“You’re just a goody-goody.” The words slapped me in the face like a cup of cold water on a frosty morning. There is nothing that a teen-aged boy would less want to be than a “goody-goody” even if he is one. I knew the words to be untrue, but to the people in my school it is how I was perceived. I didn’t drink or smoke, didn’t do drugs, didn’t do any of those things that a nice Baptist boy didn’t do. But I was a teen-aged boy.

I knew that I was far from good. As a matter of fact, as I look back on that encounter in a high school classroom, I wish that I could rewind and respond with something better than a defensive, “Uh, uh, uh, no, I’m not.” If I could hit the rewind button, I could share with that friend and classmate that it wasn’t so much that I was good, but that God in His goodness had set me free from many of the not-so-good things that typically plagued teen-aged boys.

I can’t go back and relive that encounter. And neither can you revisit some of your missed opportunities. What we can do is to acknowledge that if there is any good in us, that good comes from a relationship with a real, living, and good God who offers His goodness to any and all who will believe. Then we can keep our spirits tuned to the new opportunities to share that goodness available to us every day. And always remember that it is not that I am good, but that God is so good.

5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”   —2 Peter 1:5-7

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“The wise man built his house upon the Rock/The wise man built his house upon the Rock . . . And the house on the Rock stood fast.” Remember those words from the children’s song? Based on Matthew 7:24-27, this little song is a reminder that when we go to build a building (or a wall, or any structure for that matter), if we want to last we build on a firm foundation.

In matters of faith there is only one firm foundation, only one strong stone on which to build our house—and that foundation is Jesus. Yes, people place their faith in many things. In the 1920s, many people placed their faith in a strong and growing economy. As the ‘20s turned into the ‘30s, the formerly rich and famous discovered just how feeble that foundation was.

People also repeatedly put their faith in other people. Part of the problem with this is that we may attach our belief to the wrong person (or group of persons). At any rate, people have a tendency to act like, well, people; and not being infallible or perfect, people will constantly fail in our expectations.

Others can be found to put their faith in systems—political, economic, educational, religious, and the list goes on. Systems are a man-made commodity, and since men are flawed, flaws find their way into systems. At a certain point all systems breakdown (this is why we are constantly waiting on our smart phones to upgrade their operating system).

And so, if you want to find a foundation to build your faith on that will not fail, look to Jesus. He is the firm foundation that will shore up your faith when the doubts and fears arise.

“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.”   —Ephesians 2:8-9

In my possession is a card proclaiming that I, as a graduate from the Mesquite (TX) High School Mighty Maroon Marching Band, am a “lifetime” member of the Band Alumni. The card proclaims that at any home football game for which I have a ticket, I am entitled to sit with the band in their special section of the bleachers. I’ve not tried it, but some of my fellow graduates say that the card itself is worthless. Still, it delineates me as a member.

There are some groups, clubs, or organizations that allow membership for a fee, and give the member in good standing certain rights and privileges within the group. Being a member of the church is a bit different. Membership was bought by the blood of Jesus, bestowed on those who accept His sacrifice, and bears (not so much privileges, but) responsibilities. Membership in God’s Church at large (the Body of Christ) is a gift, a treasure, that He grants to those who believe. Membership in a local congregation is not so much a position from which we demand service because we attend faithfully (working our way in), give large sums (buying our way in), or have the right pedigree (inheriting our way in), but an opportunity to serve—to serve our fellow church members with our time, talents, and blessings; and to server our community with the love of Christ.

What does your church membership look like? Are you waiting for someone to do your bidding because you feel you deserve it? Or are you looking for ways to serve others because, even though you don’t deserve it, God gave the gift anyway?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   —Romans 6:23

Family is a big thing in our society. And well it should be. God designed and created family to be the building block of society. Family is so important that we use the imagery of family to address a big variety of the relationships we have. When I was a teenage boy, there was a lady (who happened to be part of our local church) who spent her career as a “lunch lady.” She was so loving and caring to the community of children she ministered to through the local public school that she was not “Miss”, “Mrs.” or “Ms.” to anyone who knew her. Nor was she called by her first name (which was the beautiful name of Shirley, by the way). No, to her two biological daughters and to the entire church and community, she was “Mama.” Why? Because she lived out the family-style love built into all of Christ’s children, and we saw it.

Family is also important in the church. It may be why we call our home church our “family” even if we aren’t related by birth or marriage. And because we are family, and family is so important, it is the responsible for Christians (starting with Christian dads) to actively seek out church participation and lead the family to be constantly in and among God’s people. Being family has less to do with what we prefer, and more to do with how we choose to relate to one another. And this, too is important for the church.

