To where does your life point?

For the vast majority of people, including each one of us when we give in to our selfish and sinful nature, life points inward. It points to self. It paints the picture that “Life is all about me.”

Being created in the image of God, though, our lives are supposed to point to Him.

In the 1st century, John the Baptist had a massive following. One could make the claim that John could have easily continued to grow his following and created his own kingdom, of sorts. That was not John’s aim or purpose, though.

John the Baptist was preaching a message of repentance and preparing the way for the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. John did not want a following. He wanted Jesus to have the following.

When people were confused about who John the Baptist was and who Jesus was, and when there was concern that so many people were all of a sudden flocking to Jesus, John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Oh, that we would all have such humility and Christ-centered lives that others would flock to Jesus because of what we say and do!

Why is this so difficult for us? Why are we so prone to look inward rather than looking upward? Why are we so tempted to talk about ourselves rather than about our Savior?

The answer to each of those questions, of course, is sin. Only Jesus can take away our sins, and until we surrender our lives to Him and commit to surrender ourselves to Him every single day, we will not win the victory over selfishness and pride. Have you surrendered? Are you surrendering?

In the following chapter of the gospel of John, there is a culture-shocking encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. After the Samaritan woman believed Jesus was who He said He was, she wanted others to know about Him. Should could not help but point others to Him.

Then, after others believed based on what they heard, they went to Jesus themselves and eventually told the Samaritan woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, since we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).

Wow! Is this not a great picture of how the journey of faith works for all of us? People often first believe based on what they hear (and thus the importance of living out our faith and talking about our faith), but when people then sincerely seek Jesus themselves, they believe and trust even more because the result is faith that experiences a relationship with God.

Until that relationship exists, what you “believe” can change. Once you know the Savior, though, you find satisfaction and fulfillment that cannot be found elsewhere. What you believe is then based on a life-changing relationship with the Lord, and He will never let you go.

Only then will your life (your actions and your words) point others to Jesus.

To where does your life point?

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Yes, I make my kids “go to church.”

Yes, they go every Sunday and Wednesday. No, they do not have a choice. Yes, Marsha and I would still hold to this even if I was not a pastor, just like we do when we are on vacation.

The reason “go to church” is in quotations is because no one really “goes to church.” Rather, we gather with the church for worship, fellowship, service, etc., as the church is not a building but a family of believers. That is an entirely different article for a different day, though.

Today, I want to address why Marsha and I will always make our kids (as long as they are under our authority, of course) gather with the church. And, I think you should do the same with your children.

In fact, I will go so far as to say, I believe it is bad parenting to not have your children regularly involved with a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching local church. Now, I realize a statement like that can get me in trouble and can certainly come across as arrogant and/or unsympathetic to parents who would maybe like to see their children involved with a church but have a tough time convincing them of the importance.

Thankfully, because Marsha and I are followers of Jesus and have been active church members ourselves since before we were married, we have had our children involved with our local church since they were born. They have grown up with church as a part of their lives. Thus, they do not push back and do not request “skipping church” like many children might be prone to do.

I realize there are parents who come to faith in Christ, for example, and they have teenagers who have never really been involved with a church. Now, these parents face the struggle of leading their children to value and prioritize active church involvement. That surely has to be much more difficult than it is for me to convince my children to be involved with church. While I still believe parents in such situations should require their children to attend church services, I understand that the consistency and willingness may take some time.

Now, why do I feel so strongly about this? The simple answer is because I love my children, and I firmly believe that loving and caring for my children means doing what is best for them.

Do my children want to go to school? No. Every single one of them would gladly stay home and play rather than go to school if we would let them. Guess what, though? We make them go to school. An education is important, and so whether your preference is homeschool, private school or public school, I believe you should make your children get an education.

Do my children want to eat anything besides junk food? Not really, besides the occasional exceptions. Guess what, though? We make them eat healthy foods. Well, we try to make them. We obviously do not force-feed our children, but we do try to make sure they get as much of a balanced diet as we can feasibly facilitate. Any parents who would simply allow their children to always decide what to eat, regardless of the sugar and/or lack of nutrition, surely would not be considered wise and good parents, at least not in that area of parenting.

