Monday, October 22, 2018

Don't Celebrate Halloween This Year!

When I was growing up, we went trick-or-treating all over the community where I was raised. Our large and extended family would pile into the back of my dad's 1980 Nissan Datsun truck and we would hit every house with a light on. We would make out like bandits, only to get home and have our parents "check out" our candy to make sure it was "safe" to eat. As kids, we always looked forward to dressing up like our favorite superhero or cartoon character and hitting people up for sugary goodness! Not much has changed in the last 30 years when it comes to Halloween. Many kids still dress up in costumes and hit up neighborhoods all across our country. With parents in tow, the kids stop for candy at every house they can visit.

Now I realize there are many people out there who do not celebrate or participate in Halloween. Some do it for religious reasons. Others do it because they don't live in an area conducive to children visiting their home. And yet others may not have relationships with parents of young children and therefore, no visits on Halloween. As we've been discussing Halloween in recent weeks, I've come to the realization that we've been viewing Halloween all wrong. Halloween is not something to be celebrated, but instead it is something to be used.

When I started serving at our new church, we had 3 months until Halloween rolled around. Knowing that many churches plan Trunk-or-Treats or Fall Festivals around the time of Halloween, I started inquiring about our new church's activities surrounding Halloween. Our church, like many will do a Trunk-or-Treat and we do ours on the Sunday night before Halloween. As I looked at the calendar, I noticed that Halloween was on a Wednesday night and since we have services on Wednesday nights, we could expect lower attendance on that night. Those with small children would likely take their kids to get candy. Those with grandchildren or homes frequently visited by kids would likely stay home to dish out candy. So we decided to use Halloween for the benefit of our church.

Halloween is the one time of the year when we invite people to our door or take our children to homes we wouldn't normally visit. In essence, Halloween is the one time a year when the world comes to our door or we go to their door. So why would we miss the opportunity to invite them to church and start to build relationships with them? Last year, my wife and I had some good conversations with folks as we handed out candy in our driveway. We had the chance to meet some neighbors we'd never met before. We even had the chance to invite some to church. As I considered how to use Halloween to the advantage of our church, we decided to cancel services on Halloween. Our plan is not to celebrate Halloween, but instead to use it as an outreach event. We plan to distribute to our church members invites to church that they can drop into a kid's bag while handing out candy. For those taking their kids to get candy, they can hand the invite to folks who hand out candy and invite them to church. We are trying our best to utilize the opportunity the world presents to us so we can invite people to church.

I would encourage you to consider using Halloween as an outreach event for your church rather than simply celebrating it this year. Even if you only make one contact that brings a person to church and ultimately to faith in Jesus Christ, then it was well worth it.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Tap Dancing on a Land Mine

It is amazing what you hear sometimes when you actually listen to the words of songs. Some of the songs you hear while listening to certain genres of music have nonsensical phrases and words thrown together. The other day I was listening to the radio and they were playing a 30 year old song by the classic rock band Aerosmith. The song, Rag Doll, has a phrase in it that I've heard for years and I've never paid any attention to it. In the song, the phrase "Tap dancing on a land mine" is used as one of the lyrics about halfway through the song. I'm not sure what the idea behind its use in the song is, but we all get the word picture trying to be conveyed here. As the music continued to play the phrase continued to roll around in my head. I couldn't get past the absurd idea of someone literally tap dancing on a land mine. Land mines are designed for one single, solitary use and that is destruction. They are used to kill and maim people during war. Stepping on a land mine will end with horrible consequences. Tap dancing on one is to willfully and joyfully put yourself in a position to be irreversibly injured or killed.

