Faith with Effect

Late in his life, King David prayed the following prayer before his son Solomon became king of Israel…

May You be praised, LORD God of our father Israel, from eternity to eternity. Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all. Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.

1 Chronicles 29:10-13

David’s faith had an effect on his actions, including his prayers. His faith had an effect on his decisions, his leadership, and his plan of succession.

Really, is this not true for all of us? What we believe affects what we do. How we live is impacted by our faith. Some might argue that their faith is separate from other areas of their lives, like politics or policies or careers. That belief and attitude, though, simply mean that such “faith” is misplaced (perhaps combining faith in a god with faith in oneself).

SINCERE FAITH AFFECTS ALL THINGS

If you are serious about your faith, such faith will impact every area of your life. Your conversations, your commitments, your attitude, your passions – all are impacted by sincere faith.

Faith that does not have such an impact is an insincere religious activity of going through the motions when convenient, advantageous, and/or comfortable.

How much would you say your faith impacts your everyday life?

WHAT YOU BELIEVE MATTERS

Because sincere faith is so effectual, where you place your faith is of critical importance. What you believe matters. In fact, what you believe is even more important than how strong such faith is.

If you have just a little faith in the weather report, for example, but enough faith to bring an umbrella to a football game when the weather forecast calls for rain, then you will not get wet when the rain hits. You may have been hesitant to believe the forecast, but even a little faith that compelled you to take action was enough to deliver you from the rain.

If you are completely confident in a different weather report that called for sunny skies, though, and you thus do not bring an umbrella, you are not protected from the rain. You may have had all the faith in the world, but your faith was misplaced.

What you believe matters. Who you put your faith in matters.

As David declared in 1 Chronicles 29 and in so many other instances throughout the Psalms, God alone is worthy of our absolute faith and assurance. He alone never fails, is worthy of worship, and will satisfy our needs. If you trust in Him and do so with sincerity and according to the Truth of His Word, He will never fail you.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will begin a new sermon series on a call to biblical stewardship. The foundation for such a call is the truth that “God Is the Owner of Everything” (1 Chronicles 29:10-22). If we truly believe that, we will live in such a way that others will see that belief by what we say, in what we give, through what we do, and by where we go.

Faith with effect will have such an effect not only on those with such faith but also on those who see the living out of such faith.

Are you experiencing the effects of sincere faith? Are those around you? Saving faith in Christ alone will be enough. Turn to Him. Trust in Him. Follow Him. You will be blessed, and the world will be impacted.

To understand and experience the only “faith with effect” that endures forever, check out The Story.

Endurance Requires Grace

There are countless occasions in life that require endurance or else that result in failure and/or destruction. We learn about the importance of pushing forward and not giving up early in life, as even children are scolded (often rightly-so) when they do give up and quit.

To finish a race, you have to endure. To win a game, you have to endure. To get your degree, you have to endure. To be successful, you have to endure. To maintain a healthy relationship, you have to endure. To raise children, you have to endure. The list goes on and on, does it not?

THE NECESSITY

What is so often explained as the necessity to having such endurance? Hard work, discipline, commitment, patience, etc. could all be traits that help answer that question. While all of those characteristics (and many others) are good and should be pursued, they do not produce endurance that endures. In other words, the best character and greatest behavior will go a long way, but we all eventually fail.

An even greater necessity is required – grace (the gift of God that none of us deserves).

To do so many things, requires endurance. Most importantly, to follow Jesus until the end of this life, requires endurance. If you are not careful, though, you might fall into the trap of thinking that your hard work and discipline will be enough to ensure such endurance. None of us is good enough, hard-working enough, disciplined enough, or committed enough to endure until the end, though.

We need grace. All of us need grace – the grace of God – in order to endure. And, only those who endure until Jesus returns will be saved for eternity (Matthew 24:13).

If we rely on our own goodness and commitment to press on, we might last for a while, but failure (and resulting destruction) will come. If we trust the Lord, though, for the goodness and commitment we need, endurance will be the result.