Education and health are important, so we make our children receive an education, and we make our children eat healthy foods. Do you know what is even more important than education and health? The answer is a right relationship with God. Why, then, would we possibly fail to value church like we value school and eating right?

Active church involvement plays a critical role in one’s Christian discipleship journey (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12), and so not only do we as parents need to make sure we are involved with a healthy church. We also need to make sure our children are, if we want them to learn biblical truth and become biblical disciples.

“Well, Nick, what if I force my kids to go, and that then pushes them away when they get older? I want them to make the decision for themselves.”

Honestly, I do not buy this excuse for a few reasons…

  1. We would never have this mindset with other things we consider important, like school. No not everyone is meant to go to college, but everyone needs some sort of education and needs to be prepared for a lifetime of learning. A good education helps with that, and we would never let the fear of “driving them away” keep us from educating our children. Why? Because education is important. Well, God is even more important, so let us make sure our children are educated about Him, too.
  2. If we as parents live out our faith like we should by loving God with our entire being and loving others as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40), and if our children see that faith through our daily lives and active church involvement, then it is highly unlikely that we will “push them away” by having them involved with a church. Rather, they will see the amazing benefits and fruit of faith and church.
  3. Even if they do not decide to do what is right when they become adults, does that mean we should stop modeling and expecting what is right while they are children? Of course not. Ultimately, they will have to make their own decisions, but it is our job to train them up in the way they should go and trust that when they are older, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
  4. What is the best way for us to teach our children how to make the right decisions in life? Is it not by teaching them, modeling it for them, and expecting it from them? How can we possibly do any of those things if we let them decide for themselves what is best for them? It is our job as parents to make sure they learn rightly and are in the best environment to do so.

Do you love your children? I am sure you do. Please hear my plea to get them involved with a healthy church – a church that believes and teaches the Word of God and makes disciples of Jesus Christ.

See if you can find a set of parents who raised their children in a healthy church and modeled their faith at home, who would now say, “That was a mistake. I wish I wouldn’t have made my children be involved with church.” I have never met anyone who said that, and I bet you will not either.

A healthy church will not push your children away. You will. Or, they themselves will harden their hearts and choose not to follow Jesus. So, do your best, while they are under your authority, to help them follow the Only One who can give them eternal life.

Tomorrow morning with Richland Baptist Church, I will be preaching through Mark 13, encouraging people to consider what we must understand about the end times and how we must respond. Are you ready for the return of Jesus Christ? Are your children ready? You, more than anyone else, are responsible for making sure they are. Active church involvement is at least one of, if not the, best and most important ways for you to do that.

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Ice Cream Cake! Our three oldest sons enjoy some church family fellowship time after our evening worship service last Sunday.

Reese’s & Bald Eagles

Have you ever experienced something and thought, “Wow! It doesn’t get any better than this!”?

No, I am not talking about the obvious things in life that cannot be beat, like a great marriage, having children, getting your dream job, etc. Rather, I am talking about those rare moments when something completely unexpected makes your day.

That rare event can even be something seemingly simple. For example, the other day my wife bought me a Reese’s Outrageous candy bar. I ate the candy bar, experiencing the greatest conglomeration of gifts one can possibly experience with his taste buds.

Then, I saw a bald eagle fly across the road at our church property. No joke!

Seriously, how often do you eat the greatest thing you have ever eaten and then see the coolest bird on the planet – the symbol of American freedom?!?!

Furthermore, the eagle kept flying by my office window throughout the afternoon. If only I had a whole bag of those candy bars! But, Tuesday afternoon, October 9, 2018, is an afternoon I shall never forget!

Now, in all seriousness, what if I required Reese’s Outrageous candy bars and bald eagles every day for joy and satisfaction? What if my greatest love was for those moments? Well, life would be pretty discouraging (Or, I would be a big, fat man eating candy bars in a nature reserve somewhere).

God created us to find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in Him. He created us to love and cherish Him above all others. If we place anyone or anything above the Lord on the throne of our hearts’ devotion, we will be severely disappointed.

Tomorrow morning during our worship service with Richland Baptist Church, I will be preaching on “The Love of Discipleship” from Mark 12:28-44. While you will be able to listen to the message HERE Sunday afternoon, my challenge to you today is the make sure that you love God above all else and that you love your neighbor as yourself. This can only be done, though, when you place your faith in Jesus Christ, asking Him to make you right with God and change your life forever.