So let’s be family, bring our family to church, and enjoy our relationship with Christ and each other.

“As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.”  —Joshua 24:15c

As you read these words, my family and I will be in the big middle of our life-changing trip to Vietnam. By this time, barring any hiccups along the way, we will have taken custody of our Esther Noelle, and be finalizing all the details to bring her to her new home, AMERICA!

For many who are reading this Vietnam is a blip on the history channel, a bad memory of a rough time, or the source of some pretty amazing Asian cuisine. I would like to share with you some spiritual points that you can use to make this small corner of the world a part of your daily prayer cycle:

The country is increasingly opening up as economic progress continues. Most of the population was born after the Vietnam War and are more interested in capital gain and the outside world than Communist propaganda. They are proving responsive to the gospel – for reasons good and bad. At the same time, newfound prosperity has opened the door to rampant materialism and other competing ideologies. Pray that the Truth might be clearly and effectively proclaimed, particularly among the growing masses of young professionals.

All open Protestant missionary work ceased in 1975. CMA had laboured for 64 years (for 50 years as the only Protestant mission). Other agencies arrived in the 1950s, notably WEC, IMB, and UWM. In 1974 there were 280 missionaries in South Vietnam from about 20 organizations. Those years of sowing are today reaping an abundant harvest. Current economic development gives opportunity for Christians in business as well as for English teachers. Christian NGOs who propose legitimate aid projects are increasingly invited to work here. Literally hundreds of organizations from both Asia and the West now claim some kind of work in Vietnam. Many of these organizations work in deliberate partnership together. Pray that Vietnam may become fully open to Christian workers, and that many committed and prepared workers may respond. (from Operation World)

At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”  — Philippians 2:10

A picture is worth a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that is Shakespeare or someone much older than the Bard, but if in our mind’s eye we can catch an illustration to attach meaning to the words we hear, then we really begin to grasp the concept.

Take baptism for instance. Many people of the world would see this action as a ritual practiced by the very religious. But baptism is a graphic picture of what has already happened. In undergoing the ordinance of baptism, a believer is visually shouting that they believe the Jesus Christ died for their sins, was buried, and then rose again to provide life. The picture also depicts the joining up of the believer with Jesus—now being dead to sin, buried with Him, and raised to walk in a new life with Jesus. That’s a significant picture—worth a thousand words.

Another super picture of spiritual life and walking with Jesus is the one provided by adoption. We were not born into the family of God. Sure, He created us. And He loves us. But in order for us to be fully and truly His, He had to identify us, choose us, and pay an exorbitant price for our adoption.

In the process of adoption, prospective parents make a determined decision to welcome someone into their family. They identify a child in need, choose them, and then pay a long, arduous, and even sacrificial price to make that child fully and truly their own. In many respects, our adopted children are tied more strongly to us than had they been born into the family.

God offers this picture of adoption to us to help us realize how important our eternity is to Him, how desperate He is to make us His own, and to what extravagant lengths (even to the dying on a cross) He is willing to go to finalize our adoption into His family.

Have you accepted God’s gift of adoption? Have you thanked Him for adopting you? Have you shown it through the picture of baptism?

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. — Galatians 3:26

I was twelve years old when God placed a particular call on my life. A junior high student in Kemp, Texas, I put aside my grandiose plans of being either a homicide detective or a cracker-jack lawyer and surrendered to be a minister of the Gospel. From that humble (and humbling) moment God has led me on an interesting story that turns pages almost as often as a good novel switches chapters.

One of the most exhilarating chapters of my story set my boots on foreign soil. It was the turn of my call from minister to missionary that crossed my path with my Blushing Bride. And then we got to experience the adventure of sink or swim cultural immersion in the former soviet state of Ukraine. My heart for missions expanded during those short years, and one of my constant prayers is that I can continue to keep my spiritual eyes focused on the big picture that God has: seeing all nations of the world have an opportunity to trust His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, His Son.

That same calling that put me in service of the church, then drafted me for international service, eventually brought me back to American soil to continue my ministry. Included in that ministry has been the heart-wrenching, hope-finding journey to adoption—a mission field in itself. This week I pray, while a real-life missionary fills my pulpit, that I will keep my eyes opened to Gospel opportunities while we are again in a foreign land for the express purpose of meeting and receiving our new baby, Esther Noelle Potter.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  — Philippians 3:14