The Right Relationships

God created us for relationships. Most importantly, we need a right relationship with Him, and we also need healthy relationships with others. Primarily, once we come to know and follow Jesus, we need a familial relationship with a healthy local church.

Why?

Well, God created us to depend on one another, and His church is His chosen instrument to bring the gospel to the world. Thus, we are redeemed to bring Him glory and to partner with His church for the advancement of the gospel.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Philippians 4:10-20 on our need to “Prioritize the Great Commission.”

How can we prioritize the great commission – being disciples who make disciple makers?

Well, I obviously hope to communicate that clearly Sunday morning, but simply put, we need to walk with Jesus and help others to walk with Jesus. That cannot be done apart from active involvement with a biblically faithful church. Philippians is all about such a partnership for the sake of the gospel.

Are you walking with Jesus? If so, you are serving and will serve the church for whom He died – the church He calls His bride – the church He instituted, the church He authorized, and the church He commissioned.

Are you faithfully partnering with the church in order to prioritize making disciples? If you are seeking to follow Jesus, the answer can only be yes.

Have you surrendered your life to Jesus? If not, would you consider The Story? If you have trusted in the Lord, are you faithfully prioritizing discipleship by serving His church?

Evangelism as Evidence

One very big difference in my life now from my life before I was a follower of Jesus Christ is my desire for others to follow Jesus. Before becoming a born-again Christian, I really did not think much about the salvation of others, let alone care. Sure, I declared myself to be a Christian, but because I did not have a personal relationship with Jesus but was rather just going through the religious motions, I never really considered the importance of others having a relationship with Jesus. Thus, evangelism – sharing the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our salvation – was never on my radar. Really, that is just the job of pastors and preachers and missionaries, right?

After surrendering my life to Jesus during my sophomore year of college, though, I desperately longed for others to know what Jesus did for me. I wanted others to know what He did and could do for them. And, while the commitment, obedience, and even the passion, at times, have been all over the spectrum from on-fire to barely flickering to somewhere in the middle, the flame of longing for others to know and experience the salvation that only Jesus Christ can give has never ceased.

THE SOURCE OF CHANGE

Why the stark difference from my life now and my life before becoming a Christian? The obvious answer is because I have experienced new life in Jesus, life that did not exist before I was 20 years old. Yes, I believed the right things about God and even knew I needed His forgiveness, but life (really, my march toward eternal death) was just about me, or so I thought. What could I get out of this religion thing? How might this help me achieve more for myself?

When God opened my eyes and my heart to the truth of the gospel, though, I was changed forever. The Holy Spirit began a work in me that continues and will continue until Jesus returns or calls me home. He is the source of change and the reason I so long for others to know Him.

Have you experienced that change?

THE EFFECT OF CHANGE

The Holy Spirit of God is the source of change, as He is the only One who can change our hearts for good. What is the resulting effect of that change, then? Well, there are many answers to that question, as the effects of change are the fruits of the Christian life (like we see in places like Galatians and 2 Peter). One effect, though, that I do not believe we talk about nearly enough is evangelism. The effect of gospel change in one’s heart and life is a passion for evangelism.

As is true for all Christ-followers, I believe, evangelism is evidence of salvation. We are either evangelizing or greatly convicted that we need to be.

Yes, we all struggle with obedience at times. Sure, we see various levels of passion and commitment. Certainly, some are more gifted in evangelism than others. The heart of evangelism, though – telling others how they can experience what you have experienced – should be evident in the life of every single one of us who follows Jesus. Truly, I believe it will be.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Not a suggestion but a command. Not an idea but a calling. Not a possibility but a promise. When you trust in Jesus, you receive His Spirit. When you receive His Spirit, you receive power. When you receive power, you evangelize.

Again, that does not necessarily imply that you are faithfully proclaiming the gospel in your everyday life, but it certainly does imply that you know you need to be. Do you?

Evidence of salvation is not limited to evangelism, but it is certainly not less. We ought to long for much more than just that others would also follow Jesus, but we should never want less than that.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Acts 1:1-8 on the challenge we should all consider – “Are You Powerfully Proclaiming?” Are you telling others how they can have eternal life and pleading with them to turn to the Lord? If not, are you burdened that you need to be?

If Jesus has changed your life, I cannot fathom how you would not long for others to experience such change. May we continually pray for evangelism as evidence, hold one another accountable, trust God’s provision, and seek His help. To Him be the glory!

