What strength and power?

Marsha and I had the privilege of coaching Zoe’s basketball team in our local YMCA’s 5th-6th grade girls’ league this fall. Last week, we lost in the championship game and thus finished in second place. Considering where the girls were at the beginning of the season (only six players and most had never played), I was pleasantly surprised that we finished with a winning record and made it to the championship, losing to a team that we actually lost to early in the season, beat late in the season, but then lost to again in the final game.

Now, why did these girls improve as the season progressed? Practice. Practicing twice each week was helpful – not nearly sufficient for where I wish they could have been, but helpful. There is a ridiculous saying that “practice makes perfect.” The reason that statement is ridiculous is twofold: 1) No one is perfect, except the Lord, who does not need practice for that very reason; 2) Practice only brings improvement if the practice is good. If you practice things the wrong way, then you only get more consistent in doing things the wrong way. Thus, really, practice makes permanent. Habits are formed and established through practice.

I wish our team could have been better, but we did not have nearly enough practices. Furthermore, the girls did not work on their basketball fundamentals much, if any, during the off-season. Thus, they entered the season with a lot of bad habits, and when those habits continued in more regular practice (for example, bad shooting form that was not corrected), then the bad habits became more cemented and established.

This is truth that not only applies to sports but to life. Practice makes permanent, but only the Lord makes perfect. Sure, we can improve and get really good at things (or better at being bad), but we can never be perfect on this side of eternity. Most importantly, we cannot be morally perfect and free from sin, apart from trusting in the Only One who is. Turning to Jesus is the only way to experience perfection – the status of perfection now and the eternal reality of perfection in the future. Thanks be to God!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be finishing my sermon series through Galatians, preaching on “The Power of Grace” (Galatians 6:11-18). In our pursuit of perfection (or, at least, greatness), we all long for strength and power. Yes, we can grow in strength and power, but that strength and power are never sufficient for what we need. We simply cannot attain a level of perfection (or even greatness) apart from God’s grace.

Again, practice makes permanent, but only the Lord makes perfect. So, in my message, I hope to communicate two necessities for experiencing God’s gracious power. What strength and power? Not ours but rather, the Lord’s. The key is not to look within ourselves but rather to look to Him. He alone is sufficient. He alone saves. He alone changes our hearts and lives. He alone empowers us. Any other supposed strength and power will fade away.

Are you looking to the Lord for your strength and power? Are you surrounding yourself with others who are prioritizing the same? Let us seek and depend on the Lord, and let us walk together in this journey. To God be the glory!

Zoe with her cousin Reese after the game

Remembering Grandma Drake

Today is a tough day, as I will be preaching the funeral for my Grandma Drake. Please pray that my family and I will be comforted, that the gospel message will be clear, that people will put their faith in Jesus, and that God will receive all the glory.

Here are some picture memories of my grandma…

Please Judge Me

One of the most quoted (and wrongly applied) Bible verses is Jesus’ statement, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many people love to say things like, “Don’t judge me,” when defending themselves in confrontations.

What people often miss, though, is the context of that conversation during Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount,” a message in which He was judging all of us and also calling us to judge one another. Matthew 7:1 is a clear command to not judge others wrongly (by our own standards, rather than God’s standards).

Just verses later, though, Jesus is quoted, “Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). In other words, do not be a hypocrite and expect from others what you yourself refuse to do. Remove the sin from your life, and then you can help others remove the sin from their lives. Examine (and judge) yourself according to the standard of God’s Word, and then you can rightly judge others according to that standard.

While those in rebellion against God and His Word are quick to say, “Don’t judge me,” followers of Jesus should be quick to say, “Please judge me.” Why? Well, because we are all in need of such judgment – accountability, encouragement, and sharpening.

Please judge me. It might be the most loving thing you can do.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 6:1-10 on “The Service of Grace.” How does the gospel of grace impact our relationships in the church? How are we called to serve one another?

One of the most important ways we can and should serve one another is through intentional discipleship – building one another up and opening up our spiritual lives to one another. “If someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).

