Where’s the honor?

One week ago, we brought home the newest member of the Drake family – a two-week-old Golden Labrador we named Lottie. Having grown up with labradors, I knew it would not take me long to fall in love with little Lottie. It has not taken Marsha and our kids long either.

One thing I love about Lottie, and I think most people love about dogs, is how excited she is to see me when I greet her after being away from her. For example, when I walk into our garage at 5:30 in the morning and wake her up, she is thrilled to see me and seemingly happy to be awakened. Then, as I go for a walk outside, she follows me around, not even needing a leash (not yet, at least).

Lottie makes me feel honored, in a way. Granted, I am not honored if and when I have to clean up her poop, but I am honored by her sincere excitement and loyalty.

PUPPY LOVE WILL NOT DO

While some might be tempted to think, though, “I’ll honor God like my dog honors me,” puppy love will not do. Sure, Lottie shows me a great deal of love and affection, but she would do the same thing if another owner came along and took her for a walk in the morning. Puppy love, at its core, is shallow and immature. Yes, it can be a blessing in some ways, but God deserves so much more than just puppy love.

God is our “great King” (Malachi 1:14), and He is worthy of all of our praise and devotion. He does not share that honor and glory with another, as He is the only One who is worthy of such honor.

Dogs are great at honoring and showing love, but their honor and love can be misguided, not to mention pluralistic. We can learn something from dogs about unconditionally loving people, but we ought not model our love for God after our dogs’ love for us.

Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Dogs are good at loving their neighbors (i.e. their masters) as themselves. Let us do better at loving one another and loving those around us. God, though, deserves much more love and much more honor. Let us love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds. Otherwise, we dishonor Him.

DISHONOR IS DEVASTATING

As God made clear in Malachi 1:6-14, anything less than complete devotion to God is equal to despising God. Then, as you can read in chapter 2 – from where I will preach, Lord willing, Sunday morning – the result of that dishonor and despising is devastating.

If you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart to honor My name,” says the Lord of Hosts, “I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings. In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart” (Malachi 2:2).

What is more devastating than being cursed by God? If you only love your God as much as your puppy loves you, God’s curse is your promise. Do not settle for puppy love. Give God and God alone your everything.

EXAMINE YOUR HEART

We would all do well to sincerely ask ourselves, “Am I honoring God with my life? Is He truly glorified through my attitude, words and actions?” Where is the honor?

If you lack the desire to honor God above all, perhaps you have yet to fully surrender your life to Him. He sent His Son Jesus to make a way for you to be right with Him now and for eternity.

If you have truly turned from your sins and surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, still continue to challenge yourself each day to consider if you are truly honoring Him. Make sure you have a church family and some reliable Christian friends holding you accountable.

Puppies are cute, and puppy love can be adorable, but puppies and puppy love do not save us from sin or enable us to endure. Seek God through His Word, be committed to His church, and be faithful to His mission.

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Religiously Worthless

Did you know you can be religious and yet not worship God? And no, I am not referring to false religions that ascribe the worship of false gods. I am talking about people who profess to know and follow the one true God but who are not sincerely worshiping Him.

As I will be preaching about Sunday morning, Lord willing, God addressed this very issue with the Israelites in Malachi’s time. They claimed to trust and follow God, but their supposed worship was worthless. They were religious yet worthless because they were not ascribing to God the worth He is due.

Rather than giving God their best, as the Mosaic Law required and as God clearly deserves, they were giving God their leftovers. They were going through the religious motions, making their religion worthless.

VALUE WORTH

If something has great worth, would it not be foolish if we did not value it? Value worth, or you are a fool. This is why we put money in banks, in safes, and in our pockets. We do not set it in buckets in our front yards and then claim that we value that money. Rather, we invest it because we value financial stability and security.

We do not buy a brand new vehicle and park it in the driveway if we have a garage. Well, some people do, while keeping junk in their garage, and that tells me that they probably do not value their vehicle like they probably should. Value worth, or you really do not believe it to be worthy of value.

