We do not drive perfectly, though, and Missouri roads (like most roads) are far from a perfectly maintained track.

How similar is this for our lives, too?! The world around us is far from perfect, and we are far from perfect. We do not live perfectly, and our environment does not function perfectly.

Jesus Christ is the Only One who lived a perfect life. As the Son of Man, He fulfilled the perfect law of God and took the punishment our sins deserve by dying on the cross in our place. As the eternal Son of God, He then rose from the dead and defeated sin and death for all of eternity. Now, everyone who calls on His name is not only saved from sin and death but is also renewed and strong now. Still far from perfect, we can find great hope and assurance in Him, though, if we simply turn to and follow Him.

Are you renewed and strong in the Lord?

If you have yet to experience spiritual renewal and strength in the Lord, would you check out The Story and turn to the Lord today?

Snatched from the Fire

One of my favorite things to do with family and friends is to sit around a fire. I love the sound, the smell, the nostalgia, the company, and the fire. If not for the grace of God, I fear I may have ended up, at best, as a crazy fire man who has done even more dumb things than I have already done, or, at worst, as an arsonist who starts unnecessary and possibly illegal fires for fun. While I do enjoy playing with fire sometimes, I do not break the law with such fun and am usually able to avoid much fire-foolishness.

One of the things that people like me enjoy doing, though, is putting sticks in and out of fires to see them glow, stoke the fires, and simply satisfy our pyromaniac tendencies. Have you ever pulled a stick out of the fire, though? The stick will be burned, but it is still a stick. You snatched it from the fire before it was consumed.

In Zechariah 3, we have a recorded vision of an Israelite priest named Joshua representing the people of God and standing against the accusations of Satan. The Lord said, “Isn’t this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:3). In other words, Joshua was facing the judgment and consequences of his sin (and the people’s sins), but God redeemed and restored him (and them). What a great picture of redemption in the Lord!

We, too, are like burning sticks in the fire, deserving of condemnation and judgment and yet completely unable to deliver ourselves from such devastation. And, unlike the sticks and logs that do not burn themselves but that I place in a bonfire, we are the ones guilty of sin deserving of eternal death. Our sin condemns us to that fire.

Praise the Lord, though, that He loves us so much that He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to satisfy the just fire of His judgment. Jesus took God’s wrath upon Himself when He died on the cross for our sins. Then, He defeated sin and death for all of eternity when He rose from the dead. If you simply repent of your sins and believe in Him alone to save you, then He snatches you from that eternal fire.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from that passage in Zechariah on what it means to be “Renewed and Restored.” What does God do for us when He snatches us from the fire? What are the results? What are the truths of such restorative redemption?

Do not be deceived into thinking you can snatch yourself from the fire, and do not be deceived into thinking that you are not deserving of the fire. We are all deserving because we are all sinners who fall far short of God’s perfect standard, but we are also completely unable to save ourselves. We need the Savior of the world to snatch us from that fire. Have you trusted Him to snatch you from the fire, and are you sharing the good news and urgency of such salvation with others?

Only in and from the Lord can anyone hear the words, “See, I have removed your guilt from you, and I will clothe you with splendid robes” (Zechariah 3:4). To Him be the glory!

If you have yet to experience the joy and peace of being snatched from the fire, please check out The Story today. Jesus loves you and is the Only One who can deliver you.