If you have yet to experience a changed heart and changed life, would you check out The Story and turn to the only One who can generate such change?

The Cost of Winning

As long as I can remember, I have loved winning and hated losing. Not alone in that mentality, many others share this competitive nature with me. Do you? For things that really matter to you, even if you are not quite as competitive as some, I am sure you love winning and hate losing.

What is the cost of winning, though? How much are we willing to sacrifice in order to succeed? Are we willing to pay the price?

Growing up, when it came to basketball – perhaps more than anything else – I wanted to be a winner. I wanted to be the best. I never really was the best, but that was not for lack of trying. Since the third grade and until my sophomore year of college, I spent at least 2-3 hours per day (sometimes many more) in the summer months and at least 30-45 minutes during the off-season school months working on my basketball game. Ball handling drills, shooting drills, lifting weights, push-ups and sit-ups, jumping and agility drills – anything I learned from my dad and others that would make me better, I tried.

I counted the cost of what I believed and what I was told it would take to achieve success, and I embraced that cost. The cost of winning was worth it to me.

A BETTER VICTORY

So much better than winning at basketball, though, is the victory that comes from the Lord. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 on “The Cost (of discipleship that leads to church unity): Whatever It Takes.”

As a child and as a teenager, I felt like I was willing to do whatever it took to be the best I could be at basketball. I made a lot of sacrifices for the sake of getting better. Never did I get as good as I wanted to get. Maybe I became a better-than-average player trapped in a below-average athletically gifted body. Maybe God was protecting me from the pride and foolishness that would have resulted if I did truly achieve the success for which I longed. I am not sure.

My goal was to play division-I college basketball, though. Well, I did not accomplish my goal. Was all that sacrifice worth it? To some degree, yes – I learned a lot about hard work, commitment, and dedication. To some degree, no – I am sure I, at least at times, sacrificed at the expense of other things that were more important than basketball. Then again, I was not yet a follower of Jesus Christ, so I did not really comprehend what those “better things” might be. I had yet to realize that a better victory was available – a victory that I could never attain on my own but that had been won on my behalf.

WANTING TO WIN

That better victory is so much better because it is a victory that lasts forever. It is a victory that we were created to long for and be miserable without. It is the victory that satisfies not only what we need most but also defines our very purpose. Have you experienced that victory – the victory that comes only in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

If you have experienced victory in Jesus, then you want a kind of winning that is so much greater than the winning I longed for as a basketball player. You want to experience winning people to Jesus. You want to follow Jesus and help others to follow Jesus. And, the cost of that kind of winning truly is worth the cost – worth the cost of stepping out of our comfort zones and risking our very lives so that others can experience the greatest victory.

If we are willing to sacrifice for worldly success, how much more should we willingly sacrifice for eternal impact?

I always attributed my work ethic and competitive nature to my dad, and there is certainly some truth to that because I am not sure if I have ever known someone as hard-working and competitive as my dad. He also loved to win, and some of my greatest childhood memories are when we won at things together. What I have come to realize, though, is that the longing to win is really the way God created us. We were made in His image, and so we were made to love and long for victory. He is the greatest Victor of all, and when we know and follow Him, we will want to experience that victory and help others experience that victory. Then, more than ever, is the cost of winning worth the sacrifice.

Praise be to God!

Please check out The Story if you have yet to experience the greatest victory.

The Mask of Pride

Rather than writing a weekly blog post this week, I recorded a weekly blog video in order to share my personal convictions about an issue that has, unfortunately, become far too political. No, I am not trying to convince you to wear a mask but rather to consider your motivations for doing so (or not doing so). In preparation for my Sunday morning message in our Walk Humbly sermon series, I want to challenge you to be prepared for God’s just judgment (as I’ll preach, Lord willing, from Micah 6) by responding to Him and others with humility and not with pride.

Before we can do what God has called us to do, we must be who God has called us to be. This is only possible when we turn from sin and surrender our lives to Him, trusting in what Jesus did on the cross and what Jesus accomplished through His resurrection. To learn more, check out The Story.

The Good Life

This past Saturday, Zoe and I had our monthly daddy-daughter date. Because it was Zoe’s turn to pick where we ate, of course, we went to McDonald’s. Oh, the simple things that are yet so satisfying! When we were sitting there enjoying our meal which cost well under $10 for both of us, we were happy. We were satisfied. Life was good.

