I love Christmas time and am already sad that it is over. Well, almost over (we still get to sing some of the great Christmas hymns of praise in our upcoming Sunday morning service with our church – praise the Lord!). Over the past couple of weeks, though, I have loved time with family, including our amazing church family. God has been so good to us. To Him be all the glory!
Here are some picture highlights from the past couple of weeks…
On January 24, 2018, the Minnesota Vikings traveled to Philadelphia to play the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Because the game was played on a Sunday evening and we had a special event with our church, I did not watch the game, except for the first drive. In that first drive, the Vikings marched down the field and got a touchdown, taking an early 7-0 lead, and I remember thinking as I headed into our church’s fellowship hall, “My favorite team might be going to the Super Bowl!“
I was excited. You see, the Vikings were, at that time, 0-5 in NFC championship games since they had last made it to the Super Bowl in 1976. Yes, zero Super Bowl appearances in my lifetime.
Well, if you know much about the National Football League, you know the Vikings are now 0-6 in NFC championship games since last making it to the Super Bowl two years before I was born. In that aforementioned game back in 2018, the Vikings went on to get destroyed by the Eagles 38-7. Yes, that is correct – the Vikings scored on that first drive and then got outscored 38-0 the rest of the way. Ouch!
Incredibly hopeful heading to our church’s event that night, I was sorely disappointed when I later learned the Vikings were getting demolished. Such is the life of a Vikings fan. Maybe this year will be different, though! That is, after all, what I have been saying almost every single year my entire life. Maybe this is the year!
Looking back on those rare glimpses of hope – including the 1998 season that ended with the Vikings going 15-1, entering the playoffs as heavy Super Bowl favorites and then losing in overtime in the NFC championship game after the team’s previously-perfect-on-the-season kicker missed a seemingly easy game-sealing field goal in the indoor Metrodome toward the end of the fourth quarter – none of those glimpses of hope ended with joy. None.
Why did those seemingly joyous and hopeful seasons not end in joy? Because they ended in disappointment.
Truly, that is how Christmas would be if not for the cross. We would not be celebrating the birth of Jesus if not for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without the cross, Jesus’ birth would be like the last six NFC championship game appearances for the Vikings – an exciting moment that only failed to bring joy.
Praise the Lord, though, that He did not fail to deliver. He is so much better than the best of victors in this life because His victory is certain and eternal.
On Christmas morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Isaiah 53 on “The Promise of Payment.” Some might think, “Wait, Isaiah 53?! Isn’t that a passage for Easter Sunday?” Yes, typically, but without our suffering Savior, we have no Christmas to celebrate.
The joy of Christmas is not really because of the Baby who was born as much as because of the sacrifice He made. Thus, we are going to fast forward to the end of the story and be challenged to celebrate Christmas by looking to the cross.
“He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds” (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Christmas is on a Sunday this year! I love it! Let us worship the King (like always), while singing some of the best songs ever written, like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Praise God!
What is the most disappointing broken promise you have ever experienced? In asking that question, I am thankful to say that I am having a hard time thinking of one that stands out above the rest. Sure, I have been disappointed by a lack of loyalty and faithfulness, but by the grace of God, I have a great family, great friends, and a great church family.
Admittedly, I take for granted that I have not experienced some of the most devastating broken promises imaginable – the infidelity of a spouse, the abuse and neglect of bad parents, the backstabbing betrayal of a close friend, etc.
The reality, though, is that everyone experiences broken promises and betrayal, as we live in a broken world full of sinful people, including you and me. Some might have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for most of the people in their lives, as I do, whereas some might struggle and wonder, “Can I rely on anyone!?”
Really, we can boil relationships down to one of two categories – problem or provision. Do they cause problems, or do they provide what you need? Yes, we all cause problems at times, but generally speaking, do you fall into the problem or the provision category?
Are you a problem because of unreliability, or do you provide assurance through your reliability? Are you a problem because you run your mouth, or do you provide security by honoring confidentiality? Are you a problem because of dishonesty, or do you provide sincerity through honesty? Are you a problem because of laziness, or do you provide dependability by your hard work?