Grace is the necessity, and the character traits that are associated with endurance will not only be found with those who seek and receive God’s grace; those traits will last. Endurance will result.

THE PATH

To receive such grace that results in faithful endurance, we need only humble ourselves and turn to the Lord. The Bible calls this repentance and faith – turning away from our sin and trusting in the Only One who can make us right with God. The gospel is the Good News that saves us from our sin and changes our lives now. Endurance results.

Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? Are you experiencing the fruit of endurance? Are you trusting in His grace to push through the difficulties of this life?

The path to endurance is not found by trying harder but by surrendering all. Then, you will desire to try harder, and even your effort will endure.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on the “Grace to Endure” (2 Peter 3) with patience and hope until Jesus comes again. Apart from God’s grace, none of us endures. Let us trust Him not only to save us from our sins but also to enable us to press on until He returns!

If you want to learn more about the grace of God that leads to lasting endurance, please check out The Story.

How do you respond to the sexual revolution?

While “the sexual revolution” is widely regarded to have already taken place (beginning in the 1960s), you could certainly make a strong case that it continues today. Really, though, I would argue that, while the “revolution” of such things by cultural standards and societal norms took place then and continue to take place today, the very ideas of “the sexual revolution” have been happening since the days of Noah, the time of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.

Regardless of the terms and the times, the revolution of sexual activity has been ongoing for thousands of years and will continue until Jesus Christ returns.

Any practice of sex outside of God’s perfect design, however, is sinful. Sex is a beautiful gift from God but is, per His perfect plan for humanity, meant to be practiced, enjoyed, and celebrated only between a man and his wife. Anything less (or more) will not satisfy and more importantly, will result in God’s judgment.

How many marriages, families, communities, churches, friendships, etc. have been destroyed by sexual sin (pornography, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, masturbation, pedophilia, rape, incest, etc.)? On the other hand, how many marriages, families, communities, churches, friendships, etc. have been destroyed by sexual fidelity? No genius is necessary to accurately answer those two questions (sexual infidelity destroys lives; sexual fidelity promotes and advances life).

THE GRACIOUS WARNING

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from 2 Peter 2 on the “Grace to Know” God according to the truth of His Word. Unfortunately, the world is full of deception that seeks to push us away from God. By His grace, though, He has preserved and given us His Word to protect us and to teach us how to discern Truth from evil.

In the Bible, we are warned of the very things “the sexual revolution” has promoted and celebrated. Thus, the distortions and abominations should not surprise us, even though we should be saddened and prayerful. God help us!

In His grace, God has warned us not only that the world would be consumed by sexual sin, greed, idolatry, etc., but also what will happen if we turn to those things rather than to Him. Eternal destruction and damnation are the results of giving in to any sin, including sexual sin.

Since we are all sinners, this is really bad news. Praise God, though, that He has provided a solution.

THE WAY OUT

If you are trapped in the snares of sexual sin (or any other sinful lifestyle), please do not lose hope. Please do not give up. Please do not believe the lie that it is too late for your life to matter and for hope to be restored.

The Good News of the gospel is that God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. He took the punishment that you and I deserve, and then He rose from the grave and defeated sin and death for all of eternity. If we simply turn away from sin and trust in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our salvation, we receive forgiveness and a right relationship with God. And, that is more than just our eternal life; our life is different now.

Does that mean we will never struggle with sexual sin (or any other sin) again? Of course not. Rather, that means we will never be content to live in sexual sin (or any other sin) again. As the Holy Spirit of God changes our hearts and our lives, we will continue to grow in our desire to know and follow and obey God according to His Word. We will grow in our ability to discern Truth from evil. We will long to obey God’s Word and heed the advice of the Apostle Paul…

Run from sexual immorality! “Every sin a person can commit is outside the body.” On the contrary, the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).

What is your response to “the sexual revolution” and the destructive perversion of God’s plan for your life? Will you respond by fleeing from sin and turning to God? Seek Him through His Word. Depend on Him in prayer. Serve Him through His church. Declare Him to the world.

There is a way out from the trap of sin and death. Jesus is the Way. Turn to Him before it is too late. Plead with others to do the same.

