Turkey Time

I love this country because I love the people, love the culture, love the food, and love the history! Over the past several days, I have really enjoyed my time here with friends. We have had some great conversations about Jesus, and we have enjoyed Turkish hospitality.

Of course, I am greatly looking forward to being reunited with my family and, Lord willing, will be on my way home when this post is published.

Still, I wanted to share some pictures from my trip…

Breakfast at the hotel in Istanbul
Turkish flag
Çamlıca (overlooking Istanbul)
Asian side of Istanbul looking to the European side
Overlooking Istanbul
My dear friend Umut
On a walk to get some Magnum bars
Sea of Marmara
Riding on a ferry in Istanbul
Crossing from the European side to the Asian side
European side of Istanbul (old city)
Coming over to the Asian side
My good friend Necdet
First Bosphorous Bridge (connecting Europe and Asia)
Muş
1100-year-old church building in Muş
Old bridge outside Muş
Night lights
Van Lake
Enjoyed visiting Akdamar Church
Akdamar Church outside Van
The church building is on an island.
The Fortress of Van
Castle entrance
This castle is around 3,000 years old.
Looking down from the castle
The castle with Van in the background

Spring into Prayer

Spring is a time of new beginning and growth. Praise the Lord – He is always at work in people’s lives, bringing forth new beginnings and growth! Just as the grass grows and the flowers blossom, so God brings about spiritual growth and development.

Of course, we are completely incapable of experiencing that growth and development apart from God’s grace. We must continually rely upon Him by seeking Him through His Word, walking with Him in prayer, serving alongside His church, and being committed to His mission.

Do you have people in your life to challenge, sharpen, and encourage you to walk with the Lord? Have you sincerely surrendered your life to Him? Are you continually depending on Him?

Knowing how much we need prayer and how much we need one another, I wanted to share some ways you can be praying for our family right now…

  • Please pray that we will love, serve, and honor Jesus Christ above all.
  • Please pray that we will be good stewards of our resources.
  • Please pray that we will be disciples who make disciple makers.
  • Please pray that we will faithfully serve and build up our church family.

How can we pray for you? Please let us know.

Finally, praise God for His continued kindness and goodness! Here are some recent picture highlights, with a throwback included.

Worship Requires Repentance

If you have damaged your relationship with someone by betraying them, how well would things go if you showed up at their house wanting to hang out but without any acknowledgement of your betrayal? Surely, that would not go well. We can never, in our right minds, expect things to be “okay” without any effort to resolve problems and conflicts.

Now, consider that any form of disobedience to the Word of God is sin – a betrayal of God and His plan for your life. Yet, how often do you seek to worship God, whether individually or corporately, without turning away from sin? How often do you pray for God’s will for your life, while willfully continuing to disobey His Word? How often do you ask for God’s blessings, while holding on to bitterness toward others? How often do you expect God’s provision, while picking and choosing which parts of His Word to obey? How often do you sing songs of praise, while your heart is sick with unrepentant sin?

If we truly want to honor and worship the Lord (and be in a right relationship with Him), we must repent of our sins and turn to Him. Firstly, of course, this requires we believe the gospel and surrender our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. That humble surrender that requires sincere repentance, though, is not a one-time desire that ends with our justification. Repentance is an ongoing expectation in the Christian life, and without regular repentance (because we are still sinners), we have no right to cry out to God in worship, whether individually or corporately.

Really, we have no right to do so anyway because God is holy and we are not. When we trust the gospel, though, Jesus takes away our sins and makes it possible for us to boldly approach God’s glorious throne. Now, repentance and worship go together. They are inseparable. One cannot sincerely worship the Lord without turning away from sin, and one cannot truly turn away from sin without a resulting desire to worship the Lord.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Nehemiah 9:32-37 on “Repentant Worship.” We will consider a couple ways to worship the Lord in repentance, as I hope to challenge our church family (all of us together) to be marked by a lifestyle of repentance.

Is there any sin you are holding on to right now? Is there any part of God’s Word you are refusing to obey? Will you ask for God’s help to turn away from sin and to Him? Let us return to worship with repentant hearts!

Please click the picture above if you want to learn more about the life-changing (now and eternal) result of sincere repentance.

Relationships Matter

When our children get along and play well together, life is so much more enjoyable than when they are not getting along. Duh, right? Last Saturday, I walked outside and saw my wife and kids playing together in the snow, and my heart was made happy. They were having fun, and life was good.

Relationships matter, and when our relationships are good, life is good. Rarely can I think of exceptions, as there is perhaps no greater dictator of our contentment than the status of our relationships. When times are tough financially or politically or physically, those storms can be weathered when our relationships are healthy. On the flip side, though, even if everything else in our lives is great (health, job, weather, political climate, sports, etc.), we will find very little enjoyment in all that greatness if any of our most important relationships are broken.