When we look at the world we live in today, you don't have to look too far to see people tap dancing on the land mine of sin. Sin is simply disobedience towards God's commands. Ever since sin was introduced into the world in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), man has had a natural bend and insatiable desire for sin. We have a strong desire to succumb to sin because of the allure and the way sin can make us feel for a moment. For some people, they have realized the damage sin has done to their life and they've sought to repair the damage through the forgiveness God offers through a relationship with Jesus. This forgiveness doesn't mean they are immune to the temptations of sin, but it does mean they have help for dealing with the temptation. They see sin for what it really is, something vile that only brings them heartache, pain, and separation from God. For others though, they don't see sin for what it really is. They see it as no big deal. They see it as something to be celebrated and even enjoyed. What they don't realize is, they are tap dancing on a spiritual land mine. The sin they so gladly enjoy and celebrate is the very thing that will bring about spiritual destruction for them. God clearly shows through the pages of the Bible that sin spiritually separates us from Him and if we do not rectify this spiritual separation before death, then we will be spiritually separated from Him for eternity. The only way to close this spiritual gap is to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and to seek His forgiveness for your sins. When you do, you get to experience help for this life, forgiveness of your sins, and eternal life in heaven with God when this life is over.

For those of you tap dancing on the land mine of sin and who've never put your faith in Jesus Christ before, I would encourage you to put your faith in Him today. You can learn more about putting your faith in Christ by following this link. For those of you have put your faith in God but find yourself tap dancing on the land mine of sin, I would encourage you to take a step back and evaluate where you find yourself spiritually. Celebrating your sin is making a mockery of the One who died for you and the price He paid for you. You understand your sinfulness in comparison to God's holiness and you know you need to make a change. Repent, seek His forgiveness, and start down a new path with God today.

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Monday, October 8, 2018

We Are Doomed To Repeat History

When I was a teenager, my parents went on a work trip to Puerto Rico. Luckily for us kids, we were old enough to stay at home with a little bit of supervision from an aunt and an uncle. During this trip, which took place in the summer, we regularly pulled food for meals from my parent's upright freezer. During one of the many trips to get food to eat, someone didn't get the freezer door shut all the way. In case you didn't know, summer time heat and an open freezer do not mix. When we discovered the then soft food, it was too late to save any of it. Who left the freezer open is still a hotly debated item between the two of us older siblings, but we'll never know who did it.

Just a few weeks ago, Misty discovered that our upright freezer had not been closed completely after someone opened it. Nothing has changed in 20 years. Hot temperatures and an open freezer still don't mix well. Soft food that should be frozen still cannot be salvaged. And as you can imagine, there was plenty of finger pointing as to who was the real culprit. Our boys have regularly asked to hear stories from our childhoods and I thought I had shared this very important story with them, but obviously I had not. In the words of Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again."

It has been said that "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." How many times have we witnessed this through the pages of world history. Time and time again, we see where civilizations, nations, and kingdoms repeat the same mistakes and experience the same results. When it comes to our spiritual walk with Christ, we often find ourselves repeating history. We may find ourselves tempted by a sin that Satan knows is our greatest weakness and it isn't long before we are putting a palm to our forehead while asking, "Will I never learn?" If it is any consolation, you're making the same kind of mistakes people have made for thousands of years. The nation of Israel, as recorded in the Bible, regularly made these same mistakes over and over again. They would have a time of falling away from God, while they chased false gods and idols. Then, after some discipline from God, they would turn back to Him and walk closely with Him. Eventually, they would become complacent in their worship, let down their guard, and start down the slippery slope towards idolatry once again. The Israelites did this with such frequency that their spiritual highs and lows would make the most avid roller coaster rider nauseous. 

So if we find ourselves in this Groundhog Day scenario, how do we break the cycle of mountain top experiences followed by the darkest of valleys? I think the best way to break the cycle is to quit viewing your spiritual walk with Christ as a sprint, but rather as a marathon. Too often people will expect their spiritual growth to be like a 100 meter dash. They expect to see spiritual growth super fast and in just a few days every aspect of their spiritual life is on par with the spirituality of the late Billy Graham. But the reality is, spiritual growth doesn't work that way. To be spiritually strong enough to resist falling into the same temptations over and over again, requires a constant steady growth. It requires daily spending time in prayer. It requires daily spending time studying God's Word. It requires weekly worshiping with fellow believers. It requires a commitment to live out God's commands in your life. Day in and day out. On good days and bad days.

If you want to avoid the nausea-inducing spiritual roller coaster the Israelites were on, and many of us find ourselves on, then change your perspective of your spiritual walk with God. Don't look at it as something you'll do until it doesn't suit you anymore or something that you can accomplish in just a few days. Instead start looking at it as something you are committed to for the long haul. If you do, then you'll be less likely to repeat history.

