What can we even give?

Yes, I know Thanksgiving is not even here yet, but supposedly some people are already Christmas shopping. My mom asked for my list, and she might already be done shopping for me. Christmas is only six weeks from today!

You have probably heard it said and have maybe even said it yourself, “What do you give someone who already seems to have everything?” We often say or hear things like this when referring to our parents or grandparents, especially in this country where most of us truly have more than we really need. We are materially blessed far more than the vast majority of people on this earth. So, what can we even give someone who really does not need much, if anything?

GIVING IS INADEQUATE

Regardless of what we might decide to give to those we love, we tend to agree that there is nothing we can give that sufficiently expresses our love for those about whom we most care. Giving is inadequate for that purpose, just as it is inadequate to earn their love in return.

Even more inadequate and insufficient, though, is any attempt we make at giving back to God to earn His love and favor. We are simply unable, as sinful human beings, to sufficiently give enough to a holy God. In fact, our attempts to give offerings and sacrifices for the purpose of fixing our sin problem are garbage. Even if we had everything this world can offer, we would not have enough to earn God’s love and favor. He is God. He is perfect. He is holy. We are none of those things.

RECEIVING LEADS TO GIVING

Our reality, in our sinful state, is that we have nothing to offer God unless we first receive what He offers us. We must receive His mercy, grace, and forgiveness before we can give to Him our lives. We must receive the free gift of salvation in and through His Son before we can give to Him our devotion.

Perhaps you are under the false assumption that you must figure out what you can give in order to win God’s approval. What you must understand, though, is that you will never truly give what God desires of you until you realize you have His approval in the cross of Jesus Christ.

We cannot give enough and therefore be accepted. We are accepted in Christ and therefore we desire to give.

This begins when we experience the mercy, grace, and forgiveness God offers in the gospel, and this continues when we daily grow in our faith and dependence on Him.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Hebrews 10:1-18 (“Jesus Is the Better Offering“). He alone can and did offer the sacrifice that was necessary for our reconciliation with God and our eternal salvation. Furthermore, He alone is able to equip us through the work of His Holy Spirit to be whom God created us to be and to do what God created us to do.

Have you trusted in His superior sacrifice? Are you continuing to trust Him to enable you to endure until the end?

Watch THE STORY.

Family Idolatry

I love my family! Over the past six weeks, we have had the great pleasure of going on vacation with Marsha’s side of the family one week and with my side of the family another week. Both vacations were a blast, and I praise God for them (and more importantly, for family).

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing our short sermon series – The Red and The Blue – preaching through Psalm 146 and challenging those listening to be careful not to make politics an idol. The same can be said about anything, though, including family. Idolatry consists of placing anything or anyone other than God on the throne of your heart. Bad, evil things can be idolized, but so can good things. Please realize – this does not mean that, in order to avoid idolatry of family, for example, we ignore or neglect our families. That would clearly be sinful and dishonoring God and His Word (i.e. see 1 Timothy 5:8). Rather, what this means is that we should not ignore or neglect God and our relationship with Him in order to prioritize as ultimate (worship) someone or something else. That is idolatry.

Of all the things in this world that I am probably most tempted to idolize, family – along with my own selfish comfort and security – is probably at the top of the list. Whether you are like me or not, there are certainly things you too are tempted to put before God. Thus, you can replace the word “family” with anything that might be a temptation for you. To keep with the theme of family, though, I am going to ask you (and myself) some questions to consider if you are making an idol of your family…

1. DO YOU NEGLECT TIME WITH GOD AND BLAME FAMILY?

We prioritize what we believe to be important. Are you prioritizing daily time with God in His Word and in prayer? If you believe your relationship with God is important, you will surely prioritize seeking Him and learning better how to follow Him, right? Do not hide behind your family and blame them for a failure to commit yourself to God and His Word. Make time for what is important.

I used to get up at 6:00 or 6:30 each morning to spend time reading my Bible and praying. Typically, though, at least one of my kids was getting up by 6:15 or 6:30, and I found myself getting annoyed by their distractions, even losing my patience with them while reading my Bible. What a sad, ironic contradiction for me to lose it with my kids while claiming to seek after God. Pathetic, really. So, I decided to change my routine and get up at 5:30 each morning. Now, I typically get an hour of uninterrupted time with the Lord before any of my kids are awake, not to mention they are old enough now that they distract me less in the early hours of the morning. This change, although hard at first, has been well worth it.

Let not your family be an excuse for neglecting daily time with God. Make time for what is important.