Relationships matter.

JESUS’ EXPECTATIONS

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 13:1-19 on how “Jesus Calls for Better Relationships.” Genuine faith in Jesus Christ impacts our relationships in a way that should bless and encourage us and bless and encourage others. If we truly know and follow Jesus, our relationships should honor Him. The way we behave and relate to others is important, and the Bible is full of instructions emphasizing this.

Jesus declared, in fact, that the entire law of God is summed up by relationships – our love for God and our love for others (see Matthew 22:37-40).

How are your relationships? How is your faith impacting your relationships? Whether we recognize and admit it or not, faith impacts relationships for the better or for the worse.

WHAT WE NEED

As the author of Hebrews made clear, we need to “run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a). Prioritizing our relationship with Jesus will, in turn, improve our attitude and behavior toward others. Does that mean everyone will love and appreciate us? Of course not. What happens when we put Jesus first, though, is a resulting love and concern for others that only His Holy Spirit working in our hearts can generate.

Our relationships with others are better when our relationship with Jesus is sincere and faithful. Jesus calls for better relationships, and so when we know Him and strive to live and walk according to His Word, our relationships will reflect that.

Because we are all sinners, healthy relationships are not a given. Lasting, healthy relationships require hard work and commitment, and I believe there is no greater indication of the curse of sin in this world than broken relationships. First and foremost, of course, our relationship with God is broken until we trust in and surrender our lives to Jesus Christ.

The curse of sin affects other relationships, too, though – all relationships. Thus, we need to turn away from sin and turn to Jesus and continuously ask for His help, that we will treat others the way we would like to be treated. We need to depend on Him to enable us to live according to His Word, which calls for better relationships.

What relationships in your life can be better? What can and will you do to fix them? Really, rather, will you ask the Lord for help and obey His Word in how you think, speak, and act? Let us do better by turning to Him first!

If you long for better relationships but are not sure if your most important relationship – the one with your Creator – is right, will you read and/or watch THE STORY and turn to Him today?

What a week in Tennessee!

We had a blast in Tennessee over the past week, spending time with our dear friends the Fries family, followed by vacation with Marsha’s parents, sisters, and their families. Praise the Lord for the amazing gift of family and friends!

To see some photos and videos of our trip, click HERE.

Cliff jumping with the Fries family and white-water rafting with Marsha’s family were probably the two favorite highlights (for most of us) from the trip.

Heartbroken but Hopeful

When considering what 12-year-old Wyatt Salmons and his family went through this past year, with Wyatt having lost his physical life last Friday, how can we understand such tragedies? How do I make sense of one of my son’s friends and classmates suffering and dying from a rare form of cancer?

To some extent, we simply cannot wrap our minds around things like this. We cannot fully comprehend or sufficiently explain tragedies. Rather, we are heartbroken and reminded of the brokenness of this world. Still, I believe we can experience hope in the midst of heartbreak. Specifically, I believe there are two ways that provide hope above all else.

1. HOPE FROM THE GOSPEL

Firstly and most importantly, we find hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot fathom how people get through any sort of tragedy and suffering apart from the hope of the gospel. Before I came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, I experienced far less tragic suffering in my life (as a child and young adult) than I have since then, and yet in the midst of those losses, I was far more discouraged.

I remember moments when I felt complete hopelessness and despair, and those moments were nothing compared to losing my young dad to cancer, for example. When my dad passed away in 2014, my heart was broken, and yet I never felt hopeless. I never felt despair. While I was grief-stricken and missed my dad (and still do), I had (and still do) a sense of hope and peace that I never understood before placing my saving faith in Jesus.

Please realize, this hopefulness is not because I figured things out and mastered some method of finding purpose and meaning. Rather, God changed my heart and life. My purpose and meaning are in Him, and because of the promise of what is to come, loss in this life cannot rob me of that hope. This is the reality for those who know and follow Jesus, as long as we keep our eyes on Him.

2. HOPE FROM ONE ANOTHER

One of the greatest blessings of coming to know and follow Jesus is being a part of His family. We say all the time with Richland, “Our church is our family.” God knows, of course, that we not only need Him; we need one another. For that reason, most of the commands in the New Testament are corporate commands – commands for the body of believers and not just for individual believers.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “Living Unity” (Romans 12:15-16). Church family unity that is centered on the gospel is a unity that endures. And, part of that unity is our need to love and care for one another in the midst of suffering. We are not strong enough to endure tragedy on our own. We need God, and we need His church. The temptation for many when tragedy strikes is to withdraw, but withdrawal is the very thing we do not need. Instead, we need to comfort and/or be comforted. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). This is a corporate command for us because God knows best what we need.

