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!

Adopting Micah

Five years ago today, Micah officially joined our family. It may seem hard to believe (for those who know him well), but Micah did not like me for the first several days after joining our family. And, that crushed me! 😦

He was also a wild child! Within the first few days of him joining our family, he bit Silas on the stomach, slapped JoAnn across the face, and knocked the glasses/hats off of anyone within an arm’s length of him! He also loved to run away, if given the chance. 

I laid down in bed at our hotel one night in China and felt utter panic. I wondered how in the world I was going to handle a wild and independent kid, on top having four other wild hooligans to care for. He was lying right next to me in a baby bed when I looked over at him sleeping peacefully, and he looked absolutely precious. My heart just exploded at that moment, and all my fears and panic melted away. I reminded myself that Micah’s whole life had been turned upside down, and he needed to be shown lots of grace and patience. That night, I determined in my heart that I would work my tail off to win him over. During the next several days, I played on the floor with him a ton, read the same three books to him over and over, fed him, rocked him, etc. And by golly, by the time we landed in the United States, I officially became Micah’s favorite.

I will also never forget our first day with Micah back at our house. I was so excited for him to see his new toys, and especially for him to finally be able to run free in our yard, without me worrying about him getting hit by a car (as I continuously worried when we were in China). His behavior shocked me. He never wanted to be more than six feet away from me, and he also wanted to be held almost constantly. He was a completely different kid! 

Over the next two years, Micah was my shadow. He never wanted to be far from his mama. On Micah’s second night in his new home, he was struggling to fall asleep, and he did not want me to leave the room. I laid on his floor until he fell asleep that night. Then, I proceeded to lay on his floor every single night until he fell asleep for the next 18 months! Yes, crazy, I know! I do wish I had not laid on his floor for quite that long ;-), but I am so glad I was there for him during those first days of him grieving. Our sweet boy had lived with a foster family for the first two years of his life, and I have no doubt that he experienced deep grief those first few months. 

Those first two years with Micah were far from easy. Having a clingy kid at your hip 24/7 can be exhausting. Little by little though, Micah gained confidence and independence. His true personality slowly but surely emerged. He is nothing like the wild and unruly kid we met initially. He is also not the super clingy, needy kid that emerged right after we adopted him. He is now a calm, somewhat quiet and shy, happy, thriving kid who is well-loved by all who know him. 

Micah’s deep love for me is still very evident. I get several hugs from him everyday, and he constantly tells me he loves me. We still read books every night before bed, too, but thankfully I can give him a hug and kiss and then be on my way. 😉

The decisions to adopt Micah and Zoe were hands-down two of the very best decisions Nick and I ever made. People are often apprehensive about adopting because they worry they will not love their adopted children as much as their biological children. I can tell you from personal experience, however, that my love for all five of my kiddos is equal. Even though Micah and Zoe did not come from my womb, they might as well have, as far as my love for them is concerned. It is hard to even remember life without them. 

Not only are Micah and Zoe incredible gifts to Nick and me, they are also a treasure to their siblings, grandparents, cousins, and countless others. I do not talk a lot about adoption, but it is something that I am incredibly passionate about. I wish more people would open their eyes and hearts to the possibility of adopting, because there truly is not much in life that is more rewarding.

Don’t Wish Your Life Away

Years ago, I remember my father-in-law – Mr. Cox, as all four of his sons-in-law call him – giving Marsha and me excellent advice when he said very simply, “Don’t wish your life away.” We were going through a stressful time with our first two children and were dreaming about the days when such stress would be no more. Reminding us that we would one day cherish those days (and he was right) and that God was in control (and he was right), Mr. Cox told us not to wish our lives away.

Such advice is simple and yet powerful, to-the-point and yet sufficient. We ought not wish our lives away, as if life will be better when we are out of our current trials. Maybe life will be better. Maybe it will not. Regardless, God is sovereign over the present and the future. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Sure, there are injustices that will be made right. There are promises that will one day be fulfilled. There are hopes we can and should have for the future. And, it is good and right to look forward to those things. Yet, we are living in the present. Wishing only for the present to pass because of difficulty is misguided at best and unbelieving at worst. Trust God now, both in His sovereign purposes for the present and His perfect plan for your future. Do not wish your life away.

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

If you struggle with doubt and fear, which we all do to some extent, then “wishing your life” away can be a temptation at times (or, perhaps, often times). Do not give in to the temptation, though, to wish your life away. Do not doubt God’s plan and provision.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through John 20:19-29 on moving “From Doubt to Worship.” Like Thomas in that famous true story, may we experience Jesus and respond in worship. Rather than doubting God’s sovereign control and wishing our lives away, let us worship Him for who He is, for what He has done, for what He continues to do, and for what He will certainly do.

Yes, let us pray for things to be better, for hearts to be changed, for lives to be transformed, and for God to receive the glory. We are here today, though, so as we pray for the Lord’s will to be done, let us understand that His sovereign will is being done. He is in control. He does desire our contentment and satisfaction, but such contentment and satisfaction are found in Him, not in our circumstances. Praise the Lord!

Don’t wish your life away. Praise God in the present, and trust Him for your future. As you do, you can move from doubt to worship and live a life that pleases the Lord and points others to Him. Like Jesus said about trusting and worshiping Him, “Those who believe without seeing are blessed” (John 20:29). Are you blessed?

To truly trust and follow the Lord, you must have a personal relationship with Him. If you have yet to turn to Him for salvation, please check out The Story for more information.

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.

Exciting Relay Finishes

When I ran track in high school, I wished I was fast enough to run in the most exciting race of the night – the 1600-meter relay (4×400). Instead, I usually ran events like the 3200-meter relay (4×800), the 1600-meter run, and the 800-meter run. Levi, like Marsha and me, is probably more suited to be a mid-distance or distance runner, but he has been fortunate to run the third leg in the 1600-meter relay in most of the track meets this year, and his relay team has done pretty well.

He has passed at least three runners in each of his opportunities and has yet to get passed by someone else.

Below are a few of the exciting finishes to his legs in the relays.

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?