Hopeful Assurance

Wednesday was Silas’s 11th birthday, and the day before his birthday, a memory popped up on my phone from the day before he was born. Marsha’s parents, her sister Amber, and our niece Emery were visiting us in Istanbul in preparation for Silas’s birth. Surprisingly, Silas was a few days overdue, and on November 23, 2010, we decided to visit a famous attraction – the Rumeli Fortress – along the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul. As you can see in the pictures, this 475-year-old fortress has a lot of steps, so we did a lot of stair-climbing that day.

Over nine months pregnant, Marsha did not sit out the adventure either. She joined us, climbing those steps, and there were some in our group who wondered aloud if that was very wise. “What if she goes into labor while we’re up on one of these towers?!” Well, she did not go into labor then, but it was just hours later, early in the morning of November 24, that labor began. Silas was born a healthy boy, and perhaps that hiking adventure helped ensure his birthday was not after November 24. God only knows.

When we were well-over an hour from the hospital and climbing those steps on November 23, 2010, there were certainly no guarantees that Marsha would not go into labor. Of course, I was confident she would not, and more importantly, she was confident she would not – at least not so quickly that we would not have time to get to the hospital. Based on her understanding of her body, having given birth to two sons already, and how she was feeling that morning, there was enough assurance that we could safely explore Rumeli Fortress. Okay, perhaps I remember things slightly differently than Marsha, but all went well.

Still, no guarantees. In thinking through all of that this week, I was challenged by what I will be preaching on this coming Sunday, Lord willing. As we begin the Advent season with Richland Baptist Church, I hope to talk about the “HOPE” that only comes in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ (looking specifically at Luke 21:25-36).

Everyone wants hope. We all need hope. We long for hope and assurance, especially regarding things as important as the birth of a child. Yet, we are unable to assure hopefulness in most things. Only the Lord can do that, and He secured that hope by taking on flesh, living a perfect life, dying on the cross for our sins, and rising from the dead for the salvation of all who call upon His name. One day, He will come again – His Second Advent – to bring to completion the salvation of all who know Him.

Jesus said, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near!” (Luke 21:28).

Are you looking forward to that day with hopeful assurance? If you have surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, you can and should and will. Without Jesus, though, that will not be a day of hope but rather a day of fear and devastation. Be certain of hopeful assurance by turning to Him today.

We cannot be certain of good health, safe deliveries, smooth circumstances, etc., but we can be certain that God never fails to keep His promises. Like only He could, Jesus declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33).

Happy 11th birthday to Silas Stephen Drake!

My Crown

A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a wife who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones” (Proverbs 12:4). I praise God that I have a crown – and no rottenness in my bones. While I might not have many other crowns, if any, I have been blessed for nearly 20 years with a wife of noble character.

Last month was “pastor appreciation month” for many churches across our country, and in my 8+ years of pastoring Richland Baptist Church, our church family has done an amazing job of expressing appreciation. They are a joy to serve and minister alongside, and we praise God for our church family!

The reality, however, is that I would be a terrible pastor (though I am far from great anyway) if not for my amazing wife. If not for all she does for me, for our kids, in our home, in children’s ministry with our church, in so much behind the scenes for our church, etc., I cannot fathom how I would begin to keep up with the demands of pastoral ministry.

I do very few household chores because Marsha is always on top of things. Instead, when I am home, I am able to devote most of my time to hanging out with Marsha and the kids, having fun, and relaxing. Furthermore, with five kids, there are what seem like constant needs for rides to various school events, activities, practices, games, etc. Marsha handles the vast majority of those.

During church services and activities on Sundays and Wednesdays, Marsha is practically a single mom as I try to keep up with everything. Yet, she never complains.

Phone calls and emergency requests come up during inopportune times, but Marsha is always supportive, prayerful, and helpful.

Unfortunately, though, I often take her for granted. Our kids do, too. Shame on us! Instead, we need to embrace and live out the words of Proverbs 31:28-29 – “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also praises her: “Many women have done noble deeds, but you surpass them all!”

I praise God for Marsha! In her, God has blessed me with an incredible wife, an excellent mother to our children, and a faithful partner in gospel ministry. She surpasses all others!

Thank you, Marsha! No blog post, thank you note, gift, or anything else could ever be sufficient in expressing how much I appreciate you and how much of a blessing you are to our family, our church, and me.

A man who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Praise the Lord for His favor!

Family Picture in front of U.S. Bank Stadium in August 2021 #skol

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?