2. DO YOU LOOK TO FAMILY BEFORE GOD WHEN YOU ARE HURTING?

Whether it be discouragement, sorrow, physical suffering, or all of the above, do you cry out to God first, or is family your default for hope and comfort? Do not get me wrong – we certainly do need one another, and we are called to bear one another’s burdens. We certainly should pray for one another and ask for help when we are down, but not in place of giving our worries and cares to God. He must always be the One we turn to first and turn to continually, even while also turning to one another. Yet, so often we might be tempted to turn to the Lord only after all other options have failed us. He is the only One who never fails, though. Seek Him first.

3. DO YOU “VENT” TO FAMILY RATHER THAN PRAYING TO GOD?

Gossip is a temptation for all of us, I believe, but gossip is a sin, even if we call it “venting.” Simply put, gossip is saying behind someone’s back what you would not say and have not said to that person’s face. Instead of gossiping about someone when you are frustrated, what if you brought your concerns to God in prayer? You will not be gossiping then (He already knows everything), and God can use your prayers to bring about healing, including healing in your own heart toward people with whom you might be upset.

When you “vent” to your family rather than go to the Lord, you are pushing the Lord off the throne of your heart and falling into the trap of prideful idolatry. Beware and ask for God’s help. He knows we all need it.

4. DO YOU NEGLECT ACTIVE CHURCH COMMITMENT UNDER THE LIE OF COMMITMENT TO FAMILY?

I say “the lie of commitment to family” because for a self-professing Christian to claim commitment to family while not being faithful to the local church is a lie from the pits of hell. The best way we can be committed to family so that they are loved now and impacted for eternity is to put God first. And, putting God first includes prioritizing active church membership and service (see 1 Corinthians 12; 1 John 2:19; Romans 12; Philippians 2:1-11; Hebrews 10:23-25; Ephesians 4; the Book of Acts; etc.).

Yet, so often people neglect the local church to “spend time with family.” Why not do both? Serve God’s church with your family. Attend worship services with your family. Set a godly example for unbelieving family members by being faithful to your church. No one ever regrets faithful church involvement because God created us to need one another, serve one another, worship alongside one another, and grow together.

Love your family by loving God and loving His church.

5. DO YOU MOST LONG FOR YOUR FAMILY TO BE PLEASED WITH YOU?

Whose approval do you most treasure? If God’s approval is not the answer, then you have not (or are not) surrendering to His Lordship over your life. His honor and glory are what matter above all else, so why would we ever dare seek another’s approval above His?

Let us declare with the Psalmist, “Hallelujah! My soul, praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 146:1-2). This will only happen, though, if you desire to serve and please Him above all else. And, that desire only comes when He changes your heart and life forever through the transformational truth of the gospel. Has He changed you? Are you seeking to bring glory to Him above all?

Again, I want to be clear – love your family! Take care of your family. Spend time with your family. Serve your family. Just do not idolize your family (or anything else). Include your family in your commitment to God and His church.

I sure do love my family and pray for them daily. Here are a few more pictures of our time together last week…

Prioritizing Worship

A few weeks ago, a couple of our kids gained a sudden passion for drawing. While they have certainly drawn pictures many times before, this was an interest at a whole new level. Multiple times each day, they would be drawing various pictures, asking for ideas, requesting more drawing notebooks, showing off their work, and having a lot of fun. In the current age of so much digital entertainment, this desire to draw with a pencil is quite refreshing to me.

Now, I am unsure how long this new hobby will last, but it is a reminder to me that, when we are passionate about something, we prioritize that passion. Even when outside on a beautiful day (like in the above picture), we would find our kids drawing. Proof of interest is seen through actions.

WORSHIP IS A LIFESTYLE

Our relationship with God is no different. If we sincerely love Him and want to know Him more, then we prioritize our relationship with Him. We seek Him through His Word, walk with Him in prayer, and talk about Him with others. Simply put – we worship Him. Followers of God are worshipers of God.

And, worship is a lifestyle. We who know God worship Him not just on Sundays with our church family but every day as individuals, as families, and as friends. We worship Him not just in good times but also in the difficult times. We worship Him not just when thinking about His love but also when thinking about His justice.

Unlike other hobbies and interests, though, the worship of God by a true believer of God never goes away. Sure, there are times in our sinfulness that we might struggle and times when we stray from the path on which we are called to walk, but we will never abandon worship like a hobby in which we no longer are interested. Those who do abandon the worship of God (whether privately or publicly) prove their supposed faith to be illegitimate. The Apostle John made this clear when talking to believers about those who are no longer involved with a church: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).

WORSHIP IS A PASSION

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will finish our sermon series through Micah – Walk Humbly. I plan to preach through Micah 7 and share two reasons God alone is worthy of worship. He is always worthy, whether we feel like worship or not and whether we recognize and understand His worth or not.

