Help Is Always Needed

I am not a fan of the “Footprints in the Sand” poem because I believe it misses the very foundation of the Christian life – that we always need Jesus to carry us. There is never a moment when we are sufficient and adequate on our own, but rather we are always in need of God’s mercy, grace, and help.

During our vacation last week, we did a lot of swimming and hiking. Vacationing actively outdoors is my favorite way to vacation, as physical activity is something I enjoy and something that recharges me, especially because my job as a pastor requires very little physical activity. Thus, a physical vacation is a real vacation.

One of our hikes in the Smoky Mountains is the type of hike I would typically love. It was up and down mountainous terrain, and our destination was a waterfall. Perfect, right? I thought so, until we did the hike with 27 people, 17 of whom were my five kids and 12 of their cousins. There were no bathrooms, no drinking spots, and we decided to hike hard with no breaks. And, it took us all afternoon. Again, this would not normally be an issue, but when I failed to be prepared with drinking water (huge mistake) and realized that much hiking for our 5-year-old son, Micah, was quite ambitious, my enjoyment of the hike quickly diminished.

LESSONS LEARNED

Well, I definitely learned my lessons. When you hike with small children, take some breaks and make it fun. When you hike on a hot summer day, bring water – plenty of water; drinking fountains do not exist in national parks.

While we might not look back on that hike with fond memories, I am reminded of an important lesson that applies to all of us spiritually. You and I are never strong enough to do anything on our own.

Micah really was a trooper on that hike and even finished the last 60+ minutes of the hike walking. Before that, though, he rode on my shoulders a lot. He rode on Marsha’s back a lot. He did not have the strength or long legs to keep up with us, and so the “Footprints in the Sand” poem applied well to his situation. Sometimes he could do it; sometimes he needed help. When he needed help, we carried him. And, he finished strong.

The Christian life is so much more than a hike in a national park, though. Every single one of us is so much weaker because of our sin than a 5-year-old is because of his lack of physical maturity. We need Jesus, and we need Him constantly.

Like Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me” (John 15:5).

HUMBLY RESCUED

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing our sermon series through the Old Testament book of MicahWalk Humbly. Going through chapter 5, I hope to help my hearers “Realize the Rescue from God’s Judgment.” Our sin, without exception, makes us deserving of God’s eternal judgment, just like the nation Israel was continuously deserving of God’s judgment in the prophet Micah’s time (and before and after). Yet, if we humbly turn to the Lord – the only One who can rescue us from our deserved judgment – then we receive life in His name.

Jesus came to this earth to rescue us from sin and death – the eternal death we all deserve. Yet, He not only rescues all who call upon His name from the eternal death to come; He transforms our lives now. He carries us now. We need Him today, and we need Him every day.

If ever there is a moment we think we can walk on our own, we will fail. Instead, let us humble ourselves and trust the Lord to carry us. Only He can rescue us, and only He can enable us to live for Him now. Help is always needed, and so we need Him to carry us, and we need one another to grow as He intends. Turn to Jesus. Serve His church. Walk humbly (or rather, be carried humbly).

Photo by Miriam Fischer on Pexels.com
Jesus does not only carry us some of the time but rather all of the time. Are you trusting Him to do so?

Summer Time before Summer

Summer officially began this past Saturday, but because of COVID-19 and our kids being home from school since mid-March, summer already feels half-over. Here are just a few pictures of us enjoying summer before real summer even arrived…

Sinful yet Hopeful

Do you notice anything off about the picture above? Yes, that trailer is supposed to be hooked to that tractor. That trailer was hooked to that tractor, until one of my children (who will not be revealed in this post) was messing around on the tractor and disengaged the hydraulics. Apparently some other things were done, too, causing said-child to retreat in fear of the wrong that was committed.

Perhaps no one would find out, though. After all, when someone comes to move the trailer back into place for our Sunday morning outdoor worship celebration, he will hook the trailer back up, and no one else will be the wiser. So, nothing was said to Marsha or me about the trailer parked unhooked behind the tractor.

A little later, however, while all five of our children were playing outside, they noticed the tractor rolling down the hill. At least one of them wondered, “Who’s driving the tractor?” Oh, no one was driving that tractor. It was now helplessly rolling down the hill.