The questions could continue over a variety of other issues, but while we all have our strengths and weaknesses, we are all prone to weakness apart from the grace of God. He alone is perfect in His provision and never the problem. Yet, are we looking to and trusting in Him first for the provision we all need?
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Isaiah 11:1-9 on “The Promise of Provision.” God’s provision is perfect in and through the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us trust Him! Let us find our satisfaction and fulfillment in Him!
Regardless of how many broken promises you have experienced and/or broken yourself, it is not too late for you to trust and depend on God’s provision above all else. He never breaks His promises, and He never fails.
As we trust and rely on the Lord, only then can we really be the faithful providers we need to be for one another – at home, in the church, at work, for the team, etc.
God declared about the promised Messiah who was yet to come (and who took on flesh and was born of a virgin, as promised), “Righteousness will be a belt around His loins; faithfulness will be a belt around His waist” (Isaiah 11:5). Yes, it was true. Yes, it is true. Yes, it will always be true. He is righteous and faithful!
Our perfect Provider came as promised, and He will come again as promised. Are you ready for Him? Are you trusting in Him? Are you following Him?
If someone asks me, when is it too early to put up Christmas decorations, I would reply “Before the Fourth of July.” Seriously, I wish our Christmas decorations could be up at least six months/year. Marsha is probably a little more reasonable, but she is good about putting up the tree and decorations before Thanksgiving, and not taking them down until well-after the New Year.
One of the many reasons I love Christmas lights and decorations is the peaceful feeling of sitting in our living room when the sky is dark but our living room is bright with Christmas cheer. While I do not fear the dark (anymore), I do prefer the light. When I get up early in the morning (well before the sunrise this time of year), I love walking into our living room lit up with Christmas lights. Thank you, smart plugs!
Perhaps this is due to the nostalgia of the season, the contrast of the warmth inside to the cold outside, or my love for traditional Christmas hymns of worship, but Christmas lights and decorations give me an even greater sense of home sweet home than any other set-up or decor. And, with that sense of home comes a sense of peace.
Who does not love the reality of peace? When we feel peace, we feel good. When we lack peace, we feel miserable.
Of course, all of this makes me think of the best peace. So many things in this life point to our love for and need for peace, and that is because God created us in His image. As His image bearers, we were made to long for peace, and there is no greater peace than being in a right relationship with Him, flowing into right relationships with others. None of that is possible, though, without His goodness and provision.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Isaiah 9:1-7 on “The Promise of Peace.” Sadly, we so often look for peace in all the wrong places, and the result is a fleeting peace and assurance that will only disappoint us.
I love sitting in our home when decorated for Christmas more than any time of year, but just like I am disappointed when we take down the decorations (the worst day of the year, in my opinion), so will we all be disappointed (and devastatingly so) if we seek to find peace, assurance, and fulfillment in anything or anyone besides the Prince of Peace. He – Jesus Christ – alone is the One who can give us a peace that will never disappoint.
Christmas decorations are great, but they eventually come down. Money is incredibly helpful, but loving it is the root of all kinds of evil. Good health is a blessing, but it can be lost in an instant. Safety is comforting, but nothing in this life can assure it. Family is a precious gift from God, but even the best of family can (and will) let you down at times.
Nothing in this life can offer and deliver the greatest peace, except God alone. He proved this by sending His One and Only Son to make a way for us to have everlasting peace. Have you experienced His peace? Do not settle for lesser peace. Rather, delight in the Only One who has and gives the best peace.
Praise God for His promise of peace, and His faithfulness to deliver! “For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
The calendar year is almost complete, and we want to wish you a Merry Christmas!
We are thankful for God’s continued grace, mercy, and provision in our lives – especially the good news of the gospel – that God sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to take on flesh, live a perfect life, die on the cross for our sins, and rise again to defeat sin and death for all eternity. We pray you experience a closer walk with Him this coming year and prioritize Him above all else.
“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). His name is Jesus. Praise the Lord!
Below are some specific ways you can pray for our family headed into the new year, as well as some short updates on each of us. Marsha and I share our primary hopes, followed by each of our kids’ requests. Thank you for praying for us! If there are any specific ways we can pray for you, please let us know.