We do not stick our hands in a fire because we value our hands and our health. When people do not take care of themselves physically, they are proving they do not value their health like they should. Perhaps their health is of less worth to them than the pleasure of overeating or being lazy or submitting to a harmful addiction.

The list goes on and on. Value worth, or you will regret it. And, of course, there is no one of greater worth than God Himself. Do your values point to that truth? Do you value God? Does your daily life tell others that He is worthy.

RELIGION DESPISED

Going through the religious motions is despised by God. Do not do it. Do not give in to the temptation to do “just enough” to look good or appear to be right with God. He knows our hearts, and He knows when we are simply going through the motions.

As is made clear in Malachi 1:6-14, God demands and deserves our best. Giving Him anything less is not acceptable. He is worthy, so do not toss Him your leftovers.

Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” (Malachi 1:8).

Imagine if you had someone important, like the governor, over for dinner one evening. You know he is coming, and not only is he the governor, he is also someone you claim is a good friend. As you sit down at the table together, you get out some leftover macaroni and cheese from the fridge and set it in front of him, while you begin cutting into a fresh, juicy steak for yourself. Does that show any sort of love for your friend? Does it imply that you value your governor? Are your efforts to be commended? Of course not!

Sure, that example sounds ridiculous, but so is any insincere religious effort we offer God. If we claim to know and follow and value God and yet give Him nothing more than our leftover time, money, efforts and devotion, then we are even more despicable than someone who gives leftover mac-n-cheese to a “dear friend” while eating a steak.

If we claim to love God and yet only think about Him or seek Him on a Sunday, then our so-called love is a lie.

If we claim to be Christ-followers but Christ’s church is no more important to us than sleeping in or getting some extra work done, then we not Christ-followers at all.

Religion that is half-hearted is despised. Do not believe the devil’s lie otherwise.

CHRIST SATISFIED

The truth is that none of us can ever be religiously devout enough to honor and please God. He is holy and perfect, and we are not. Our efforts will always fall short, as we are sinful people in need of a Savior.

For that reason, and because God loves us and desires a relationship with us, He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus lived a perfect life of devotion to God. He satisfied the Law and did everything you and I cannot. His sacrifice on the cross in our place satisfied God’s requirement of justice and punishment for our sins.

And, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. He defeated sin and death for everyone who calls on His name. If you desire to be right with God, do not turn to religion. Turn to Jesus. Only He can satisfy you because only He has satisfied God.

Only after turning from sin and surrendering your life to Jesus will you sincerely long to please God with a life of worship. Only then will you begin to despise going through the religious motions like God despises it, but instead honor Him with genuine religious devotion.

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Don’t Ask Dumb Questions

Have you ever asked God, like the Israelites did in Malachi’s time, “How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). Even if you have not verbally spoken those words to God, surely you have at least thought them. We all have our moments of weakness, discouragement, selfishness, and foolishness. And, in those moments, we tend to lose sight of the big picture, if not lose sight of the truth itself.

THERE ARE STUPID QUESTIONS

We have all heard people say that there are no stupid questions, but that is not true. There are stupid questions – questions of foolishness. “God, how have you loved us?” is an example of a stupid question. In fact, is there a more foolish question than this?

Stupid questions are questions that, by intention, fail to recognize and/or remember Truth and rather attempt to justify our own shortcomings. Israel, for example, was an ungrateful people in Malachi’s time, often failing to remember God’s amazing love for them and instead, complaining about their circumstances. They forgot what God delivered them from, and they were instead focused on always wanting more.

Their question was filled with foolishness, much like a child who might ask his mother after not getting what he wants, “Don’t you love me?” Stupid question, whether we want to use such descriptives or not.

GOD’S LOVE IS UNDENIABLE

We would run out of time – run out of physical life – trying name all the ways God has proven His love for us. I will not even try to accomplish such a huge task. Instead, I want to briefly talk about one such proof – Vacation Bible School (VBS).

