Prominence is not preeminence.

A couple weeks ago on a beautiful Saturday morning, our three youngest kids went outside to play and noticed that there were worms all over the church parking lot because of a heavy rainfall we had overnight. They then decided to go on a rescue mission of picking up the worms and putting them in the grass.

Afterall, if left on the asphalt, the worms would have fried and died in the sun. I am not sure how many worms were rescued or what compelled our kids to go on this mission, but they sure seemed to enjoy it. And, they acted as if it was an important mission.

Ultimately, though, this task our children prioritized that morning was just one of many things they did that day. It was not what they woke up to do, and it was not their first priority. Rather, it was something they found to be fun. Sure, they got their hands dirty, as seen in the picture below, when they proceeded to play in the dirt. Again, though, that was just a fun benefit of this activity.

Unfortunately, there are many people today who treat their relationship with Jesus like those worms. When convenient and enjoyable, they will “get their hands dirty” in the name of religion. Are they really passionate about Jesus, though? Is He preeminent (of utmost importance) in their lives, or is He simply prominent (important but not first place)?

Prominence is not preeminence.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching my third message in our Advent series: Immanuel to Richland Baptist Church. Preaching from Colossians 1:15-20, I want to challenge those listening to consider the supremacy of Christ and, as a result, surrender to Christ.

Jesus Christ is preeminent, and He is the only One worthy of the place of preeminence in our hearts. Does He have that place in your heart? If not, please consider calling out to Him today.

Surrender is a necessary humble response of repentance (turning away from your sins) and faith in Jesus, but surrender is also a daily decision to put Jesus first in all things. He is not just one of many priorities; He is the priority.

Silas, Zoe and Micah showing off the dirty hands

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Are you impressed?

Thanks to a great internship with KIMT in 1999, I had the opportunity to stand on the sideline with a sports reporter for the Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions game on January 2, 2000. While I have been to NFL, NBA and MLB games before, standing on the sideline of a Vikings game has to be my favorite professional sports memory.

In fact, not only did I get to stand on the sideline and help that reporter, I got to go into the Vikings’ locker room after the game! I literally rubbed shoulders with Hall-of-Famer Cris Carter, my all-time favorite Viking, and got to hold a microphone in the face of Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss. I remember just being in awe of all of these superstars. No doubt I was starstruck.

Not surprisingly, though, none of those players ever hung out with me after that day. None of them invited me over for supper or came to my parents’ house for a visit. They continued their lives as if they had never even met me. Why? Well, because they did not and do not know me. We have no relationship.

Yes, I was quite proud of that day and have told many people over the years how I saw John Randle’s gargantuan arms up close and stood within a few feet of Randall Cunningham and Jeff George. I bragged about that day as if I had actually accomplished something, even though I had really done nothing of any significance.

Now, if some of those players had proceeded to visit me and become my friends, I would have really been able to impress people. Well, at least some people would have been impressed. It is highly improbable this will ever happen, though. Not only will I likely never see any of those players in person again, but they will likely never align themselves with me. They have no reason to do so.

Have you ever considered how amazing it is, however, that the God of the universe promises to be with those who know Him?! One of the names of Jesus the Son of God is Immanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23).

While you would likely be impressed if a famous football player regularly came to my house for supper, you are likely not impressed that God is with me all the time. He never leaves me, just as He promised. The reason this does not impress you is two-fold:

  1. I have done absolutely nothing to earn God’s presence. Rather, it is by His grace and mercy in and through His Son that I (or anyone) can know Him and experience His resulting presence.
  2. Experiencing God’s presence is available for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

So, while this ought not impress you that God is with me, you certainly ought to be amazed and in awe of the fact that God would choose to be with any of us, me included. We are sinful people incapable of getting to God on our own, and so He came to us. This is the Christmas story, and it is the exciting message of Immanuel we are going through as a church on Sunday mornings.

Are you impressed? You certainly are not and should not be impressed with me, but I pray you are awe-struck by God and His love for you.

To WHOM is your thanksgiving?

No doubt the vast majority of Americans are, in some way or another, celebrating Thanksgiving today. We are giving thanks for various people and various blessings, whether we talk about them while we sit around the table together, share about them through social media, or remind ourselves of them in our own hearts and minds.

When you “give thanks,” though, to whom is your thanksgiving? Sure, you might be thankful for your spouse, for your family, for your friends, etc., but to whom are you thankful?

Generally, we give thanks to someone who has done something beneficial for us. For example, on a typical evening I certainly ought to give thanks to my wife for a delicious supper, for a clean house, and for the seemingly constant care she provides for our children. All of us ought to be able to think of people not only for whom we are thankful but also to whom we give thanks.

Most importantly for followers of Jesus Christ, of course, is our thanksgiving to God. Everything good we have is from Him and for His glory.

