Zoe’s Testimony & Baptism

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing privilege of baptizing Zoe and my sister Ashley. Praise be to God! Below, you can see their testimonies and baptisms (first video) and/or just watch Zoe’s testimony (second video).

Never have I been more proud to be Zoe’s dad and Ashley’s brother than when they publicly professed their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord by sharing their testimonies and being baptized. What a blessing and privilege it was to get to baptize them!

Honest Doubt

Because none of us is perfect, none of us has perfect faith. Our imperfect faith results in a struggle with doubt. What should we do, then, when we struggle with doubt? How should we respond?

There was once a desperate father with a very sick son who said to Jesus, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).

Clearly, in saying “If you can…,” this man doubted Jesus. He struggled with his doubt and yet was honest in his request to Jesus. Does that make this man’s doubt acceptable? No, but it does give us an example of the honest struggle with sin that we all need to confess, as well as giving us an amazing picture of Jesus’ kindness and compassion.

Then Jesus said to him, “‘If You can’? Everything is possible to the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief”” (Mark 9:23-24).

How do you deal with your doubts? How should you? While there might be several ways one would answer those questions, I believe there are a couple of common wrong ways to deal with doubt and only one right way.

WRONG: Deny the struggle.

Some people try to “tough it out” and deny the struggle with doubt. They might think and/or say things like, “Eh, I’ll be fine. No worries,” while struggling deep down with doubts about God’s provision, God’s goodness, and God’s faithfulness. Perhaps they even profess to believe while still thinking of God, “If He can ____…

God knows our hearts, though. He knows of our struggles. He knows of our doubts. Thus, there is no need to deny the struggle but rather, like the man in Mark 9, admit, “Help my unbelief!” Have honest doubt, and do not deny the struggle.

WRONG: Deny the Savior.

Another wrong response is to give up on the Lord and deny His sovereign control and provision. When you struggle with doubt, do not give up on God. Yes, do give up thinking you can solve your problems, but do not deny the Savior. Jesus is Lord, and He alone is able to save us from our sins, make us right with God, and give us lasting hope and peace in the midst of our doubts.

When doubts come, do not see your doubts as a sign that God is failing. Rather, be reminded that you are failing. I am failing. We are failing. God never fails. May our doubts, then, never cause us to deny the struggle or deny the Savior!

RIGHT: Turn to the Savior.

The only right response to our struggle with doubt is to turn to Jesus – the One and Only Savior of the world. He is the Only One capable of meeting our eternal needs, satisfying our God-created longings, and restoring the holes in our hearts.

When you struggle with doubt, be honest. God knows. Do not deny the struggle, and do not deny the Savior. Instead, cry out to Him. Admit to your struggles and ask for His help. If you read the rest of the story (Mark 9:25-29), you can see that Jesus did indeed have compassion and help the man’s son. He healed the boy like only the Promised Messiah and Savior could do. Then, He reminded His disciples (and us) of our need for Him.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Mark 9:19-29 on our journey “From Doubt to Faith.” To move from doubt to faith, your faith must be in the Only One who can deliver you from the source of your doubts. Faith in Jesus alone diminishes doubts. Respond to doubt, then, by turning to Him. Believe, and cry out to Him to “help your unbelief.”

Struggling with doubt and discouragement to the point of hopeless despair? Turn to Jesus today. You can learn more by checking out The Story.

What changes will cure your doubts?

If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why do so many bad things happen?

If God is in control, why is there so much injustice in the world?

If God really cares about me, why do I feel so far from Him?

If Jesus is the perfect Son of God, why is so much evil done by those who claim to follow Him?

Those questions and so many more are and have been asked often. While the purpose of this post is not to give adequate answers to those questions, there are adequate answers to those questions. Of course, you and I might not be the ones to give such answers, especially when it comes to specific situations, but God certainly can and will. To a degree, He already has, and to the ultimately-satisfying degree, He will when Jesus Christ comes again.

