Monday, June 18, 2018

All At Once

After a stint on the injured reserve I've recently been able to take back up running. The most aggravating aspect of a long layoff due to injury is that you aren't automatically back where you were when you had to quit. I was running at a pretty high level, for me anyways, and was doing really well before a knee injury sidelined me for a bit. Now that I've recovered to the point I can run again, it would be nice if I could just pick up where I left off. But unfortunately that isn't possible. Stamina decreases without exercise. Muscles atrophy some and aren't as strong. It would be great if none of this happened but of course it does and we have to build back up to where we once were. The only catch is it takes time. We can't do it all at once. 

It is interesting to hear people talk and watch their actions in regards to their spiritual life. Some imagine that sitting in a pew on a Sunday will make up for their limited interaction with God the previous week. Others will see their Sunday Duty as a chance to get ahead on spiritual things for the week ahead. Their thought, I'm assuming, is that as long as they make it for church on Sunday then they are good to do all of their "spiritual stuff" all at once. The sad reality is that nothing could be farther from the truth. A man doesn't ask a girl out on a date, start a relationship with her, and then only interact with her once a week for an hour, does he? Not if he has any common sense! We all realize this is not a healthy way to attempt a relationship. If we realize this fact, why do we try to make our spiritual relationship with God fit in to this type of mold? If it doesn't work in physical relationships, it surely won't work in spiritual ones.

To have a healthy, growing, and vibrant personal relationship with God means you have to put the time in. It means you have to do the work necessary to develop your relationship.When a new relationship starts between a man and a woman, they both put great effort into learning about each other and spending time together. To continue to grow together and have a healthy relationship, these two people must continue to spend time together and learn about each other. Our relationship with God follows the same principles. If we want a healthy and strong relationship with God, then we have to spend time with Him and put effort into learning more about Him. This requires us to intentionally carve out time in our day, each day, to spend time with Him in prayer and learn about Him by reading His Word. When we do, we'll find that our relationship with Him will change for the better. But we can't expect a week's worth of relationship building with God to take place in an hour service on Sunday morning. I've mentioned a few times to my congregation the perspective believers ought to have about worship on Sunday. Worship should serve as the pep rally preparing you for what God has in store for you in the week to come or the post-game celebration where you celebrate what God has done in your life the previous week. This is a simple perspective of worship that will help you frame how you ought to view worship.

I'll leave you with this. If you are approaching your church's corporate worship as anything other than a time to revel in the goodness of God and celebrate Him, then you're missing the point of worship. Don't expect worship to complete what you should have done in the previous week in regards to your relationship with God. The reason being, developing a strong relationship with God requires time. It isn't something you can do all at once.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

With a Little Help from My Friends

This morning I admitted to my wife and youngest son a startling truth. I swallowed my pride and admitted that when I play a video game with my son, I can do better than if I play by myself. The video game that the two of us are now addicted to, thanks to a pastor friend of mine who will remain nameless, is a Hunger Games style game. It is a game where you run around picking up weapons and supplies and try to be the last man standing. You can play it solo or you can team up with others. My son and I found out the awesome advantage we have over other teams when we sit in the same room and play as a team. We regularly place in the top 5, even winning a few times, and have had some real fun playing together. I've noticed that when I play the game solo, that even though I've won a few times, I'm consistently placing in the top 5-10. Talk about taking a hit to your ego! It seems like if I want any hopes of winning this game on a regular basis, then I need to make sure my 12 year old is playing with me.

