Well, 2021 is almost over, and we would like to wish you a happy new year! May we seek the Lord, honor Him with our lives, and glorify His name in 2022 and beyond! If you want to learn more about what it means to know and follow the Lord, please check out The Story.
If you have yet to do so, you can read our recent Christmas letter HERE. After publishing that Christmas letter, though, we were blessed to spend great time together with our families over the past week. Below are some picture highlights of our time together celebrating the birth of Jesus and giving each other unnecessary gifts.
During our church’s Vacation Bible School (VBS) this week, not a single child has asked me if he or she could be confident our building would not collapse on us. While our church building has had its share of issues over the past several months, no one has expressed concern about our safety when we gather together. Frankly, we probably take our safety (pertaining to our building and otherwise) for granted. My point, though, is that we arrive at our church facilities with the confident assurance that we will leave safe and healthy. This is our expectation.
Of course, we have good reason to have such an expectation. History is on our side. Experience is a good teacher. Evidence is all around us.
Still, we all realize that even the strongest of buildings and the greatest of securities and the best of expectations can fail in this life. They will fail eventually.
During VBS this week, though, we have been talking about a foundation that will never fail. He is the only foundation who will never fail. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Philippians 1:6 on “Jesus – Our Strong Foundation.” Just as we pray the children have grasped during VBS, I hope to communicate our need to trust and depend on the only foundation that lasts forever.
If you place your hope and assurance in other things or other people to ensure your future “success,” you will be disappointed. Only Jesus and those who know Him will endure. Only the gospel message is sufficient for our future foundation. No other way will provide what we need for eternity.
How sure is your future? What comes next is indeed certain, so are you ready? Do not take your safety and security for granted. Likewise, do not find your hope in your current safety and security. Something so much better – what you were created for – is available. Experience the sure foundation and rejoice in Him today.
When I play all-time quarterback (meaning quarterback for both teams, for those who do not know and/or have not had the joyful privilege) with my kids and nieces and nephews, I never lose. I suppose you could say I never win either, but I do not see it that way. Instead, I get to throw touchdown passes all game long and the team for which I play wins in the end. As a competitive person who hates to lose, I kind of like being all-time quarterback. The game is fun, and I get to throw the winning touchdown pass. Never to lose; always to win.
I was thinking about this during our recent vacation when I had the privilege of playing football with some of the kids (pictured above). Seriously, I never tire of being all-time quarterback, kind of like I never tire of winning, although I do not always win in sports (or in life).
A much better victory is possible, though.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Ezra 5-6 on “Reclaimed Victory.” When we know and follow the Lord, we have a victory that is so much greater than anything this life has to offer. We have a victory that is far superior to the greatest of sports dynasties. We have a victory that lasts infinitely longer than any potential fame and fortune.
Victory in Jesus is eternal. We must respond to Him in order to experience His victory, though, and His victory demands a continued response from us. How are you responding to the God of victory?
Sure, we learn valuable lessons in life when we lose. Those lessons are good for us because winning does not come easy, and no one always wins in this life.
When this life is over, though, you will either have eternal victory or eternal damnation, eternal life or eternal death. Jesus enables you never to lose when you come to know Him. We must respond to the God of victory, and I hope to communicate those necessary responses Sunday morning. May we experience His victory, and may we celebrate His victory! To God be the glory!
Last month, we had a great time hanging out at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Illinois and doing a day trip to Chicago. We do not see our nieces, my sister Stephanie, and my brother-in-law nearly as often as we would like, so times like this are sweet. Here are just a few pictures from our trip…
This is the first track and field season for Noah (ninth grade) and Levi (eighth grade). Below are a couple of short videos capturing their events (or the finish of races). Noah has been primarily focusing on high jump, and Levi has been running the 1600-meter run, the 800-meter run, and the 4×400-meter relay.
This past Sunday evening, our kids with Richland Baptist Church had a children’s Christmas program. They sang some well-known Christmas hymns and shared some stories of how God has used angels to touch the lives of His people, as recorded in Scripture.
Perhaps more than any other time of year, I love singing hymns about the birth of Jesus. No, I don’t mean the commercialization of Christmas and songs like “Here Comes Santa Claus.” What I love is the great theology found in some of our great Christmas hymns.
I loved hearing the kids sing them Sunday evening, and I especially love singing them myself with our church family.
Jesus is the reason to sing. His coming to take on flesh is a reason to sing. His life, death, and resurrection for our salvation is a reason to sing. Do you desire to sing?
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1:46-55, talking about how “Redemption Is Certain.” When we know and follow Jesus as Savior and Lord, the redemption we have in Him is certain.