All of those questions (and more) were ones I struggled with before coming to know the Lord. With great joy and thankfulness, I can honestly say those are not a struggle for me anymore, though. That does not mean I never have doubts or that my faith in God is perfect. Far from it! Like all Christ-followers, I am a work in progress and am far from where I need to be.

Still, I am grateful that by the grace and mercy of God, I have been changed. The change is not my doing but His doing. If you, too, have come to know the Lord, you understand what I am saying. If not, I highly encourage you to check out The Story by clicking on the picture below.

The change that occurs when we turn our lives over to the One who Created us is a change that affects every aspect of our lives, including how we deal with doubt. Again, this does not mean we will never have doubts. This does not mean we have all the answers to life’s difficult questions. This does mean, though, that we can move “From Doubt to Change,” as I will discuss in my message from Matthew 16:21-24 on Sunday morning, Lord willing. Instead of being consumed by worldly doubts, we can experience and rejoice in biblical change.

In your spare moments, what is more likely to consume your thoughts – God’s goodness or the world’s problems? In times of difficulty and discouragement, what is your source of comfort – the Spirit of God or the hopes of humanity? When you long for more happiness, what do you long for – more of Jesus and His church or more of health and prosperity? When you need answers, where are you more likely to turn – the Word of Christ or the winds of culture?

Your doubts that ultimately come from sin and the world cannot be cured by our sin and the world. God alone can cure our doubts. He alone can take away our sins. He alone can satisfy our needs. He alone can give us the purpose, hope, meaning, joy, fulfillment, and peace that we truly desire. Are you looking to Him for change? Are you seeking Him through His Word? Are you trusting Him? Let’s go from doubt to change!

To experience the only change that will last and endure the trials of life, turn to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Learn more by checking out The Story.

Don’t fight doubt with dirt.

When I was a kid, I thought quicksand was going to be a much bigger deal than it has turned out to be in my life. Learning and reading about quicksand, I thought for sure that by now, I would have needed to be rescued from quicksand. After all, quicksand is a really big problem and a dangerous common occurrence, right? Turns out I was wrong. To this day, I have yet to encounter the perils of quicksand.

Last summer, though, I was exploring a creek with my kids, and we came across some really thick mud with a thin layer of water over it. One of my kids stepped in it and sank in deep enough to get stuck and then almost lose a boot when getting pulled out. We were fascinated by this, as it was the closest thing to quicksand any of us had ever experienced. Thus, we proceeded to “play in the mud” and take turns rescuing one another from what we pretended was quicksand.

One thing was clear during this little adventure – the way to get out of that mud was not by using the surrounding mud. Even the dirt nearby was not helpful because it turned to mud, too. What we needed was help – the help of a person on solid ground, the help of a tree limb, and the footing of a firm foundation.

The difficulties of life are like that mud. Easily, we can get sucked in and stuck in the struggles, frustrations, stress, and devastation. What can rescue us then? How can we escape the perils of our fallen world?

Because of this reality, we all naturally struggle with doubts. Uncertainties, as a result of our obvious limitations and inadequacies, abound. We continuously have doubts, which lead to fear, discouragement, and failures.

How can we fight those doubts, then? How can we press on and not get sucked into the traps? How can we live a life of hope, assurance, and peace when there is so much evil, turmoil, difficulty, stress, and frustration?

Unfortunately, just like my kids and I foolishly thought we could “master” that mud on our own and be the first one to get out of the sinkhole without help, we so often do this with our doubts and fears. When my kids and I would get stuck in the sinking mud, we would grasp for the closest dirt bank we could reach, but it too would turn to mud. It looked firm and helpful, but it was not. We needed something solid and firm and immune to the softening effects of the water. Otherwise, we would only be digging ourselves further into the mud.