Life is full of moments like that, as well as the opposite, is it not? When we are happy and content in our circumstances, we tend to be satisfied with life. When our circumstances are not so good, though, we might find ourselves dissatisfied with life.

CIRCUMSTANCES ARE INADEQUATE

Surely, there is more to “the good life” than circumstances, though, right? Circumstances can change in an instant, so if good circumstances are required for “the good life,” we are all doomed. Our circumstances will eventually let us down. They will eventually disappoint, no matter how much money we have, how healthy we are, how great our jobs are, etc. Circumstances are inadequate.

We can be healthy, wealthy, and well today and then lose everything tomorrow. If you settle for satisfaction in your circumstances, you will one day be disappointed, if not in this life, in the next. There is so much more to life than french fries, happy meals, and fountain soda – even as great as those gifts of God are!

JESUS IS THE ANSWER

If you somehow discovered a circumstance that could never change (i.e. wealth you could never lose, health that would never deteriorate, a job that never left you feeling disappointed, endless french fries that never got cold, etc.), you would certainly feel like you were living “the good life,” right? Of course, there is no such thing as such a perfect, lasting circumstance. Everything the world offers is temporary.

Jesus Christ, though, is so much better. He created us to find our satisfaction in Him because satisfaction in Him is the only satisfaction that will never disappoint. As long as we seek to know, follow, and honor Him, we can have incredible joy and contentment, regardless of our circumstances. More importantly, we can have a right relationship with God that will never end.

DO NOT SETTLE FOR LESS

If you are letting your circumstances determine whether or not “life is good,” you are settling for far less than God has for you. Life is good because God is good. Life is good because Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead to defeat, once and for all, sin and death. Life is good when we know and follow Jesus and help others to know and follow Jesus. Period. Praise the Lord!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will finish our Who’s Your One? sermon series, preaching from John 1:40-42 on when “Life Is Good.” Christian discipleship is essential, so I will share two keys to the good life – the life found only in and through Jesus.

Do not settle for less. Let Jesus be the source of your satisfaction by surrendering your all to Him and helping others surrender their all to Him. If you have not yet done so, click the picture below for more information.

If you want to have peace now and peace eternal, read and respond to The Story.

What about hell?

Unless referring to hell in a joking and/or derogatory manner, people do not seem to be interested in talking about hell. Of course, I can hardly blame them. Hell is an uncomfortable topic of conversation, especially if the conversation is genuine and serious.

Hell is serious, though, and hell is a topic of conversation that should not be avoided. The Bible talks a lot about hell. Jesus talked a lot about hell. We need to talk about hell. Heaven seems to be a topic we do not mind discussing, but what about hell?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will preach from Luke 16:19-31 about the difficult reality that “Hell Is Real.” The truth about hell should not only burden us about the importance of the gospel but also about the urgency of the gospel. Over the past few weeks, we have been challenging one another in our church with the question, “Who’s Your One?” When considering those we know and care about (and even those we do not know or care about), the truth of hell should motivate us to love and serve those around us. And, there is no greater way to love and serve others than to tell them how to have a right relationship with God and avoid eternity apart from Him in hell.

For the purpose of preparing for Sunday and, more importantly, for the purpose of self-examination, I want to share a few biblical truths about hell.

1. HELL IS DESERVED.

The Bible tells us, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12). Rather, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And, the punishment for that sin is eternal death (Romans 6:23), meaning eternal damnation in hell, apart from the love and fellowship of God and His followers.

No one in his right mind says he wants to go to hell. All of us, though, deserve hell. All of us. No exceptions because we are all sinners who have disobeyed our holy God.

2. HELL WILL BE CROWDED.

Jesus warned, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Hell will be crowded because the way to hell is broad and easy. The way to eternal life is difficult because it involves humility and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. If hell is deserved because of sin, hell will be crowded because of a refusal to repent and turn to Jesus for salvation.

Ironically (or maybe not), I also plan to start a new 6-week class on Sunday morning called “Membership Matters.” Sadly, the same thing that keeps many people from joining a church is what is leading them to hell – pride. When one pridefully chooses to disobey the Word of God, no matter the reason, he stands condemned, and there is no way a follower of Jesus can obey the clear teachings of the New Testament apart from faithful, active involvement in a local church. Church membership matters, and a refusal to join and serve in a local church is ignorance at best and sinful pride at worst.