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Monday, October 1, 2018

My Wife Said She Hated Me

On Saturday Misty and I needed to go do some shopping. The two of us were riding all over the country pricing the item we were looking to buy and had plenty of time to talk. During our ride Misty told me about some counsel she gave to a woman who came to her seeking help for a relationship problem. When asked by the woman if Misty had ever hated me during our 21 plus years together, Misty said, "I told her I hated you 3 times and then told her exactly when those 3 times were." I was a little taken aback by Misty's precise nature regarding her hatred for me. As I fully expected, Misty was more than willing to tell me what those 3 times were. Now in my defense, 2 of those times were not completely my fault. They had to do with emotions that come along when a woman is pregnant and I was the recipient of her hatred. I can handle that blame seeing as how she and I were each partially responsible for her pregnancies. The other time she hated me was shortly after our boys were born and I was a stupid husband. I don't remember the exact event but she did. She told me I had gone to play basketball with some friends that evening and then complained about being tired when I came home. She was also tired after working all day and then feeding, bathing, and caring for 2 kids under a year and a half old. I did stupid stuff like this early in our marriage and I have to own it because it left a mark on her, so much so she remembers her hatred for me in that moment. The remarkable thing is the grace she showed me in all three of those instances, even when I wasn't aware of her feelings or her forgiveness. She said she may have hated me in that moment with "ever cell in her body" but in the next moment she forgave me. We went on to talk about how marriage requires much more grace and forgiveness than it does anything else. 

As I do premarital counseling with couples I always tell them that marriage is God's perfect design for human relationships attempted by imperfect people. This is because we are all sinful, broken people who at times put our own wants, needs, and desires before the wants, needs, and desires of our spouse. Since we are two imperfect people attempting to live life together, marriage will have those times where you may love the person you are married to but you may not like them very much. In those times when anger, frustration, or even hatred creep up in your marriage, remember that grace and forgiveness need to be shared in greater amounts than those feelings that can tear your marriage apart. The bible tells us that forgiveness should be a part of the relationships we have with other people (Matthew 6:14; Luke 17:3). What should remind us to extend forgiveness in our marriage is what Paul writes in Colossians 3:13 (NIV). He wrote, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." If you are a Christian, then God has forgiven you every wrong you've ever committed against Him. How then can you not be willing to extend forgiveness and grace to your spouse? I believe that grace and forgiveness are the two most valuable commodities in marriage and, unfortunately, they are the things we sometimes seem so unwilling to share. If we want a strong and healthy marriage relationship, then we must be willing to forgive and extend grace to our spouse, even though it will cost us.

Today I would encourage you to start making grace and forgiveness towards your spouse a daily practice. Forgive them of their shortcomings, knowing full well you have your own. Give them grace because the next time they love you but don't like you, you'll want grace from them too. If you do, then you can have a marriage where your spouse can tell you they hated you and your marriage won't be affected by it.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Fear and Faith

People have been all out of sorts with all the chaos surrounding the recent storm that devastated NC. Some people have lost their lives, others have lost everything they owned, while others simply endured some wind and rain. Folks have been all over the spectrum, in regards to their responses and reactions to the storm. Some worried and were fearful over the damage the storm would do. This seems like the most reasonable response to a storm that wrecked havoc from one end of NC to the other. Would we fault someone for being fearful in the face of a catastrophic storm? Probably not. As the storm barreled towards NC with all the speed of a herd of turtles, I could tell that one of our boys was a little anxious about the impending storm. Neither of our sons have had to worry about a hurricane affecting them in their short life, but one son was a little concerned about how the storm would affect us. Misty and I tried to calm the anxieties as best we could as parents and we hoped we did a good job. Just moments after dropping my boys off at school I heard a person on the radio share something about fear. Addressing the worries that so many people had about the storm, she shared about how fear and faith cannot occupy the same space. The wisdom shared for the next few moments was wisdom I could give to my sons to help put them at ease.