Growing Generosity

There are a couple birthdays in our family this week. Levi turned 15 yesterday, and Zoe will turn 10 tomorrow. While we do not make an overly big deal of birthdays in our home (i.e. no big parties), we do, like most people, celebrate by giving our kids some gifts. They also get to pick what they want for supper, and we all share something we love and appreciate about that person.

Over the years, it has been interesting to see how the non-birthday kids in our family respond to others’ birthdays. Naturally, as they grow in maturity and in their love for the rest of us, they have become more charitable in their comments about what they love about us and in their desire to give gifts.

When we would go around the table on someone’s birthday and share our “best thing” about the birthday person, we used to get comments like, “He has nice teeth.” Now, though, the comments have grown to be a little more heartfelt and meaningful (sometimes and depending on people’s moods, of course).

Likewise, while we used to have to convince our kids to do something nice for other family members, they are – while slowly at times, it seems – beginning to desire to do those nice things without being asked. Last week, for example, I heard one of our kids asking Levi what he might like for his birthday and different things he had considered.

As you grow in your love for someone and your commitment to that relationship, so does your generosity grow. Your relationship with the Lord is no exception. The closer you are to Him and the more you love Him, the more you want to serve and honor Him.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 on “Over-and-Above Giving” for the sake of the gospel. How much are you growing in your generosity for the sake of more people knowing and following Jesus? If your relationship with Jesus is growing, your generosity will follow. And really, as Jesus Himself declared, if your generosity is growing, your heart will follow.

To learn more about having a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and the eternal life that comes only from Him, please check out The Story. Nothing is more important.

No Half-Bottom Jobs

If Marsha and I ask the kids to sweep the kitchen floor, but they only sweep half, will we be satisfied with their effort? Of course not. From an early age, we try to teach our children the importance of hard work and discipline. Do your best, right?

No “half-bottom” jobs, as I like to say. Growing up, I often heard coaches and others call it “half-something else” jobs or efforts, but I am trying to be clean and appropriate with my kids, while still getting the point across that we need to work hard. We need to give our all. We need to be committed. Do not go through the motions. Be all in!

Are you ever satisfied when you pay for something, need something, request something, etc., and you get an effortless performance or poor product in return? Rarely, if ever. Yet, are you ever content to give your half-best or leftovers to God in service and in worship? Are you satisfied with a half-hearted effort of going through the motions? May we never be!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Malachi 3:7-12 on the call and responsibility to give “The Full Ten Percent.” Of course, this applies primarily to our obedience in stewardship, but the commands and principles that are clear throughout Scripture call us to obey God’s Word fully in every area of our lives. Not partial obedience but complete obedience. No half-bottom jobs in life, and no half-bottom jobs in service to the Lord. And, really, everything we do is to be done in service to the Lord. So, no half-bottom jobs. Period.

Are there areas in your life where you are tempted to go through the motions? Are there commands in the Bible that you are compelled and convinced to obey only when comfortable and/or convenient? If so, regret (at best) and devastation (at worst) will come. Do not settle for less than God has in store for you (spiritual fruit and fulfillment) by giving less than God has called you to (faith and obedience).

Have you given your heart to the Lord? If so, make sure He has your whole heart in all things. If not, will you turn to Him today?

Knowing and following Jesus is the only way to have a right relationship with God and grow in a sincere desire to honor and please Him. To learn more, check out The Story.

My Tithing Testimony

Really, I do not remember when I began tithing, but I have no memories as a young Christian in college when I was not tithing. Since the beginning of my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I was convinced that tithing – giving the first ten percent of my paycheck back to the Lord – was “the right thing to do.” At some point, people modeled and taught this to me, and their examples, coupled with the truth of Scripture, were enough to convince me. I praise God for that because, like most people, I have always struggled with at least some sense of entitlement, pride, selfishness, and greed.

This is mine. I worked hard for this. No one else can tell me what to do with my money!” Those words, whether said out loud or not, have been spoken by all of us at least once (if not many times), right?

Yet, as is clear in 1 Chronicles 29 and throughout the Bible, God is the owner of everything, including our time, money, gifts, resources, and lives. Thus, we own absolutely nothing. With that right, biblical perspective, giving back to God at least the first ten percent of anything we make is really quite simple. By the grace of God, I have believed that since the very beginning of my Christian walk, and by His grace and mercy, I have been a tither, convinced that I should honor God with at least the first ten percent of every paycheck, and give more, when possible, for the sake of missions, helping the needy, etc.