As I ruminated on this pride killing realization this morning, I realized that this video game had taught me more than I could have imagined. This fact of being able to accomplish more in a video game with my son's help correlates to the way God designed the church. From time to time I will hear the biblically inaccurate comment made by a person saying "I don't have to go to church to worship God." Although on some level that is true. We don't have to be in church to worship God. God is worshiped "in the Spirit and in truth" (John 14:23-24), but God also designed believers to thrive in community. We thrive best and grow spiritually more mature when we are plugged in and active in a local body of believers. This means being involved in the ministries and missions of the church, not simply taking up space on a pew. It means participating in Bible studies that will help you grow in your knowledge of Christ and your faith (Ephesians 4). It means being in relationships with other believers you can rely on and who can rely on you for support during good times and difficult times. To borrow from an old adage, when you disconnect yourself from the local church you are "cutting of your nose to spite your face." As challenging as it can be at times to live and fellowship in a community of faith with other believers, the pros of fellowship in the church far out way all the cons of life outside the church. If you want to grow to a place of spiritual maturity as God intended you to do, then the best place for this to happen is as an active part of the local church. If you are a believer and you aren't actively plugged into a church, then make the commitment to get plugged in this weekend.

I'll leave you with this illustration that is credited to the author and preacher Dr. John MacArthur.

A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his pastor's visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination. As the one lone ember's flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and "dead as a doornail." Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it. As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, "Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I will be back in church next Sunday."

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Monday, May 21, 2018

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled

I like pranks. For some reason my mind is constantly evaluating situations where I can pull a little trick or prank on people. I'm not sure why this is, but I seem to be wired in this way. This past Sunday as I was preparing to leave my office to head into the sanctuary for the evening service, I reached for a paperclip. When I pulled it out of the holder on my desk 18 others came with it. There is no doubt in my mind that one of my sons has picked up dad's bad habit of pranking people and chained my paperclips together. We've all seen pranks taken too far where someone is hurt or really embarrassed. But little, harmless pranks like my son's prank are no big deal and make life more fun. One of the most damaging pranks or tricks ever devised was one the devil pulled on mankind.

In one of my favorite movies, The Usual Suspects, this trick is referenced by one of the characters. The actor Kevin Spacey plays Verbal Kint who is being questioned by police. In the course of his interrogation Kint makes the now famous quote, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Ever since I heard this quote years ago, it has stuck with me. 

There is a great spiritual truth in this statement. If you look at statistics you find that, depending on the poll used, around 50% of Americans do not believe that Satan is a real being. Many believe he is simply a symbol of evil developed by man. From these types of figures we would say that Satan was very successful at pulling his trick on mankind. When many people think of Satan, they think of the caricatures of cartoons from decades ago. These cartoons portrayed Satan as a figure dressed in red with pointy little ears and a pointy tail. He was carrying a pitchfork to poke people being punished in hell or to stoke the flames of hell. It is perceptions like this that helped Satan propagate his trick on mankind. 

The reason Satan wants to pull this all-time greatest trick on us is because if we don't believe that he exists, then we won't believe he is impacting our spiritual lives. We would be more easily led astray than if we were watching out for him. Satan has made it clear over millennia that his goal is to destroy what God has made good and holy. If he can keep mankind fixated on their problems, their toys, their wealth, or their health, then they are not focused on God and what He is doing in and through them. According to the world we live in today, Satan is doing a fantastic job of distracting mankind from focusing on God, much less being leery of an evil spiritual being bent on their destruction.

Some may read this post and think, "How can you really think there is a literal devil?" My answer would be really simple. Jesus Christ, the One I've put my faith in, believed Satan existed by the things He said. Some of those closest to Him, Peter and John, wrote about Satan as if they believed he existed. Possibly the greatest Christian thinker of all-time, the apostle Paul, also believed Satan existed. So why wouldn't I heed words like those written by Peter when he wrote, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).

My encouragement to you today is this: Be mindful of the harm Satan can do in your life. Stay close to God through prayer, Bible study, and worship. Focus on God and what He wants to do in your life, rather than the distractions and temptations Satan throws at you. Don't allow yourself to be deceived into thinking Satan isn't a problem for you. Because if you do, then Satan has already successfully pulled the greatest trick ever on you.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

A Walking Bible

Recently my oldest son bought a jar of honey at a local community marketplace. The gentleman who packaged and sold the honey also gave him a business card with the purchase. The card had all the usual pertinent information, but on the backside it had a bible verse. The verse was from the book of Proverbs and referenced eating honey. When my son arrived home he shared with me about the honey and the business card. He asked me if the Bible verse quoted was a real verse or not. I told him I wasn't sure, but rather sarcastically reminded him that he could open his own Bible and check to see. Not to be out done in the sarcasm department, my son responded by saying "Well dad, you're basically a walking Bible. I thought you could just tell me." I've been called many things in life, but a walking Bible has never been one of them, until that particular day. I'm glad my son has such a high regard for my biblical recall, but it is impossible for me, or anyone else, to know every last verse of the Bible from memory.

