Is Your Church Family?

The first church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Do you have such a devotion alongside your church? Does your church have such a devotion together?

If so, then church is family, as it should be. Here are a few questions to measure whether your church really is your family…

1. ARE YOU INVOLVED?

You have to be there to do what most of the New Testament calls us to do – to fulfill the commandments of loving God and loving one another. In order to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers, you have to show up.

Not only do you need to gather with your church family, but you also need to be actively involved. Simply showing up without any intentionality in developing relationships will not facilitate biblical fellowship.

Are you involved with your church?

2. ARE YOU BIBLICAL?

What did it mean that the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching? Simply put, they were committed to the Word of God. The apostles were teaching the Old Testament Scriptures and how they point to Jesus as the Messiah. They also wrote New Testament gospels and letters, testifying about their first-hand witness of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our salvation.

The Bible is the foundation for everything else we do together as a church because the Bible tells us who God is, who we are, and how we are to follow Him.

Are you involved, and are you biblical? If you are being biblically faithful, you will be involved with your church.

3. ARE YOU DEPENDENT?

As you can see throughout the book of Acts (and really, throughout the New Testament), the early church was dependent – dependent on the Lord and dependent on one another. The most obvious way they proved this was through their unity in and devotion to prayer.

In prayer, we recognize our dependence upon the Lord. Uniting together in such prayer, we depend and lean on one another. What a great way to love God and love one another!

Are you involved, biblical, and dependent?

IS YOUR CHURCH FAMILY?

If you are a faithful follower of Jesus, then yes, your church is family. As Richland Baptist Church, we say, “Our passion is the GOSPEL. Our church is our FAMILY. Our world is our MISSION.” Few, if any, passages in all of Scripture better exemplify this truth more than Acts 2:42-47. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through this passage and challenging our church to prioritize what the Bible prioritizes when it comes to our life together.

Having been a follower of Jesus for more than 24 years now, I cannot fathom life without a church family. That was true from day one, though, long before I ever imagined God would call me to be a pastor. You see, I need my church family today, just as I needed my church family as a new believer. Likewise, we need Jesus no less today than we did yesterday or any other day.

You and I need Jesus, and we need His church. There are no exceptions to this, so if you are struggling to be involved and thus not being biblically faithful and dependent, ask for the Lord’s help now. Ask for others to pray for you. You need your church, and your church needs you. Real church is family.

To learn more about following Jesus and being part of His family, check out The Story.

What is God’s will?

What is God’s will for your life? How can you know? What should you do to find out?

Contrary to what people might say or how you might feel, God’s desire is not that you walk through life aimlessly and confused about His will. Rather, He has revealed Himself to us through His Son Jesus Christ and through His Word – the Bible.

The problem we have in learning God’s will is not with His plan but rather with our pursuit.

God’s plan is perfect. Our pursuit, though, is flawed. We are sinners, and when we find ourselves confused, uncertain, scared, or uncomfortable, we tend to look everywhere except to God and His Word for answers. Yet, His desire is that we pursue and trust Him.

What is His specific will in your specific situation? You will only find the answer with the proper pursuit. Above all, pursue the Lord in two of the most basic but important ways possible…

1. PRAY TO HIM

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will continue my sermon series through Acts and preach through Acts 1:12-26 on “Prayer & Provision for Our Purpose” (available before Monday HERE). One of the most important things we can learn from the early church in the book of Acts is the importance of uniting together in prayer.

Seek the Lord by praying to Him. Pray to Him with your family. Pray to Him throughout your day. Pray to Him with your church.

Sadly, we are tempted to only resort to prayer before a big decision when we are unsure what else to do. Why not begin with prayer and continue in prayer?

Wrongly, we are tempted to think of prayer as a last resort when everything or everyone else has failed. Why not begin with prayer and continue in prayer?

Let us continually depend on the Lord in prayer, seeking and trusting Him for His provision. He is faithful, and what He said is true: “You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13).

Are you seeking God with all your heart? Are you surrounding yourself with others who are seeking God with all their hearts? A sincere pursuit of God in prayerful dependence on Him is worth the regular, continuous commitment.

2. LISTEN TO HIM

While sincerely pursuing God in prayer, you might hear from Him through the conviction of His Holy Spirit, an overwhelming sense of peace and direction, and/or a clear desire He places on your heart. Are you listening to Him?

Most importantly, though, how we listen to God (and can be certain we are listening to and hearing from Him) is by listening to His Word – the Bible. Are you spending regular time in God’s Word? Are you talking with others about God’s Word? Are you listening to the preaching of God’s Word? Are you studying God’s Word? Are you praying God’s Word back to Him?

We are so incredibly blessed that God has preserved His perfect word for thousands of years so that we can know Him and follow Him!

