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.

Memories in Minnesota

Our family cherishes the memories from vacation, and our trip to Minnesota was no exception. We had a great time with my side of the family. Praise the Lord for family and the time we have together! Here are just a few of the highlights (click on any picture for the full view)…

Why I pray THIS for my children…

When I pray each day for my and my family’s purity and biblical faithfulness, I often pray for my children’s future spouses. I pray that my children will walk closely with Jesus Christ and have no desire to marry someone who is not a faithful follower of Jesus. Please understand, too, that I pray this because I want for my children what God wants for my children. Unless they have the unusual gift of celibacy, my children will one day desire to be married. And, God’s desire for them is that they marry faithful Christians.

God’s Word is abundantly clear on this, as we are commanded not to marry unbelievers (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 7:39, which gives a Christian widow the freedom to remarry but only to remarry someone who is a believer – “in the Lord.”). This command, though, is not because we are better than others but rather because God knows we are not.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Ezra 910 on “Reclaimed Repentance.” The ending of Ezra provides a sobering reminder of why we must never compromise our faith in God by marrying those who do not have such faith. Sure, there are times when “things work out,” by the grace and mercy of God. What ends up happening, more often than not, however, is that when a believer marries an unbeliever, the believer ends up compromising his or her faith and betrays the Lord. That happened over and over again in Israel’s history, and it continues to happen today.

Thus, we must pray that God will protect us from such temptation. Pray this for yourself if you are single and hope to be married one day. Parents, pray this for your children. Grandparents, pray this for your grandchildren. Let us pray this for our church family and others throughout the body of Christ. Let us pray that we will be faithful to the Lord, which includes obedience to His Word. When we fail, let us pray for our hearts to be broken and for sincere repentance.

If you have come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, then you have His Holy Spirit living in you. One of the clear evidences of such a salvation and the presence of God in your life, then, is an ongoing desire to turn away from sin and draw closer to the Lord. This certainly includes – and is even much more – than our most intimate relationships.

No such desire for what I am describing above will persist in your life apart from God’s ongoing work in your heart. If you have yet to experience God’s unfailing love as made available only in and through faith in His One and Only Son, please check out The Story.

Vacation with Creation

When I go on vacation, I love to enjoy God’s amazing creation. I like to spend a lot of time outside, doing active things with my family. We did a lot of that last month during our annual vacation with Marsha’s family, and we had a blast.

Here are just some of the pictures from our trip to southeast Missouri, although there were a lot of moments we did not get pictures of because of jumping off cliffs and climbing rocks…

Five Questions for Growing Faith

During my niece Sahari’s birthday party last week, we had a blast playing laser tag. The above picture was taken right after the competition. When we first entered the course for the game, we were a bit unsure how everything worked, where we could go, where we could hide, etc. As the game progressed, though, we found ourselves moving about more confidently, shooting with more certainty, and knowing which ways to turn and how to find each other. Naturally, as our knowledge of the game and of the course grew, so did our ability to play.

That is how life works, right? As understanding and awareness increase, so do confidence and sufficiency.

So it is with our faith in the Lord. As we grow in our understanding of who He is and as we look to Him more, we learn why and how to better trust and depend on Him.

Is your faith in Him growing? What are you doing to facilitate such growth?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Ezra 8 on “Reclaimed Faith,” hoping to clearly communicate how we can grow in our faith in the Lord. Ezra set a great example for us, and we too can grow in our knowledge of the Lord and thus grow in our faith in Him.

Again, though, is your faith in Him growing? What are you doing to facilitate such growth? Here are some important questions that can help…

  1. BIBLE – Are you seeking Him through His Word each day?
  2. PRAYER – Are you consistently depending on Him in prayer and setting aside times for prayerful fasting?
  3. CHURCH – Are you serving His church with sacrificial commitment?
  4. DISCIPLESHIP – Are you sharing your faith and helping others to learn how to trust Him more?
  5. ACCOUNTABILITY – Are you allowing others to speak into your life so that you can be challenged when your faith is not growing?