Fear and faith are like oil and water. The two cannot mix and must occupy two separate places. If we have faith that God is sovereign (in control of all things; Psalm 115:3, 135:6) and that He has our best interest in mind (Romans 8:28), then fear has no place in us. We should not be fearful of the physical, financial, or spiritual storms in life if we have faith that God is in control. We cannot waffle back and forth claiming God's goodness and blessings when things are good and then retreat to fear when things are uncertain. We must choose which one, faith or fear, will take up the limited space inside of us.

I realize when the world is literally crashing down around you in the middle of a hurricane, it is easier said than done to choose faith over fear. Friday morning I woke up to the news of the devastation the hurricane had caused to coastal NC. We have family and friends living in the areas devastated by the storm. At the thoughts of what could be happening to a man I consider a brother and his wife, I allowed my fear and worry to get the better of me for a moment. Then I remembered the words from the radio. The same words I had reassured my son with just days before. I made the decision in that moment to not allow fear to overcome my faith in God's sovereignty, His protection, and His provision. It wasn't easy. It was much easier to worry, fret, and allow fear to consume me. But in that moment when I chose faith over fear, I felt the peace that is described in Philippians 4:7 (NIV). It says, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

The next time fear tries to rob you of the joy found in trusting God, remember you have a choice to make. You can allow yourself to be consumed by worry and fear, going directly against what God tells us in the Bible (Isaiah 41:10, 41:13), or you can choose to trust the One who created you, loves you, and sustains you. Choose wisely though, because you can't choose both fear and faith.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

There Can Be Only One

On Labor Day I enjoyed my Father's Day gift from Misty and the boys. They gave me tickets to watch my two favorite baseball teams play. For years I have pulled for the Atlanta Braves in the National League and the Boston Red Sox in the American League. I once again had the opportunity to watch them play against each other in Atlanta and this time at the new SunTrust Park. In preparing for the game I found that I tended to lean more towards the visiting Red Sox as the team I would pull for, rather than the hometown Braves. When we finally made it to the ballpark our family of four were decked out in our Red Sox shirts and hats. I had told folks leading up to the game that it really didn't matter to me which team won since I liked them both. But when the pitches started being thrown, you could tell where my loyalty was placed. When the Braves made a good play or scored a run, I didn't stand and cheer like I did when the Red Sox scored. I couldn't help but notice, standing in a sea of Red Sox fans, that I wasn't the least bit worried about how the Braves would do in the game. My actions and thoughts proved a long held belief, that we have to decide who we will pull for or follow because there can be only one that we follow.

This idea isn't something new to us. We as humanity have known for millennia that we can only follow one direction. The idea that we can't serve two masters is a biblical truth that we see lived out in our lives every day. Jesus taught this idea in regards to two masters, God and money, stating that we would either love one or hate the other (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Jesus was right. We can no more serve two masters in our life than we can pull for both teams in the same baseball game. We see this lived out in the book of Genesis when Jacob was married to two sisters and he loved Rachel more than Leah (Genesis 29:20-30). As much as we would like to pull for two teams playing against each other or allow to masters to be the focus of our service, we see the reality of the fact that there can be only one focus for our attention.

In this life you have to choose your master. You have to choose what will be the focus of your attention, devotion, effort, finances, and service. Thanks to the freewill God has given you, you have the option to choose whatever you want to be the master you serve. Many people in this life put themselves as the master of their life. The king on the throne of their life is their own wants and desires. For those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they have at some point said they wanted Jesus to be their Master. For Him to be the Lord of their life means that He is in charge. He is the One who leads and directs their life. He is the Master they have given their attention, devotion, effort, finances, and service to as they allow Him to lead them. The catch is that so often we find ourselves, as well-meaning Christians, scooting Jesus to the side of the throne of our life and trying to place ourselves beside Him. The problem is there can be only one king on the throne of our life and it must be Jesus. 

I'll close with this. You have the freedom to choose what master you will serve and what king sits on the throne of your life. Choose wisely and remember there can be only one king on the throne. The wise choice would be the King of Kings.