Do you see the call for judgment there? Please judge me. Judgment that seeks restoration is essential to that burden carrying and thus essential for fulfilling the law of Christ – to love God and love others.

To be clear, of course, there is gentleness and love required for such judgment. We are not called to the harsh and condemnatory judgment that is anything but loving, but rather to the concerning care for others that longs for them to experience a right relationship with God and with others. That kind of judgment is restorative.

Please judge me. For the sake of my relationship with God and for the sake of my relationships with others, please judge me. When I am stuck in “any wrongdoing” (and this happens to all of us, since we are all sinners), then I need to be judged – called to repentance and action – for the sake of restoration and healing.

Do you love others enough that when you notice unrepentant sin in their lives, you seek to “restore such a person with a gentle spirit“? Also, though, are you careful to seek and trust God according to His Word, “watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted“?

Please judge me according to the standard of God’s Word, and please open your life to the judgment of others. Jesus called us to this judgment, and we all need it.

Realize, too, that we all judge people, as it is impossible not to. We make judgments all the time. The key is – what is your standard for judgment? Let us make sure the Word of God is the standard.

We must invest in one another and have the tough conversations, not allowing our judgments to unnecessarily damage relationships.

God is the eternal Judge, and He created us in His image. Naturally, we are going to judge one another when mistakes are made and sin is committed, but we must also forgive one another and love one another, even in our judgments.

Please love those closest to you by judging them for the purpose of restoration, and be sure to communicate that such judgment is a two-way street. We need such accountability to be who God created us to be and to do what God created us to do.

To know the eternal Judge of the universe and pursue a right relationship with Him, simply call upon His name – Jesus Christ our Lord – today. Check out The Story for more information.

From Death to Life 24 Years Ago Today

The two best things to ever happen to me happened when I was a student at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville – I came to know and love Jesus, and I came to know and love my wife. Needless to say, I have great memories from my time at Northwest, and I praise God for those memories!

The first of those things happened 24 years ago today, and I can still vividly remember that great day. As someone who grew up “in church,” though, why was I a 20-year-old college sophomore before sincerely repenting of my sins and placing my saving faith in Jesus Christ? The simple answer – that is when God chose to open my eyes and my heart to the truth of the gospel.

As Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). While I will not pretend to understand God’s sovereign timing, I have come to trust God’s sovereign timing. He is perfect and makes no mistakes. And, in His perfect plan and timing, He chose to send His Holy Spirit to “convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment” (check out Jesus’ words in John 16:5-15).

That conviction of the Holy Spirit, coupled with the preaching of God’s Word by my then-pastor and some other faithful Christian friends, was used of God to stir in me an overwhelming desire to surrender my life to Jesus Christ. Praise be to God!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 5:16-26 on “The Spirit of Grace.” Who is the Holy Spirit, and how does He impact our lives?

While I had so much to learn on November 4, 1998 (and still have so much to learn), I realize now something that I did not understand very well then – I desperately needed (and still need) the Spirit of grace. How utterly incapable I was (and am) of understanding the gospel, let alone truly trusting the gospel on my own. Praise God for the work of His Holy Spirit!

On Sunday morning, I hope to challenge those in attendance to not only understand the Holy Spirit but also to continually trust the Holy Spirit to do the work of God in your life. You and I are not able to be who God called us to be and do what God called us to do without His Spirit’s help.

The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence that you are walking with Him. Is such evidence clear in your life? How can you trust Him more, grow closer to Him, and better help others to grow closer to Him?

To God be the glory!

To follow Jesus Christ and receive His Holy Spirit, you simply must call upon His name. Learn more by checking out The Story.

The Greatest of Blessings

I have long-made the argument that if our most important relationships are healthy, we can endure just about anything. On the flip side, even if we are successful in our careers, healthy, wealthy, and wise, we will be miserable without healthy relationships. Relationships matter.