Marsha and I ask that you pray God will give us wisdom to shepherd our children’s hearts to love and honor Him. Also, please pray that we will grow in our relationship with Jesus and help others to grow closer to Jesus. Finally, please pray that our church family will grow in our commitment to be disciples who make disciples. Thank you!
This coming year, we will celebrate 20 years of marriage. Praise the Lord!
Marsha is staying extremely busy with getting our kids to their various school events and extracurricular activities, serving in children’s and women’s ministry with our church, doing various tasks around the church property, volunteering in various roles, and being an amazing wife and mother.
I have been pastoring Richland for more than eight years now, and I love what I do! In my free time, I like to walk the dog, be outside, play basketball, and watch high school sports.
Noah asks that you pray for the rest of his final exams (coming up after Christmas break). Also, he asks that you pray he would be a faithful Christian witness and invite more friends to Richland services and events.
A sophomore at North Callaway High School, Noah is helping with student-led Bible studies there. He is also actively involved in our church’s youth group, and he likes watching football and basketball and playing video games in his free time. Since June, Noah has been working at Arby’s, too. They have the meats!
Levi asks that you pray for school and final exams and also that he will be a light and witness to his friends.
A freshman at North Callaway High School, Levi also attends the weekly student-led Bible studies. He is actively involved in our church’s youth group, and he loves playing high school basketball and taking care of our dog, Lottie. In the spring, he plans to run mid-distance events in track again. Since getting his driving learner’s permit in November, Levi is constantly (it seems) wanting to practice driving.
Silas asks that you pray that he will do better in school and that he will read His Bible every morning.
Zoe asks that you pray she will do well in school and be nice to people. We would also ask that you pray for Zoe to truly surrender her heart and life to Jesus.
A fourth grader at Hatton-McCredie Elementary School, Zoe loves being around people, is involved with student council, and is always wanting to be on the go. She plays basketball and also hopes to be involved with volleyball and track. Like Silas, Zoe is actively involved with our TeamKID children’s ministry with our church family and just began taking piano lessons.
Micah asks that you pray that he can be with his mom as much as possible. Yes, he is still a mommy’s boy and is not afraid to admit that. Will you please also pray for Micah’s spiritual health and salvation in Christ?
A first grader at Hatton-McCredie Elementary School, Micah enjoys reading, drawing, doing various projects, and playing Minecraft. He is also actively involved with our TeamKID children’s ministry with our church family and loves playing with his friends.
Lottie, well, she is a dog. We love her, though, and she is doing well. She loves being around anyone who will play with her and give her attention – people, other dogs, and/or any other living creature. Lottie is great at playing fetch, going on morning walks with me, and swimming. She will also wrestle and play tug-of-war with anyone who is willing.
What do you want more than anything else for Christmas? Questions like that get asked every year, and some of the results have led to songs like “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” by Mariah Carey, and “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” which my dad used to sing to kids who lost their two front teeth. Oh, the memories!
Really, though, what is the one thing you would like to have at Christmas? Might I propose that perhaps the one thing you and I want more than anything else is one of the many things we take for granted? Love is what I am talking about. Because the question of what we want for Christmas is often asked by those who love us, we do not stop to consider what it would be like if we desperately longed for love.
What if you did not have family or friends who cared about you? What if you had such family and friends but recently lost them? What if the holidays were a time you dreaded because of the memories of loved ones that you greatly missed? These scenarios and/or others are the reality for many, and such people might say that they just long for that love again this Christmas – that company, that sense of belonging, that warm embrace, that care and concern, that love.
Really, we all long for that love. We all need that love. God created us for that love. The problem, though, is not only that we take love for granted, but that we look for lasting love in the wrong places. The very reason we might find ourselves feeling unloved is because we have been let down by someone or something incapable of the kind of love we all desperately need – love that endures.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Luke 1:39-55 about the amazing example of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Mary understood and embraced enduring love in such a way that her life was changed. In my message Sunday morning, I hope to communicate three realities of love that endures.
Ultimately, of course, this message is about the love of God. Mary realized the vastness of God’s love and declared one of the most famous hymns (or poems) ever recorded (Luke 1:46-55).
“And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and His name is holy” (Luke 1:46-49).
