Don’t Love Isolation

Our dog, Lottie, spotted a turtle walking across our driveway yesterday morning and was immediately curious. After watching the turtle slowly advance toward the house, Lottie decided to check it out for a quick sniff. Then, as the turtle remained still, Lottie proceeded to lie down and rest in the turtle’s company.

This is not unusual behavior for our golden lab. She does not love isolation but rather is always interested in the company of others – humans, other dogs, other animals, etc. While she gets plenty of alone time when the kids are at school and Marsha and I are working (and Lottie is “guarding” our front yard), she never chooses alone time when opportunities for company are available. If anyone in our family is outside, whether paying attention to Lottie or not, she will be right there. Busy doing something else? No problem – Lottie will lie next to you.

I believe we can learn a lesson from a lab here. Yes, there are times when we need to be alone, and some people need more alone time than others. Even Jesus “often withdrew to deserted places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). We ought not love isolation, though, but rather should long for the company of others. This is especially true if you are a follower of Jesus, the One who created you to live in fellowship with Him and with His church (i.e. see Hebrews 10:19-25).

Labs love to be around others. This is one of their characteristics and one of the reasons, along with their loyalty, that dogs are traditionally called “man’s best friend.”

Christ-followers love fellowship and worship with other Christ-followers. Our care and concern for one another is what proves our relationship with Jesus, as He said, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Loving others requires relationships, and good, loving relationships require time together.

Do you love being with other Christ-followers? If you are a Christ-follower, the answer can only be yes. If you are quick to answer no to that question and/or you are trying to justify your lack of desire to be around other believers on a regular basis, please examine your heart and your faith to make sure you have truly surrendered your all to the Lord.

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15), and He certainly commands our faithful commitment to a local church (i.e. see 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Ephesians 3; and again Hebrews 10:19-25).

In Matthew 16, Jesus founded the church. In Matthew 18, Jesus established the church’s authority. In Matthew 28, Jesus commissioned the church. And, throughout the book of Acts and church history since then, Jesus has grown the church through the power of His Holy Spirit, the partnership of His people, their proclamation of His gospel, their perseverence in the midst of persecution, and His continued provision in keeping His promises.

Please understand, the church was and is Jesus’ idea, not our idea, and there is no plan B. Thus, it is not possible for a genuine follower of Jesus to lack in his or her desire to be in fellowship with a local church. Sure, circumstances will arise (sickness, military deployment, temporary work requirements, etc.) when involvement becomes inconsistent, but the desire will always be there. The commitment to return will be obvious. Otherwise, saving faith is surely missing, is it not?

John made this clear when he was talking about unbelievers who proved themselves so when they were no longer involved in local fellowship with believers in the church: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).

Those who love Jesus love His church and thus love being with His church. Those who do not love the church and isolate themselves from her prove themselves to also not love Jesus.

Do not love isolation. Follow Jesus and love His church. If this is a struggle for you, pray for the Lord’s grace, mercy, and help. He desires that you walk with Him and find fulfillment in Him. The church is part of His plan for that to happen.

Learn a lesson from Lottie, and do not pursue isolation. Pursue the company of those who love Jesus and will thus love you and help you to grow closer to Him. All glory be to Christ!

To learn more about what it means to truly know and follow the Lord, please check out The Story.

When Boasting Is Beautiful

Most people would agree that we should not boast about ourselves. Bragging about your own accomplishments is usually a turnoff and not something we would encourage of others. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth — a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).

Who do you brag about most, though, and what does such boasting say about you? We tend to brag about our spouses, our children, our favorite school, our favorite sports team, etc., and while none of that is necessarily wrong (when truthful and seeking to honor others’ worthy achievements), such boasting does say a lot about who we are and what we value.

I believe we would do well to take stock of our boasting. Whom we boast about most, after all, says a great deal about our commitments, priorities, loyalties, and devotion, right? If you love and care about your family, you will talk positively about your family. If you are a big sports fan, people will know what teams have your allegiance. Again, not necessarily anything wrong with that kind of boasting, unless, however, it progresses to worship.

Boasting is beautiful only if and when appropriate priorities are in line. And, God’s Word determines those priorities for us. Above all else, His glory is to be the priority. He alone is worthy of our greatest boasting – boasting that is worshipful and points others to Him.

When boasting is beautiful, God gets the glory.

What if we bragged about God as much as we bragged about ourselves or our children or our favorite teams or our favorite ________? You might say, “Well, I love my ______, and I’m not ashamed of them. I want the world to know it.” Hey, that might be just fine, but do you love God more? Do you love Him most? If so, should not your greatest amount of boasting and your only worship be about Him?

If you were to scroll through your social media feeds, who is getting the most glory? If you could listen to recordings of all of your conversations, who would get the most attention? If you could see a log of all your thoughts and ambitions, what would they say about your greatest devotion?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Psalm 40 on “Turning the Page.” Do you prioritize turning the page of God’s Word in your everyday life? Are you seeking to grow in your commitment to Him and His Word? Do others see in you a contagious devotion to the Lord Almighty?

I delight to do Your will, my God; Your instruction lives within me. I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; see, I do not keep my mouth closed — as You know, Lord” (Psalm 40:8-9).

Perhaps we are pretty good about not keeping our mouths closed when we brag about our children or sports teams, but the One about whom we should never keep our mouths closed is the King of kings. Boasting about Him and His provision and His faithfulness and His goodness – that boasting is beautiful!

Are you in His Word enough to know and meditate on how great He is? Are you devoted to Him enough to prioritize your relationship with Him above all else? Are you pointing others to Him?

Let us join David in declaring to the Lord, “Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let those who love Your salvation continually say, “The Lord is great!”” (Psalm 40:16). Praise and glory be to God!

If you have not yet experienced how great it is to know and worship the Lord, would you consider checking out The Story and turning to Him today?

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?