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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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.

Yes, I make my kids “go to church.”

Yes, they go every Sunday and Wednesday. No, they do not have a choice. Yes, Marsha and I would still hold to this even if I was not a pastor, just like we do when we are on vacation.

The reason “go to church” is in quotations is because no one really “goes to church.” Rather, we gather with the church for worship, fellowship, service, etc., as the church is not a building but a family of believers. That is an entirely different article for a different day, though.

Today, I want to address why Marsha and I will always make our kids (as long as they are under our authority, of course) gather with the church. And, I think you should do the same with your children.

In fact, I will go so far as to say, I believe it is bad parenting to not have your children regularly involved with a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching local church. Now, I realize a statement like that can get me in trouble and can certainly come across as arrogant and/or unsympathetic to parents who would maybe like to see their children involved with a church but have a tough time convincing them of the importance.

Thankfully, because Marsha and I are followers of Jesus and have been active church members ourselves since before we were married, we have had our children involved with our local church since they were born. They have grown up with church as a part of their lives. Thus, they do not push back and do not request “skipping church” like many children might be prone to do.

I realize there are parents who come to faith in Christ, for example, and they have teenagers who have never really been involved with a church. Now, these parents face the struggle of leading their children to value and prioritize active church involvement. That surely has to be much more difficult than it is for me to convince my children to be involved with church. While I still believe parents in such situations should require their children to attend church services, I understand that the consistency and willingness may take some time.

Now, why do I feel so strongly about this? The simple answer is because I love my children, and I firmly believe that loving and caring for my children means doing what is best for them.

Do my children want to go to school? No. Every single one of them would gladly stay home and play rather than go to school if we would let them. Guess what, though? We make them go to school. An education is important, and so whether your preference is homeschool, private school or public school, I believe you should make your children get an education.

Do my children want to eat anything besides junk food? Not really, besides the occasional exceptions. Guess what, though? We make them eat healthy foods. Well, we try to make them. We obviously do not force-feed our children, but we do try to make sure they get as much of a balanced diet as we can feasibly facilitate. Any parents who would simply allow their children to always decide what to eat, regardless of the sugar and/or lack of nutrition, surely would not be considered wise and good parents, at least not in that area of parenting.

Education and health are important, so we make our children receive an education, and we make our children eat healthy foods. Do you know what is even more important than education and health? The answer is a right relationship with God. Why, then, would we possibly fail to value church like we value school and eating right?

Active church involvement plays a critical role in one’s Christian discipleship journey (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12), and so not only do we as parents need to make sure we are involved with a healthy church. We also need to make sure our children are, if we want them to learn biblical truth and become biblical disciples.

“Well, Nick, what if I force my kids to go, and that then pushes them away when they get older? I want them to make the decision for themselves.”

Honestly, I do not buy this excuse for a few reasons…

  1. We would never have this mindset with other things we consider important, like school. No not everyone is meant to go to college, but everyone needs some sort of education and needs to be prepared for a lifetime of learning. A good education helps with that, and we would never let the fear of “driving them away” keep us from educating our children. Why? Because education is important. Well, God is even more important, so let us make sure our children are educated about Him, too.
  2. If we as parents live out our faith like we should by loving God with our entire being and loving others as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40), and if our children see that faith through our daily lives and active church involvement, then it is highly unlikely that we will “push them away” by having them involved with a church. Rather, they will see the amazing benefits and fruit of faith and church.
  3. Even if they do not decide to do what is right when they become adults, does that mean we should stop modeling and expecting what is right while they are children? Of course not. Ultimately, they will have to make their own decisions, but it is our job to train them up in the way they should go and trust that when they are older, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
  4. What is the best way for us to teach our children how to make the right decisions in life? Is it not by teaching them, modeling it for them, and expecting it from them? How can we possibly do any of those things if we let them decide for themselves what is best for them? It is our job as parents to make sure they learn rightly and are in the best environment to do so.

Do you love your children? I am sure you do. Please hear my plea to get them involved with a healthy church – a church that believes and teaches the Word of God and makes disciples of Jesus Christ.

See if you can find a set of parents who raised their children in a healthy church and modeled their faith at home, who would now say, “That was a mistake. I wish I wouldn’t have made my children be involved with church.” I have never met anyone who said that, and I bet you will not either.

A healthy church will not push your children away. You will. Or, they themselves will harden their hearts and choose not to follow Jesus. So, do your best, while they are under your authority, to help them follow the Only One who can give them eternal life.