The Story explains how we can be delivered from sin and death now and forever.

I Still Can’t Dunk, BUT…

After my sophomore year of high school, my dad bought me a pair of Strength Shoes (pictured below). Then, he proceeded to take me to the high school track every other day at 6 a.m. to lead me through the strength and agility workouts. Our goal? For me to get stronger, move quicker, and jump higher. I wanted to not only be a better football and basketball player, but I wanted to be able to dunk the basketball (on a 10-foot rim).

While my dad did not care so much if I could dunk, he did want to help me get better, especially since he was the new head boys varsity basketball coach. Unfortunately for me, I have not grown since my freshman year of high school. While I hoped to be at least as tall as my dad, who was 6’3″ tall, I stopped growing when I was 6’0″.

Furthermore, while I am sure the Strength Shoes did help improve my strength and agility, they did not increase my jumping ability enough for me to dunk a basketball. After going through the program diligently between my sophomore and junior years and not getting the results I wanted, I added to the program between my junior and senior years by increasing the regularity to six days per week and even wearing the Strength Shoes when I did my shooting and ball-handling drills. My calf muscles got a little stronger, but I still could not dunk. Bummer.

Needless to say, I no longer use those Strength Shoes, and I still cannot dunk. I will not go as far as to say that the Strength Shoes were/are a gimmick that do not work, but I certainly did believe they would work better than they did for me. I was hopeful and even optimistic that they would be enough to “get me over the top.” They were not.

THAT’S LIFE

Is that not how life often works, though? Life is full of promises and supposed guarantees, and whether because of the claims, our circumstances and/or our own shortcomings, we get let down (or let ourselves down). That is life, life that really has very few legitimate guarantees.

A REAL GUARANTEE

God is not like Strength Shoes or any other “ultimate” system in this world, though. His Word never fails. His promises always come true.

For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

The Word of God is full of eyewitness testimony, fulfilled prophecy, kept promises, and eternal truth. God never fails, and His Word has been preserved for His glory and for our good.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 2 Peter 1:16-21 on the “Grace to Believe” the trustworthiness of God and His Word.

Do you believe? How does your life point to your faith? By the grace of God, He draws us to Himself and enables us to trust Him. Such faith will result in action, though, and I pray to communicate that clearly on Sunday morning (and daily through my words, attitude, and actions).

While we really do have to trust in people and in systems and in products in this life to some degree, make sure your ultimate faith and hope are in the Only One who never fails.

I still cannot dunk, but that does not affect my eternal status. Even if I would have grown enough or gotten strong enough to dunk the basketball, how much better would my life be now? Probably very little, if at all. More importantly, how much better would my life be eternally?

Jesus Christ alone can and does make me right with God, and He alone can and does give all who turn to Him the peace and contentment that will never end. If you have yet to experience such hope, please check out The Story and turn to the Lord today.

The world is full of promises and guarantees, but only one never fails. To learn more, check out The Story.

What is discipleship?

At the heart of Christianity is the answer to the question, “What is discipleship?” because a disciple is a student and follower of someone or something. Thus, a disciple of Jesus is what being a Christian is all about, and many of us use the term “discipleship” to explain this lifestyle.

What is discipleship, then? As a follower of Jesus and as a pastor, I talk about this often and try my best to clearly communicate the answer to that question to our church family. Simply put, discipleship is following Jesus and helping others to follow Jesus. Put another way, discipleship is growing closer to Jesus and helping others to grow closer to Jesus.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series through 2 Peter (“Grow in Grace“), and, like many of the New Testament letters, I believe Christian discipleship is at the heart of 2 Peter because God’s Word exists in order for us to know Him, know whom He created us to be, and know how to help others know Him. So, the Bible is our manual for discipleship, answering life’s most important questions and revealing to us the most important truths.

As I have been studying this week for the first message in this series, “Grace to Grow,” I have been reminded how much I need the Lord above all, but also how much I need my brothers and sisters in Christ. Again, discipleship involves both following Jesus and helping others to follow Jesus. That means we need Him, and we need each other. We need God’s Word, and we need God’s church.

