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?

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.

Family Time in Illinois

Last month, we had a great time hanging out at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Illinois and doing a day trip to Chicago. We do not see our nieces, my sister Stephanie, and my brother-in-law nearly as often as we would like, so times like this are sweet. Here are just a few pictures from our trip…

What motivates you?

When I was in high school, I had a few teammates on my basketball team I thought were strange. In fact, I thought they were not only strange but also misguided and unmotivated. Why did I think this? Well, because they did not play basketball on Sundays. Really, I am not sure so much that it was these three teammates who made this decision as much as it was their Christian parents.

While they did not attend the optional Sunday evening open gyms we had during the summer months, I did not think much about that because we had three open gyms each week, and not everyone attended all three. What confused and even frustrated me, though, was when we had our weekend basketball team camps each summer… These teammates would attend the first half of the camp, but then their parents would pick them up Saturday evening to take them home. They would miss the final day of the camps – Sundays.

Why? Well, I knew the “why” from what they told me – they set Sundays aside for worship and fellowship with their church family and also for family time together. As a committed youth group member in my family’s church, though, and someone who rarely ever missed Sunday School and Sunday morning worship services, I thought, “What’s the harm in missing an occasional Sunday here and there. After all, this is basketball! We want to get better and win. Aren’t you motivated and committed like me?

I honestly cannot remember if I ever said anything to these teammates or their parents, but I definitely did not understand. Certainly, I can remember having some resentment.

During college a couple of years later, though, when I really started thinking seriously about what I believed about God, those former teammates and their families came to mind. In fact, when I came to the realization that I had been going through the religious motions and had never truly surrendered my life to Jesus, I realized just how right they were and how wrong I was.

A SUPERIOR MOTIVATION

Those teammates and their families did not lack motivation and drive, and I do not say that simply because those teammates were still really good basketball players during the season. No, their motivation was in a better place. Their motivation was superior to mine because it was based on the Only One who gives us lasting purpose and meaning.

Truly, our motivations are determined by our priorities, and while I claimed to be a follower of Jesus as a teenager, my priorities (and resulting motivations) proved otherwise. I was only motivated to be involved with my church when it was convenient and did not conflict with other activities I deemed more important. I was only motivated to read my Bible to check it off my list and feel better about myself. I was only motivated to serve others when I could get something in return. My priorities were really centered on my advancement, not the advancement of the gospel and the good of the church.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 on “The Motive (for discipleship and church unity): Racing for the Reward.” Paul used sports analogies that people in the first century Greco-Roman world would have understood. While there are some differences that I will explain Sunday morning, we can understand his analogies, too. We can understand the motivation to compete and win. We can understand the need for endurance. We can understand that there are certain necessities when it comes to particular priorities. The Christian faith, of course, is no exception, and how much more should we be motivated to walk with Jesus and help others to walk with Jesus.

I do not recall how much those former teammates and their families tried to point me and our other teammates and our families to Jesus. Clearly, I was not listening, even if they were, because I was comfortable in my own world, following my own idols. Their witness and example obviously had an impact on me, though, because here I am, 25 years later, still remembering it.

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). What prize are you seeking? What motivates you? Consider your commitments and priorities, and your motives will follow.

Are you running in such a way to win the prize – the prize of walking closely with the Lord and helping others to walk closely with the Lord?

If you have only really gone through the religious motions or have simply relied on “being a good person” to make you right with God, would you consider the joy of truly surrendering your life to Him and experiencing the salvation only He can give?
Learn more by checking out The Story.

The Cost of Winning

As long as I can remember, I have loved winning and hated losing. Not alone in that mentality, many others share this competitive nature with me. Do you? For things that really matter to you, even if you are not quite as competitive as some, I am sure you love winning and hate losing.

What is the cost of winning, though? How much are we willing to sacrifice in order to succeed? Are we willing to pay the price?

Growing up, when it came to basketball – perhaps more than anything else – I wanted to be a winner. I wanted to be the best. I never really was the best, but that was not for lack of trying. Since the third grade and until my sophomore year of college, I spent at least 2-3 hours per day (sometimes many more) in the summer months and at least 30-45 minutes during the off-season school months working on my basketball game. Ball handling drills, shooting drills, lifting weights, push-ups and sit-ups, jumping and agility drills – anything I learned from my dad and others that would make me better, I tried.