Praise the Lord that none of our children were near it when this happened, and no one was hurt or killed! Praise the Lord that no other vehicles were in the parking lot, and no damage was done! Praise the Lord that the tractor came to a perfect stop at the end of the gravel lot, and nothing bad happened! God’s mercy and grace are all over this story.

SIN HAS CONSEQUENCES

Well, God’s mercy and grace are all over this story, that is, until I walked outside the next morning for my (usually) very-enjoyable morning walk. Mercy and grace were not words that would describe my initial attitude toward my children when I saw what had happened.

When I first noticed what you can see in the above picture, I thought, “Why in the world did someone decide to use the tractor and then leave it down there? And, who was it?” That thinking was only for a moment, though, because I quickly realized it must have been something my children did. That was all that made sense.

How did this happen, though. When did this happen? How did my wife and I not know? How are all of our children still alive? Are we the worst parents ever? Do we have the worst children ever?

When everyone was awake, my wife and I questioned our children and quickly learned the truth, including the fact that all five of them knew who was guilty and knew what had happened. None said a word, however. No one told us, somehow thinking we would not find out and/or that it would not be a big deal if we did.

A John Deere tractor that our kids were playing around rolled 200 feet down a hill!

Needless to say, Marsha and I had a long, serious conversation with our children. Furthermore, they proceeded to lose a lot of privileges, and we hope they have learned their lesson.

You see, sin has consequences. In this case, disobedience and disrespect could have led to someone being killed, and death is the ultimate curse and consequence of sin.

THERE IS HOPE

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on how we can “Find Hope in God’s Judgment” (Micah 4). Yes, sin has consequences. Yes, God judges sin. Yes, we all deserve the devastating eternal death that is the curse of sin. Yet, there is hope.

We are all sinful, but we can still be hopeful, hopeful if we know and follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The only hope that conquers sin and death is the hope of the gospel. Do you have this hope? Do you rejoice in this hope? Do you find satisfaction and contentment in this hope? Are you daily living for the God of this hope?

Like our children, we all deserve much greater consequences to our sins than we have received. The fact that we are still breathing, despite our countless failures and rebellions, is living proof. We deserve death but by trusting in Jesus’ death in our place and by believing in His resurrection from the dead, we can have life and have it abundantly.

Look out for the consequences of sin. Look out for God’s certain judgment. Look out by looking up (to Him). Look out by looking back (to the cross). Look out by looking forward (to eternal life). Only then will you have the hope that never dies.

P.S. – “Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

If you have yet to believe the gospel and surrender your life to Jesus Christ, please do not delay.

Having and Being a Micah

In the days of God’s prophet Micah (more than 2,700 years ago), the people of Israel were living in great sin against God, facilitating rampant rebellion and injustice among the people. Micah boldly declared in the midst of the wickedness, “But as for me, I am filled with power by the Spirit of the Lord, with justice and courage, to proclaim to Jacob his rebellion and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8).

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Micah 3 and challenging those at our outdoor worship celebration to “Respond Rightly to God’s Judgment.” God’s judgment is real and certain, so are you prepared? Are you following the trends of the culture and compromising biblical truth, or are you following Micah’s example with a counter-cultural commitment to biblical truth?

WHO’S YOUR MICAH?

While it was a very overwhelming and difficult task, Micah boldly confronted the sins of Israel. Who is your Micah? Do you have someone (or better yet, someones) in your life holding you accountable and confronting you when you fail to follow God faithfully? Do you have people who will speak up when you are blind to your own sin?

We all need accountability because we all fall short of God’s perfect standard, and we are all prone to the pride of self-justification for our shortcomings. Who is your Micah? Who is asking you the tough questions? Who is challenging you to turn from sinful tendencies and follow God according to His Word?

If you do not have people like Micah in your life, please do not delay. Make sure you are actively involved in a Bible-teaching church, and develop friendships with people you can trust to speak Truth into your life. You will not regret doing such an important, life-changing, life-giving thing.

WHERE’S YOUR MICAH?

Likewise, where is your Micah? In other words, where is the Micah inside of you? Are you walking with Jesus yourself and calling sin what it is – rebellion against a holy God? Are you involved in the lives of other Christ-followers, so that you can lovingly speak Truth into their lives?

Just like you need people to be Micahs in your life, others need you to be a Micah in their lives. We need one another.