If you have a personal relationship with Jesus, are you prioritizing your relationship with Him and your relationship with your local church? Are you prioritizing unity, not just for your sake but also for the sake of God’s glory and the good of others?

If you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus, I plead with you to turn to Him for the hope, peace, and salvation only He can give.

If you want to experience the hope and peace that endure forever, please check out The Story.

Caring Is Sharing

“Sharing is caring” is a pretty well-known saying that implies when you share with someone, you show that you care about them. You might remember being taught this as a child. I know I do.

On Sunday, Silas had a few friends over after church services, and he had a blast. Like all of us, Silas enjoys spending time with people he likes. He enjoys sharing his time and his toys with them because he cares about them. The rest of our kids are no exception, and I imagine you are not an exception to this rule either.

There is a kind of sharing that is even more important, though – a kind that is even more caring. This kind of sharing comes as a result of caring – caring about Jesus and His commands and caring about others. Sharing which blesses someone not only for a day but for eternity is the most important kind of sharing. Of course, what I mean is the sharing of the Good News. There is no more important thing we can share with others than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

Have you trusted your life to Jesus? If so, are you prioritizing the kind of sharing that proves your life belongs to Him?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from John 1:45-51 on how, for followers of Jesus, “Caring Is Calling.” If you sincerely care about someone, you will call them to Jesus. You will call them to respond to the gospel. You will want them to experience the hope, joy, and peace you have experienced. Caring is calling.

If this is an ongoing struggle for you, pray for God’s help. Pray for His Spirit to grow your care for Him, for His Word, and for the people around you. To God be the glory!

Levi was a good sport with Silas and his buddies, willingly playing the bad guy they were trying to catch.

To WHOM is your thanksgiving?

No doubt the vast majority of Americans are, in some way or another, celebrating Thanksgiving today. We are giving thanks for various people and various blessings, whether we talk about them while we sit around the table together, share about them through social media, or remind ourselves of them in our own hearts and minds.

When you “give thanks,” though, to whom is your thanksgiving? Sure, you might be thankful for your spouse, for your family, for your friends, etc., but to whom are you thankful?

Generally, we give thanks to someone who has done something beneficial for us. For example, on a typical evening I certainly ought to give thanks to my wife for a delicious supper, for a clean house, and for the seemingly constant care she provides for our children. All of us ought to be able to think of people not only for whom we are thankful but also to whom we give thanks.

Most importantly for followers of Jesus Christ, of course, is our thanksgiving to God. Everything good we have is from Him and for His glory.

On Thanksgiving (and always) we ought not only to say, “I am thankful for ________.” We also ought to be saying, “Thanks be to God for ________.” And, at the top of that list should be resurrection life.

Lord willing, during our worship service with Richland Baptist Church Sunday morning, I will be preaching on “The Victory of Discipleship” from Mark 16:1-8. As I have been studying this passage of Scripture this week, I cannot help but think we do not rejoice and give thanks to God nearly enough for the victory that was and is won by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

If not for this victory of discipleship, my grief over the physical death of my dad (seen in the picture above teaching my sister Steph how to cut the turkey in 2013) would be too much to bear. If not for this victory, our lives would be hopeless. If not for this victory, we would ultimately have nothing for which to be thankful.

The victory over sin and death is the most important thing that has ever happened, and so God is the most important One to whom we need to give thanks.

Is your mind set on truly seeking and thanking Him, or are you more set on yourself? Are you intent about honoring Him, or are you more concerned about getting honored?

Seems like I have heard multiple people say (and I agree completely): the more life is all about you, the more miserable you are. May the Lord help us have the right focus and the right thanksgiving!

Tough but good summer so far

breakfast timeWith an extended, exhausting trip back to the U.S. a couple weeks ago, followed by my Grandpa David’s memorial service this past Saturday, this summer is off to a difficult start for our family. We slept in five different places (including the Chicago airport) our first 12 nights back in the U.S., but the good news is that we seemed to get over jet lag rather quickly. My grandpa’s memorial service was one of the toughest things of which I have ever been a part. Still, it was and has been an incredible blessing being with family, leaning on each other for comfort and looking to the the King of kings and Lord of lords for grace and strength. Preaching the gospel at the memorial service was an honor and a privilege, and I continue to pray that God will use His Word to soften hearts to the Truth.

So, even though the summer is off to a bit of a tough start, we are doing well. God has been so good and faithful, as always, and we certainly recognize that our family is blessed.

To see a bunch of pictures from the past month, please click HERE.