Likewise, when we face our doubts and try to conquer those doubts with “dirt” – some seemingly helpful solutions that only turn to mud and throw us deeper into the pit of doubt and despair – then we are hopeless. Dirt cannot save you from mud because it just turns into more mud, especially when the waters of difficulty do not recede.

Do not fight doubt with dirt. You need the rescue that can pull you from the mud. You need the foundation that can keep you on solid ground. You need the Rock!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series (Help My Unbelief: Dealing with Doubt), preaching this first message from Matthew 11:2-6 on going “From Doubt to Pursuit.” When you struggle with doubt, respond by pursuing Jesus. He alone is the Rock who can deliver you from the mud of despair.

Are you struggling with debilitating doubt, perhaps resulting in fear and despair, because of your circumstances? Jesus alone is the answer. He is the Rock, whereas every other supposed answer is nothing more than dirt. I invite you to trust in Him for hope and peace, and continually depend on Him for the strength to press on and endure. You will not regret trusting the firm foundation of His Word and the power of His Spirit.

To learn how to know and follow God in a right and growing relationship with Him, please check out The Story.

Have Mercy

I am not exactly sure what was happening in the above picture, but I love the example of sacrificial service on display by my mom as she was leading a game with the 4-to-6-year-old children Wednesday evening. Marsha and her (and several other amazing volunteers) serve our church family by ministering to dozens of children on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. They do so with very little fanfare and certainly little (if any) appreciation from the children, who do not yet know how to express much appreciation.

Effective children’s ministry, much like most Christian ministry, requires a lot of mercy and grace. Those children (just like the rest of us, by the way) do not deserve the time and effort volunteers put forth week after week. Ministry, especially children’s ministry, is utterly exhausting, very demanding, and extremely underappreciated. When I see some of the things our church volunteers endure (the spitting, kicking, screaming, pouting, scowling, yanking, pulling, tackling, throwing, etc. – plus all the things children do ;-)), I am amazed more volunteers do not burnout and run away.

Here they are, though, faithfully serving the Lord and His church week after week, year after year. Praise God for their Christlike examples!

WHY?

Why do these faithful volunteers (and so many others) endure the difficulties of ministry? Why do they have and extend the mercy and grace that ministry requires? The simple answer to that question is because they have received and experienced that mercy and grace from the Lord. Once you experience such amazing mercy, you cannot help but have mercy.

A changed life leads to a desire to see the lives of others changed. Thus, disciples of Jesus want to help others know and follow Jesus. Disciples make disciples who make disciples who make disciples…

Those who have experienced much will give much.

HOW?

How, though, can people serve so faithfully when there is so little gratitude and appreciation and reward? The simple answer is that they are able to do these things by the same grace and mercy of God that saved them from their sins. These incredible volunteers are not super-humans (although they look like it sometimes), and they are not super-Christians with some extra measure of faith that others cannot experience. Rather, they trust and depend on the grace of God that is necessary for anyone to do anything good.

They have experienced the mercy of God, and as they continue to trust His mercy and grace, they have mercy and compassion for others. The same God who opened their hearts to turn to Him is the same God who enables them to serve Him and His church so faithfully?

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Have you experienced God’s mercy through Christ? Are you extending that mercy to others? In what ways can you better demonstrate God’s mercy in and through your everyday life?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Luke 10:25-37 on “Giving Mercy.” If you have received mercy from the Lord, then you will have and give mercy to others. How we treat others is the evidence of our relationship with God (see HERE and HERE, for example). Even when others are not kind and gracious to you (just like preschoolers who have kicked and hit volunteers), embracing God’s mercy and grace leads to the extension of that mercy and grace to others. See Luke 6:32-36 for a great example of this.

Let us know Jesus (in receiving mercy), and let us make Him known (in giving mercy). Have mercy to the glory of God!

To understand and embrace the mercy of God in and through a saving relationship with His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, check out The Story and call upon His name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love winning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have security?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Your Shepherd?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expecting the Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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