Everyone worships. We worship that about which we are passionate. Who or what are you worshiping? Sometimes people worship evil things like false gods, drugs, alcohol, pride, selfishness, etc. Sometimes, people even worship good things like family, careers, sports, hobbies, etc. When a good thing becomes a god thing, though, it becomes an evil thing.

Sure, you might be passionate about a lot of good things, and that is okay. If that passion surpasses your passion for knowing and following (and worshiping) God, though, you will never be satisfied. You will always long for something more, something better. Only Jesus can fulfill our hearts and satisfy our souls, as we were created to worship Him with our greatest passion and commitment. Anything less will leave us empty.

What about you? Do you desire to worship God? Do you prioritize worship – both as an individual Christian (through prayer, Bible study, discipleship, evangelism, etc.) and also as a faithful member of a local church? If not, what needs to change in your life so that right worship – the worship of the Lord our God as a daily lifestyle – is prioritized?

To sincerely worship God with all your heart, you must follow Him with all your heart. Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? If not, would you consider watching this short film and turning to Him today? Please let us know how we can pray for you.

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). ūüėČ

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.

The Visible Difference between the Righteous and the Wicked

There are several differences, of course, between those who know God and those who do not. God points out a very distinct difference, for example, in Malachi 3: “So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (verse 18).

SERVING AND NOT SERVING

Many claim to serve God but really just go through the motions, not really serving Him at all. What a dangerous trap that is, especially when people assume they will be counted as righteous, only to find out they are among the wicked.

When I was a teenager, for example, I considered myself to be a Christian. In fact, I considered myself to be a devout Christian. I was in church services every Sunday and Wednesday. I was actively involved with our church youth group. I read my Bible often. I prayed even more often. I talked and sang about Jesus.

I was serving God, right? No, I was not. I was not following Him and thus certainly could not be serving Him. Sure, some people may have thought I was. I even thought I was. But, everything I did was for myself. I was going through the motions in hopes of impressing girls, pleasing my parents, and getting what I wanted from God (not what God wanted from and for me).

Really, I was worshiping myself and my happiness. The lords of my heart were my pleasures and my dreams and my goals. All the while, I claimed to be a follower of Jesus and claimed to belong to Him. I did not, however, “fear God and have high regard for His name” (Malachi 3:16). Rather, I feared what others thought about me and had high regard for my own name.

Although I thought I was considered righteous by God because I was a “good person,” I was headed straight toward hell with no earthly idea.

WHO KNEW?

Living in mid-Missouri, I do not often see many of the people I knew as a teenager in north central Iowa. I cannot help but wonder, though, who knew I was living a lie? Who knew I was going through the motions? How many people did I actually fool?

Of course, I cannot accurately answer those questions, but I am confident that any genuine followers of Jesus who truly knew me then surely knew I was not who I claimed to be. I wonder why no one told me, though? Why did no one challenge me with the truth? Perhaps they tried, and I just would not listen.

One who definitely did know that I was counted among the wicked and not among the righteous, was God Himself. He knew, and, thankfully, He put people in my life during my college years to reveal His Truth to me. For the first time, as a sophomore in college, I heard and understood the gospel. I turned from my sins and asked Jesus to forgive me and take over my life.

Finally, I was made right with God in and through a personal relationship with His Son.

JESUS IS THE DIFFERENCE-MAKER

The truth is that none of us is righteous. Not on our own anyway. None of us can do a single thing to make ourselves right with God. “As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one.¬†There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.¬†All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

This is terrible news! And, the terrible news is for all of us.

But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8). That is the good news.

Jesus is the difference-maker. He is the One who made a way for us to be righteous – counted righteous today and made righteous for eternity. If you have yet to experience the joy of knowing and following Him, would you consider surrendering your life to Him today? Check this out for a helpful summary of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

There are very few things I believe differently today than what I believed as a selfishly wicked teenager on my way to hell. What I do and how I do what I do with my beliefs, though, are drastically different. Not because I “have arrived” or figured out the tricks. No, I am different because Jesus is the difference-maker. Jesus has changed me.

I am no longer content to go through the motions and call that “serving God.” If and when I do go through the motions, God’s Holy Spirit convicts me to repent and follow Him faithfully. Daily I need His help, His guidance, His provision, His leadership, His grace, and His compassion.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I hope to preach on our “Great God of Compassion” from Malachi 3:13-18. I pray that I can encourage and challenge you to believe in and be changed by the Greatness of God.

Religiously Worthless

Did you know you can be religious and yet not worship God? And no, I am not referring to false religions that ascribe the worship of false gods. I am talking about people who profess to know and follow the one true God but who are not sincerely worshiping Him.