So often, the very simple answers to our questions about God’s will are found in God’s Word. Pray for His help to understand, and listen to the truth of His Word.

Far more often than not, when people come to me for pastoral counsel and advice, the answers to their questions and concerns are abundantly clear in the Bible. Of course, I am grateful for that because I know that God’s Word is perfect and true, so any advice I give by sharing God’s Word is great advice because it is not from me.

Sure, there are plenty of questions we have that the Bible does not address, but the Bible does address the most important questions (Who is God? Who are we? Why are we here? Who are we to be?). For everything else, if you are sincere in your pursuit of God, you will not regret the results.

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires” (Psalm 37:4). Are you delighting yourself in Him? Are you depending on Him in prayer? Are you listening to Him through His Word? Are you seeking the counsel of godly friends and leaders who are listening to Him through His Word?

What is God’s will? His will is that you “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Praise the Lord!

Before you can begin to know and understand God’s will for your life, you must have a right relationship with Him. To learn more, check out The Story.

Three Fall Birthdays

Well, 2023 is here, but I already have a throwback to 2022.

Levi and Zoe celebrated their 16th and 11th birthdays in October, and Silas celebrated his 12th birthday in November. If you are wondering why you never get invited to birthday parties at the Drake household, it is because our birthday parties involve sitting around the table as a family and giving each other a hard time. We do celebrate birthdays, but they are simple, low-budget family affairs in the Drake family.

Here are a few pictures from the fall birthdays (except for Marsha’s (October 3), as she is not much for being the center of attention, even on her birthday)…

Christmas Pics

I love Christmas time and am already sad that it is over. Well, almost over (we still get to sing some of the great Christmas hymns of praise in our upcoming Sunday morning service with our church – praise the Lord!). Over the past couple of weeks, though, I have loved time with family, including our amazing church family. God has been so good to us. To Him be all the glory!

Here are some picture highlights from the past couple of weeks…

Joy because…

On January 24, 2018, the Minnesota Vikings traveled to Philadelphia to play the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Because the game was played on a Sunday evening and we had a special event with our church, I did not watch the game, except for the first drive. In that first drive, the Vikings marched down the field and got a touchdown, taking an early 7-0 lead, and I remember thinking as I headed into our church’s fellowship hall, “My favorite team might be going to the Super Bowl!

I was excited. You see, the Vikings were, at that time, 0-5 in NFC championship games since they had last made it to the Super Bowl in 1976. Yes, zero Super Bowl appearances in my lifetime.

Well, if you know much about the National Football League, you know the Vikings are now 0-6 in NFC championship games since last making it to the Super Bowl two years before I was born. In that aforementioned game back in 2018, the Vikings went on to get destroyed by the Eagles 38-7. Yes, that is correct – the Vikings scored on that first drive and then got outscored 38-0 the rest of the way. Ouch!

Incredibly hopeful heading to our church’s event that night, I was sorely disappointed when I later learned the Vikings were getting demolished. Such is the life of a Vikings fan. Maybe this year will be different, though! That is, after all, what I have been saying almost every single year my entire life. Maybe this is the year!

Looking back on those rare glimpses of hope – including the 1998 season that ended with the Vikings going 15-1, entering the playoffs as heavy Super Bowl favorites and then losing in overtime in the NFC championship game after the team’s previously-perfect-on-the-season kicker missed a seemingly easy game-sealing field goal in the indoor Metrodome toward the end of the fourth quarter – none of those glimpses of hope ended with joy. None.

Why did those seemingly joyous and hopeful seasons not end in joy? Because they ended in disappointment.

Truly, that is how Christmas would be if not for the cross. We would not be celebrating the birth of Jesus if not for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without the cross, Jesus’ birth would be like the last six NFC championship game appearances for the Vikings – an exciting moment that only failed to bring joy.

Praise the Lord, though, that He did not fail to deliver. He is so much better than the best of victors in this life because His victory is certain and eternal.

On Christmas morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Isaiah 53 on “The Promise of Payment.” Some might think, “Wait, Isaiah 53?! Isn’t that a passage for Easter Sunday?” Yes, typically, but without our suffering Savior, we have no Christmas to celebrate.

The joy of Christmas is not really because of the Baby who was born as much as because of the sacrifice He made. Thus, we are going to fast forward to the end of the story and be challenged to celebrate Christmas by looking to the cross.

He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Christmas is on a Sunday this year! I love it! Let us worship the King (like always), while singing some of the best songs ever written, like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Praise God!

To truly know and experience the joy to come, you have to know and follow the Savior who won the victory. Learn more by checking out The Story today.