I counted the cost of what I believed and what I was told it would take to achieve success, and I embraced that cost. The cost of winning was worth it to me.

A BETTER VICTORY

So much better than winning at basketball, though, is the victory that comes from the Lord. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 on “The Cost (of discipleship that leads to church unity): Whatever It Takes.”

As a child and as a teenager, I felt like I was willing to do whatever it took to be the best I could be at basketball. I made a lot of sacrifices for the sake of getting better. Never did I get as good as I wanted to get. Maybe I became a better-than-average player trapped in a below-average athletically gifted body. Maybe God was protecting me from the pride and foolishness that would have resulted if I did truly achieve the success for which I longed. I am not sure.

My goal was to play division-I college basketball, though. Well, I did not accomplish my goal. Was all that sacrifice worth it? To some degree, yes – I learned a lot about hard work, commitment, and dedication. To some degree, no – I am sure I, at least at times, sacrificed at the expense of other things that were more important than basketball. Then again, I was not yet a follower of Jesus Christ, so I did not really comprehend what those “better things” might be. I had yet to realize that a better victory was available – a victory that I could never attain on my own but that had been won on my behalf.

WANTING TO WIN

That better victory is so much better because it is a victory that lasts forever. It is a victory that we were created to long for and be miserable without. It is the victory that satisfies not only what we need most but also defines our very purpose. Have you experienced that victory – the victory that comes only in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

If you have experienced victory in Jesus, then you want a kind of winning that is so much greater than the winning I longed for as a basketball player. You want to experience winning people to Jesus. You want to follow Jesus and help others to follow Jesus. And, the cost of that kind of winning truly is worth the cost – worth the cost of stepping out of our comfort zones and risking our very lives so that others can experience the greatest victory.

If we are willing to sacrifice for worldly success, how much more should we willingly sacrifice for eternal impact?

I always attributed my work ethic and competitive nature to my dad, and there is certainly some truth to that because I am not sure if I have ever known someone as hard-working and competitive as my dad. He also loved to win, and some of my greatest childhood memories are when we won at things together. What I have come to realize, though, is that the longing to win is really the way God created us. We were made in His image, and so we were made to love and long for victory. He is the greatest Victor of all, and when we know and follow Him, we will want to experience that victory and help others experience that victory. Then, more than ever, is the cost of winning worth the sacrifice.

Praise be to God!

Please check out The Story if you have yet to experience the greatest victory.

Are you a student of the game?

As my basketball coach, my dad used to frequently say that in order to be a good player, you had to be a student of the game. You had to pay attention and always be learning, or you could not get better. He would talk a lot about “basketball IQ,” often frustrated that intelligent people did not always make intelligent players. He would preach, “You have to be a student of the game. Are you a student of the game?

Of course, I find myself telling my kids the same thing. Silas (#22 above) and Noah (#22 below) both finished their seasons recently. Whether with them or with Levi and Zoe, whose seasons finished a couple of months ago, I am regularly reminding them of their need not only to practice the fundamentals of the game but to better learn the fundamentals of the game by watching basketball. If you do not know the game well, you cannot play the game well.

Similarly, but much more importantly, if you do not know the Lord well, you cannot follow and worship the Lord well. Are you a student of the game?

Really, though, life is much more than a game because what happens in this life matters for eternity. And, the only knowledge sufficient for eternal life is the knowledge of the gospel. Thus, are you a student of the Word? Do you know the Lord according to His Word and seek to follow and worship Him according to the standards of His Word?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will preach through Psalm 145 on “Learned Worship.” We will consider five ways to learn right worship. God defines what is right, and knowing Him and knowing His Word will allow us to worship Him rightly. Otherwise, we go through the motions in vain, at best, dishonoring His name and destroying our lives.

Are you a student of the game? Your success depends on it. Are you a student of the Word? Your salvation depends on it.

Are you a student of the game? Are you in the game? To be in the game that matters, you must know and follow Jesus with all your heart. You can learn more by watching and/or reading THE STORY.

Sub, please!