On Thanksgiving (and always) we ought not only to say, “I am thankful for ________.” We also ought to be saying, “Thanks be to God for ________.” And, at the top of that list should be resurrection life.

Lord willing, during our worship service with Richland Baptist Church Sunday morning, I will be preaching on “The Victory of Discipleship” from Mark 16:1-8. As I have been studying this passage of Scripture this week, I cannot help but think we do not rejoice and give thanks to God nearly enough for the victory that was and is won by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

If not for this victory of discipleship, my grief over the physical death of my dad (seen in the picture above teaching my sister Steph how to cut the turkey in 2013) would be too much to bear. If not for this victory, our lives would be hopeless. If not for this victory, we would ultimately have nothing for which to be thankful.

The victory over sin and death is the most important thing that has ever happened, and so God is the most important One to whom we need to give thanks.

Is your mind set on truly seeking and thanking Him, or are you more set on yourself? Are you intent about honoring Him, or are you more concerned about getting honored?

Seems like I have heard multiple people say (and I agree completely): the more life is all about you, the more miserable you are. May the Lord help us have the right focus and the right thanksgiving!

Where’s the excitement?!

When the kids were playing outside on a cold Monday afternoon, I told them I wanted to get their picture (seen above) before we went inside for some hot chocolate. Silas said he wanted to do something “cool,” so he climbed up the worm and hung from it. Micah was having a blast outside and seemed pleased to show it. Zoe, though, was coldShe really tried to smile, but her facial expression said it all. She was ready to be done with the cold. Her passion and excitement were gone.

Now, I do not blame Zoe for this. It was cold. Hot chocolate sounded much better than a freezing picture.

What truly grieves me, though, is when those who profess to follow Jesus display a similar lack of passion and excitement when it comes to the Good News. When we think about the gospel of Jesus Christ, we ought to look much more like Silas (charismatic) or Micah (joyfully content) than like Zoe (sourpuss trying to fake it).

You might say, “Well, I’m just not a very emotional person. I’m reserved and laid back.”

Hey, everyone is passionate about something. Everyone has jumped for joy and cried out with excitement about something. And, there is no something that even comes close to the best thing – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

Why is it that I can go to a football game Friday night and see people passionately screaming in support of their team, but then some of those same people look depressed when gathered with the church for worship on a Sunday morning? There is no possible excuse I can fathom that makes this acceptable.

During our worship service with Richland Baptist Church tomorrow, I will be preaching on “The Sacrifice of Discipleship” from Mark 15. If there is one thing that gets people motivated and excited in life, is it not the sacrifice others make for us?

Well, there is no other sacrifice that can or will ever compare to the sacrifice that makes discipleship possible. Will you respond with passion and commitment? If you have saving faith in Jesus Christ, I believe the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Know the plan.

Kids (and many adults, too) seem to enjoy wearing costumes. We like to pretend we are someone or something we are not, especially if that someone or something is really cool.

On Halloween last week, Marsha took our youngest son, Micah, to join our other four children at school for their costume parade and party. When our four oldest children’s classmates would ask who Micah was, our children would introduce him as “Micah,” but he would quickly respond, “No, I’m Mickey.” Apparently, it was pretty cute.

Now, if Marsha would have taken Micah to the school in that costume on another day, it still might have been cute. He could probably get away with it because he is only three years old.

If you and I start walking around in costumes on random other days, though, and claim to be someone or something we are not, that is not so cute. It is just weird.

Wearing costumes on Halloween is something people have come to expect, to some degree at least. It is a part of “the plan.” When someone shows up to work or school on Halloween dressed as Captain America, for example, that person is much less likely to be thought of as a weirdo.

Knowing the plan is important, right? Knowing cultural expectations and norms is certainly helpful in avoiding being labeled a fool, sometimes at least.

More importantly, knowing the plan according to the Word of God is eternally helpful. No, I do not mean we can or will know everything. Far from it. What I do mean, though, is that we can be much more prepared for the things we will face in this life if we have an understanding of God’s plan.

His plan is found in His Word, so seeking to know Him through regular Bible study is critical for every single one of us. The better we know Him and His plan for our lives, the better we can live the life He has created us to live.

Take suffering, for example. If we do not understand God’s clear communication that suffering is an important and normal part of discipleship, we are far-less prepared to face and endure that suffering.

During our morning worship service tomorrow, I will be preaching on “The Suffering of Discipleship” and sharing three reasons we must understand this suffering (and how to respond).

Jesus suffered. He said His followers would suffer. In America, we have experienced far less suffering than many other Christians all over the world and throughout Christian history. Are we ready for that suffering?

If you do not know what Halloween is, you will be pretty surprised, if not shockingly scared, when your co-worker shows up dressed as Michael Myers.

If you do not know what the Bible teaches, you will be pretty surprised, if not shockingly unprepared, when persecution (or any other form of suffering) personally affects you.

Read the Word. Know the plan. Trust the Lord.

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.