Please realize, I am not saying church membership protects anyone from hell. There are plenty of church members from all denominations and from all generations who will likely spend eternity in hell because the church does not save us from sin and death. Church membership does not save us from sin and death. Church service does not save us from sin and death. Church giving does not save us from sin and death.

But, can someone who has been saved from sin and death not desire to belong to a local church? Can someone who has truly repented of his sins and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ willfully disobey the clear teachings on faithful church membership (i.e Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 5 and 12; Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Peter 2:17)? Being a faithful follower of Jesus is not possible apart from being faithful to your local church. There is much more that can and should be said about this, so I will save that for the class or for a conversation with you if you want to discuss this further. Please consider reading the above passages of Scripture, though, and ask yourself how any of those callings on our lives can be fulfilled apart from active local church membership (being a committed part of the “body”).

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15). Of course, that includes, but is not limited to, His commands about His church. Picking and choosing which commands to obey is equivalent to picking and choosing a false God. Jesus is Lord. His Word is our ultimate authority. Hell will be crowded because few have chosen and few will choose to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus before it is too late.

Hell is deserved, and hell will be crowded. This is terrible news, but thankfully, there is good news.

3. HELL CAN BE AVOIDED.

While we all deserve hell, God loves us so much that He made a way for us to avoid hell, not simply for the sake of avoiding hell but for the sake of being with Him. If you will simply turn away from your sins and ask Jesus to take over your life, trusting solely in His death and resurrection for your salvation, He will change your life now and give you life eternal. Hell can be avoided, and avoiding hell is only possible in and through Jesus Christ – the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

If you are struggling with whether or not you have truly been made right with God, would you consider reading 1 John? Examine your heart, and ask yourself what you believe and who you are trusting. Consider the longing of your heart and the passion of your life. God created you for Himself, and He calls us to turn to Him. Hell can be avoided, but more importantly, right standing with God can be received in and through His One and Only Son.

If you want to know and follow the Son of God and have eternal life, learn how HERE.

Caring Is Sharing

“Sharing is caring” is a pretty well-known saying that implies when you share with someone, you show that you care about them. You might remember being taught this as a child. I know I do.

On Sunday, Silas had a few friends over after church services, and he had a blast. Like all of us, Silas enjoys spending time with people he likes. He enjoys sharing his time and his toys with them because he cares about them. The rest of our kids are no exception, and I imagine you are not an exception to this rule either.

There is a kind of sharing that is even more important, though – a kind that is even more caring. This kind of sharing comes as a result of caring – caring about Jesus and His commands and caring about others. Sharing which blesses someone not only for a day but for eternity is the most important kind of sharing. Of course, what I mean is the sharing of the Good News. There is no more important thing we can share with others than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

Have you trusted your life to Jesus? If so, are you prioritizing the kind of sharing that proves your life belongs to Him?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from John 1:45-51 on how, for followers of Jesus, “Caring Is Calling.” If you sincerely care about someone, you will call them to Jesus. You will call them to respond to the gospel. You will want them to experience the hope, joy, and peace you have experienced. Caring is calling.

If this is an ongoing struggle for you, pray for God’s help. Pray for His Spirit to grow your care for Him, for His Word, and for the people around you. To God be the glory!

Levi was a good sport with Silas and his buddies, willingly playing the bad guy they were trying to catch.

What does faith cause?

There are certainly many answers to that question, as faith causes many things to happen (or not happen). Sincere faith, especially, leads to corresponding attitudes and actions.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing through our Who’s Your One? sermon series, taking a look at Luke 5:17-26 and talking about how “Believing Is Receiving.”

As I prepare for that message, I would like to challenge you to consider the faith of the men in that story – the man Jesus forgave and healed and the man’s friends, who lowered him down to Jesus from a roof. Jesus saw their faith (verse 20), and as a result, he both forgave the paralyzed man of his sins and also healed the man.

From that story, I believe we can learn a couple of important lessons about sincere faith in Jesus Christ.

1. FAITH LEADS TO SEEKING JESUS.

Why were the men in that story so persistent that “they went up on the roof and lowered him on the mat through the roof tiles into the middle of the crowd before Jesus” (Luke 5:19)? That is a lot of effort. That is persistence in the midst of great obstacles!