If you play and/or watch sports, you know about the value of substitutes. Players get tired and need a sub. Players get hurt and need a sub. Players play poorly and need a sub. Or, in the case of my daughter’s 3rd-4th-grade basketball team, subs are rotated in every four minutes to assure equal playing time. In competitive sports, though, rarely is a team good without good bench players – substitutes. This is because even the best athletes get tired and/or hurt and need subs occasionally.

WHAT’S THE POINT?

Typically, the point of a substitute is to take the place of something or someone else for reasons of unavailability, inadequacy, or recovery. Sometimes the replacement is temporary, and sometimes the replacement is permanent. Substitutes are a part of life. Sometimes we need a substitute ourselves, and sometimes we need a substitute for something or someone else upon which we rely.

WHAT’S OUR NEED?

Without question and without exception, every one of us has a critical need for the most important of all substitutes – someone to take the punishment we deserve for our sins. Sure, we might be able to tough our way through a minor injury without a sub. Yeah, we might be able to push through exhaustion without a sub. We might be able to endure an illness without a sub.

None of us, though, can endure the wrathful judgment of God, and so we need a sub. The judgment we deserve because of our sin is eternal death in hell, so we need a sub. No matter how hard we try, we cannot fix our sin problem and make ourselves right with our holy God, so we need a sub. For this reason – and because God loves us so much – He sent His One and Only Son Jesus to take our place, to take our punishment, to be our sub.

WILL YOU TRUST THE SUB?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 9 (“Jesus Is the Better Substitute“). Jesus is the Substitute we need to take our deserved punishment, so we can inherit eternal life. He is the better Substitute because He is the Only One who can accomplish the impossible task of making us righteous.

He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

Will you trust the Sub, then? Will you recognize your need for Him and surrender your life to Him? Only then can you receive the redemption and resulting restoration we all need.

If you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your substitutionary sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins, are you growing in your faith and reliance upon Him? Your need for the Sub is no less today than it was the day you turned to Him for the first time.

Zoe (22) playing defense in her most recent game.

David vs. Goliath isn’t about March Madness.

We have all heard it before. Maybe, we have even said it ourselves. “It’s a battle of David vs. Goliath!” Whether it is the big school vs. the small school, or it is the seemingly great team vs. the not-so-great team, this time of year seems to be the time more than any other when I hear about David vs. Goliath. March Madness!

After all, David of Bethlehem was a teenager who probably was not much more than five feet tall, and Goliath of Gath was at least nearly seven feet tall and possibly over nine feet tall. Goliath wore armor that probably weighed as much as David. His spear was about 15 times heavier than the normal spear used during that time. David was the ultimate underdog when he entered the battlefield to face Goliath.

While we all understand why this well-known story is referred to in underdog scenarios, I fear we are missing a very important point when we make this story about basketball. More importantly, we miss the point when we make this story about us.

David vs. Goliath is not recorded in the Bible to make us look inward for courage and strength. David vs. Goliath is recorded in the Bible to make us look upward to the Lord God Almighty.

The reality is, we are all much more likely to behave like Goliath than we are to behave like David. In our sinful, prideful nature, we are prone to think we have it all figured out and can “do all things” through our hard work, accomplishments, acquired skills, preparations, etc. Yes, we would all like to think of ourselves as David, but the truth is that we are more like Goliath – doing things our way rather than God’s way. If that happens to be the case, then we, too, like Goliath, will fall.

Sunday, Lord willing, I will just-so-happen to be preaching from 1 Samuel 17 on the story of David vs. Goliath. While March Madness will not be a part of my message, I cannot help but think of the reminders that both of these well-known events bring.

But, David vs. Goliath is not about March Madness. David vs. Goliath is not even about you or about me. David vs. Goliath is about God. In fact, David the victor points us to Jesus the Victor, the perfect descendant of David who conquered our greatest enemies – sin and death.

David defeated Goliath because God was with him and because God is faithful and in control. Do not make yourself out to be David. Rather, trust in the same God in whom David trusted, and experience the victorious faith that only comes in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We can’t do anything we put our minds to.

Silas (above) and Zoe (below) are playing Upward Basketball at a local church this winter and learning a lot about teamwork, fundamentals, discipline, and faith, thanks to great coaches like my wife, Marsha.

