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.

Will you finish the race?

When I was on our high school track and field team, I had a teammate who decided he wanted to run the mile in a track meet. Unfortunately for him, he was not prepared and did not know how the race should be run or what his body could handle. At the sound of the gun, he basically sprinted out to an early lead, but he did not have nearly enough stamina to keep such a pace. Instead, he was exhausted by the end of the first lap, began to get passed by several runners and then eventually all the runners, before he finally collapsed and failed to finish the race.

A lack of preparation and understanding was this boy’s undoing, and he failed as a result. I do not believe he ever attempted the mile run again.

Life is often compared to a race – and for good reason. Races, especially longer races, are hard work, and to do well, they require preparation, determination, perseverance, and effort. Unfortunately, too many people often do not finish well.

The race eventually ends for everyone, but will you finish the race. Will you cross the finish line by living the life God has called you to live and having a right relationship with Him? That finish line is the only one that truly matters, and His Word is the only book of instruction that can tell us how to get there.

May we never be like so many of the illegitimate believers who were the first readers of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. “You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7).

While many of the Galatians had professed to believe in Jesus Christ, they had strayed off the path and were in danger of failing to finish the race. Sin and a false gospel had caused them to look to themselves and a false religious system for a right relationship with God. Only Jesus can give us a right relationship with God, though, and trusting in anyone or anything else will only lead to enslavement to sin and the resulting eternal death.

The good news for followers of Jesus, though, is that “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Trusting any message and religious system other than the gospel of Jesus Christ is submitting to a yoke of slavery leading to eternal damnation.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “The Response to Grace” (Galatians 5:1-15). Our response to the gospel of grace must be biblically faithful (true to the Word of God). Otherwise, we will not finish the race God has created us to run. We will consider Sunday morning how to run that race – how to respond to God’s amazing grace.

Will you finish the race? Only by the grace of God and your ongoing faith in and dependence on Christ. Every other way and attempt will lead to your collapse and destruction. Let us look to the Lord and His Word for everything we need to finish the race.

If you are not certain you will finish the race and cross the finish line into eternal life, please check out The Story and put your faith in Jesus today.

Why No Checklist with God?

If you, like me, are blessed and thankful to be married, why do you do the things you do for your spouse? I happen to be married to the woman of my dreams, and while I am far from adequate in showing her how grateful I am for her, the reason I do the things I do for my wife is because I love her. Also, I am confident in and grateful for the love she has for me.

Thus, when I give my wife a gift, perform an act of service for her, tell her how much I love her, or give her a kiss goodbye, I never do those things to earn her love. I do those things because I have her love and because I love her. There is no checklist I must complete in order to become my wife’s husband. I already am her husband, and so the things that I might put on such a checklist are things I desire to do. Unfortunately, I wish I did a better job, but the truth and reality remain the same, regardless of my failures.

Did you know there is no checklist with God, either? Well, at least not one we are able to complete. Before I truly understood the gospel and placed my faith in Jesus Christ, I thought such a checklist was exactly what I did have to complete in order to earn God’s favor and have eternal life. I was wrong. The Law of God recorded in the Word of God is such a checklist, but none of us is able to complete it. None of us is good enough to obey it. None of us is sufficient to fulfill it. Otherwise, there would have been no reason for Jesus to come, die on the cross in our place for our sins, and rise again to win the victory over sin and death for all who call upon His name.

Because God is perfect and holy, we are required to be perfect and holy to enter His presence and have a relationship with Him. None of us is perfect and holy, though. Yet, He loves us so much that He sent His perfect and holy Son to “complete the checklist” for us. Jesus alone obeyed the Law of God perfectly before becoming the sacrifice (in our place) that God’s perfect justice demanded. Now, if we simply place our faith and trust in Jesus to forgive us of our sins and take over our lives, it is as if we “completed that checklist.”

Praise God that there is no checklist we must fulfill to know and follow Him! His Son did that for us.

Now, His followers do not seek to serve and honor Him to earn His favor and become His children. Rather, we seek to serve and honor Him because we have received His favor and been declared His children through Jesus Christ our Lord.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I am going to preach through Galatians 4:8-31 on “The Identity of Grace.” When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, He gives us a new identity. This identity of grace declares us to be children of God, as if we fulfilled His perfect checklist. Why? Because in and through Christ, we “know God, or rather have become known by God” (Galatians 4:9).

Just as Paul pleaded with the Galatians, I plead with you – do not try to fulfill some sort of religious checklist to make yourself right with God. Put your faith in the only One who can make you right, and trust in and follow Him every single day. To God be the glory!

Have you struggled to trust in Jesus, rather than in your religious works, to make you right with God? Would you check out The Story and turn to Him today?

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.

Don’t Believe in Yourself

I have always been a self-confident person, not because I am worthy of such confidence but rather because of my personality, my upbringing, and having two self-confident parents. From the time I can remember, I only recall learning that self-confidence was a good thing. Of course, to some degree it is a good thing. We should want to pursue our goals with confidence and assurance.

When it breeds pride and self-righteousness, though, self-confidence is foolish and evil. And, more often than not in my life, that was (and has been) the reality. You see, we can do nothing apart from God’s grace and kindness in our lives, so when we think we are something on our own, believing in ourselves above all else, we are foolishly and sinfully deceiving ourselves.

That was, to a large degree, the story of my life until the Lord saved me from my prideful sin nearly 24 years ago. More than just self-confidence in sports, school, and conversations, I was confident in my morality.

