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

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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.

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?

Purpose & Meaning

Last day of school!

Our oldest four children had their last day of school Thursday. Another year in the books! I am thankful for their school and for the education they are receiving. I am also thankful, though, that they don’t find their purpose and meaning in their education.

After talking about our need for following God’s direction according to His Word, Solomon said, “But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).

The reality is that if we try to find purpose and meaning in anything or anyone besides our Creator, not only will be be disappointed; we will fail miserably and for eternity.

“When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

This morning I preached on the “Futility of Life,” challenging those in attendance to look to God’s Word for their purpose and meaning. You can listen to the message and/or others by clicking HERE.

In what or whom are you finding your purpose and meaning? You’ll never be satisfied, and more importantly, you’ll never be right with the One who created you with purpose and meaning unless you surrender to and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Death & Folly

Life can really be great, can’t it? Simple things, like enjoying a walk on a beautiful day with family, are a blessing.

What if this life is all there is, though? What would that mean for death? And, what about the foolishness that so often leads to death? Futility, right?

That’s the reality for those who fail to consider the gravity of eternity and fail to seek and turn to the Lord before it’s too late.

In my message this morning from Ecclesiastes 9-10, I challenged my hearers to turn to the Lord in the face of both the reality and the “Futility of Death & Folly.”

You can listen to this and other messages by clicking HERE.

When we lost 46-0… (losing lessons)

lessons from losingI’m coaching my two oldest sons’ youth  basketball team this year. Last week we lost our first game 14-10. Last night we lost 46-0. Yes, you read that correctly. We scored 0 points and gave up 46…to 3rd and 4th graders. I can’t recall ever being so humiliated in the sports arena in my entire life. No, I’ve never been a superstar as a player or as a coach, but 46-0?! It was tough. It is tough.
 
Lots of things were racing through my mind after that game last night. I hate losing and hated this embarrassment for the sake of my team and for my own pride. Still, I believe there are several lessons from losing that were clearer to me after such a humiliating loss.

     

  1. Losing fosters humility.
    “When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). Now, don’t get me wrong. Our team did not have a great deal of pride that needed chipping away. We know we’re not very good. Only a couple of our 10 players have ever even played organized basketball before this year. Still, the great humiliation that comes from a thumping can be good for us, and it can build character. It certainly protects us from feeling a sense of pride and thinking we’re something special.
     
    Losing reminds us of something we too often forget – it’s not all about us. When you lose, no one is celebrating you. In fact, for the record, I am adamantly opposed to trophies for participation. Let’s not reward losing. Let’s encourage winning and encourage losers to get better but stay humble because anyone can lose.
     
    I told my two oldest sons last night that sometimes getting crushed like this can be good for us. Losses, especially big and embarrassing losses, remind us that this life has a lot of loss. Things are not always going to go our way. We are going to be disappointed. We are going to be hurt. We are going to lose. Losing fosters humility.
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  3. Losing helps learning.
    One of the things I refuse to do with 3rd and 4th graders is to play zone defense. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to zone defense, as it can often be the best and most effective option when played well and used in the right situations with the right players. Children who are learning how to play basketball, though, need to learn how to play hard man-to-man defense. There is no question we would do better in a 2-3 zone because very few 3rd and 4th graders can shoot from the perimeter. Zone defense would help us cover up the weaknesses of our less experienced players and better use the strengths of the few who actually know what they are doing on the court.
     
    Last night, playing zone would not have changed the outcome of the game, except that we probably would have lost by 30+ points and grabbed a few more rebounds, rather than losing by 46 points and getting crushed on the boards.
     
    Last week, though, could have been different. The team we were playing came out in the second half playing a 2-3 zone. Since our players aren’t strong enough to shoot outside the lane, and since we don’t have any ball handlers, we only scored two points in the second half (after leading 8-0 at halftime). Their zone worked on us, and my unwillingness to play zone hurt us. Both last week and last night, we gave up several layups because we always have players on the court who just don’t quite understand yet what it is to play defense.
     