Does that make you want to sing? If you have experienced that redemption, I am unsure how your answer could be anything but an enthusiastic “YES!”
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Luke 1:46).
The same reason Mary burst out in praise – celebrating our great God of redemption – ought to compel us to to sing praises to the King.
Do you have that reason to sing? If not, would you consider turning to the Lord for the eternal redemption only He can give?
Our kids opened a few presents last month. They received Christmas gifts about which they were seemingly excited. Of course, some gifts were received more gladly than others, while some have probably already been forgotten. The gifts about which our kids were sincerely passionate, though, are still used and talked about each day. They play with them. They care for them. They protect them. They declare their greatness.
They prioritize these gifts with their time, efforts, and energy because they are passionate about these gifts. Passion is priority.
Now, the reality is that all of these gifts are temporary, meaning they will not last forever, nor will the passion had for them last forever.
WE ARE PASSIONATE PEOPLE
Everyone is passionate about something. God created us this way, and we declare that passion in and through our priorities. You give of your time, your care, and your resources to that which you prioritize. Or, you end up prioritizing the thing(s) to which you give of your time, your care, and your resources (see Matthew 6:21).
We are passionate people, whether our personalities are outwardly charismatic or more reserved. So, what are you most passionate about?
If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, can you possibly be more passionate about anything than you are about the gospel? Nothing is even close to as great as Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our salvation, and if you have experienced that salvation, you are surely passionate about it.
HAVE APPROPRIATE PASSION
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will begin a 3-week sermon series on 2020 Vision. My hope is to challenge our church (both as a body and as individuals) to have the right (biblical) purpose and vision in 2020 and beyond, beginning with having appropriate passion – passion focused appropriately.
Our passion for the gospel ought to be greater than our passion for anything else. Is your passion the gospel? If not, why? Have you experienced new life in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you prioritizing your relationship with Him?
Have you ever asked God, like the Israelites did in Malachi’s time, “How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). Even if you have not verbally spoken those words to God, surely you have at least thought them. We all have our moments of weakness, discouragement, selfishness, and foolishness. And, in those moments, we tend to lose sight of the big picture, if not lose sight of the truth itself.
THERE ARE STUPID QUESTIONS
We have all heard people say that there are no stupid questions, but that is not true. There are stupid questions – questions of foolishness. “God, how have you loved us?” is an example of a stupid question. In fact, is there a more foolish question than this?
Stupid questions are questions that, by intention, fail to recognize and/or remember Truth and rather attempt to justify our own shortcomings. Israel, for example, was an ungrateful people in Malachi’s time, often failing to remember God’s amazing love for them and instead, complaining about their circumstances. They forgot what God delivered them from, and they were instead focused on always wanting more.
Their question was filled with foolishness, much like a child who might ask his mother after not getting what he wants, “Don’t you love me?” Stupid question, whether we want to use such descriptives or not.
GOD’S LOVE IS UNDENIABLE
We would run out of time – run out of physical life – trying name all the ways God has proven His love for us. I will not even try to accomplish such a huge task. Instead, I want to briefly talk about one such proof – Vacation Bible School (VBS).
Our church had our annual VBS a couple weeks ago, and there are few pictures of God’s great love that are clearer than VBS. There are several reasons why VBS is so special, but I will stick to three… three reasons VBS is a great example of God’s undeniable love.
1. VOLUNTEERS SERVING
VBS is impossible without volunteers, and our church had more than 40 volunteers who served this year. Wow! Many of these volunteers showed up to our church facilities after a full day of work to then work for three more hours at VBS. And, let us be clear – VBS is work! VBS is hard work. VBS is exhausting and often overwhelming, but VBS is worth it. That is why so many volunteers serve.
God loves us and loves our children through volunteers who sacrifice their time, their energy, their resources, and even, at times, their happiness for the sake of serving others during VBS. God loves us through His church, and His church does amazing things during VBS.
2. CHILDREN RESPONDING
Children are a blessing from the Lord, even when they do not behave like blessings from the Lord. Oh, what a joy it is, though, when children respond to the gospel message during VBS (or any time)! If we know and follow Jesus, surely we must agree with the Apostle John: “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
That joy is true of our biological children and our spiritual children – those with whom we have the privilege of discipling and encouraging in “the truth.” What a great picture of God’s love when children respond to Him.
In their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for their sake – that they get to know and follow God. In their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for our sake – that we get to be a part of their journey. And, in their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for His sake – that He loves people enough to draw them to Himself.
Praise the Lord! God loves us by loving our children and opening their hearts to the truth about Jesus.
