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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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.

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

Jesus is better than football.

Whether it’s my son Noah’s junior high game (like the picture above), “Friday Night Lights,” or the NFL, I really enjoy watching football. I enjoyed playing football when I was in high school. In fact, I still enjoy playing it today.

When I was watching my favorite NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, lose to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night, though, I began to experience an overwhelming sense of conviction in my heart. No, I was not convicted about my decision of being a lifelong fan of a disappointing team. Nor was I convicted that I was watching the game. Rather, I was convicted because I was allowing the disappointment of the game to ruin my mood.

Of course, as a Vikings fan, I did not experience extreme disappointment Thursday night for the first time. Most likely, it will not be the last time either. Not only have the Vikings never won the Super Bowl (0-4 all time), they have not even made it to the Super Bowl since before I was born, having lost their last six trips to the NFC Championship Game.

If this trend continues, and if the Vikings continue to underperform, I will not see the confetti fall in their favor at the end of a season.

Butas much as I would enjoy a Super Bowl title for my all-time favorite sports franchise, it really is not a big deal. It really does not matter.

Even if they do end a season at the top of their sport, like my favorite NBA team, the San Antonio Spurs, have done five times, the jubilation will be short-lived. Fans (and I imagine players and coaches, too) end up being extremely disappointed if another championship is not achieved the following year. There is only one winner, and so most people who care usually find themselves disappointed.

Have you ever considered how ridiculous it is to allow sports to rob us of our joy? With the exception of my senior year of high school football, when we won the state championship, I cried at the end of each of my sports seasons, knowing that I had “failed” and had to wait another year to win. Or, in the case of our playoff loss in basketball my senior year, I experienced the crushing realization that I might never play competitive basketball again. My career ended with a disappointing performance in a loss.

Guess who actually cares about my senior football and basketball seasons today, though? Pretty much no one. Guess who really cares about who won the Super Bowl a few years ago? Pretty much no one.

More importantly, guess how much the results of sporting events actually matter? They do not.

Please do not get me wrong. I have no problem with people playing or watching sports. I think we can learn a lot about life, teamwork, hard work, dedication, loyalty, discipline, etc. from sports.

But, to let sports dictate our moods and/or guide our lives will be a tragic mistake. Jesus is so much better than football. He is the eternal, authoritative, powerful Son of God. He died on the cross for our sins, and He rose again to win eternal victory for everyone who calls on Him.

Following Jesus is not just another activity we tack on to our lives, like football or some other hobby. Following Jesus is life itself for those who are His genuine disciples.

The true joy that comes for those who follow Jesus is everlasting joy. Consider –  it would be utter foolishness to look back after your team won a championship and let one bad play upset you. You won! Who cares about that one play? Well, it would be eternal foolishness to try to find your satisfaction in the things of this world rather than in the One who is eternal. To try to find your satisfaction in one play rather than in the end result is foolish. Jesus has won the victory, the eternal victory. Do not make the mistake of settling for anything less than peace and hope in Him.

Tomorrow, I will be preaching on “The Lord of Discipleship” (Mark 11). While you will be able, Lord willing, to listen to the message HERE tomorrow afternoon, I would like to encourage you now to make sure you seek and surrender to Jesus. He is Lord of all, and seeking to find your hope, satisfaction, joy and salvation anywhere else will leave you disappointed today and leave you sorry forever.

Jesus is better than football. He is better than everything. He is Lord.

man wearing viking helmet focus photography
Photo by Pixabay 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.