If you have come to know and follow Jesus Christ, then you have received His Holy Spirit (see John 14:6, 26; 16:8; Acts 2-28; etc.). And, like Micah, you should gladly declare with purpose, “But as for me, I am filled with power by the Spirit of the Lord, with justice and courage, to proclaim…

The Spirit of God will not allow you to be content to live in sin (see 1 John), and the Spirit of God will not allow you to be content with others living in sin (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2).

No, you will not come down on others in prideful condescension but rather with a loving urgency to respond to the Lord in faith and repentance. We all need Micahs in our lives, and we all – by the work of the Holy Spirit – are called to be Micahs in the lives of one another.

Are you compelled to stand up for God’s Word and declare His Truth? If not, would you turn to Him and ask Him to take over your life?

THE ONLY PERFECT MICAH

Only the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, perfectly fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Only He was and is the perfect Micah – the One who could always speak Truth into people’s lives because He is the Truth. And, only He can change your life in such a way that you too will desire to have people like Micah regularly speaking into your life, as well as being a Micah in the lives of others.

If you want to both have a Micah and be a Micah, make sure you have Christ. Make sure you faithfully serve Him and serve His church. Let us walk alongside one another to bring God the glory and to be a blessing to others.

Learn and trust the Good News of the gospel. Check out The Story.

Spring Picture Highlights

Well, this has certainly been a unique spring season. While we obviously pray for a quick end to this pandemic, we praise God for the time we have been able to spend together as a family. He has been gracious to us, so we are grateful for His love and provision, our health, our family, our church family, and much more.

Here are some picture highlights from the past couple of months, followed by a video the kids did in reflecting on our adoption of Micah three years ago…

Covering the Smoke Doesn’t Save You from the Fire

My family loves bonfires, and we have really enjoyed them in recent days. Few things are more satisfying than sitting around a fire with people you love. I even love the smell of a good fire.

Interestingly, though, one thing I do not like is the smell of my clothes after I leave the fire. While the smell does not affect me during the fire, apart from a face full of smoke when the wind changes directions, the smell is less than pleasing afterward. In fact, the clothes you wore must be washed, or they will continue to stink.

Likewise, if you do not shower and wash your hair, you will continue to stink. Simply changing clothes only does so much. The smoke gets into your hair and skin, and while a clean set of clothes and some cologne will mask the smell for a while, that smoke smell eventually reappears.

In preparing for my Sunday morning message – “Living Difference” (Romans 13), I noticed a spiritual correlation with this idea of fire and smoke.

OFF AND ON

In the same way that simply ridding yourself of a smoke-absorbed coat will not permanently change your smell, simply ridding yourself of sinful habits will not permanently change your life. You must both put off and put on. “Discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). If you continue reading the passage, you will see what is to be discarded in verse 13 and what is to be put on in verse 14.

Put off sin and put on Christ. Flee from sin and follow Jesus. Run from evil and cling to what is good.

If I am somehow able to rid myself of a sinful habit but do not surrender myself to Jesus, then I will simply return to said-habit or replace it with another sinful habit. And, even if I do not return or replace it with another sinful habit, the smell of smoke is still there. The stain of sin is not yet washed away. The evidence of fire still exists.

ONLY ONE ANSWER

The only One who can rescue us from sin and deliver us from the eternal fire of death in hell is Jesus Christ our Lord. He died on the cross in our place for our sins, taking all the smoke of sin upon Himself. The wrath of God that we all deserve was poured out on Jesus. On the third day, though, Jesus rose from the dead to win the victory over sin and death. Now, everyone who turns away from sin and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness and new life receives both. The smoke is washed away, and the stain of sin is gone. Even though we are still sinners, it is as if we were perfect because we are counted righteous in Jesus Christ.

This only happens, though, when we are cleansed from our sins by trusting in Jesus. Then, He takes off the old and covers us with the new.

If I try to cover the smell of smoke on my own, I cannot save myself from the fire. But, if I ask Jesus to take away the smoke and make me clean, He does so in a way that is eternal.

Have you put off the old and put on the new? As we will discuss Sunday morning, Lord willing, the evidence will be not only in how you relate to God but also in how you relate to others, including the church and the government. Again, see Romans 13.

If you have not yet made the decision to surrender your life to Jesus, will you do so today? You can learn more HERE. Let us flee from immorality and follow Jesus with all our hearts!