Now, when kids play sports, especially if they enjoy playing and hope to be great, people tend to say things like, “You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Is that wise counsel, though? I do not believe it is because the truth is that you cannot do anything you put your mind to, and I cannot either. In fact, we can do absolutely nothing apart from the grace and help of God.

If there was any man who seemed like he could do anything he put his mind to, King Saul was surely that man, was he not? But, as is clearly recorded in 1 Samuel 13 and following, King Saul had a tragic downfall. In fact, he became the villain – the enemy of God.

King David, on the other hand, was not someone you would think of, at least at first, as someone who could do anything he put his mind to. And, the reality was, he too could not do anything he put his mind to. Sure, he did amazing things, but how? Well, by the grace and help of God. Not until after the Spirit of God took control of David did he do the incredible things people still talk about today.

The story of King David is not a story to inspire us to think we can do great things. Rather, the story of King David ought to remind us that we serve a great God.

God can do anything He puts His mind to, including use ordinary people like you and me to do extraordinary things. Do not believe in yourself. Believe in Him.

Start by making sure you have a genuine, born-again relationship with Him, and continue by trusting and surrendering to Him each day. Only He is sufficient to enable you to reach your full potential in Him.

Will Silas and Zoe be basketball superstars some day. It is possible but statistically unlikely. Who cares, though? More importantly, they are learning about a super God – the One who can do all things, the One who never fails, and the One who loves us so much that He sent His One and only Son to die for our sins.

We cannot do anything we put our minds to, but we serve a God who can. He, not our abilities or accomplishments, holds our eternal destiny in His hands.

Merry Christmas from the Drakes!

Greetings! We pray you and yours are doing well and seeking the Lord this Christmas season. Thankfully, our family has had a good and “normal” 2018 (as normal as a family of seven can experience, at least).

Noah (13) is in 7th grade and had his first season of tackle football this fall. He really enjoyed football, and his team going undefeated certainly helped. Now, he is busy with basketball, which is his favorite sport.

Levi (12) is in 6th grade and just started his basketball season, too, where he is fortunate (at times) and unfortunate (at times) to have his dad as his coach. Now in middle school, Levi greatly misses his favorite part of the day: recess.

Silas (8) is in 2nd grade and is constantly seeking to make people laugh and have fun. He is looking forward to basketball soon but says his favorite thing to do is play with toys.

Zoe (7) is in 1st grade and is gritty and holding her own with four brothers. She, as much as her brothers, loves rough-housing and playing tackle football in the yard. She can’t stop talking about how excited she is to start basketball.

Micah (3 ½) has now been a part of the Drake family for 18 months, but it seems like he has been here all along. While he is still a big-time mommy’s boy at heart, he sure adores the rest of his family and loves to try to do everything his siblings are doing.

Marsha is staying busy with Micah on her heels all day, and she continues to serve our church family in children’s ministry on Sundays and Wednesdays. She loves hanging out with our family, being involved in the kids’ school activities and sports, and keeping up with various projects.

Nick has been the pastor of Richland Baptist Church for more than five years now, and he loves this ministry, particularly preaching, discipleship and outreach. He, along with the rest of the family, is beyond grateful that his mom, sister Ashley and niece Sahari all moved to Fulton this year. It is an incredible blessing to all be a part of the same church and see each other multiple times each week.

While there are countless things for which we can give thanks this year, nothing even compares to the eternal life that is promised in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He came to this earth more than 2,000 years ago, born of a virgin and lived a perfect life. Then, He died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures promised He would.

When Jesus rose from the dead, He won the victory over sin and death, so that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Have you called on His name and asked Him to take over your life? If not, we pray you will make that decision before it’s too late because just like He came, as promised, the first time, He is coming again, as promised. And, His second coming is one of eternal judgment for all who have not yet surrendered to His Lordship, whereas it is a welcoming of eternal glory for all who have surrendered to Him.

If you have any questions about what it means to follow Jesus, please don’t hesitate to contact us. While we are far from perfect and certainly do not have all the answers, we would love to pray for and encourage you in any way we can.

Hope you have a great rest of the week and great start to 2019.

Merry Christmas and God bless you!

2018 Drake Kids
Micah’s face in this picture is a great example of how we often do NOT have it all together. Far from it, in fact.