How true it is!
Like Mary, we must find our source of identity, fulfillment, and love in the Lord our God. Otherwise, we will be deeply disappointed and constantly find ourselves let down and longing for the “next best thing.” That “next best thing” will never come, though (or will never last, at least), because God alone can meet our deepest longings and satisfy our greatest needs. Most perfectly and sacrificially, He did so in and through the death and resurrection of His One and Only Son. Now, if you surrender your life to Jesus, you can and will experience the greatest of all gifts – enduring love.
Jesus alone made such love possible, and only when we find our hope, joy, and peace in Him, will we find ourselves continually satisfied and fulfilled. Most importantly, only then will we be made right with God and be able to rejoice like Mary did.
May the Lord help us to say with all sincerity, “All I want for Christmas is to know and experience the love of Jesus and help others to know and experience the love of Jesus!”
When you consider what you hope to experience with holiday gatherings this Christmas season, I highly doubt you are looking forward to division, strife, and stress. You want peace and joy in those gatherings, right? If you get together with family and friends, get along with everyone and have a great time, you will look back on that time with fond memories. That is the kind of peace we all want this time of year, and all the time, really.
Do you know what else we all want, though, that we might not consider as much as we should? We all want lasting peace. No one leaves a fun get-together with family and friends and says, “Well, that’s enough peace and happiness. I need some stress and heartache in my life now! Who wants to fight me?!” Okay, at least someone in his right mind does not think or say that.
Lasting peace is the peace we all want. Not only that – lasting peace is the peace we all need and is the peace for which we were created.
The God who created us proved this to be the case by sending His Son Jesus Christ to make a way for us to have lasting peace. Our sinfulness and the resulting fallen world in which we live make such peace impossible, but through Jesus, the impossible became possible. When we turn away from that sin and turn to Jesus for forgiveness, He saves us from our sin and reconciles us to God forever. Only then do we begin to experience the peace we all deeply long for, the peace we all deeply need, and the peace for which God created us.
Have you experienced that peace? Are you looking to and trusting the Lord to help you to continue to realize and embrace the lasting peace that only comes from Him?
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Luke 3:1-18 on the lasting “PEACE” that only comes from the Lord. Through John the Baptist’s ministry, message, and example, we can learn a few essential truths of sincere peace with God – the only peace that endures forever.
In the meantime, I encourage you to seek the Lord and pray for His peace. Pray that peace with Him and peace with others will be the growing desires of your heart. Pray that He will use you like He used John the Baptist to be a messenger and example of what lasting peace looks like. God help us for His glory and for our (and others‘) good!
God’s plan for your life is that you have joy. Does that mean things will always be great and comfortable and secure and physically prosperous? Absolutely not. The Bible is full of teaching and examples that declare otherwise. God does want you to have joy and contentment, though. I believe this is clear because we are commanded to rejoice.
What if things are not going well, though? How can we still have joy? How can God expect us to have joy? “Rejoice in what?”, you might wonder.
Well, our reason for joy – the joy that lasts and endures through the ups and downs of life – is Jesus. The Bible never calls us to rejoice in our circumstances or rejoice in our families or rejoice in our careers or rejoice in our sports teams (praise the Lord!). Rather, we are called to rejoice in the Lord. He alone is sufficient to sustain us and fulfill us, no matter our circumstances. Yes, we are still called to give thanks in all things, but there are certainly things we cannot (and should not) give thanks for, i.e. sin and evil. Yet, even in the midst of evil, chaos, destruction, and devastation, we can have joy if we find our identity in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Perhaps as well as any person who ever lived, John the Baptist understood this. He found purpose and meaning in the Lord Jesus, and the result was the kind of joy and satisfaction that can only come from Him. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from John 1:19-34, considering John the Baptist’s story and two keys to lasting joy and satisfaction.
To where, what, or whom are you looking for joy? We all long for joy, and we certainly never want our joy to fade away. Yet, when we look outside of God’s plan for our lives, joy will never last. Satisfaction will never grow. Contentment will never continue. Fulfillment will never be realized.