For these reasons, and because life tends to get busy and filled with fruitless distractions, I have discovered the importance of being very intentional when it comes to discipleship. Yes, the major part of following Jesus and helping others to follow Jesus should be what we do in our everyday lives. In other words, discipleship is not a program but a lifestyle. Still, I need some intentional focus, or my everyday lifestyle looks less and less like how the Bible calls me to live.

When God saves us, He gives us everything we need not only for eternal life but also for spiritual growth now (see 2 Peter 1:1-4). He gives us His Spirit to enable and equip us, and we have His Word to know Him and know how to live. We still have a responsibility, though, when it comes to our life of discipleship.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with…” (2 Peter 1:5check out verses 5-9 for the list).

Am I “making every effort”? Are you?

In my 22+ years of being a Christian, one of the most helpful tools for my spiritual growth has been discipleship accountability groups (DAGs). Really, DAGs, along with the other three things I shared a few weeks ago (Bible, prayer, and church), have been used by the grace of God to bless me, challenge me, sharpen me, encourage me, and grow me.

In a perfect world, a DAG would not be necessary, as we would be diligent about prioritizing our faith, holding one another accountable, and helping one another grow closer to the Lord. We do not live in a perfect world, though, and we are far from perfect. For that reason, I mentioned the importance of being intentional.

If not for DAGs, would anyone ever ask me if I am walking in sexual purity and avoiding things like pornography? How often would people ask me when the last time is I shared the gospel with an unbeliever? Who would challenge me to memorize Scripture and spend daily time in the Word? Again, if we were all as spiritually mature as we should be, these questions and others like them would be part of our regular Christian relationships. My experience, though, has been that without DAGs or something like them, these questions rarely get asked.

Are you in a weekly DAG with a few other believers (men with men, women with women – since we deal with different issues)? If not, would you consider being in one? I am actually preparing to start a new DAG next month, and if you are interested in learning more about DAGs, resources we have, how to get started, etc., please let me know.

Let us seek with all that we are to grow closer to Jesus and help others grow closer to Jesus. Let us be disciples who make disciple makers.

Of course, to be a disciple, you must first surrender your life to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. If you have yet to make this most important decision of your life, please consider checking out The Story for more information.

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.

Vacation with Creation

When I go on vacation, I love to enjoy God’s amazing creation. I like to spend a lot of time outside, doing active things with my family. We did a lot of that last month during our annual vacation with Marsha’s family, and we had a blast.

Here are just some of the pictures from our trip to southeast Missouri, although there were a lot of moments we did not get pictures of because of jumping off cliffs and climbing rocks…

How sure is your future?

During our church’s Vacation Bible School (VBS) this week, not a single child has asked me if he or she could be confident our building would not collapse on us. While our church building has had its share of issues over the past several months, no one has expressed concern about our safety when we gather together. Frankly, we probably take our safety (pertaining to our building and otherwise) for granted. My point, though, is that we arrive at our church facilities with the confident assurance that we will leave safe and healthy. This is our expectation.

Of course, we have good reason to have such an expectation. History is on our side. Experience is a good teacher. Evidence is all around us.

Still, we all realize that even the strongest of buildings and the greatest of securities and the best of expectations can fail in this life. They will fail eventually.

During VBS this week, though, we have been talking about a foundation that will never fail. He is the only foundation who will never fail. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Philippians 1:6 on “Jesus – Our Strong Foundation.” Just as we pray the children have grasped during VBS, I hope to communicate our need to trust and depend on the only foundation that lasts forever.

If you place your hope and assurance in other things or other people to ensure your future “success,” you will be disappointed. Only Jesus and those who know Him will endure. Only the gospel message is sufficient for our future foundation. No other way will provide what we need for eternity.

How sure is your future? What comes next is indeed certain, so are you ready? Do not take your safety and security for granted. Likewise, do not find your hope in your current safety and security. Something so much better – what you were created for – is available. Experience the sure foundation and rejoice in Him today.

