July was a fun month!

August is already here, and it feels like July never even existed. Busy as usual, July was a fun month with a lot of family events and church activities. Praise God for His kindness toward our family and our church!

COX FAMILY VACATION

We had a great time, as always, with Marsha’s family during the first week of July. For the third straight year, we spent our extended family vacation at Windermere Christian Camp outside Roach, Missouri. With 17 kids and 10 adults, this vacation is never dull. We love spending time with Marsha’s family – swimming, playing basketball, cliff jumping, hiking, playing games, doing the ropes course, playing archery tag, visiting, and just hanging out.

Below are some highlights via pictures, and you can see more by clicking HERE. The pictures below can be seen in full by clicking on them.

CHURCH AND DAILY LIFE

Below are some more pictures, but to see some more highlights from Vacation Bible School, click HERE.

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Guatemala Highlights

Noah and Levi had the great privilege of going on a mission trip to Guatemala earlier this month with Marsha’s parents and eleven other members of our church family. Below are some of their highlights.

NOAH’S TESTIMONY OF FAITH

You can also listen to Noah’s quick testimony about the trip that he shared with our church family by clicking HERE.

LEVI’S TESTIMONY OF FAITH

PICTURE MEMORIES

NOTE: Some of the pictures are cropped below but can be seen fully by clicking on the image.

THANK YOU

A huge thank you to our church family and others who supported Noah and Levi through prayer, encouragement and financial assistance! This mission trip was obviously a life-changing experience of which they are beyond grateful to have been a part. Thanks be to God!

The Impact of Knowledge on Trust

No, Pack, No

If you were to walk up to my house one day and find one of my children outside wearing a cheesehead and an Aaron Rodgers jersey and chanting “Go, Pack, Go!,” you would be extremely surprised, if not shocked. Why? Well, because you know the Drake family better than that, right?

What if, though, said child proceeded to tell you, “My dad told me to do this. I’m cheering for the Packers because my dad said I had to.”? Surely, you would not believe what you just heard. You know I am a Minnesota Vikings fan and would never cheer for the Packers (unless a Packers’ victory somehow helped the Vikings), let alone ask or require my children to cheer for the Packers (or Bears or Lions).

You see, your knowledge of me would lead you to believe something just is not right with this scenario. Because you know about my unfortunate loyalty to the Vikings, you trust that I would not allow my children to chant and cheer for the Packers (or Bears or Lions) while still under my authority. Such horrendous things are forbidden in my house.

Understanding Required

Knowledge impacts trust. The more you know someone, the more you are able to trust him (or, the less you trust him if he proves unworthy of your trust). In fact, there are obviously many situations in which wisdom requires knowledge before trust. For example, you would never trust people to care for your children without knowing who they are. Trusting a random person with your children would not be wise.

While there are exceptions, many a fool has been made because of “blind faith.” Would you trust just any person with your money and investments? Of course not. “I don’t know you and realize that you don’t work for a bank or investment company, but here’s my life savings. Would you please do what you think is best with it?” said no one ever.

Understanding is required for proper trust. You cannot possibly trust with sincerity what you do not know in truth.

Knowing God

God is no exception, as He does not ask us to trust Him without understanding who He is. No, we cannot possibly understand Him fully, but we must understand Him some. He gave us His Word, so that we can gain a better understanding of who He is and who He created us to be.

He sent us His Son to reveal Himself to the world, so that we could truly know Him and have a right relationship with Him.

He gives His Spirit to all who know Him, so that we can experience His presence and continue to grow in our knowledge of Him.

Trusting God

And, the more we understand who He is, the more we naturally trust in Him. If you do not know who He is, though, according to the Truth of His Word, then your trust in Him will fail you. Your trust will be without a foundation. Your trust will prove to be illegitimate.

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now” (1 John 4:2-3).

Do you know and believe the right things about Jesus Christ? Only then can you sincerely trust and follow Him.

Victory

And, only those who sincerely trust and follow Jesus have eternal victory, and that victory begins the moment you turn away from your sins and surrender your life to Him.