Do you have that joy? If not, what are you willing to do to realize it and experience it? The good news is that you do not have to figure this out on your own. You were made for joy, so you simply have to look to the One who made you. Trust in Him to change your heart and change your life. Find your joy in Him, and you will not be disappointed. Life will likely get more difficult when you do, and yet, you will never regret surrendering your all to the Lord. In Him alone will you find the meaning and purpose that will satisfy your soul and give you the joy for which you were made.
This past Sunday evening, our kids with Richland Baptist Church had a children’s Christmas program. They sang some well-known Christmas hymns and shared some stories of how God has used angels to touch the lives of His people, as recorded in Scripture.
Perhaps more than any other time of year, I love singing hymns about the birth of Jesus. No, I don’t mean the commercialization of Christmas and songs like “Here Comes Santa Claus.” What I love is the great theology found in some of our great Christmas hymns.
I loved hearing the kids sing them Sunday evening, and I especially love singing them myself with our church family.
Jesus is the reason to sing. His coming to take on flesh is a reason to sing. His life, death, and resurrection for our salvation is a reason to sing. Do you desire to sing?
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1:46-55, talking about how “Redemption Is Certain.” When we know and follow Jesus as Savior and Lord, the redemption we have in Him is certain.
Does that make you want to sing? If you have experienced that redemption, I am unsure how your answer could be anything but an enthusiastic “YES!”
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Luke 1:46).
The same reason Mary burst out in praise – celebrating our great God of redemption – ought to compel us to to sing praises to the King.
Do you have that reason to sing? If not, would you consider turning to the Lord for the eternal redemption only He can give?
Perhaps more than any other time of year, December is a month we think a lot about gifts. What will we get those we love? What should we ask for on our Christmas list? What do we “need” or want? How much money should we spend?
Christmas time is often referred to as “The Season of Giving.” While I would like to think that is because we would do well to “keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive‘” (Acts 20:35), more than likely, we call this “The Season of Giving” because we are so consumed with the giving and receiving of gifts. Commercialization rules the season more than we would probably care to admit.
WANTS CONSUME OUR HEARTS
From the time I can remember, I have been asked every single year, “What do you want for Christmas?” I, too, ask this question, although I will admit that I am thankful for my wife, who does the vast majority of our Christmas shopping for pretty much everyone for whom we buy gifts.
Our wants tend to consume our hearts, though, right? Naturally, we ask for things we want, and this is not solely the case with Christmas presents. An honest assessment would reveal that this is the way of our lives.
We think about what we want. We seek what we want. We get obsessed, sometimes, with what we want. And, if we are honest when asked what we want, we tell people what we want. Discretion might keep a 30-year-old from asking for the pony she has wanted since she was 13, but if pressed, maybe she will even admit that desire.
THERE IS A GIFT WE NEED
So much greater than the things we want, though, are the things we need. Sometimes those things overlap, but usually our list of needs is much shorter than our list of wants. Makes sense, of course, because we are pretty fortunate to have much of what we need.
There is no greater need, though, than our need for redemption – eternal life through the debt of our sin being paid in full.
What greater example of “The Season of Giving” than the gift of God’s Son, who came to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21)! He came to redeem us – to buy us back. His blood-sacrifice on the cross is the only payment sufficient to cover our sins and make us right with God. His resurrection from the dead is the only victory sufficient to conquer sin and death for all of eternity.
When you purchase Christmas presents, you redeem them, to a degree, with your money. You take possession of them and make them yours (perhaps to then give to someone else) by giving up something – money.
That is exactly what Jesus did when He died on the cross. He gave His life to purchase your salvation. This is why we use the word “redemption” when referring to God’s act of delivering us from eternal death in hell by sacrificing His Son. He bought us and made us His own.
For this to be true of you, though, you must repent of your sins and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for your salvation. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Matthew 1:18-25 on how “Repentance Is Redemption.” I hope to challenge those listening to trust in Jesus alone for redemption and for the assurance of such redemption.
Have you trusted in the greatest gift ever given – the gospel of your redemption? Are you finding great hope and assurance in this gift? Are you so grateful for this gift that you are passionately sharing it with others? Eternal redemption is the ultimate gift we all need and should be the gift that gives us the greatest joy, hope, and peace. Praise be to God!