3. JESUS SAVING
None of this would matter – VBS, volunteers serving, or children responding – if not for the ultimate picture of God’s love: Jesus saving (saving people from sin and eternal death). We have VBS because Jesus saves. We prioritize VBS because Jesus saves. We exist as a church only because Jesus saves. Volunteers serve but not in vain because Jesus saves. And, children would have no reason to respond if not for the truth that Jesus saves.
Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series – The Greatness of God – through the book of Malachi. And, as is the point of this post, I will be talking about our “Great God of Love” (Malachi 1:1-5). Do you realize and rejoice in God’s great love for you?
We had Vacation Bible School with our church family this week, and dozens of parents and grandparents dropped off their children or grandchildren for three hours each evening, trusting that the children would be cared for and loved. Why such trust? In most cases, the trust was a result of relationships with one, if not many, of our volunteers working with the children. In other cases, there was a general trust in the church and the proven VBS program.
Simply put, reputation matters. This is true for us as individuals, and this is true for the church. This is true for everyone.
If our church or individuals in our church had a bad reputation in our community, who would trust us to teach and serve their children? Rightly so, most would not.
On Sunday morning during our VBS family celebration and worship service, Lord willing, I will be preaching through the short letter of 3 John and talking about the “Proof from Reputation” for genuine Christian faith. I hope to challenge people to ask themselves three questions for self-examination regarding personal character and reputation. The message, along with others in the series, will be available Sunday afternoon HERE.
In the meantime, I want to encourage you to consider three requirements of a godly reputation.
1. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES TRUTH
Truth is essential when it comes to reputation. By this, I do not mean that everyone knows the truth about you, although that certainly affects your reputation. What I mean, and what John made clear in his letter, is that your understanding and commitment to the Truth are critical.
We must be “faithful to the truth” and “walk in the truth” (3 John 3-4) in order to be people of godly character, resulting in godly reputations. How? Well, only by God’s help “because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2). That “truth that remains in us” is the Spirit of Truth when we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, resulting in faithfulness to the Word of Truth.
Have you ever met someone who is faithful to God’s Word but does not have a godly reputation? No such person exists because someone who faithfully obeys the Word of Truth will be proven to be a person of character and integrity. A godly reputation requires Truth.
2. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES LOVE
John wrote a lot about love in his three letters. He was certainly an expert, or as close to an expert as a human can be, for he was, after all, the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” John experienced God’s love in and through Jesus Christ, and he embraced Jesus’ command that we love God and love others. John knew love was essential for genuine Christian faith and likewise essential for a godly reputation.
Specifically in 3 John, there is an emphasis on the commitment to the mission of the church that demonstrates sincere love for God and others. If you truly love God, you will be committed to His mission. And, if you are committed to His mission, you will love and serve others; you will love and serve His church; you will long for others to experience the love of God through Christ Jesus.
Gaius and Demetrius are great examples of this in 3 John. Gaius, for example, was showing his faith by supporting Christian missionaries, including those he did not even know (verse 5). In other words, Gaius’s love for God was proven in his commitment to God’s mission, and his commitment to God’s mission was proven in his love for others in God’s church.
What was the result? A godly reputation. Have you ever heard of someone known to not be loving and yet known for a godly reputation? Of course not. A godly reputation requires love.
3. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES GOODNESS
Are you known for your kindness and goodness toward others? This goes along with the love John mentioned earlier in the letter but is more about the visibility of love. Whereas the love is ultimately an issue of the heart, the goodness is about your actions, particularly those actions seen by others.
John shared a few contrasting examples in the letter, and in all three examples, it was each individual’s reputation that was proof of his goodness. Furthermore, goodness is proof of faith.
“Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11).
While people can “fake it” for a while and sadly deceive others, the truth eventually comes to light. And, most importantly, God knows the truth. He knows our real reputations because He knows our hearts. He knows if we are doing what is good or doing what is evil. Others will know and see this, too, though, which is why there is ultimately proof from reputation of genuine Christian faith.
If you were to sincerely examine your own heart and life right now, can you see faithfulness to the Truth of God’s Word, a love for God’s mission, and a desire for good, not evil? If not (if any of those three proofs are missing, would you humbly ask God for His help? Would you willingly surrender everything to Him? Only a new life can bring about such radical change.
The amazing volunteers of Richland Baptist Church exemplified godly character and sacrificial service this week, and I praise God for them! They are the reason so many parents and grandparents gladly dropped off so many kids each night and why those kids wanted to keep coming back. Thank you, Richland Baptist Family!
We’ve had a blast on vacation up in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Of course, the highlight of our vacation has been spending time with family. Here are some pictures from our time in Lanesboro and Wisconsin Dells, including pictures of the Drake cousins with their great grandmothers (first three photos)…