If you would have asked me when I was a teenager if I was a Christian, I would have confidently answered yes. Then, if you would have pressed a little further and asked how I knew I was going to have eternal life, I would have said – like a lot of people – “Because I’m a good person.” While I may have believed the right things about Jesus, I really believed in myself.

Do not believe in yourself. Do not try to have more faith in yourself. You, like me, are a failure. You, like me, are nothing without the grace and mercy of God.

Do not believe in yourself. Trust in the Lord! Put your faith in Him.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Galatians 3 and challenging my hearers to stop putting their faith in themselves and sincerely put their faith in Jesus. In “Grace with Faith,” I hope to share three characteristics of sincere Christian faith.

Are you trusting in your abilities, your accomplishments, and your goodness to get to heaven? Beware that “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed” (Galatians 3:10). None of us is able to keep the Law perfectly, which means if we trust in ourselves, we are doomed for eternity.

Praise God, though, that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). That is the amazing grace of the gospel! Jesus took the punishment we all deserved when He died on the cross for our sins. He became the curse for us! Then, when He rose from the dead, He won the victory over sin and death forever. Everyone who turns to Him in faith is counted as righteous.

Do not believe in yourself. Believe in Him!

Are you trusting Jesus alone to save you and make you right with God? You can learn more by checking out The Story.

From Legalism to Liberty

Until I was a sophomore in college, I always believed that I was “going to heaven someday” because I was a “good person.” Yes, I believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, but deep down, it was as if I believed in myself more. While I believed the right things about Jesus, my sincere faith and trust were more in myself. What was I doing? What did I accomplish? What did I earn from God?

Basically, I was living like a modern-day pharisee, legalistically trying to check the boxes and earn my favor with God. Now, please realize, I was far from truly being a “good person.” I was not even close to living according to the Law of God, but I tried my best to “put on a good show” and “look the part.” Because I was, what I considered, “better than most” when it came to obeying God’s Word (even though I failed constantly), I was convinced that my goodness made me right with God.

Oh, how wrong I was!

Legalism is wicked and sinful because it distorts the truth of the gospel and is a mockery of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Essentially, legalism – adding to the Word of God a works-based burden that none of us can bear – declares that Christ’s substitutionary atonement was unnecessary. When you try to live a moral life for the wrong reasons – to earn God’s favor, rather than serving Him because of the gift of His favor through faith in Jesus, you have no way to actually earn God’s favor and instead will earn His eternal wrath in hell. Harsh as that sounds, it is the truth of the gospel. We need Jesus. He alone can save us from our sins, and He alone can enable us to grow in obedience to God’s Word.

Praise God for His grace! Until I was 20 years old, despite growing up in church and being “confirmed” in a Lutheran church when I was in eighth grade, I wrongfully believed that my standing with God was based on what I could do, rather than on what Christ had already done for me.

Thankfully, He opened my eyes in the fall of 1998 to see the truth. Then, I went from legalism to liberty, meaning I was released from the overwhelming and unachievable burden of trying to be good enough to earn God’s favor. Instead, I experienced the work of God’s grace in my life, realizing and embracing the freedom to trust in Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection for my salvation. Praise be to God!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Galatians 2 on “The Work of Grace.” What a great chapter explaining the difference between legalism and liberty! Have you experienced the work of grace in your life?

No one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified” (Galatians 2:16-17).

For so many years, I was trying to be justified (made right with God) by being good enough – by trying to obey the law, but I just kept failing and failing.

Well, I still fail, but now my sincere faith is in Jesus and what He did. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:19b-20).

Not ironically, I am actually more obedient to God’s Word now than I was when I thought I had to earn His favor. That is not because I have somehow figured things out and am a better person. Rather, it is because of the work of grace in my life. The same grace of God in Christ Jesus that saves me is the grace that changes me every day. Thank you, Jesus!

Are you trusting in Jesus alone to save you from your sins and enable you to follow Him each day? If not, check out The Story and turn to Him today.

Who just called?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite songs was “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder. I am unsure if that is something about which to be embarrassed or proud. Depends on your taste in music, I suppose. I had that song memorized, though, and I loved listening to Stevie Wonder sing.

In life, we get a lot of calls, especially now, right? We carry our phones in our pockets and set them on our desks while we work. There are days when it seems like I spend more time responding to text messages and phone calls than anything else. Now, I am a pastor, so to some degree, that comes with the territory, and I am grateful for technology that allows me to respond so quickly to prayer concerns and ministry needs. No one has ever “just called to say, ‘I love you,'” though. But, I think I am okay with that. 😉

When it comes to the most important calls, however, we want to make sure we are available, do we not? If we know something really important is likely to come, like the birth of a child, important medical news, the result of a spouse’s job interview, etc., we want to be ready for those calls.

How much more so should that be the case for God’s call on our lives? While He does not, as far as I am aware or have heard, use cell phones for such communication, He does indeed call us. The only way we can be certain of His calling, though, is by seeking Him through His Word. Knowing His Word is the only way to know His calling on our lives.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 1:11-24 on “The Calling of Grace.” I believe we can learn some lessons from Paul’s apostleship that apply to all who are called to follow Jesus. Have you heard and responded to that call? Are you fulfilling your calling as a follower of Jesus?

God does love you and proved that love by sending His Son to die on the cross for our sins. God did notjust call to say, ‘I love you,'” though. He called to say much more.

By the grace of God according to the Word of God, we can understand and follow His gracious calling on our lives. To do so, however, we must be in His Word, serving in His church, and living according to His mission (being a Christ-follower who is helping others to be Christ-followers). How are you doing? How are you helping others? Let us hear and respond to the most important of calls!

To understand where the most important call begins, please check out The Story.