The underlying truth of the statement my son made wasn't lost on me. He had in his mind the idea that dad knows the Bible very well. One would expect a minister, who studies the scriptures weekly for messages, outside of his own personal Bible study, to be a man with a firm grasp of the scriptures and what they mean. But this idea of being a man or woman with such a firm grasp of the scriptures that we could be called a walking Bible is not just for the clergy. 50, 75, or even 100 years ago men and women had a much stronger grasp of the Bible and what the Scriptures taught. With the invent of the many time-devouring inventions of the last 70 years, mankind has allowed these distractions to devour time they normally would have put towards, among other things, reading and studying their Bibles. With this decrease in attention and time given to Bible study, biblical literacy has decreased. Many men and women who profess to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ have very little understanding of the truths of Scripture outside of what they are taught in a class or hear from the pulpit on Sunday. Don't hear me being critical or cynical about people's lack of participation in the spiritual discipline of Bible study. All I'm doing is stating the facts.

If we as believers want to stand on the truths of God's Word in a world that is falling apart spiritually, then we have to know those truths. The only way we can know those truths in this way is by studying the Bible on a regular basis and outside of participation in church services. If we want to raise children who know how to use their Bibles for more than a coffee table decoration, then we need them to see us studying our Bibles and hear us encouraging them to read it for themselves. Until we get serious about studying the Scriptures, our families and our own spiritual life will suffer. The reason we will suffer is because of the primary effect of reading and studying the Bible. If we know what the Bible says about how we are to live, how we are to treat others, and how we are to interact with God, then we are able to not only know those things, we can put them into practice in our life. Otherwise we are spiritually illiterate Christians groping in the dark for ways to please God and relate to others.

My encouragement to you today would be to make a commitment to take seriously the study of the Bible. Get your hands on a daily reading plan that you like and begin reading. After you start reading daily, then find some Bible study material such as commentaries or books on a particular topic or book of the Bible. If you do you'll find that it will start to change the way you think, change the way you relate to God and others, and change the way you live for Him. Who knows, others might come to you with questions because they think you're a walking Bible too!

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Monday, May 7, 2018

There's someone in my head but it's not me

Over the last 20 years I have gained a great appreciation for classic rock. In high school I listened primarily to country but occasionally listened to classic rock. During college I started listening to more and more classic rock and was hooked. Like any fan of the genre there are certain bands and songs that appeal to me more than others. Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Pink Floyd are three of those bands. The other night I was headed home and turned on a local classic rock station and eventually heard Brain Damage from Pink Floyd's 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. This song has some very memorable lines in it. One that has always intrigued me is the line "And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes." I guess you know you're on the outs if this happens because you're on a completely different page than everyone else around you! The line on this particular night that stuck with me was a line I had heard many times before. The line was "There's someone in my head but it's not me." I can only imagine the lyric was originally composed to represent someone with brain damage of some sort and in the resulting aftermath experiencing voices in their head.

As a pastor it is hard at times to shut off the context with which you look at the world. I'm not sure you can ever really do so. Things are said, things are seen, and things are thought and they are always generally filtered through a type of spiritual filter. You see things as spiritual lessons and examples that can be shared with others to make spiritual matters more relevant. When I was listening to this song by Pink Floyd the other night, no pun intended, this line was stuck in my head. I immediately filtered it as I described earlier and saw this poetic verse in a new light. There is Someone in our head if we are a follower of Christ, but not in a worrisome way as described in this song.

The Bible tells us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then God's Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us (1 Corinthians 6:19, Ephesians 4:30). By the Holy Spirit living inside of us we have a guarantee from God that He will always be with us. