Real Faith Feeds

If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself (James 2:15-17).

This coming Sunday is Global Hunger Sunday, and Lord willing, I will be preaching from James 2:14-18 and challenging those in our church to consider, “What good is your faith?” This passage in James, as well as other teachings in the Bible, like Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46, make clear that real faith feeds the hungry. Saving faith cannot be separated from sacrificial action.

FAITH AND WORKS

Faith, of course, is where this work begins (and continues). We must believe the right things about Jesus, especially who He is and what He has done for us. We must believe that only He can save us from our sins, change our hearts, and give us eternal life. We must believe that only He can and does sustain us and enable us to live a life pleasing to God.

Believing all that, though, is useless if we do not also surrender our lives to Him. Believing the right things about God without a changed life makes us no better than demons (see James 2:19). Real faith – saving faith – leads to action, to works. If we turn away from our sins and follow Jesus, we will not only believe the right things; we will increasingly do the right things. And, that certainly includes loving others, who obviously include the hungry.

Is your faith feeding – feeding the physical needs and the spiritual needs of others?

WAYS FAITH CAN FEED

If you are a genuine faith-filled follower of Jesus Christ and are looking for ways your faith can be proven through the action of feeding the hungry, below are some ideas. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, as there are many things that can be done. Remember, too, that when you serve others, pray for wisdom from God about how you can serve them with the most important blessing – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else is ultimately meaningless apart from knowing and following Jesus.

Here are some things you can do now to feed the hungry:

1. Serve in a local soup kitchen.

Our church, for example, serves at the Fulton Soup Kitchen (214 West 4th Street, Fulton, MO) on the first Thursday of every month from 4 – 7 p.m. Ministry in a local soup kitchen is a very simple way to serve those who are hurting.

2. Give food to a local food pantry.

Our church has a food pantry that is filled and run by volunteers. In more than six years of serving at our church, I have never seen us run out of food, and we do not turn away those in our church family and surrounding community. People in our church sure do step up in providing food for the food pantry!

3. Give financially to feed the hungry.

I hope to challenge our church family to do this and do so sacrificially this Sunday, and if you want to join us, you can do so simply and securely by clicking HERE and selecting “Global Hunger Relief” from the dropdown menu. One hundred percent of our gifts designated to “Global Hunger Relief” go to Baptist Global Response, and they in turn distribute 100% to those in need, with $0 going to overhead expenses. What a great way to be a good steward and put your faith to action!

4. Participate in the “Happy Plate Challenge.”

Lead your family and friends to know and care about world hunger. Start a discussion about #chronichunger at your next family meal! By the time your plate is empty, your heart will be FULL! Use the below picture to spread the word on social media.

Share a picture of your family’s #GHRhappyplate and tag @globalhungerrelief to let them know you’re praying and giving for MORE happy plates around the world! #MyRichland #Richland GHR #GHR #breadoflife #endworldhunger #chronichunger #worldhunger #southernbaptistconvent
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Will you frolic?

Indeed, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the Lord of Hosts, “not leaving them root or branches. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:1-2).

When I think about what it means to “playfully jump,” I cannot help but think about our yellow labrador puppy, Lottie. She is really good at frolicking.

Will you frolic (“playfully jump“) like those described in Malachi 4:2, or will you face eternal judgment in horror like those described in verse 1?

The answer to that question is determined by your standing before our almighty God. The reality is that we all deserve eternal judgment because of our sin. If you have a right relationship with God, though, then you can frolic now and more importantly for eternity because of the hope, peace, and joy only He gives.

To understand how to have a right relationship with God, would you consider watching a video and/or reading more HERE?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be finishing our Greatness of God sermon series through Malachi, preaching through the last six verses and discussing “Our Great God of Promise.” Do you believe God’s promises? What is your response?

Please remember that every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in Jesus. Therefore, the “Amen” is also spoken through Him by us for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 1:20).

The Visible Difference between the Righteous and the Wicked

There are several differences, of course, between those who know God and those who do not. God points out a very distinct difference, for example, in Malachi 3: “So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (verse 18).

SERVING AND NOT SERVING

Many claim to serve God but really just go through the motions, not really serving Him at all. What a dangerous trap that is, especially when people assume they will be counted as righteous, only to find out they are among the wicked.

When I was a teenager, for example, I considered myself to be a Christian. In fact, I considered myself to be a devout Christian. I was in church services every Sunday and Wednesday. I was actively involved with our church youth group. I read my Bible often. I prayed even more often. I talked and sang about Jesus.

I was serving God, right? No, I was not. I was not following Him and thus certainly could not be serving Him. Sure, some people may have thought I was. I even thought I was. But, everything I did was for myself. I was going through the motions in hopes of impressing girls, pleasing my parents, and getting what I wanted from God (not what God wanted from and for me).

Really, I was worshiping myself and my happiness. The lords of my heart were my pleasures and my dreams and my goals. All the while, I claimed to be a follower of Jesus and claimed to belong to Him. I did not, however, “fear God and have high regard for His name” (Malachi 3:16). Rather, I feared what others thought about me and had high regard for my own name.

Although I thought I was considered righteous by God because I was a “good person,” I was headed straight toward hell with no earthly idea.

WHO KNEW?