Tomorrow morning with Richland Baptist Church, I will be preaching through Mark 13, encouraging people to consider what we must understand about the end times and how we must respond. Are you ready for the return of Jesus Christ? Are your children ready? You, more than anyone else, are responsible for making sure they are. Active church involvement is at least one of, if not the, best and most important ways for you to do that.

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Ice Cream Cake! Our three oldest sons enjoy some church family fellowship time after our evening worship service last Sunday.

Don’t be deceived.

Last week, Marsha and I took our kids to the Missouri River near Jefferson City. The kids were surprised at how big the river was and how fast the river was moving. Before this trip, I think they assumed they could swim across the river with ease or wade along its banks with pleasure. They quickly changed their mind, though, once they saw its width and its speed.

Not once did they ask if they could jump in for a swim, even though it would have felt good that warm, sunny day. And, trust me – it is rare for our family to be by a body of water without anyone getting wet. Thankfully, common sense (along with some parental instruction) helped our children realize that jumping into the Missouri River would very likely not end well for them. While a bird’s-eye view of the river would have indicated fun in the sun, a closer look was necessary.

When considering Christian discipleship, people often make assumptions from a bird’s-eye view, too. Instead of sincerely seeking God through His Word, they assume they know what discipleship is based on what they see from a distance and/or based on false teachings they have heard from others. God is the One who defines truth, though.

We are not able to decide for ourselves what discipleship is. Nor are we able to understand discipleship without seeking and trusting the One who created us – the One who created us for Himself and for discipleship, meaning following Jesus as revealed in the Bible.

Some might wrongly assume that the rejection of discipleship only takes place when someone blatantly and explicitly rejects Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Yes, that would indeed be the rejection of discipleship. What about those, however, who believe Jesus to be the Son of God and even believe He is who He said He is, according to the Bible, but do not fully embrace and surrender to Him?

Can one be a disciple without proper understanding (and resulting acceptance) of essential biblical truths like Jesus’ Messiahship and resurrection life?

If you read the first half of Mark 12, you will notice Jesus confronting those who were rejecting Him and His Word. You do not get to pick and choose what you will believe and what parts of God’s Word you will obey, and then still claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you do that, you are ultimately no different than the ones who completely rejected Him and sought His crucifixion.

Tomorrow I will be preaching on “The Rejection of Discipleship” from our Discipleship 101 sermon series. Will you recognize and confront the rejection of discipleship? This begins by examining your own heart, making sure you have a genuine relationship with God. And, it continues every day as you walk with Jesus and help others to do the same.

Don’t be deceived by a bird’s-eye view. Look closely by seeking God through His Word and growing alongside His church.

aerial photography of concrete bridge
Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

Snapshots of Fun

Here are a few pictures from this past week. As usual, we’ve been happily busy with church activities, family gatherings, sports and school.

kids with the hornet
Although we were cheering for Noah and North Callaway, we were happy to pose for a picture with the Fulton Hornet.
Own, Tanner and Silas at Soccer Match
Three of the “Fearsome Foursome” (cousins who love hanging out together). Pictured here are Owen, Tanner and Silas. Hudson is the one missing.
Micah looking at pictures
When I was working from home one day, Micah sat right next to me and looked at photo albums for several minutes.
Cox cousins at Starkey's making pyramid
The Cox clan trying to make a pyramid in Starkey’s Lake.
swimming at Starkey's
Beautiful day with beautiful scenery and awesome people.
Tony Cox turned 74!
We celebrated Papa Tony’s 74th birthday on Monday!
Micah napping on the couch
Micah insisted he didn’t need a nap the other day. Minutes later, he was out cold.

Discipleship affects marriage.

If your faith and your marriage are not intertwined, then at least one of the two really does not matter to you. I would even argue that, according to God’s Word, neither truly matters to you, or at least you are sadly mistaken about the purpose of both.

During our morning worship service with Richland Baptist Church this morning, I preached on “Marriage in Discipleship,” challenging people to view and value marriage like God views and values marriage.

We don’t have the option of redefining what God has already established and defined. Furthermore, you will never be fulfilled and satisfied in life if you are not living for what God created you. This certainly includes your marriage (and even how we treat the marriages of those around us).

We were created and purposed for joy and contentment in life, but if we try to find that joy and contentment outside the will of God (as defined by the Word of God), we will always fall short.

Just as a child (like Micah below) is truly satisfied by the simple things in life, like swinging at Papa and Mema’s house, so can we be truly satisfied in and through a daily walk with Jesus Christ. That daily discipleship in Jesus affects everything, including our relationships.

Micah on the swing