You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Are you seeking to grow in the knowledge of Him while sincerely surrendering to Him every day? Only then will your faith continue to grow.

Photo by Wendy van Zyl from Pexels
Photo by Wendy van Zyl from Pexels

Keep up with my Sunday morning sermon series through 1 John, including this coming Sunday’s message, by clicking HERE.

Love doesn’t always feel good.

If you love someone, showing that love is easy, right? Not necessarily. If you love someone, showing that love feels good, right? Not necessarily. Love is all about how you feel, right? Not really.

As the One who created us and as the One who is the ultimate example of love, God defines love. His Word has a lot to say about love, and He does not say much about love being easy or feeling good.

When you come to know and follow God, you automatically learn more about love. When you experience His love, you are clearly changed and then desire to show that love to others.

Thankfully, we are seeing this at work in our two oldest sons, Noah and Levi. Recently, Noah had an opportunity to help with disaster relief cleanup in Jefferson City, Missouri. Then, he and Levi were blessed to head to Guatemala with a team from our church to minister to orphans and others in a needy community.

Do these mission tasks feel good? Perhaps at times they do, as there is obviously a great sense of encouragement and satisfaction when we get to serve others. But, there are certainly plenty of times when we just do not feel those things. Love – the love of God – still compels us, though.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching about the “Proof of Love” in the life of a Christian, looking specifically at 1 John 3:10-24. Later that day, you should be able to listen to the message HERE. In the meantime, though, I want to challenge you to consider three reasons love does not always feel good.

1) Love is unconditional.

If you read 1 John 3:10-15, you will not see any conditions on the love we are commanded and expected to have for one another. We are not told to love others if they deserve our love. We are not told to love others if they love us in return. We are not told to love others for what they can do for us. The Bible tells us to love one another. Period.

In fact, this love proves something very important: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14).

You either have eternal life, or you are headed for eternal death. Unconditional love for others is a defining characteristic for those who have experienced this new life in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Is your life marked by unconditional love for others?

2) Love is costly.

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

Did it “feel good” when Jesus was brutally beaten and crucified? Of course not. Love compelled Him, though. It was His love for sinners like you and me that led Him to the cross, and there was nothing more costly than the cross.

No, this does not imply that in order for you to truly love others, you must die for them, but it certainly does mean you are willing to die. And, it clearly means love is not confined to that which is easy and feels good. Love is costly.

Is your love for others costing you anything?

3) Love is exhausting.

To say, “I love you,” is really not very difficult. To show “I love you” is often exhausting. If love is unconditional and costly, then it is certainly exhausting.

Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action. This is how we will know we belong to the truth and will convince our conscience in His presence” (1 John 3:18-19).

Loving a person who has frustrated you is not easy. It is exhausting. Loving those who are hurting and unable to do anything for you in return is not easy. It is exhausting. Loving those who do not reciprocate that love is not easy. It is exhausting.

Yes, I do believe that when our hearts are set on the Lord, we can still experience a great sense of joy and contentment in the midst of this unconditional care, cost and exhaustion. Does that mean it will always feel good and be easy, though? No. Otherwise, the Bible would not have so much to say about the command to love one another and our need to love one another. Doing so takes intentional effort, regardless of how we feel at the time. Love is exhausting.

Do you ever find yourself exhausted because of your unconditional, costly love for others?

Love is transformational.

If you experience God’s love by surrendering your life to Jesus Christ, then you will not only experience this kind of transformational love; you will be transformed by this love and show this love to others. This love, after all, is an essential proof for those who have a genuine relationship with God.

Have you been transformed?

Noah and Levi are currently on a mission trip with our church to serve the children of Casa De Mi Padre orphanage in Santa Cruz del Quiche, Guatemala, as well as others in the community. To God be the glory!

How to know you have the Light…

Do you have memories of how excited you were as a child when you were able to get together with cousins and/or friends for nothing more than fun? I sure do. And, I see that same energy and excitement with my children when they get together with their friends and cousins (like in the above picture from Easter Sunday afternoon). Pure joy is evident all over their faces.