Living in mid-Missouri, I do not often see many of the people I knew as a teenager in north central Iowa. I cannot help but wonder, though, who knew I was living a lie? Who knew I was going through the motions? How many people did I actually fool?

Of course, I cannot accurately answer those questions, but I am confident that any genuine followers of Jesus who truly knew me then surely knew I was not who I claimed to be. I wonder why no one told me, though? Why did no one challenge me with the truth? Perhaps they tried, and I just would not listen.

One who definitely did know that I was counted among the wicked and not among the righteous, was God Himself. He knew, and, thankfully, He put people in my life during my college years to reveal His Truth to me. For the first time, as a sophomore in college, I heard and understood the gospel. I turned from my sins and asked Jesus to forgive me and take over my life.

Finally, I was made right with God in and through a personal relationship with His Son.

JESUS IS THE DIFFERENCE-MAKER

The truth is that none of us is righteous. Not on our own anyway. None of us can do a single thing to make ourselves right with God. “As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

This is terrible news! And, the terrible news is for all of us.

But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8). That is the good news.

Jesus is the difference-maker. He is the One who made a way for us to be righteous – counted righteous today and made righteous for eternity. If you have yet to experience the joy of knowing and following Him, would you consider surrendering your life to Him today? Check this out for a helpful summary of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

There are very few things I believe differently today than what I believed as a selfishly wicked teenager on my way to hell. What I do and how I do what I do with my beliefs, though, are drastically different. Not because I “have arrived” or figured out the tricks. No, I am different because Jesus is the difference-maker. Jesus has changed me.

I am no longer content to go through the motions and call that “serving God.” If and when I do go through the motions, God’s Holy Spirit convicts me to repent and follow Him faithfully. Daily I need His help, His guidance, His provision, His leadership, His grace, and His compassion.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I hope to preach on our “Great God of Compassion” from Malachi 3:13-18. I pray that I can encourage and challenge you to believe in and be changed by the Greatness of God.

Investment Is Evidence

Have you ever made a sizeable investment in something and then never cared how your investment performed? Unless you are so wealthy that you cannot keep track of all your investments, surely the answer is no.

When we invest in something, whether it be with our time, money, or other resources, we tend to care about that investment. We want the investment to be fruitful and worthwhile.

The Bible talks a lot about money and resources, perhaps because of the dangers of letting our money and resources control us. If you flip that around, though, and let the One who made you and knows what is best for you control your money and resources, life is so much better.

He is already in control. Why not trust Him? He is already Lord. Why not surrender to Him?

Investment is evidence of your faith, particularly when it comes to two areas…

1. Evidence of Commitment

An investment is evidence of commitment. You commit yourself to that in which you invest, particularly if you care about the results. If you spend a lot of time and money fixing up a car, for example, then you surely try to protect that car. You are committed to taking care of it. If not before the time and money, certainly after the time and money are invested.

We have an old car with over 272,000 miles on it, and we have invested very little in that car. Yes, we are very thankful to have the car, as it was inexpensive, runs well, and gets good gas mileage. Furthermore, we own the car and owe nothing for it. When that car eventually quits, though, any sorrow I feel will not be for the car itself. Why? Well, because I have very little invested in that car. I will only be sorry to have to find another to replace it.

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Notice your heart “will be” where your treasure is. So, if you spend a lot of time and money restoring a car, your heart will follow. You will care more about that car.

Jesus was (and is) urging us to invest ourselves in His kingdom. Even if we struggle to have the right desires and motives, the more we invest in His kingdom, the more our hearts will follow our investment.

If you are truly committed to God and His Word, your investment of time and money in God’s kingdom will be evidence of that commitment. But, if you are struggling to remain committed, invest. Give of your time, money, and resources for the sake of the gospel, and watch your heart follow, just as Jesus promised.

Investment is evidence of commitment. Are you not as committed as Jesus called you to be? Invest more. Give more of yourself.

2. Evidence of Affection

An investment is also evidence of affection. As you grow in your commitment to something, you naturally grow in your affection for it. Commitment causes caring. And, again, caring comes with investment.

Do I have any affection for our old car? Not really. I only care what it can do for me. That is why we keep it. That is its only value.

What if I spent dozens of hours and thousands of dollars restoring that same car, though? Well, then I am sure I would have some affection for it. I would not simply care about what the car can do for me. I would care about the car itself. And, my investment in that car would be proof of my affection for it.

Are you invested?

God, above all else, desires and deserves our commitment and affection. How much are you investing in your relationship with God? How much time do you spend seeking to grow closer to Him and serve His church? How much money do you invest in the advancement of His gospel? How much sacrifice do you make for the sake of His name and His glory?

Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching about our “Great God of Blessing” (Greatness of God series) from Malachi 3:6-12. People who believe in God all want to experience His blessings, but how often do we settle for so much less than what God has in store for us by investing more in the world than we do in our relationship with Him?

Of course, there is no hope for a growing investment, growing commitment, and growing affection, apart from the reconciliation with God that only comes in and through a relationship with His Son.

If you recognize the right investment is lacking in your life, cry out to Him for help. Trust Him to change you and make you His own. And, as you trust Him to grow your commitment and affection, invest. Invest in your relationship with God. Invest in your involvement with your local church. Invest in your partnership with the mission of the gospel. Invest.

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.

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.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.