Please realize, I do not share this to boast, as I know that I would be completely incapable of this kind of commitment if left up to my own selfishness, stinginess, and foolishness. But, God – in His mercy and grace – saw fit to convict me of this from the beginning, has demonstrated His faithfulness, provided me with a wife who has the same convictions, and overwhelms me with the continued desire to give.

Not tithing (as a bare minimum) has never been an option. Marsha and I have never entertained the idea, and I sincerely believe that is due to God’s provision – not only God’s provision for us to have our physical needs met but more importantly to have our spiritual needs met. Not honoring Him with at least our first ten percent has never been an entertained thought because He has protected us, by His grace, from having such a desire.

When I was a young, immature follower of Jesus in college, I had a conversation with a friend about tithing. He said that, because we had very little money and made very little money, surely God did not expect us to tithe due to our financial strains. I was not convinced that my friend’s argument was right, so I decided to keep tithing from my gross income (gross, meaning pre-taxed amount and gross, meaning most would be less than impressed).

Thanks be to God, I made it through college with no loans and no debt. Times were often tight, but God certainly met all my needs, and then some. Not coincidentally, I believe, my aforementioned friend struggled a lot more than I did.

When I was getting my master’s degree in seminary, Marsha and I were newly married and had more financial struggles. Again, though, we believed that if we continued to honor God with at least the first ten percent, He would meet our needs. We definitely wanted more at times, but we never needed more than we had. In fact, we often had (and still do have) more than we need/ed. Praise the Lord!

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Hebrews 7:1-10 on the first recorded tithe (as explained first in Genesis 14:17-24) and why honoring God with at least the first ten percent is biblical.

Health and wealth are never promised to us by God, not in this life. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:33). When Jesus said that about “these things,” He was referring to our needs according to God’s perfect plan and provision. Trust and depend on Him by honoring Him with your first fruits, your best, your life. As has been shared by so many others, including some recent Sunday morning testimonies by our church family, you will never regret obeying the Word of God.

Before you can obey the Word of God, you have to know the Son of God. To learn more about having a personal relationship with Jesus, check out The Story.

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?

Not a Penny to My Name

Think back to your childhood for a moment. Do you remember how much you had to rely on your parents or guardians? Food, clothing, shelter, etc. – it all came from someone but not from us when we were children. Most of us were fortunate to have families who provided for us.

I did not think about it much then, but really, I had “not a penny to my name.” Everything I had was from my parents and others who provided for me. Okay, maybe I had some toys and other stuff in my room that I considered “mine,” but even those things were given to me. I did not earn them. I did not work for them. I did not purchase them. Really, you could argue that they, too, truly belonged to my parents.

Regardless of the technicalities of ownership, I greatly depended on my parents to meet my needs. No way I could make it on my own.

Do you remember when you felt like you did not have a penny to your name? Maybe you still feel that way. Maybe you are that way (or close to it).

Really, though, I would argue that we are all that way, regardless of how much we have (or think we have). If what I shared last week is true – that “God Is the Owner of Everything” (1 Chronicles 29:10-22), then the obvious application for us is that we really do not own anything. Lord willing, I hope to communicate that clearly on Sunday as I preach from Genesis 1:26-28 and 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 on why we were created and who we are to be.

God owns everything, and we own nothing. Thus, our priorities and stewardship principles should reflect that truth. We ought not worship nor worry about stuff. We need to be wise with what we “have,” what we spend, how we give, and what we prioritize. All this stuff is not ours, after all.

One day, Christ Jesus will return, and we will give an account for how we managed our time, money, resources, talents, etc. – His time, money, resources, talents, etc. Are you ready for that day? It could be any day, and He expects us to be ready. He calls us to be faithful, as He illustrated so clearly and powerfully in Matthew 25:14-30. Will you hear the words, “Well done!”?

What changes need to take place in your life to honor God with all that you manage? Do you know Him, and do you, as a result, desire to please Him?

I have not a penny to my name, and neither do you. In and through a relationship with Jesus, though, you can one day have more riches (that do not perish) than you could ever fathom. Thus, do not settle for temporary pleasures and pursuits, but find your hope and satisfaction in the One who owns it all forever. Then, you can and will rejoice that you have not a penny to your name. Praise the Lord!

While you and I have not a penny to our names physically, we can have and experience so much more spiritually by believing and trusting the gospel.

Faith with Effect

Late in his life, King David prayed the following prayer before his son Solomon became king of Israel…

May You be praised, LORD God of our father Israel, from eternity to eternity. Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all. Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.

1 Chronicles 29:10-13

David’s faith had an effect on his actions, including his prayers. His faith had an effect on his decisions, his leadership, and his plan of succession.