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Monday, August 27, 2018

The Impact of a Teacher

It is amazing the impact, good or bad, that a teacher can have on a student. I heard just yesterday of a teacher that more than 35 years ago had told a family member they wouldn't amount to anything. I think this family member used it as a drive to become successful in their field and even own their own business. I can't help but think of the other students that may have heeded this teacher's words of discouragement and never realized their full potential. I think of the teachers in my own life who were encouraging and worked to draw the best out of me. I am grateful for the impact they had in my life.

In recent years both of my boys have had some of the same teachers. Being a year apart in age they swap war stories about what they liked and disliked about their teachers. I think the impact of a teacher has never been so clear to me as it was on Sunday night talking to one of my sons about his upcoming first day of school. One of the teachers that he and his brother both had in recent years, for lack of a better term, left a bitter taste in his mouth when it came to school. He dreaded going to school for the first day because he was convinced it would be as horrible an experience as he had with this particular teacher. One of the things I pointed out to him was the positive experience he'd had with another teacher and how well things seemed to go with this other teacher. Here I was trying to override the negative experience he had with one teacher with positive and reaffirming experiences with another. (To the teacher who gave him & my wife, albeit many years ago, a positive experience, we are eternally grateful!) I think we sometimes underestimate the impact of a teacher.

When it comes to our spiritual development, we must find a biblical teacher who will make a positive impact on us. In a recent study in Colossians that I am teaching in our church, I mentioned how, as part of Paul's ministry to the early church, he had to teach those things that were easy to accept and those things that are hard to hear. When we seek out a pastor, preacher, bible study leader, Sunday School teacher, or small group leader, we need to make sure they are willing to be like Paul. We need them to teach us the easy to accept parts of biblical truths. We want them to tell us about God's love and forgiveness. We want them to teach us about His grace and mercy. But we also need them to tell us about the things that are hard to hear. We want them to tell us about our sinfulness and God's judgment against sin. We want them to teach us about hell and repentance. When it comes to finding a biblical teacher to help you grow in your faith, you need a teacher who will be honest with you about the truths of the Bible. This means a teacher that will teach the whole counsel of the Bible, not just the parts that make you feel good.

There are images that you can find on social media from time to time that tell you what kind of biblical teacher you need teaching you. The quote is often credited to A.W. Tozer and although it references preachers I think the same is true of all bible teachers, whether they're on the stage on Sunday mornings or in the Sunday School classroom. It says, "We need preachers who preach that hell is still hot, that heaven is still real, that sin is still wrong, that the Bible is God's Word, and that Jesus is the only way to salvation." This is the type of bible teacher you can trust!

I'll close with this bit of counsel. If the bible teacher that you sit under only teaches you the feel good portions of Scripture, then it is time for you to find a new bible teacher. If your bible teacher doesn't talk about or teach about sin, judgment, hell, or any other unpleasant part of the Bible, then you need a new bible teacher. Because you can't understand your need for a Savior unless you have a firm grasp of your own sinfulness, your need for repentance, and your eternal destination if you don't repent. If you're a bible teacher of any sort and you aren't teaching the whole counsel of the bible, then you need to get your act together. The Bible is real clear on our responsibility as teachers (James 3:1). Your impact on the spiritual development of other believers is determined by your willingness to teach all the truths of God's Word, not just the popular ones. Never underestimate your impact as a teacher.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

The Relenting Parent

One thing I think all parents are guilty of from time to time is throwing the towel in. Giving in. Giving up. Folding. Caving. Relenting. However you package the action, the end result is still the same. Your kid has pushed you to the limit. You know you can't take it anymore, you fold, and you give in to their demands like a rookie negotiator. Blame it on stress, being tired, a long day, the tenacity of your strong-willed child, or any of the other countless reasons we use. You give in to a piece off candy before bed time or, like I did the other day when I caved, banana pudding for breakfast. It may be for a toy or a few more minutes of video game time. It may be to play in a mud puddle or to let them go out of the house dressed as a cross between a ballerina, a cowgirl, and Wonder Woman. Sometimes we pass it off as being the cool parent or not wanting them to make a scene. Whatever our reason our action is the same. Rather than standing our ground on something we know is for the best interest of our child, we give in. I don't know a parent who hasn't occasionally relented to the demands of a child. I have watched though as some have never shown restraint and gave in to every demand, which does no good for the child and the society that will eventually have to deal with them. Our relenting shows flexibility on our part as parents but should we ever be unrelenting?