As I will be preaching about Sunday morning, Lord willing, God addressed this very issue with the Israelites in Malachi’s time. They claimed to trust and follow God, but their supposed worship was worthless. They were religious yet worthless because they were not ascribing to God the worth He is due.

Rather than giving God their best, as the Mosaic Law required and as God clearly deserves, they were giving God their leftovers. They were going through the religious motions, making their religion worthless.

VALUE WORTH

If something has great worth, would it not be foolish if we did not value it? Value worth, or you are a fool. This is why we put money in banks, in safes, and in our pockets. We do not set it in buckets in our front yards and then claim that we value that money. Rather, we invest it because we value financial stability and security.

We do not buy a brand new vehicle and park it in the driveway if we have a garage. Well, some people do, while keeping junk in their garage, and that tells me that they probably do not value their vehicle like they probably should. Value worth, or you really do not believe it to be worthy of value.

We do not stick our hands in a fire because we value our hands and our health. When people do not take care of themselves physically, they are proving they do not value their health like they should. Perhaps their health is of less worth to them than the pleasure of overeating or being lazy or submitting to a harmful addiction.

The list goes on and on. Value worth, or you will regret it. And, of course, there is no one of greater worth than God Himself. Do your values point to that truth? Do you value God? Does your daily life tell others that He is worthy.

RELIGION DESPISED

Going through the religious motions is despised by God. Do not do it. Do not give in to the temptation to do “just enough” to look good or appear to be right with God. He knows our hearts, and He knows when we are simply going through the motions.

As is made clear in Malachi 1:6-14, God demands and deserves our best. Giving Him anything less is not acceptable. He is worthy, so do not toss Him your leftovers.

Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” (Malachi 1:8).

Imagine if you had someone important, like the governor, over for dinner one evening. You know he is coming, and not only is he the governor, he is also someone you claim is a good friend. As you sit down at the table together, you get out some leftover macaroni and cheese from the fridge and set it in front of him, while you begin cutting into a fresh, juicy steak for yourself. Does that show any sort of love for your friend? Does it imply that you value your governor? Are your efforts to be commended? Of course not!

Sure, that example sounds ridiculous, but so is any insincere religious effort we offer God. If we claim to know and follow and value God and yet give Him nothing more than our leftover time, money, efforts and devotion, then we are even more despicable than someone who gives leftover mac-n-cheese to a “dear friend” while eating a steak.

If we claim to love God and yet only think about Him or seek Him on a Sunday, then our so-called love is a lie.

If we claim to be Christ-followers but Christ’s church is no more important to us than sleeping in or getting some extra work done, then we not Christ-followers at all.

Religion that is half-hearted is despised. Do not believe the devil’s lie otherwise.

CHRIST SATISFIED

The truth is that none of us can ever be religiously devout enough to honor and please God. He is holy and perfect, and we are not. Our efforts will always fall short, as we are sinful people in need of a Savior.

For that reason, and because God loves us and desires a relationship with us, He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus lived a perfect life of devotion to God. He satisfied the Law and did everything you and I cannot. His sacrifice on the cross in our place satisfied God’s requirement of justice and punishment for our sins.

And, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. He defeated sin and death for everyone who calls on His name. If you desire to be right with God, do not turn to religion. Turn to Jesus. Only He can satisfy you because only He has satisfied God.

Only after turning from sin and surrendering your life to Jesus will you sincerely long to please God with a life of worship. Only then will you begin to despise going through the religious motions like God despises it, but instead honor Him with genuine religious devotion.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

How do you know where your heart really is?

If you’re like me, you struggle – at least at times – with materialism and greed. You struggle to find your satisfaction in the God who created you and instead find your satisfaction in the things He (and man) created.

Who or what do you love more than anything else? Who or what do you worship? God created us with a natural desire and inclination to worship. Every single one of us is a worshiper. We were designed to worship God. Most choose, though, to worship other things or people. Our hearts were created to long for God, but apart from His saving grace, we will all choose to long for others or other things.

How do you know, though, where your heart really is? How do you know, for example, if you love God more or if you love money more?

Ultimately, our actions and priorities prove what our hearts crave. This was certainly the case for the young rich man in Mark 10, and it is the case for every single one of us today.

Will you respond to Jesus’ call to absolute surrender with humble, childlike faith, or will you be “stunned” by Jesus’ demands and go away grieving, like this man described in Mark 10:22?

This morning, I preached on “The Miracle of Discipleship,” challenging those listening to believe and value this miracle of God. If left to ourselves, we will make the wrong decision. Thus, we need the Lord’s help.

Call on Him in faith, and He will give you the desires of your heart, the right desires.