Back-to-back fires (right above this past Saturday, followed by the top picture on Mother’s Day)

No Silly Barking

When my kids drive their remote-controlled car, our dog, Lottie, goes crazy. She chases and barks at the harmless toy as long as it moves. Never does she tired from such activity, even if it goes on for several minutes. These are just 24 seconds of evidence…

If we fail to have a gospel-centered perspective in our response to evil against us, we will be just like Lottie. We will bark and bark, and while the barking might make sense to those of us barking, it is ultimately ridiculous. Only the right perspective will allow us to see that, though.

GOSPEL PERSPECTIVE REQUIRED

When we only think about ourselves and our situation and our frustration, we will not respond to evil in a God-honoring way. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “Living Good” (Romans 12:17-21). In that message, I hope to communicate two gospel-centered responses to evil, challenging you to respond to evil based on God’s response to you.

The gospel does that for us, changing our perspective so that we do not respond to evil like barking dogs. Sure, there are times when barking is necessary, but how often do we bark when simply surrendering our cares to the Lord is required?

If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). If you surrender your life to Jesus Christ and ask Him to give you a new heart, He not only saves you for eternity; He changes you now. He begins a work in your heart that affects everything about you, including your response to evil. Living at peace with others because of the peace God has given you becomes a desire, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

BARKING OR PEACE?

How about you? Do you find yourself constantly barking, whether outwardly or inwardly, or are you experiencing a growing sense of peace – peace with God and peace with others? If you are struggling and really just want to bark, would you consider crying out to God for help instead? Only He can give you the peace that passes all understanding, and that peace will only come when you embrace the gospel and follow after Him.

Some day, if not sooner than later, we will see our barking for what it is – fruitless futility. Yes, we should pursue justice but not apart from the perspective that justice ultimately and perfectly belongs to the Lord. In that truth, we must have peace. Praise be to God!

Heartbroken but Hopeful

When considering what 12-year-old Wyatt Salmons and his family went through this past year, with Wyatt having lost his physical life last Friday, how can we understand such tragedies? How do I make sense of one of my son’s friends and classmates suffering and dying from a rare form of cancer?

To some extent, we simply cannot wrap our minds around things like this. We cannot fully comprehend or sufficiently explain tragedies. Rather, we are heartbroken and reminded of the brokenness of this world. Still, I believe we can experience hope in the midst of heartbreak. Specifically, I believe there are two ways that provide hope above all else.

1. HOPE FROM THE GOSPEL

Firstly and most importantly, we find hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot fathom how people get through any sort of tragedy and suffering apart from the hope of the gospel. Before I came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, I experienced far less tragic suffering in my life (as a child and young adult) than I have since then, and yet in the midst of those losses, I was far more discouraged.

I remember moments when I felt complete hopelessness and despair, and those moments were nothing compared to losing my young dad to cancer, for example. When my dad passed away in 2014, my heart was broken, and yet I never felt hopeless. I never felt despair. While I was grief-stricken and missed my dad (and still do), I had (and still do) a sense of hope and peace that I never understood before placing my saving faith in Jesus.

Please realize, this hopefulness is not because I figured things out and mastered some method of finding purpose and meaning. Rather, God changed my heart and life. My purpose and meaning are in Him, and because of the promise of what is to come, loss in this life cannot rob me of that hope. This is the reality for those who know and follow Jesus, as long as we keep our eyes on Him.

2. HOPE FROM ONE ANOTHER

One of the greatest blessings of coming to know and follow Jesus is being a part of His family. We say all the time with Richland, “Our church is our family.” God knows, of course, that we not only need Him; we need one another. For that reason, most of the commands in the New Testament are corporate commands – commands for the body of believers and not just for individual believers.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “Living Unity” (Romans 12:15-16). Church family unity that is centered on the gospel is a unity that endures. And, part of that unity is our need to love and care for one another in the midst of suffering. We are not strong enough to endure tragedy on our own. We need God, and we need His church. The temptation for many when tragedy strikes is to withdraw, but withdrawal is the very thing we do not need. Instead, we need to comfort and/or be comforted. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). This is a corporate command for us because God knows best what we need.

If you have a personal relationship with Jesus, are you prioritizing your relationship with Him and your relationship with your local church? Are you prioritizing unity, not just for your sake but also for the sake of God’s glory and the good of others?