The simple answer is "Yes." When it comes to sin in the life of our child, spouse, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers, and fellow believers, yes we should be unrelenting when it comes to our honesty about sin. Does this mean we constantly nag at others about how they need to quit sinning? No it doesn't. It does mean we need to speak plainly about sin and the impact it has on them and others. It means "calling a spade, a spade" without whitewashing it, but doing so in a tactful and grace-filled way. For example, when we have children reaching adulthood and they mention living with their significant other before marriage, we need to speak plainly to them about what Scripture says and how we feel about it. Ultimately the decision is theirs to make, but we cannot gloss over sin and relent just to appease someone. There are countless other examples you can fill in here, but the end result should be the same, us speaking in love to those we care about on how their sin will or is impacting their lives.

In our culture today, spiritual accountability is all but extinct. You can't try to follow the commands of Scripture (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20) and help someone stuck in their sin without being considered hypocritical or judgmental. But the last time I checked, the responsibility of a Christian is not to fit into the world but to minister to the world. When it comes to our responsibility to speak the truth in love about sin, we must be as unrelenting as God is on the subject. The Bible is clear in many places that God is unrelenting of His view of sin and the judgment that comes with it. Just as God is unrelenting about His view of sin, we ought to have the same dogged determination to stand our ground when it comes to sin. If we don't, then we are no different than the parent who showed no restraint, raised a spoiled child, and left society to deal with their own lack of tenacity.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Building a Strong Fence

After our calves were out of the pasture for about the 10th time in 10 days, I had to rebuild a section of fence they had broken. As I worked on the fence this morning before coming into the office I couldn't help but think about this blog post from a few years ago. We need to make sure our spiritual fence is in good working order. Check out the post below.
*This post was originally published 3.7.2016.

This past weekend I spent about 8 hours fixing the fence around the perimeter of our farm. I learned some valuable spiritual lessons from my time spent bending, wrapping, and pulling barbed wire. Here are just a few of them.

Don't let your neighbor build your fence.
We had a neighbor do some maintenance to their property and in the process they tore down a large section of our fence. The neighbor never told us about it and our cows got out because of it. These are the same neighbors who, in a different section of the property line, put up a convoluted mess of 10 strands of barbed wire in what seemed to be a basket weaving style. Needless to say, both of these fencing issues came about because our neighbor had been allowed to mess with our fence.

If you want a good spiritual fence to protect you, then you cannot expect anyone else to build it for you. No one else can properly maintain your spiritual fence. Not your parents, your siblings, your children, your spouse, your friends, or your pastor. In the book of Nehemiah we read about the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah had each person build the section of wall that would protect their home and family. Why did he do that? Because if you build your wall (fence) you'll make sure it's done right.

Build your fences strong.
The old farmer's saying is that "Your fences need to be pig-tight, horse-high, and bull-strong." There is definitely some truth in that statement. But after we put some newly weaned calves into a field separate from their mothers, I'd amend that to "Your fences need to be strong enough to keep a calf from it's momma." Two of our calves broke through our divider fence and went back to their mothers. Needless to say the fence should have been tighter, higher, and stronger than I originally built it.

A weak fence is a useless fence. If you don't have a strong spiritual fence then you leave yourself open to all sorts of spiritual issues. Fences are used for two things. To keep things in or to keep things out. If you want to protect yourself spiritually from the attacks of Satan (1 Peter 5:8-9), then you need to do the work to build up a strong spiritual fence. The five spiritual disciplines that will help build a strong spiritual fence include: Prayer, Bible Study, Worship, Fellowship, & Service. As you practice these disciplines your fence will become stronger and stronger.

Talk to the One who knows how to build your fence.
Nearly 20 years ago I started helping my dad farm. In those 20 years he's taught me many valuable lessons about farming. Last week while I was fixing a section of fence, he came to check on me and see what I was doing. Even after all these years, I found myself asking his advice on how to do something. While working on the fence, he kindly advised me to do something differently than the way I was trying to do it. Both times his counsel was spot on.

