Prominence is not preeminence.

A couple weeks ago on a beautiful Saturday morning, our three youngest kids went outside to play and noticed that there were worms all over the church parking lot because of a heavy rainfall we had overnight. They then decided to go on a rescue mission of picking up the worms and putting them in the grass.

Afterall, if left on the asphalt, the worms would have fried and died in the sun. I am not sure how many worms were rescued or what compelled our kids to go on this mission, but they sure seemed to enjoy it. And, they acted as if it was an important mission.

Ultimately, though, this task our children prioritized that morning was just one of many things they did that day. It was not what they woke up to do, and it was not their first priority. Rather, it was something they found to be fun. Sure, they got their hands dirty, as seen in the picture below, when they proceeded to play in the dirt. Again, though, that was just a fun benefit of this activity.

Unfortunately, there are many people today who treat their relationship with Jesus like those worms. When convenient and enjoyable, they will “get their hands dirty” in the name of religion. Are they really passionate about Jesus, though? Is He preeminent (of utmost importance) in their lives, or is He simply prominent (important but not first place)?

Prominence is not preeminence.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching my third message in our Advent series: Immanuel to Richland Baptist Church. Preaching from Colossians 1:15-20, I want to challenge those listening to consider the supremacy of Christ and, as a result, surrender to Christ.

Jesus Christ is preeminent, and He is the only One worthy of the place of preeminence in our hearts. Does He have that place in your heart? If not, please consider calling out to Him today.

Surrender is a necessary humble response of repentance (turning away from your sins) and faith in Jesus, but surrender is also a daily decision to put Jesus first in all things. He is not just one of many priorities; He is the priority.

Silas, Zoe and Micah showing off the dirty hands

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Are you impressed?

Thanks to a great internship with KIMT in 1999, I had the opportunity to stand on the sideline with a sports reporter for the Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions game on January 2, 2000. While I have been to NFL, NBA and MLB games before, standing on the sideline of a Vikings game has to be my favorite professional sports memory.

In fact, not only did I get to stand on the sideline and help that reporter, I got to go into the Vikings’ locker room after the game! I literally rubbed shoulders with Hall-of-Famer Cris Carter, my all-time favorite Viking, and got to hold a microphone in the face of Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss. I remember just being in awe of all of these superstars. No doubt I was starstruck.

Not surprisingly, though, none of those players ever hung out with me after that day. None of them invited me over for supper or came to my parents’ house for a visit. They continued their lives as if they had never even met me. Why? Well, because they did not and do not know me. We have no relationship.

Yes, I was quite proud of that day and have told many people over the years how I saw John Randle’s gargantuan arms up close and stood within a few feet of Randall Cunningham and Jeff George. I bragged about that day as if I had actually accomplished something, even though I had really done nothing of any significance.

Now, if some of those players had proceeded to visit me and become my friends, I would have really been able to impress people. Well, at least some people would have been impressed. It is highly improbable this will ever happen, though. Not only will I likely never see any of those players in person again, but they will likely never align themselves with me. They have no reason to do so.

Have you ever considered how amazing it is, however, that the God of the universe promises to be with those who know Him?! One of the names of Jesus the Son of God is Immanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23).

While you would likely be impressed if a famous football player regularly came to my house for supper, you are likely not impressed that God is with me all the time. He never leaves me, just as He promised. The reason this does not impress you is two-fold:

  1. I have done absolutely nothing to earn God’s presence. Rather, it is by His grace and mercy in and through His Son that I (or anyone) can know Him and experience His resulting presence.
  2. Experiencing God’s presence is available for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

So, while this ought not impress you that God is with me, you certainly ought to be amazed and in awe of the fact that God would choose to be with any of us, me included. We are sinful people incapable of getting to God on our own, and so He came to us. This is the Christmas story, and it is the exciting message of Immanuel we are going through as a church on Sunday mornings.

Are you impressed? You certainly are not and should not be impressed with me, but I pray you are awe-struck by God and His love for you.

Slow down and look back.

Do you ever slow down in the midst of a crazy day to look back at pictures of fond memories? Google Photos help me do that when I get occasional notifications on my phone of throwback pictures to “Rediscover this day” from a previous year.

Today was one of those days. Several pictures from six years ago today, like those at the bottom of this email, popped up in my notifications. I could not help but slow down and look back at these fun memories with our children.