These men and their paralyzed friend obviously had faith. They believed there was something special about this Jesus, and so He was worth their effort and persistence. Their faith led to them seeking Jesus.

What about your faith? Are you seeking to get closer to Jesus? Sincere faith leads to seeking Jesus.

2. FAITH LEADS TO LOVING OTHERS.

Today is Valentine’s Day, so we will probably hear a lot about love this weekend. What kind of love, though? The Bible tells us that “love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). In fact, we cannot know love apart from God. “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Furthermore, “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8).

The one with faith in Jesus has love for God and love for others. There are no exceptions to this. Again, see 1 John 4:7-21. I am not saying this to take away from Valentine’s Day and the romantic love between a husband and his wife, as that is certainly included in the Word of God. Rather, I am challenging you to consider how your faith impacts your love. Your love says a lot about your faith.

The men in the story in Luke 5:17-26 cared enough about their friend to go to great lengths to do what? Well, they wanted to get their friend to Jesus! Is there a better way for us to love others than to bring them to Jesus?

Genuine faith leads to seeking Jesus and loving others. Is there proof of genuine faith in your life? Do you love others enough to do whatever you can to bring them to Jesus?

Of course, before you can truly seek Jesus and love others in any lasting way, you must come to know Him. The good news is that you do not have to figure that out on your own either. You simply have to BELIEVE that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose again for your salvation, turning from your sins and trusting in HIM. If you want to learn more about this good news, check out The Story.

To Follow Is to Fish

Can you love something and not talk about it? Perhaps, but rarely. Is it not true that the things we are most passionate about, we talk about? Faith is no exception. In fact, life-changing faith is the epitome of this reality – sincere faith leads to commitment leads to passion leads to boldness.

The Bible does not speak of a faith that does not speak. Rather, disciples of Jesus are all about making more disciples of Jesus. Jesus made this clear in His great commission to His followers (Matthew 28:16-20), which is to be the great commitment of our lives.

From the very beginning of Jesus’ discipleship ministry, disciples making disciples was His emphasis. “Follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fish for people!” (Matthew 4:19). To follow Jesus is to fish for people… to make disciples… to help people know and follow Jesus.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will begin a new 5-week sermon series called Who’s Your One? In this series, which includes some helpful resources from the North American Mission Board, I hope to challenge our church family to have at least one person for whom they are praying and seeking to introduce to Jesus.

If you know and follow Jesus, who are you telling about Him? How is your fishing going? What changes need to be made in your life so that discipleship (growing closer to Jesus and helping others to grow closer to Jesus) is a growing commitment and priority?

You cannot follow what you do not know. If you do not yet know and follow Jesus Christ, would you consider turning to Him today? He loves you. He died on the cross for your sins. And, He rose from the dead to win your eternal victory, if you will simply trust in Him. Learn more by checking out The Story.

Grateful Ones Give

A week ago tonight, I returned from a great trip overseas with a couple brothers from our church and some other brothers in the area. I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with friends to visit old friends in Turkey. Praise the Lord!

One of the things all seven of us men wanted to do while we were in Turkey, was get gifts for our wives. Why? Well, not only because we love our wives but because we are grateful for their sacrifice in letting us go.

Five of us have small children at home, so our wives graciously agreeing for us to leave the country for two weeks is no small thing. And, when you realize that and are filled with gratitude, you want to give. While we did not have a lot of extra time while in the country, it seems like every little bit of extra time we did have was spent trying to figure out how we could bless our wives.

Although I do not believe I did a very good job in the gifts department, I am definitely reminded of the truth that grateful people are giving people.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be finishing my short Thanks & Giving sermon series, preaching from Exodus 35-36 on how “Gratitude Leads to Giving.”

Do you desire to give of your treasures, your time, and your talents for the glory of God? Do you long for the gospel to advance and, as a result, long to be a part of that advancement (via your treasures, your time, and your talents)? If you cannot answer those questions with an enthusiastic yes, I believe something critical is missing in your life. Only a changed heart and life – a new heart and a new life – will generate what is necessary to experience this kind of passion for God’s glory and God’s gospel.

Turn to God and to His Word today. Surrender your all to Him. Let us be grateful people who, as a result, are giving people.

If you recognize your need for growing gratitude to God but have not yet received the new life that is required for such ongoing gratitude, check out the Story.