Our son Silas said Sunday evening, “This was the best day of my life.” Hard to match that kind of excitement, right?

Light’s Impact on Longings

Naturally, we get excited about things we enjoy. We express excitement when getting to do the things we love doing. Kids love to play and have fun. Most of us adults do, too.

I would argue – and I believe the Apostle John made this argument – that genuine followers of Jesus Christ love spending time with other believers. Fellowship and participation with the local church excite us. This is the result of the light of Jesus consuming our hearts, impacting our lives and affecting our desires.

Light impacts longings, and darkness does, too. John argues (1 John 1) that people who know Jesus walk in the light and thus have and long for fellowship with God and with His church. Those who walk in the darkness, though, no matter what they claim to believe or desire, will only long for God and His church for what they can get out of them.

Signs of Light

Do you long for closer fellowship with God and His church? This past Sunday I started a new sermon series – Prove It – in 1 John, and this letter makes clear that fellowship with God and fellowship with His church are clear signs of the light of Christ in the life of a believer. Those who love and follow Jesus not only have that fellowship; they desire that fellowship.

Do you have a born-again relationship with Jesus? If so, fellowship with God and His church are signs of His light in your life. A longing for that fellowship and a commitment to that fellowship are essential. You cannot want one apart from the other, and you cannot claim one is genuine without the other.

Is there proof of Light in your life? Shine brightly in and for Christ and in and for the world.

Getting pictures taken is NOT something our kids tend to enjoy, but they do a decent job faking it at times. This one was taken before family groups and worship with our church Sunday morning. Certainly easier to smile when an exciting day lies ahead of you.

What’s more fresh than a haircut?

Oh, the joy!

Earlier this week, I gave all four of our boys haircuts, and Marsha gave me a haircut. Are haircuts not one of the simple, great pleasures in life that we take for granted? While I do not particularly enjoy giving my boys their haircuts, I certainly do love getting a haircut and enjoy the feeling of having a clean cut.

Does not everyone enjoy the feeling of a haircut (unless it is just a bad haircut)? Naturally, we like things that are fresh and new. We like, for the most part, cleanness and crispness. We like a revival, and a haircut is like a revival on your head.

Here’s why…

The reason we like revival and freshness and newness is because we were created that way by God. He put within us a desire to experience these things. Is it because, deep down, we all need these things?

When God made the heavens and the earth and all that exists, everything was not only fresh and new but also perfect. Even more perfect than your ideal haircut, God’s creation did not need freshness and newness and revival. But, sin entered the picture in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate fruit from the one tree from which they were forbidden to eat. From that point forward, we have always longed for revival and freshness and newness.

We long for what we can’t have.

Conceived, born and living in sin as fallen human beings, we long for the day, whether we realize it or not, when everything will be perfect. Because of sin, though, we are unable to obtain that perfection, but an answer, only One answer, exists. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we can begin to realize that newness now, and more importantly, experience the perfection for all of eternity. This is only possible, though, in and through a right relationship with Jesus Christ.

How can one know if he has that right relationship, though? Simply put, you must repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for your salvation. When people ask me about the assurance of salvation, however, I encourage them to read 1 John.

Proof of Resurrection Life…

Easter morning, Lord willing, I will begin a new sermon series through 1-3 John called Prove It. A Christian’s life should be living proof of a right relationship with God, a right relationship that is only possible in and through Jesus. So, as we begin the series Sunday morning, I want to challenge you to consider if your life is living proof of resurrection life – a life that is fresh, new and everlasting.

Of all four boys, Micah is most like me when getting his hair cut. He loves it!

The Good Kind of Fear

If you are worried about what others might think or are fearful of what others might do, life can be miserable. That kind of fear can be debilitating. In fact, the Bible tells us, again and again, to not fear but rather to trust God. “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (2 Timothy 1:7).

A good kind of fear does exist, though. Furthermore, this kind of fear is commanded for all of us in the Word of God. This good kind of fear, of course, is the fear of God. “The Lord commanded us to follow all these statutes and to fear the Lord our God for our prosperity always and for our preservation, as it is today” (Deuteronomy 6:24). Fearing God is for His glory and for our good.