There are so many important questions for us to consider because growing faith in the Lord is so incredibly important. Would you start with the five questions above, though? Would you examine your heart and consider your life? Would you ask someone these questions and ask him or her to ask them to you?

Let us plead with the Lord to grow our faith in Him! He is worthy!

Before you can grow in your faith, of course, you must have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? To learn more about what it means to know and follow the Lord, please check out The Story.

Obeying When You Don’t Feel Like It

As a dad, one thing I have never said to my kids is, “If your heart is in it and it feels right, do what I tell you to do.” Rather, I expect them to obey me, whether they feel like it or not. If you are a parent, I am sure you are the same way, right?

When I recently asked my kids to help me load my truck with chunks of concrete and asphalt (from the piles of dirt in the picture above), I did not expect they would jump for joy and celebrate the chance for manual labor on a muggy day. Still, I needed some help, and it was good for them to help me.

Granted, we can make mistakes as parents because we are sinners and far from perfect. Still, we give our children instructions and expect their obedience because we are trying to teach them right from wrong, educate them on the value of things like hard work and discipline, want what is best for them, and know (usually) better than they do what they need.

To an infinitely greater degree, of course, our Creator knows what we need. He knows what is best for us and has given us His Word to guide us. For His glory and for our good, He expects our obedience, and that expectation is not contingent upon our feelings. Because we are sinners who do not always have a great attitude, there will be plenty of times when we do not feel like obeying God. Will we obey anyway? Will I? Will you?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Ezra 7 on “Reclaimed Obedience” because God’s Word is essential for all of us. We must look to the Lord and depend on the Lord for growth in our obedience to the Lord.

No, we will never, on this side of eternity, be perfect in our obedience. Jesus alone was and is that, and He died on the cross for our disobedience and brokenness. He took the punishment that we all deserve for our sinful disobedience. Then, Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death for all of eternity. By turning to Him for forgiveness and salvation, we can and will live with Him forever.

One of the clearest and most important evidences of that salvation is growing obedience to the Word of God, both when we feel like it and when we do not. As the Holy Spirit of God transforms us and shapes us, too, we will grow in our desire to obey. By the grace of God, though, we will learn to obey even when the desire is lacking.

Will you seek and trust the Lord to help you be like Ezra, who “determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10)? No matter how you feel, as God to help you obey Him in all things.

Are you growing in your obedience to God’s Word? Do you desire to grow and obey? If not, would you examine your heart and consider your relationship with the Lord? You can learn what it means to know and follow Him by checking out The Story.

Never to Lose

When I play all-time quarterback (meaning quarterback for both teams, for those who do not know and/or have not had the joyful privilege) with my kids and nieces and nephews, I never lose. I suppose you could say I never win either, but I do not see it that way. Instead, I get to throw touchdown passes all game long and the team for which I play wins in the end. As a competitive person who hates to lose, I kind of like being all-time quarterback. The game is fun, and I get to throw the winning touchdown pass. Never to lose; always to win.

I was thinking about this during our recent vacation when I had the privilege of playing football with some of the kids (pictured above). Seriously, I never tire of being all-time quarterback, kind of like I never tire of winning, although I do not always win in sports (or in life).

A much better victory is possible, though.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Ezra 5-6 on “Reclaimed Victory.” When we know and follow the Lord, we have a victory that is so much greater than anything this life has to offer. We have a victory that is far superior to the greatest of sports dynasties. We have a victory that lasts infinitely longer than any potential fame and fortune.

Victory in Jesus is eternal. We must respond to Him in order to experience His victory, though, and His victory demands a continued response from us. How are you responding to the God of victory?

Sure, we learn valuable lessons in life when we lose. Those lessons are good for us because winning does not come easy, and no one always wins in this life.

When this life is over, though, you will either have eternal victory or eternal damnation, eternal life or eternal death. Jesus enables you never to lose when you come to know Him. We must respond to the God of victory, and I hope to communicate those necessary responses Sunday morning. May we experience His victory, and may we celebrate His victory! To God be the glory!

If you have yet to experience victory in Jesus (or are unsure if you have), would you please check out The Story and turn to the Lord today?