Perhaps the greatest curse of sin that we all deal with in this life is broken relationships. Certainly, the greatest curse of sin eternally is broken relationships – most importantly, with God, but secondarily, with everyone else. Eternal death includes the death of all good relationships, namely any chance at a right relationship with God.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 3:26 – 4:7 on “The Promise of Grace.” Without giving too much away before Sunday, I will be discussing the greatest blessings of the gospel of grace. God’s grace is promised and fulfilled in Christ. How? That is what we will consider from this amazing passage of Scripture.

How are your relationships? How is your most important relationship – your relationship with God? While our sin prevents us from perfect relationships (for now), we should certainly pursue and can experience healthy, growing relationships. That is God’s desire for us, but such relationships are only possible (in any lasting way) if and when you turn to the Lord Jesus for help. Jesus alone brings about reconciliation in our most important relationship and establishes for us the second best relationships.

For those who are part of our church family (or who live near us and do not yet have a church family), I pray you will join us Sunday to learn more about the greatest blessings of the Christian life. If not, the message should be available online Sunday evening.

When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Praise be to God!

To experience the greatest of blessings, surrender your heart and your life to Jesus Christ. You can learn more by checking out The Story.

Russian Roulette Is Not Love

When was the last time you held back saying something to someone, though you knew you should have, because what needed to be said would have been hard to hear? We have all been there, right? Perhaps we even hold back sharing truth under the supposed act of “love” for that person. We might say or think something like, “Well, I love them and don’t want to hurt them, so I’ll just look the other way [(or accept them as they are) or (let them live their lives)].”

To be clear, though, that is not love. Love demands truth.

You cannot claim to love someone, for example, while at the same time being okay with them playing Russian Roulette. If you know what Russian Roulette is, you know that “dangerous game” is an understated description. Furthermore, if someone continues to play Russian Roulette, they will eventually “lose” (and die). Love, then, demands we share the truth with them.

To say something foolish like, “I know playing Russian Roulette makes you happy, and I want you to be happy. If that makes you happy, play on,” is not a loving thing to do. No, the loving thing to do is to beg and plead with them to put the revolver down and live. Do not take such chances with your life. Please!

As dangerous and devastating as Russian Roulette can be, how much more dangerous and devastating is the eternal death that comes as a result of sin. It is the death we all deserve because of our sin, but God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to “take that bullet” for us. Now, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Refusing to turn from sin and surrender your life to Jesus, though, is like playing the ultimate horrifying game of Russian Roulette. The consequences are so much worse than a bullet to the brain and the end of physical life. The consequences are eternal death.

We cannot be sure when this life will end for any of us. We cannot be sure when Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. And, once this life is over, the chance for repentance and faith will be too late. That is why God’s Word appeals to all, “‘Don’t receive God’s grace in vain.’ For God says: ‘I heard you in an acceptable time, and I helped you in the day of salvation. Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation‘” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

Do not play Russian Roulette with your spiritual life. Do not be content with any plan other than God’s plan for you (according to His Word). And, do not think that the loving thing to do is to sit by while others play Russian Roulette with their spiritual lives. We cannot take the gun out of their hands, but we can love them enough to tell them of the consequences and plead with them to surrender their all to Jesus and let God “take the gun.”

We discussed in our adult Bible study with our church family last night the calling of Jesus on our lives – “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

If you were so blinded from the truth that you thought Russian Roulette was the right thing to do, would you not want someone to tell you? Would you not want someone to do whatever they could to get that gun out of your hand and help you experience hope and healing? Of course you would! To love someone is to act on that love. To love someone is to speak the truth into their lives.

God alone saves. He alone has the solution to our eternal problem. Have you surrendered your all to Him and begun to experience that solution? Do you love others enough to tell them?

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Will you share this with someone today?

The Only Two Things I Really Dislike About Living in Callaway County

I love living in Callaway County, and the reasons I love living here (family, church family, the community, the schools, etc.) are far too numerous to list and explain. Praise God for this great county in this great state in this great country! Truly, this is a great place to live.