If you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus, I plead with you to turn to Him for the hope, peace, and salvation only He can give.

If you want to experience the hope and peace that endure forever, please check out The Story.

Your Principles Aren’t for You

Before I became a Christian, I can remember trying my best to be a “good person.” My primary motivation, though, was always how being “good” might benefit me. What could I get out of doing the right thing? Who might I impress? What might I receive in return?

Thanks to the way my parents raised me, I have always been a pretty “moral” person. Yes, I made (and continue to make) plenty of mistakes, sinning against God and against others. My morality has, for the most part, though, been good.

MORALITY IS INSUFFICIENT

Good morality is not enough, though. The first-century Jewish leaders were also seemingly moral people, but Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

Their outward morality was not enough, and neither is ours. I was the epitome of hypocrisy as a teenager and as a young adult, usually saying the right things and trying to do the right things. My heart was not right with God, though. I was a “whitewashed tomb.”

PURPOSE AND MEANING

Praise God that He rescued me from my sins when I was 20 years old! He delivered me from slavery to sin and changed my heart. He delivered me from myself. While I am still far from perfect and need God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness every single day, I now see the purpose and meaning God has for my life. I recognize that the principles I live by are not for myself but for Him and for His kingdom.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “Living Ethics” from Romans 12:9-14. I hope to challenge those who attend our drive-in worship service (or watch online later) to be guided by biblical principles in such a way that others cannot deny the work of God in their hearts. How might we impact the world around us if this is the case?

As Romans 12 makes clear, the way we live our lives is not primarily for our own selves but rather for God’s glory and for the good of others.

Of course, that kind of purpose and perspective is not possible apart from a changed heart and a changed life. I know because I tried so hard to gain or earn or obtain that purpose as a young man. I tried so hard to be religious enough and moral enough to earn God’s favor. Again and again, I failed, though, because I am a sinner. God is perfect and none of us is. Yet, God loved us so much that He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. Then, Jesus rose from the dead to win the victory over sin and death. Now, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Turn to Him if you have yet to do so, and you will experience the hope only He can offer.

If you already know and follow Jesus, though, how can you better depend on Him to guide your life in such a way that He gets the glory and others are blessed?

If you want purpose and meaning that will guide you now and forever, turn to the Lord today.

The Gospel Gives Perspective

One thing I never really understood when I played sports (like basketball) in high school, was when people would say something like, “Yeah, I quit because there was too much running.” In fact, not only did I not really understand such a statement, frankly, it annoyed me. What do you expect when you play sports?

Please understand – I am not saying that I necessarily enjoy running. For the most part, I do not. A proper perspective, though, helps me realize that running is necessary to be prepared. Running now will help me be better later. Running a lot in practice will make it more likely that we can win the game. Exercising during the week will help ensure that I can still beat my kids in basketball on the weekend (like in the above picture). 😉

More importantly, the gospel provides a proper perspective. In fact, if we trust and embrace the gospel, then we have the ultimate purpose for living and a continuous reason for enduring. The gospel changes things. Apart from the gospel, our religious efforts are dead and meaningless. Without the gospel, our supposed sacrifices are a stench to God.

Because of the gospel, though, we have perspective and purpose. God gave the ultimate sacrifice in and through His One and Only Son so that we can have not only eternal life, but also so that we can be a living sacrifice.

You see, when we are changed by God through the good news of the gospel, our very lives are changed. No longer are we content to go through the motions of religious exercise or do things our way. Instead, because of the Holy Spirit transforming our hearts, we desire to live our lives every day in a way that will honor and glorify God. This is not because we are better than anyone else but rather because we are made new.

Have you been made new? Do you have a perspective which, even in the midst of difficulty, allows you to experience hope, joy, and peace? If not, ask God for help. Ask Him to change your heart and change your life, as only He can. Furthermore, make sure you have people who are walking alongside you in this journey. We need God, and we need one another.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, our church will be hosting a drive-in worship service in our east parking lot. If you live in the area and do not have a church family, I hope you will join us. I plan to begin a new sermon series from Romans 12-13 on remembering the cross (and how the gospel changes our daily lives). Looking first at Romans 12:1-2, I want to challenge you – challenge us – to be a “Living Sacrifice.” We were made new for this.

If you long for the proper perspective and hope that only God can give, would you consider surrendering your life to Him? You can learn more by clicking the picture above.