When it comes to building your spiritual fence, no one knows better what needs to go into building your spiritual fence than God. That even includes you. Most times we think we know exactly what we need to do spiritually, but we are simply fooling ourselves. God knows us more intimately than we even know ourselves (Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 10:30). That means we should seek His counsel for building our spiritual fence. As we ask Him for guidance, He will tell us how we ought to build our fence. When we start to build our fence our own way, He'll loving guide us to build it a better way. But the key is we have to spend time in prayer seeking His help.

I hope these three simple lessons from hours of fencing will help you develop a strong spiritual fence.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Dented Marriage

Recently I was carrying some stuff from the pool to the house following a swim with Misty and the boys. As I reached for the door the items in my left hand shifted and I dropped something. Usually I am able to grab things I drop before they hit the ground because I have quick reflexes. This time I wasn't so fortunate because of the stuff I had in my hands. The one item that slipped out of my hand was Misty's wedding ring. And of course it didn't gently land on the ground and wait for me to pick it up. No, it landed stones down on the corner of our brick steps and rolled across the cement floor. As you can imagine, the ring did not come away unscathed. One of the stones on the ring was knocked out and fortunately no more damage was done. Thankfully for me Misty was understanding and I'm sure this will be the catalyst to her getting a well deserved and newer form of jewelry.

As I've considered what to do about Misty's ring over the past week, I couldn't help but think about how her ring was representative of any marriage. Marriage is the second most difficult job you'll have in life, just behind raising kids. When you consider what marriage is and was originally intended to be, you easily understand why it is so challenging at times. Marriage is God's perfect design for human relationships practiced by two imperfect people. Those two people are attempting to fulfill a perfect plan when they themselves are flawed, sinful, broken people. In the course of attempting marriage we all make mistakes. At times we make it all about ourselves and not about our spouse. We might put all our attention and focus into work. We may give all our energy to our kids, hobbies, or something else in life and none of it to our marriage. You can fill in whatever mistakes you've made in your marriage here. Simply put we all mess up in marriage and no marriage is immune to mistakes. But the way we respond to those mistakes made in our marriage reveals the true health of our marriage. If we shut down and refuse to work on the problems in our marriage, we are begging for more problems. When we refuse to work on the problems in our marriage we are inviting Satan to wreck havoc in our marriage and he'll gladly oblige.

If you'll come to a realization about a few things in your marriage, then you can begin to work through the problems you are facing. First, you probably didn't get into this situation overnight and you won't get out of it overnight. Be patient and willing to work on your problem for the foreseeable future. Secondly, you aren't perfect. No matter how perfect you think you are, you are just as flawed as the rest of us. That means you aren't always a joy to live with, but your spouse loves you anyways and wants the best for your marriage. Remember, they know you more intimately than anyone else and they love you in spite of your flaws. Thirdly, extend grace to your spouse. He or she needs more grace and less criticism when it comes to the problems in your marriage. Approach this the way Jesus would have, you know, treating your spouse the way you want to be treated (Luke 6:31). Lastly, your problems can destroy your marriage if you don't address them. Like a cancer or infection that goes untreated in the body, a problem in your marriage can start out slow but have grave affects on your marriage. When you stop communicating because of the problems in your marriage, you are putting the nails in the coffin of your marriage. You have to communicate to work on the problems in your marriage. If you don't communicate and aren't willing to work on your marriage problems, then you might as well realize that at best you'll have an unhealthy and miserable marriage and at worst your marriage will fail.

I'll close with this. The family unit in our society is daily being attacked by Satan. He is trying everything he can to undermine the success of God's plan for human relationships like marriage. Look at the cultural acceptance of same-sex marriages and cohabitation and you'll see how effective Satan has been at his job. Take seriously the vows you made before God and each other and work to make sure your marriage stands the test of time. It's one thing to have a marriage that has been dented and dinged by the trials of life, but it's a whole other thing to throw it away because you've not done what was necessary to keep it from breaking apart.

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