The Best Peace

If someone asks me, when is it too early to put up Christmas decorations, I would reply “Before the Fourth of July.” Seriously, I wish our Christmas decorations could be up at least six months/year. Marsha is probably a little more reasonable, but she is good about putting up the tree and decorations before Thanksgiving, and not taking them down until well-after the New Year.

One of the many reasons I love Christmas lights and decorations is the peaceful feeling of sitting in our living room when the sky is dark but our living room is bright with Christmas cheer. While I do not fear the dark (anymore), I do prefer the light. When I get up early in the morning (well before the sunrise this time of year), I love walking into our living room lit up with Christmas lights. Thank you, smart plugs!

Perhaps this is due to the nostalgia of the season, the contrast of the warmth inside to the cold outside, or my love for traditional Christmas hymns of worship, but Christmas lights and decorations give me an even greater sense of home sweet home than any other set-up or decor. And, with that sense of home comes a sense of peace.

Who does not love the reality of peace? When we feel peace, we feel good. When we lack peace, we feel miserable.

Of course, all of this makes me think of the best peace. So many things in this life point to our love for and need for peace, and that is because God created us in His image. As His image bearers, we were made to long for peace, and there is no greater peace than being in a right relationship with Him, flowing into right relationships with others. None of that is possible, though, without His goodness and provision.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Isaiah 9:1-7 on “The Promise of Peace.” Sadly, we so often look for peace in all the wrong places, and the result is a fleeting peace and assurance that will only disappoint us.

I love sitting in our home when decorated for Christmas more than any time of year, but just like I am disappointed when we take down the decorations (the worst day of the year, in my opinion), so will we all be disappointed (and devastatingly so) if we seek to find peace, assurance, and fulfillment in anything or anyone besides the Prince of Peace. He – Jesus Christ – alone is the One who can give us a peace that will never disappoint.

Christmas decorations are great, but they eventually come down. Money is incredibly helpful, but loving it is the root of all kinds of evil. Good health is a blessing, but it can be lost in an instant. Safety is comforting, but nothing in this life can assure it. Family is a precious gift from God, but even the best of family can (and will) let you down at times.

Nothing in this life can offer and deliver the greatest peace, except God alone. He proved this by sending His One and Only Son to make a way for us to have everlasting peace. Have you experienced His peace? Do not settle for lesser peace. Rather, delight in the Only One who has and gives the best peace.

Praise God for His promise of peace, and His faithfulness to deliver! “For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

To experience peace with God that will change you now and forever, please check out The Story and call on His name today.

Power Over Referees

Basketball season is well underway, so this is a busy time of year for our family. With three of our five kids playing basketball and six of the seven of us being big fans (Micah is still a little too young to care much), we enjoy this time of year.

During Levi’s game the other night, I snapped a quick picture during a timeout. In that picture, you can see the ref raising a finger to indicate to the coaches that the timeout is nearly done and this is their first warning to get back to the game.

Do you know what I have never seen in the hundreds of basketball games I have attended? I have never seen a coach yell back at the ref during a timeout, “Hey, I’ll wrap this up when I’m good and ready! Now, leave me alone and let me talk to my players for a few minutes!” Sure, there have probably been many times when a coach might feel like saying that (and many more times when much longer timeouts are needed), but coaches “know their place.” They know the authority the referee has. No one gets to tell the ref to do things that are contrary to the rules, and change the ref’s mind.

On the basketball court, there is really no power over the referees. Yes, referees have bosses, too, and they have associations and expectations, but on the court of play, the referees are in charge. Coaches, players, and fans may yell (and might even influence calls), but the final say as to what goes and what stands – that final say belongs to the referees.

Of course, referees are just one of many examples of authority in our world. Some positions of authority are recognized more readily, some are challenged more frequently, and some are commonly mocked and ridiculed. With all positions of authority, though, comes some degree of power. We all have authority figures over us, and this was God’s intention.

Ultimately, though, we must recognize that only One authority is perfect and eternal. Yes, we must respect people of authority, even when they seem unreasonable (see Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2), but we must also recognize the temporal nature of authority in this life. We must find our hope, joy, and peace in the power and authority of the One who is Lord of all.

On Sunday morning, I will be preaching from Isaiah 7:1-17 on “The Promise of Power.” As I begin a new Advent sermon series, I will be challenging our church to slow down and consider the promises of God. His promises are perfect, and His power is matchless. And, what is more powerful than the promise (Isaiah 7:14) and matchless fulfillment (Matthew 1:22-23) of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ?

Far more powerful than referees on a basketball court, God has eternal authority and Lordship over us all. Are you trusting in Him? Do you fear the consequences of disobeying Him? Does your life point to His matchless power? Seek, trust, and fear Him above all!

Whether you recognize Him or not, Jesus is Lord of all. The eternally important question is – do you surrender to His Lordship? If you have yet to do so, would you consider The Story and turn to Him today?

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

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.