Our church had our annual VBS a couple weeks ago, and there are few pictures of God’s great love that are clearer than VBS. There are several reasons why VBS is so special, but I will stick to three… three reasons VBS is a great example of God’s undeniable love.

1. VOLUNTEERS SERVING

VBS is impossible without volunteers, and our church had more than 40 volunteers who served this year. Wow! Many of these volunteers showed up to our church facilities after a full day of work to then work for three more hours at VBS. And, let us be clear – VBS is work! VBS is hard work. VBS is exhausting and often overwhelming, but VBS is worth it. That is why so many volunteers serve.

God loves us and loves our children through volunteers who sacrifice their time, their energy, their resources, and even, at times, their happiness for the sake of serving others during VBS. God loves us through His church, and His church does amazing things during VBS.

2. CHILDREN RESPONDING

Children are a blessing from the Lord, even when they do not behave like blessings from the Lord. Oh, what a joy it is, though, when children respond to the gospel message during VBS (or any time)! If we know and follow Jesus, surely we must agree with the Apostle John: “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).

That joy is true of our biological children and our spiritual children – those with whom we have the privilege of discipling and encouraging in “the truth.” What a great picture of God’s love when children respond to Him.

In their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for their sake – that they get to know and follow God. In their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for our sake – that we get to be a part of their journey. And, in their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for His sake – that He loves people enough to draw them to Himself.

Praise the Lord! God loves us by loving our children and opening their hearts to the truth about Jesus.

3. JESUS SAVING

None of this would matter – VBS, volunteers serving, or children responding – if not for the ultimate picture of God’s love: Jesus saving (saving people from sin and eternal death). We have VBS because Jesus saves. We prioritize VBS because Jesus saves. We exist as a church only because Jesus saves. Volunteers serve but not in vain because Jesus saves. And, children would have no reason to respond if not for the truth that Jesus saves.

How has God loved us?

God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8) If you have yet to experience this love, would you surrender your life to Jesus today?

Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series – The Greatness of God – through the book of Malachi. And, as is the point of this post, I will be talking about our “Great God of Love” (Malachi 1:1-5). Do you realize and rejoice in God’s great love for you?

VBS Children Performing One of the VBS Songs during Our Sunday Morning Service on July 28th

July was a fun month!

August is already here, and it feels like July never even existed. Busy as usual, July was a fun month with a lot of family events and church activities. Praise God for His kindness toward our family and our church!

COX FAMILY VACATION

We had a great time, as always, with Marsha’s family during the first week of July. For the third straight year, we spent our extended family vacation at Windermere Christian Camp outside Roach, Missouri. With 17 kids and 10 adults, this vacation is never dull. We love spending time with Marsha’s family – swimming, playing basketball, cliff jumping, hiking, playing games, doing the ropes course, playing archery tag, visiting, and just hanging out.

Below are some highlights via pictures, and you can see more by clicking HERE. The pictures below can be seen in full by clicking on them.

CHURCH AND DAILY LIFE

Below are some more pictures, but to see some more highlights from Vacation Bible School, click HERE.

Your Reputation Matters

We had Vacation Bible School with our church family this week, and dozens of parents and grandparents dropped off their children or grandchildren for three hours each evening, trusting that the children would be cared for and loved. Why such trust? In most cases, the trust was a result of relationships with one, if not many, of our volunteers working with the children. In other cases, there was a general trust in the church and the proven VBS program.

Simply put, reputation matters. This is true for us as individuals, and this is true for the church. This is true for everyone.

If our church or individuals in our church had a bad reputation in our community, who would trust us to teach and serve their children? Rightly so, most would not.

On Sunday morning during our VBS family celebration and worship service, Lord willing, I will be preaching through the short letter of 3 John and talking about the “Proof from Reputation” for genuine Christian faith. I hope to challenge people to ask themselves three questions for self-examination regarding personal character and reputation. The message, along with others in the series, will be available Sunday afternoon HERE.