Then, I was reminded that this is really a great time of year to slow down and look back. In the busyness of the Christmas season, it is very easy to get distracted away from what matters most. So, slow down and look back.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series on Advent: Immanuel, and I hope to challenge and encourage others to slow down in the present to consider God’s promise. Do not get so distracted by your everyday life that you fail to remember Who is in control and Whom you need to be trusting.

My messages are posted HERE on Sunday afternoons, but the most important message you can ever hear and respond to is this one.

Slow down and look back. Look back to the manger. Look back to the cross. Look back to the empty tomb. The One to whom we are called to look back is also the One who will come again. To be ready for the second Advent, we must look back to and embrace the first.

 

November 30, 2012 in Windsor Valley

Where’s the excitement?!

When the kids were playing outside on a cold Monday afternoon, I told them I wanted to get their picture (seen above) before we went inside for some hot chocolate. Silas said he wanted to do something “cool,” so he climbed up the worm and hung from it. Micah was having a blast outside and seemed pleased to show it. Zoe, though, was coldShe really tried to smile, but her facial expression said it all. She was ready to be done with the cold. Her passion and excitement were gone.

Now, I do not blame Zoe for this. It was cold. Hot chocolate sounded much better than a freezing picture.

What truly grieves me, though, is when those who profess to follow Jesus display a similar lack of passion and excitement when it comes to the Good News. When we think about the gospel of Jesus Christ, we ought to look much more like Silas (charismatic) or Micah (joyfully content) than like Zoe (sourpuss trying to fake it).

You might say, “Well, I’m just not a very emotional person. I’m reserved and laid back.”

Hey, everyone is passionate about something. Everyone has jumped for joy and cried out with excitement about something. And, there is no something that even comes close to the best thing – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

Why is it that I can go to a football game Friday night and see people passionately screaming in support of their team, but then some of those same people look depressed when gathered with the church for worship on a Sunday morning? There is no possible excuse I can fathom that makes this acceptable.

During our worship service with Richland Baptist Church tomorrow, I will be preaching on “The Sacrifice of Discipleship” from Mark 15. If there is one thing that gets people motivated and excited in life, is it not the sacrifice others make for us?

Well, there is no other sacrifice that can or will ever compare to the sacrifice that makes discipleship possible. Will you respond with passion and commitment? If you have saving faith in Jesus Christ, I believe the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Know the plan.

Kids (and many adults, too) seem to enjoy wearing costumes. We like to pretend we are someone or something we are not, especially if that someone or something is really cool.

On Halloween last week, Marsha took our youngest son, Micah, to join our other four children at school for their costume parade and party. When our four oldest children’s classmates would ask who Micah was, our children would introduce him as “Micah,” but he would quickly respond, “No, I’m Mickey.” Apparently, it was pretty cute.

Now, if Marsha would have taken Micah to the school in that costume on another day, it still might have been cute. He could probably get away with it because he is only three years old.

If you and I start walking around in costumes on random other days, though, and claim to be someone or something we are not, that is not so cute. It is just weird.

Wearing costumes on Halloween is something people have come to expect, to some degree at least. It is a part of “the plan.” When someone shows up to work or school on Halloween dressed as Captain America, for example, that person is much less likely to be thought of as a weirdo.

Knowing the plan is important, right? Knowing cultural expectations and norms is certainly helpful in avoiding being labeled a fool, sometimes at least.

More importantly, knowing the plan according to the Word of God is eternally helpful. No, I do not mean we can or will know everything. Far from it. What I do mean, though, is that we can be much more prepared for the things we will face in this life if we have an understanding of God’s plan.

His plan is found in His Word, so seeking to know Him through regular Bible study is critical for every single one of us. The better we know Him and His plan for our lives, the better we can live the life He has created us to live.

Take suffering, for example. If we do not understand God’s clear communication that suffering is an important and normal part of discipleship, we are far-less prepared to face and endure that suffering.

During our morning worship service tomorrow, I will be preaching on “The Suffering of Discipleship” and sharing three reasons we must understand this suffering (and how to respond).

Jesus suffered. He said His followers would suffer. In America, we have experienced far less suffering than many other Christians all over the world and throughout Christian history. Are we ready for that suffering?

If you do not know what Halloween is, you will be pretty surprised, if not shockingly scared, when your co-worker shows up dressed as Michael Myers.