My Story

When I was a sophomore in college, I remember fearing God for the first time in my life. Sure, I grew up always believing in God, but there was no genuine fear of Him in my life. I had no sincere awe of His glory, no reverence for His power and no submission to His authority. Oh, I feared a lot of things, but God was really not even close to the top of my list. Rather, I feared what others thought about me, what I would become, how I might fail, etc. Life was about me.

During that pivotal year in my life, though, something happened. For the first time, I questioned my eternal destiny. “But, I am a ‘good’ person. Surely God would never condemn me to hell.” Up to that point, I believed eternal salvation was mine because I believed in God and because I was not nearly as sinful as those in prison and those who blatantly hated God. I was wrong.

Lasting Influences

Thankfully, I was attending a gospel-centered church at the time, and the pastor was consistently preaching the Word of God, challenging people to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. I also had some great friends who were faithfully following Jesus, and I could see a genuine difference in their lives. God used that church, and God used those friends to help me see I was missing something.

When a friend challenged me one day to make sure my heart was right with the Lord, I began to fear I was not right with the Lord. As a result of the combination of that fear, the continued preaching of the gospel in that church, and the continued example of discipleship by those friends, I was compelled to dig into God’s Word for answers. I was terrified of eternal judgment in hell, and so I was trying to find ways to justify myself and gain assurance that I was safe.

That hope and assurance would not come, though. I talked with my Christian friends, and I communicated continuously with my pastor. While I am not sure exactly what they were thinking about my heart, I could see an unexplainable sense of peace in their hearts (at least showing outwardly). Why did I not have that peace? Was it because I was on my way to hell? Simply put – yes.

The Good Kind of Fear

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7). Well, it was that “fear of the Lord” that drove me to His Word, which gave me the “knowledge” of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

After raising my hand during a gospel invitation time in a Sunday morning worship service, I talked with my pastor about baptism. Again, though, this was all about me and selfishly wanting assurance and peace. Deep down, I was still thinking that my “good works” were my eternal salvation. Later, though, I talked further with my pastor about how to adequately communicate to my family about the reason for my desire to be baptized, even though I was sprinkled as a child in the Lutheran church. Something he said to me that night was used of God to change me forever…

Nick, it’s not about what you do, including baptism, that is going to get you to heaven. It’s about trusting what Jesus did on the cross and knowing that only He can save you from your sins.

Was that truth something I had never heard? Surely not, but it was at that time that it finally dawned on me – I was always trying to work my way to God, rather than trusting in what He did for me in and through His Son. I was on my way to hell because I thought I myself was good enough for heaven.

When I Was Changed

Shortly after that conversation with my pastor, I found myself alone in my dorm room with a longing to be right with God. I wanted Him to take over my life. I wanted to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I wanted Him to take away my sins, change my life and make me new. So, I knelt down beside Big Brown Bertha (my ugly couch) and asked Jesus to save me.

Finally, I had the good kind of fear – the fear of God that was the beginning of knowledge. Praise the Lord for opening my eyes and opening my heart to the truth of the gospel!

“Fearful of God” Sunday Morning and What It Means

Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing my sermon series – The Gospel According to David – and sharing from 2 Samuel 6 about three reasons we should be fearful of God, not people.

Sure, there are still many times I fear people or things when I should not fear them, but the more I walk by faith in the Lord and the more His Spirit changes my heart, the more I find myself sincerely fearing the Lord above all.

What does it mean to fear the Lord? Job modeled that well: “He was a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1b). Want to know if you sincerely fear God? Consider, do you turn away from evil? Turn to the Lord and ask for His help – His help to fear Him above all and His help to turn away from evil.

Levi kindly wearing a mask while playing with Micah to kindly protect Micah from getting the strep throat from which Levi was suffering. This “fear” is perhaps a healthy balance of wisdom to protect others without taking away your ability to continue living life. Great example by Levi!