In the meantime, I want to encourage you to consider three requirements of a godly reputation.

1. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES TRUTH

Truth is essential when it comes to reputation. By this, I do not mean that everyone knows the truth about you, although that certainly affects your reputation. What I mean, and what John made clear in his letter, is that your understanding and commitment to the Truth are critical.

We must be “faithful to the truth” and “walk in the truth” (3 John 3-4) in order to be people of godly character, resulting in godly reputations. How? Well, only by God’s help “because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2). That “truth that remains in us” is the Spirit of Truth when we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, resulting in faithfulness to the Word of Truth.

Have you ever met someone who is faithful to God’s Word but does not have a godly reputation? No such person exists because someone who faithfully obeys the Word of Truth will be proven to be a person of character and integrity. A godly reputation requires Truth.

2. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES LOVE

John wrote a lot about love in his three letters. He was certainly an expert, or as close to an expert as a human can be, for he was, after all, the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” John experienced God’s love in and through Jesus Christ, and he embraced Jesus’ command that we love God and love others. John knew love was essential for genuine Christian faith and likewise essential for a godly reputation.

Specifically in 3 John, there is an emphasis on the commitment to the mission of the church that demonstrates sincere love for God and others. If you truly love God, you will be committed to His mission. And, if you are committed to His mission, you will love and serve others; you will love and serve His church; you will long for others to experience the love of God through Christ Jesus.

Gaius and Demetrius are great examples of this in 3 John. Gaius, for example, was showing his faith by supporting Christian missionaries, including those he did not even know (verse 5). In other words, Gaius’s love for God was proven in his commitment to God’s mission, and his commitment to God’s mission was proven in his love for others in God’s church.

What was the result? A godly reputation. Have you ever heard of someone known to not be loving and yet known for a godly reputation? Of course not. A godly reputation requires love.

3. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES GOODNESS

Are you known for your kindness and goodness toward others? This goes along with the love John mentioned earlier in the letter but is more about the visibility of love. Whereas the love is ultimately an issue of the heart, the goodness is about your actions, particularly those actions seen by others.

John shared a few contrasting examples in the letter, and in all three examples, it was each individual’s reputation that was proof of his goodness. Furthermore, goodness is proof of faith.

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11).

While people can “fake it” for a while and sadly deceive others, the truth eventually comes to light. And, most importantly, God knows the truth. He knows our real reputations because He knows our hearts. He knows if we are doing what is good or doing what is evil. Others will know and see this, too, though, which is why there is ultimately proof from reputation of genuine Christian faith.

If you were to sincerely examine your own heart and life right now, can you see faithfulness to the Truth of God’s Word, a love for God’s mission, and a desire for good, not evil? If not (if any of those three proofs are missing, would you humbly ask God for His help? Would you willingly surrender everything to Him? Only a new life can bring about such radical change.

The amazing volunteers of Richland Baptist Church exemplified godly character and sacrificial service this week, and I praise God for them! They are the reason so many parents and grandparents gladly dropped off so many kids each night and why those kids wanted to keep coming back. Thank you, Richland Baptist Family!

These are most of the kindergartners Marsha and my mom had the pleasure of teaching and leading this week in VBS.

Faith Requires Truth

Despite what some might claim, “blind faith” is not what Christianity requires. Sure, no one can see God on this side of eternity. We did not see the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. So, in regards to seeing, there is indeed a blind aspect to our faith because there are some things we just will not see in this life. Still, Christian faith is not blind.

THERE ARE THINGS TO SEE

Namely, we can see and experience Truth – biblical Truth. In fact, if an understanding and belief in this Truth are missing, real Christian faith is impossible. While you can claim to have faith apart from eternal Truth, that kind of faith will not last. Rather, it will crumble when your temporary security crumbles.