Family Time in Illinois

Last month, we had a great time hanging out at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Illinois and doing a day trip to Chicago. We do not see our nieces, my sister Stephanie, and my brother-in-law nearly as often as we would like, so times like this are sweet. Here are just a few pictures from our trip…

Reason to Celebrate

As Zoe smiles about in the picture above, Marsha recently painted the walls and bookshelves in my office. The picture does not do the great job much justice, though, as it looks amazing, especially when compared to before. Since Marsha completed this project and all the books were put back onto the shelves, I have found myself, many times over the past week, just looking around my office in satisfaction, gladness, and celebration. Might sound silly to you, but I truly am thankful. Might seem like a small cause for celebration, but I spend many hours in this office every week doing sermon preparation, writing, meeting with people, talking on the phone, and working on various ministry tasks. This fresh, new, clean look is a reason for me to celebrate.

Life is full of reasons to celebrate, whether we recognize the reasons or not. Of course, many reasons, just like the fresh paint in my office, are fleeting. They are temporary. They will not endure.

What truly brings the church together, though, and what lastingly keeps the church together is not temporary at all. Jesus is His name, and our worship of Him is a celebration. So much greater and infinitely more satisfying than a fresh coat of paint, Jesus is the Only One who can give us cause for celebration that never ends.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Psalm 98 on the great joy of the “Worship Celebration.” If you know and follow Jesus, then worshiping Him (both corporately and individually) really is a celebration. Not a meaningless religious ritual, worshiping the Lord with others and worshiping the Lord with our lives ought to be a growing passion.

Have you given your life to Jesus? Do you have a growing passion to worship Him? In what areas can you grow in faithfulness in your corporate and private worship? He is our reason to celebrate!

Sing a new song to the Lord, for He has performed wonders; His right hand and holy arm have won Him victory. The Lord has made His victory Known; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.

Psalm 98:1-2
If you are unsure of your lasting reason to celebrate, would you consider checking out The Story?

Wondering through Winter

For various reasons, this has been a strange start to 2021 for our family. Like always with all people, there have been ups and downs, so that is not really unusual. I have found myself wondering a lot, though – wondering what is next, wondering what to do with seemingly important decisions, wondering what to do with not-so-important decisions, etc.

I have to be careful that I do not just wonder my way through winter and beyond. Instead, I am reminded of my need to pray more and wonder less because when my mind gets to wondering more than praying, I tend to worry about things that could be. That is not only unhelpful, but it is sinful.

Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Recently, our dog Lottie has had some mysterious health problems. She was sick enough that we brought her to the vet and were even concerned she might not survive. Still, we are not sure what is wrong with her, although she has drastically improved, thankfully. There were a few times, though, that when I went to check on her, I wondered if she would be alive. Never did I imagine I would pray much for a dog, let alone this much, but it is better to pray than to worry.

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Those requests even include care for our dogs, right? I believe so.

Shortly before Christmas, I had COVID-19. Then, Marsha and Zoe got the virus, but Noah, Levi, Silas, and Micah all tested negative. The combination of all those things led to the boys missing a few weeks of school and the kids spending a lot of extra time at home in isolation from others. Marsha and I found ourselves wondering – how do we navigate all of this? How do we communicate with others what we are doing, why some are in quarantine and some are not, etc.? What will people think? How will people perceive our actions? What if they make wrong assumptions?

Yes, I prayed a lot but not nearly enough. I found myself wondering and then worrying far too often. What does wondering worry accomplish? Nothing good.

If I spent as much time in prayer as I did in wondering worry, I would make wiser decisions, be a better leader and communicator, and be more faithful to the Word of God. Imagine if I spent far more time in prayer!

There are more and more examples I could give of my failures, but hopefully, I have shared enough to both challenge and encourage you to give your worries and fears to the Lord. Seek Him through His Word. Rely upon the work of His Spirit in and through your life. He is sufficient, and if you truly know Him, He will never leave you or forsake you. Thus, we need not ever worry when we can always turn to Him.

Grandma Jo with her grandchildren (Christmas 2020).