Reese’s Outrageous are amazingly delicious. Bald eagles are beautiful to behold. But, don’t settle only for things created when you can know and walk with the Creator.

Don’t be deceived.

Last week, Marsha and I took our kids to the Missouri River near Jefferson City. The kids were surprised at how big the river was and how fast the river was moving. Before this trip, I think they assumed they could swim across the river with ease or wade along its banks with pleasure. They quickly changed their mind, though, once they saw its width and its speed.

Not once did they ask if they could jump in for a swim, even though it would have felt good that warm, sunny day. And, trust me – it is rare for our family to be by a body of water without anyone getting wet. Thankfully, common sense (along with some parental instruction) helped our children realize that jumping into the Missouri River would very likely not end well for them. While a bird’s-eye view of the river would have indicated fun in the sun, a closer look was necessary.

When considering Christian discipleship, people often make assumptions from a bird’s-eye view, too. Instead of sincerely seeking God through His Word, they assume they know what discipleship is based on what they see from a distance and/or based on false teachings they have heard from others. God is the One who defines truth, though.

We are not able to decide for ourselves what discipleship is. Nor are we able to understand discipleship without seeking and trusting the One who created us – the One who created us for Himself and for discipleship, meaning following Jesus as revealed in the Bible.

Some might wrongly assume that the rejection of discipleship only takes place when someone blatantly and explicitly rejects Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Yes, that would indeed be the rejection of discipleship. What about those, however, who believe Jesus to be the Son of God and even believe He is who He said He is, according to the Bible, but do not fully embrace and surrender to Him?

Can one be a disciple without proper understanding (and resulting acceptance) of essential biblical truths like Jesus’ Messiahship and resurrection life?

If you read the first half of Mark 12, you will notice Jesus confronting those who were rejecting Him and His Word. You do not get to pick and choose what you will believe and what parts of God’s Word you will obey, and then still claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you do that, you are ultimately no different than the ones who completely rejected Him and sought His crucifixion.

Tomorrow I will be preaching on “The Rejection of Discipleship” from our Discipleship 101 sermon series. Will you recognize and confront the rejection of discipleship? This begins by examining your own heart, making sure you have a genuine relationship with God. And, it continues every day as you walk with Jesus and help others to do the same.

Don’t be deceived by a bird’s-eye view. Look closely by seeking God through His Word and growing alongside His church.

aerial photography of concrete bridge
Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

Jesus is better than football.

Whether it’s my son Noah’s junior high game (like the picture above), “Friday Night Lights,” or the NFL, I really enjoy watching football. I enjoyed playing football when I was in high school. In fact, I still enjoy playing it today.

When I was watching my favorite NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, lose to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night, though, I began to experience an overwhelming sense of conviction in my heart. No, I was not convicted about my decision of being a lifelong fan of a disappointing team. Nor was I convicted that I was watching the game. Rather, I was convicted because I was allowing the disappointment of the game to ruin my mood.

Of course, as a Vikings fan, I did not experience extreme disappointment Thursday night for the first time. Most likely, it will not be the last time either. Not only have the Vikings never won the Super Bowl (0-4 all time), they have not even made it to the Super Bowl since before I was born, having lost their last six trips to the NFC Championship Game.

If this trend continues, and if the Vikings continue to underperform, I will not see the confetti fall in their favor at the end of a season.

Butas much as I would enjoy a Super Bowl title for my all-time favorite sports franchise, it really is not a big deal. It really does not matter.

Even if they do end a season at the top of their sport, like my favorite NBA team, the San Antonio Spurs, have done five times, the jubilation will be short-lived. Fans (and I imagine players and coaches, too) end up being extremely disappointed if another championship is not achieved the following year. There is only one winner, and so most people who care usually find themselves disappointed.

Have you ever considered how ridiculous it is to allow sports to rob us of our joy? With the exception of my senior year of high school football, when we won the state championship, I cried at the end of each of my sports seasons, knowing that I had “failed” and had to wait another year to win. Or, in the case of our playoff loss in basketball my senior year, I experienced the crushing realization that I might never play competitive basketball again. My career ended with a disappointing performance in a loss.

Guess who actually cares about my senior football and basketball seasons today, though? Pretty much no one. Guess who really cares about who won the Super Bowl a few years ago? Pretty much no one.