Faith that endures requires Truth, the Truth of God’s Word. After all, what is your faith actually in, if not in eternal Truth? And, how can you see and experience eternal Truth apart from the perfect Word of God?

JESUS IS THE TRUTH

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The way we see and experience Truth is by seeing and experiencing Jesus. The way we see and experience Jesus is through the Word of God.

For this reason, I am shocked and saddened to hear of so many people who profess faith in Jesus Christ and yet do not seek Him through His Word each day. If you want to see Jesus, learn about Jesus and know Jesus, seek Him through His Word and call on His name in faith and humility. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it” (Acts 4:12).

TRUTH HAS PROOF

Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 2 John and talking about the proof of Christian faith that comes from the Truth of Christian faith. Going through this short letter, I will talk about three things Christian Truth promotes “because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2).

That message will be available Sunday afternoon, along with previous messages from this series, HERE. Do you know and follow Jesus? If so, there will be ongoing proof in your life from the Truth ruling your life. If not, will you seek Him and surrender to Him today?

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Knowing the Most Important Thing in Your Life

What is the most important thing you must know? Perhaps some would argue that you must know how to do your job, or you will lose your job and source of income. Others might say you must know those you care most about (and those who care about you) because we need one another. Maybe some would argue that you must know what makes you happy because everyone wants to be happy. There are certainly those who would declare you must know your god and/or your religion, or you will have no lasting purpose.

There is probably a long list of claims we could put together about the most important thing you must know in your life. Most likely, though, most of those answers probably have something to do primarily with this life.

THE ANSWER IS IN THE LIFE TO COME

The most important thing you must know in your life, though, is how you can live forever. How can you know God and spend eternity with Him? He created you, and only He can fulfill your greatest needs and longings. You must know Him.

Consider – if you were on your deathbed, but there was a cure, what would be the most important thing you could know? The cure!

Well, this life is about to end for all of us. Whether the end is today, tomorrow or fifty years from now, the end is coming. What then?

In his first letter, John has incredible wisdom and insight regarding this topic. “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

THE LIFE TO COME IS IN THE ANSWER

Jesus is the Answer. Eternal life is only found in and through knowing Him. In fact, John emphasizes throughout his letter three things you must do to know the most important thing in your life – to know that you have eternal life.

  1. Trust in Jesus.

    It is those “who believe in the name of the Son of God” who can know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). You must believe Jesus is who He said He was – that He is the eternal Son of God who came to this earth to live a perfect life, die on the cross for your sins, and rise again to win the eternal victory over sin and death for everyone who trusts in Him.

    You must trust in Jesus to have eternal life and to know that you have eternal life.
  2. Obey like Jesus.

    This truth is all over John’s letter. Those who know the Son of God, obey the Word of God. Period.

    Obedience is proof that you are a child of God and are being changed each day by His Spirit living in you. Does this mean you never sin? No, John made clear that perfection in this life is not what he was talking about (see 1 John 1:8 – 2:2).

    What it does mean is that we will never find contentment and satisfaction in sin. We will not continue in sin. We will repent of sin and grow in obedience.

    But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in God: The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:5-6).

    You must increasingly obey the Word of God like the Son of God if you have eternal life and want to know that you have eternal life.
  3. Love like Jesus.

    If you trust in Jesus Christ for your eternal salvation and, as a result, obey His Word, then you will also love God and love others. Jesus Himself said that it is that love that sums up His Word (Matthew 22:37-40) and proves we are His disciples (John 13:34-35).

    To “walk just as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:6) requires love. “The one who loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21).

    Like Jesus, loving God and loving others are the obvious fruit in your life if you have eternal life and know that you have eternal life. Love is the natural overflow of someone who has experienced God’s love.

DO YOU KNOW?

Do you know the most important thing you must know – how to live forever with God? How sure are you?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 1 John 5:13-21 on the “Proof of Assurance.” I want to discuss two requirements for lasting Christian assurance.

John wrote his letter to help you know. God desires that you know. Do you know?

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