    But, I desperately want our kids to learn how important hard-working, pressure defense is. Maybe I’m being ridiculous, but I believe learning has to trump not losing at this age. For that reason, I think losing can help in the learning process because it exploits our weaknesses. If we play a 2-3 zone, we will do better, but some of our players will never learn to play defense. Losing shouts loudly what we need to do differently. Losing helps learning.
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  5. Losing emphasizes effort.
    When we were getting destroyed last night, some of the kids were (understandably so) dejected. They became lethargic and stopped putting forth much effort. Some of the others, though, were sprinting down the court and diving for loose balls like it was a close game that really mattered.
     
    It’s much easier to be motivated and put forth effort when we have a chance to win, especially to win a game of importance and excitement. By the time our team was down 10-0 before the end of the first quarter last night, though, we realized how much we were outmatched in this lopsided game. Still, some of the kids never gave up. They kept playing hard. They hustled down the court. They listened to me coach and tried to do better. I noticed, and I made sure they knew. I hope others noticed. I hope their effort only increases and that it is rewarded with future success and strong character.
     
    When someone keeps getting knocked down but keeps getting back up for more, he is noticed. There’s a reason the crowd cheered for Rocky against Apollo Creed and that even the Russians cheered for Rocky by the end of his fight against Ivan Drago. Of course, Rocky ended up winning that last fight, but he was definitely losing when the cheering started. Losing emphasizes effort.
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  7. Losing still stinks.
    Even with all the things I learn, I do not endorse losing. I hate losing. I don’t even like losing a board game to my preschoolers. I am, when not careful and/or not held accountable, sinfully competitive. Hopefully, I’m not a poor loser and a poor sport, but I find it very difficult to find contentment after a loss, especially a loss in something I care about and something at which I work hard to win.
     
    Losing stinks because I don’t believe we were created to be losers. Losing is against our nature. We can learn to accept and deal with losing, but I think there is a problem if we settle for losing without striving for more.

    Last night was another one of those moments when I found myself missing my dad like crazy. My dad was a competitor and a winner. He also hated losing. He worked hard at everything he did. He didn’t give up. He didn’t settle for mediocrity. He taught me to work hard and sacrifice my own goals for the sake of the team…the success of the team.
     
    My dad was a great coach, too. Even though he was a high school basketball coach, my dad worked with young children every weekend for years to help them learn the fundamentals of basketball and develop of a love and passion for the sport. He had a gift of making it fun but giving kids a hunger to do well and to win. When my dad died a couple years ago at the young age of 57, I remember thinking how much I would miss him when it was time for my kids to learn the fundamentals of the game.
     
    Last night, the memory was as strong as it has ever been. I’m not a gifted coach like my dad was. The patience that he had in teaching basic fundamentals is missing in me. His ability to make it fun and make it last was special. Losing last night was tough for many reasons, but the toughest for me was the realization that I won’t get to ask my dad for advice. He won’t get to teach my kids how to play basketball the right way. Losing still stinks.

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  9. Losing is temporary.
    I can’t make this promise to my team for this season. We’re not very good. We might not win a game. The season could be a long one, a difficult one and a discouraging one. Still, losing is temporary.Do you ever wonder if sports would have existed if sin hadn’t entered the world? I have to imagine they would have because, after all, sports are a blast. Some of my best memories have come on the basketball court, the football field and the baseball diamond. How different would sports be, though, without sin? I mean, sports aren’t really sports if someone doesn’t lose. Losing is never fun, but would it have been “fun” if we were perfectly humble and completely satisfied in God? Would we be completely satisfied with losing if we were completely surrendered to Christ?
     
    Losing is temporary because we can have eternal victory in the gospel of Jesus Christ. To make that possible, though, He had to lose. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). His loss…His sacrifice for our victory is because of His steadfast love for us. This is a love we do not deserve but a love we freely receive only in Him. “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8).
     
    Please realize, though, that His loss is only your gain if you believe in Him. Losing stinks because losing hurts. You cannot fathom, though, the loss that will come if you don’t trust in the One who died for you.
     
    Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done.” -Matthew 16:24-27
     
    We can rejoice even in losing because we know that losing (whether losing a game or losing something much greater) is temporary. It’s temporary because we can put our faith in the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His victory is everlasting.