More importantly, guess how much the results of sporting events actually matter? They do not.

Please do not get me wrong. I have no problem with people playing or watching sports. I think we can learn a lot about life, teamwork, hard work, dedication, loyalty, discipline, etc. from sports.

But, to let sports dictate our moods and/or guide our lives will be a tragic mistake. Jesus is so much better than football. He is the eternal, authoritative, powerful Son of God. He died on the cross for our sins, and He rose again to win eternal victory for everyone who calls on Him.

Following Jesus is not just another activity we tack on to our lives, like football or some other hobby. Following Jesus is life itself for those who are His genuine disciples.

The true joy that comes for those who follow Jesus is everlasting joy. Consider –  it would be utter foolishness to look back after your team won a championship and let one bad play upset you. You won! Who cares about that one play? Well, it would be eternal foolishness to try to find your satisfaction in the things of this world rather than in the One who is eternal. To try to find your satisfaction in one play rather than in the end result is foolish. Jesus has won the victory, the eternal victory. Do not make the mistake of settling for anything less than peace and hope in Him.

Tomorrow, I will be preaching on “The Lord of Discipleship” (Mark 11). While you will be able, Lord willing, to listen to the message HERE tomorrow afternoon, I would like to encourage you now to make sure you seek and surrender to Jesus. He is Lord of all, and seeking to find your hope, satisfaction, joy and salvation anywhere else will leave you disappointed today and leave you sorry forever.

Jesus is better than football. He is better than everything. He is Lord.

man wearing viking helmet focus photography
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Head, Heart and Hands of Humility

Jesus Christ said,”Whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45).

There is obviously no greater act of humility in all of history than the King of kings and Lord of lords sacrificing His life for the wretched sins of mankind.

While none of us will ever measure up to that level of humility, we too are called to be “a slave to all.” What does that mean, though? How can we embody such an impossible expectation?

Answer: one person at a time.

Just like Jesus exemplified this attitude in His love, service and healing of Bartimaeus (the blind beggar in Mark 10:46-52), so we can live out this calling in our love and service to those we encounter each day.

This requires your head, your heart and your hands, though. Your head must understand and embrace this truth about who Jesus is and what it means to be His disciple. Your heart must be changed by Jesus through a total surrender of your life to Him. And, your hands must prove the humility that is in your head and heart by serving others, even when no one (but God) is watching.

During our worship service this morning, I preached on “The Humility of Discipleship” (Mark 10:32-52). Is your life marked by humility? Maybe others would say yes, but what would God say? He is the One who sees all things and knows all things, including not only the work of your hands but also the condition of your head and your heart.

Sometimes humility requires sacrifice, much sacrifice. And sometimes humility can be something as little as sitting down with your youngest brothers and playing what they want to play.

Let us all ask and trust Jesus to give us a heart of humility.

Noah, Silas and Micah playing with blocks
It made my heart glad to see Noah happily playing with Silas and Micah without Marsha or me asking him to do so. I imagine a 13-year-old doing what his 3-year-old brother desires is not overly common. May we all be challenged to treat others as we want to be treated!

How do you know where your heart really is?

If you’re like me, you struggle – at least at times – with materialism and greed. You struggle to find your satisfaction in the God who created you and instead find your satisfaction in the things He (and man) created.

Who or what do you love more than anything else? Who or what do you worship? God created us with a natural desire and inclination to worship. Every single one of us is a worshiper. We were designed to worship God. Most choose, though, to worship other things or people. Our hearts were created to long for God, but apart from His saving grace, we will all choose to long for others or other things.

How do you know, though, where your heart really is? How do you know, for example, if you love God more or if you love money more?

Ultimately, our actions and priorities prove what our hearts crave. This was certainly the case for the young rich man in Mark 10, and it is the case for every single one of us today.

Will you respond to Jesus’ call to absolute surrender with humble, childlike faith, or will you be “stunned” by Jesus’ demands and go away grieving, like this man described in Mark 10:22?

This morning, I preached on “The Miracle of Discipleship,” challenging those listening to believe and value this miracle of God. If left to ourselves, we will make the wrong decision. Thus, we need the Lord’s help.

Call on Him in faith, and He will give you the desires of your heart, the right desires.