Really, is this not true for all of us? What we believe affects what we do. How we live is impacted by our faith. Some might argue that their faith is separate from other areas of their lives, like politics or policies or careers. That belief and attitude, though, simply mean that such “faith” is misplaced (perhaps combining faith in a god with faith in oneself).

SINCERE FAITH AFFECTS ALL THINGS

If you are serious about your faith, such faith will impact every area of your life. Your conversations, your commitments, your attitude, your passions – all are impacted by sincere faith.

Faith that does not have such an impact is an insincere religious activity of going through the motions when convenient, advantageous, and/or comfortable.

How much would you say your faith impacts your everyday life?

WHAT YOU BELIEVE MATTERS

Because sincere faith is so effectual, where you place your faith is of critical importance. What you believe matters. In fact, what you believe is even more important than how strong such faith is.

If you have just a little faith in the weather report, for example, but enough faith to bring an umbrella to a football game when the weather forecast calls for rain, then you will not get wet when the rain hits. You may have been hesitant to believe the forecast, but even a little faith that compelled you to take action was enough to deliver you from the rain.

If you are completely confident in a different weather report that called for sunny skies, though, and you thus do not bring an umbrella, you are not protected from the rain. You may have had all the faith in the world, but your faith was misplaced.

What you believe matters. Who you put your faith in matters.

As David declared in 1 Chronicles 29 and in so many other instances throughout the Psalms, God alone is worthy of our absolute faith and assurance. He alone never fails, is worthy of worship, and will satisfy our needs. If you trust in Him and do so with sincerity and according to the Truth of His Word, He will never fail you.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will begin a new sermon series on a call to biblical stewardship. The foundation for such a call is the truth that “God Is the Owner of Everything” (1 Chronicles 29:10-22). If we truly believe that, we will live in such a way that others will see that belief by what we say, in what we give, through what we do, and by where we go.

Faith with effect will have such an effect not only on those with such faith but also on those who see the living out of such faith.

Are you experiencing the effects of sincere faith? Are those around you? Saving faith in Christ alone will be enough. Turn to Him. Trust in Him. Follow Him. You will be blessed, and the world will be impacted.

To understand and experience the only “faith with effect” that endures forever, check out The Story.

Endurance Requires Grace

There are countless occasions in life that require endurance or else that result in failure and/or destruction. We learn about the importance of pushing forward and not giving up early in life, as even children are scolded (often rightly-so) when they do give up and quit.

To finish a race, you have to endure. To win a game, you have to endure. To get your degree, you have to endure. To be successful, you have to endure. To maintain a healthy relationship, you have to endure. To raise children, you have to endure. The list goes on and on, does it not?

THE NECESSITY

What is so often explained as the necessity to having such endurance? Hard work, discipline, commitment, patience, etc. could all be traits that help answer that question. While all of those characteristics (and many others) are good and should be pursued, they do not produce endurance that endures. In other words, the best character and greatest behavior will go a long way, but we all eventually fail.

An even greater necessity is required – grace (the gift of God that none of us deserves).

To do so many things, requires endurance. Most importantly, to follow Jesus until the end of this life, requires endurance. If you are not careful, though, you might fall into the trap of thinking that your hard work and discipline will be enough to ensure such endurance. None of us is good enough, hard-working enough, disciplined enough, or committed enough to endure until the end, though.

We need grace. All of us need grace – the grace of God – in order to endure. And, only those who endure until Jesus returns will be saved for eternity (Matthew 24:13).

If we rely on our own goodness and commitment to press on, we might last for a while, but failure (and resulting destruction) will come. If we trust the Lord, though, for the goodness and commitment we need, endurance will be the result.

Grace is the necessity, and the character traits that are associated with endurance will not only be found with those who seek and receive God’s grace; those traits will last. Endurance will result.

THE PATH

To receive such grace that results in faithful endurance, we need only humble ourselves and turn to the Lord. The Bible calls this repentance and faith – turning away from our sin and trusting in the Only One who can make us right with God. The gospel is the Good News that saves us from our sin and changes our lives now. Endurance results.

Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? Are you experiencing the fruit of endurance? Are you trusting in His grace to push through the difficulties of this life?

The path to endurance is not found by trying harder but by surrendering all. Then, you will desire to try harder, and even your effort will endure.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on the “Grace to Endure” (2 Peter 3) with patience and hope until Jesus comes again. Apart from God’s grace, none of us endures. Let us trust Him not only to save us from our sins but also to enable us to press on until He returns!

If you want to learn more about the grace of God that leads to lasting endurance, please check out The Story.