Glory be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

To be sure about your future, turn to the Author of your life. Learn more via The Story.

Five Questions for Growing Faith

During my niece Sahari’s birthday party last week, we had a blast playing laser tag. The above picture was taken right after the competition. When we first entered the course for the game, we were a bit unsure how everything worked, where we could go, where we could hide, etc. As the game progressed, though, we found ourselves moving about more confidently, shooting with more certainty, and knowing which ways to turn and how to find each other. Naturally, as our knowledge of the game and of the course grew, so did our ability to play.

That is how life works, right? As understanding and awareness increase, so do confidence and sufficiency.

So it is with our faith in the Lord. As we grow in our understanding of who He is and as we look to Him more, we learn why and how to better trust and depend on Him.

Is your faith in Him growing? What are you doing to facilitate such growth?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Ezra 8 on “Reclaimed Faith,” hoping to clearly communicate how we can grow in our faith in the Lord. Ezra set a great example for us, and we too can grow in our knowledge of the Lord and thus grow in our faith in Him.

Again, though, is your faith in Him growing? What are you doing to facilitate such growth? Here are some important questions that can help…

  1. BIBLE – Are you seeking Him through His Word each day?
  2. PRAYER – Are you consistently depending on Him in prayer and setting aside times for prayerful fasting?
  3. CHURCH – Are you serving His church with sacrificial commitment?
  4. DISCIPLESHIP – Are you sharing your faith and helping others to learn how to trust Him more?
  5. ACCOUNTABILITY – Are you allowing others to speak into your life so that you can be challenged when your faith is not growing?

There are so many important questions for us to consider because growing faith in the Lord is so incredibly important. Would you start with the five questions above, though? Would you examine your heart and consider your life? Would you ask someone these questions and ask him or her to ask them to you?

Let us plead with the Lord to grow our faith in Him! He is worthy!

Before you can grow in your faith, of course, you must have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? To learn more about what it means to know and follow the Lord, please check out The Story.

Obeying When You Don’t Feel Like It

As a dad, one thing I have never said to my kids is, “If your heart is in it and it feels right, do what I tell you to do.” Rather, I expect them to obey me, whether they feel like it or not. If you are a parent, I am sure you are the same way, right?

When I recently asked my kids to help me load my truck with chunks of concrete and asphalt (from the piles of dirt in the picture above), I did not expect they would jump for joy and celebrate the chance for manual labor on a muggy day. Still, I needed some help, and it was good for them to help me.

Granted, we can make mistakes as parents because we are sinners and far from perfect. Still, we give our children instructions and expect their obedience because we are trying to teach them right from wrong, educate them on the value of things like hard work and discipline, want what is best for them, and know (usually) better than they do what they need.

To an infinitely greater degree, of course, our Creator knows what we need. He knows what is best for us and has given us His Word to guide us. For His glory and for our good, He expects our obedience, and that expectation is not contingent upon our feelings. Because we are sinners who do not always have a great attitude, there will be plenty of times when we do not feel like obeying God. Will we obey anyway? Will I? Will you?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Ezra 7 on “Reclaimed Obedience” because God’s Word is essential for all of us. We must look to the Lord and depend on the Lord for growth in our obedience to the Lord.

No, we will never, on this side of eternity, be perfect in our obedience. Jesus alone was and is that, and He died on the cross for our disobedience and brokenness. He took the punishment that we all deserve for our sinful disobedience. Then, Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death for all of eternity. By turning to Him for forgiveness and salvation, we can and will live with Him forever.

One of the clearest and most important evidences of that salvation is growing obedience to the Word of God, both when we feel like it and when we do not. As the Holy Spirit of God transforms us and shapes us, too, we will grow in our desire to obey. By the grace of God, though, we will learn to obey even when the desire is lacking.

Will you seek and trust the Lord to help you be like Ezra, who “determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10)? No matter how you feel, as God to help you obey Him in all things.

Are you growing in your obedience to God’s Word? Do you desire to grow and obey? If not, would you examine your heart and consider your relationship with the Lord? You can learn what it means to know and follow Him by checking out The Story.