No place is perfect, though, and sometimes that reality sets in more than others. The two things I truly dislike about Callaway County have been on my mind lately for the reasons you will see below.

1. DISTANCE FROM EXTENDED FAMILY

Since nearly all of my family lives in Minnesota, I do not get to see them nearly as often as I would like. Also, one of my sisters, my brother-in-law, and two nieces live outside Chicago. Thankfully, they make it to Callaway County at least a couple of times each year, and we visit them, but we still do not see them nearly as often as I would love to see them.

My grandmothers (pictured below) are dear to me, and I wish I could see them weekly, not to mention a lot more often than once every year or two. Same for my aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Well, the distance from family (not the fault of Callaway County) is the biggest thing I dislike about living here. The second thing is very much the fault of this county, though (or at least people making some important decisions).

2. GRAVEL ROADS

I absolutely despise the high volume of gravel roads in Callaway County. We are unable to open our windows in the summer time because the dust from the gravel roads west of where we live is so overwhelming. And, we do not even live on a gravel road, but the roads southwest and west of us are gravel. Furthermore, many people in Callaway County live on gravel roads, and I visit a lot of people. If you have a tire business, this would be a great place for you to live because vehicle tires surely cannot last very long with all the gravel travel.

You might think, “Well, this is a farming community. Of course there are a lot of gravel roads.” Consider, though, that there are subdivisions on gravel roads in this county! There are roads where dozens of homes exist, and yet those roads are gravel. Regularly, there are gravel trucks and road graders “fixing” our roads. I never thought I would long for asphalt so much!

Now, you might be wondering why I am writing such a post. Despite my venting and complaining above, particularly about the gravel roads, I write this to say – this county must be pretty great if those are really the only two things I can think of that I sincerely dislike. And, one is not even the fault of Callaway County but just the reality for me (and some others like me).

So, if you can put up with some gravel dust but want to be around great people in a conservative county with good family values and good churches, consider moving to Callaway County. The cost of living is low (I would be happy to make it much higher for paved roads 😉), and the location is actually really good (rural and yet close to Jefferson City, Columbia, and the Lake of the Ozarks).

Gravel roads stink, but other than those, Callaway County does not. Praise the Lord for my home where I have now lived longer than any other place in my life!

Practice!?

In the past week, we have enjoyed attending training camp practices for the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs, the two NFL teams for which we cheer.

During the first one – our trip to the Twin Cities – we were sitting in the stands of the TCO Performance Center (the Vikings’ amazing practice and training facility), when Marsha told Micah, “Okay, it’s almost time for their practice to start.”

Micah’s reply was priceless. He said with exasperation, “Practice?!” He was thinking that surely, with thousands of fans waiting in a packed house, we must have been waiting for something more than practice.

Still, it was fun, especially considering how close we were to the players. Everyone except Micah – not yet much of a football fan – really enjoyed the experience.

At Missouri Western State University, home of the Chiefs’ training camp, Zoe waited by a gate for 2.5 hours with the hopes of getting Patrick Mahomes’ autograph (it was QBs and RBs day for autographs). While she did not get Mahomes’ autograph, she did get a couple others, along with some great experiences, including Jody Fortson coming right up to Zoe, signing his gloves, and giving them to her. Needless to say, we are now huge Fortson fans, as well as bigger fans of Mercole Hardman (Zoe got his autograph on a jersey for Noah), Juan Thornhill, Justin Watson, and Austin Edwards, all who took a lot of time to come over, visit, and sign autographs.

Click HERE for some pictures of both training camps.

Also, HERE is the video of Fortson coming up to Zoe.

Memories in Minnesota

We have had a great week in Minnesota this week, even though we were in the Mall of America when an active shooter was there (Thursday afternoon). Praise God for His sovereign provision (I will have to share more someday about some of the things that happened)!

Below are some pictures of our time in Lanesboro, Chatfield, Rochester, and Minneapolis. You can see more pictures HERE.