If you do not know what the Bible teaches, you will be pretty surprised, if not shockingly unprepared, when persecution (or any other form of suffering) personally affects you.

Read the Word. Know the plan. Trust the Lord.

Either Obsession or Rejection

Imagine if my son Noah (pictured above shooting a free throw) decided that he wanted to play basketball but that he also wanted to play video games on his Kindle during basketball practice and/or games. No coach in his right mind would be okay with that. You cannot give your best on the court if your mind (not to mention your eyes and your hands) are elsewhere. You have to focus. You have to be committed. You have to do your best.

My dad, who was my high school basketball coach, used to say something like, “You’re either all in, or you’re not in at all.” In fact, if you were not “all in,” you literally would not “be in” (in the game, that is).

While I found myself obsessed with basketball (and sports in general) when I was a teenager, I was eventually sorely disappointed when basketball did not take me (or I did not take basketball) as far as I wanted to go. I am thankful, though, for the life-lessons of teamwork, commitment, loyalty, hard work, dedication, sacrifice and priorities that are learned through sports.

Still, sports are just a part of life. They are not, despite what I believed as a student athlete, life itself.

Following Jesus, however, is different. Yes, there are sports-related lessons we can apply to a life of faith, but sports, like everything else in life, pale in comparison to knowing the Lord. Walking in a genuine relationship with Him is what we were created to do. This relationship is life.

Thankfully, I learned this as a sophomore in college, when God opened my eyes to the truth of the gospel, and I placed my faith in His Son for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

To follow Jesus, according to the Bible, means being 100% sold-out for Him. In other words, you are either obsessed with Him, or you are rejecting Him. Too many people seem content to find a middle ground, but there is no middle ground with the King of kings and the Lord of lords. You either give Him your all, or you are worshiping something or someone else. You’re either all in, or you’re not in at all.

Tomorrow, I will be preaching through Mark 14:1-31 during our church‘s morning worship service. In verses 3-9 is the amazing story of a woman who gave up something of incredible value in order to worship Jesus. As a result, Jesus said, “I assure you: Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9).

This woman was obsessed with Jesus. Are you? Or, are you rejecting Him? Do not settle for the lie of an acceptable middle ground. Surrender your life to Jesus, ask for His help, and be all in. Unlike sports, He will never leave you disappointed.

To where does your life point?

For the vast majority of people, including each one of us when we give in to our selfish and sinful nature, life points inward. It points to self. It paints the picture that “Life is all about me.”

Being created in the image of God, though, our lives are supposed to point to Him.

In the 1st century, John the Baptist had a massive following. One could make the claim that John could have easily continued to grow his following and created his own kingdom, of sorts. That was not John’s aim or purpose, though.

John the Baptist was preaching a message of repentance and preparing the way for the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. John did not want a following. He wanted Jesus to have the following.

When people were confused about who John the Baptist was and who Jesus was, and when there was concern that so many people were all of a sudden flocking to Jesus, John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Oh, that we would all have such humility and Christ-centered lives that others would flock to Jesus because of what we say and do!

Why is this so difficult for us? Why are we so prone to look inward rather than looking upward? Why are we so tempted to talk about ourselves rather than about our Savior?

The answer to each of those questions, of course, is sin. Only Jesus can take away our sins, and until we surrender our lives to Him and commit to surrender ourselves to Him every single day, we will not win the victory over selfishness and pride. Have you surrendered? Are you surrendering?

In the following chapter of the gospel of John, there is a culture-shocking encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. After the Samaritan woman believed Jesus was who He said He was, she wanted others to know about Him. Should could not help but point others to Him.

Then, after others believed based on what they heard, they went to Jesus themselves and eventually told the Samaritan woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, since we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).

Wow! Is this not a great picture of how the journey of faith works for all of us? People often first believe based on what they hear (and thus the importance of living out our faith and talking about our faith), but when people then sincerely seek Jesus themselves, they believe and trust even more because the result is faith that experiences a relationship with God.

Until that relationship exists, what you “believe” can change. Once you know the Savior, though, you find satisfaction and fulfillment that cannot be found elsewhere. What you believe is then based on a life-changing relationship with the Lord, and He will never let you go.

Only then will your life (your actions and your words) point others to Jesus.

To where does your life point?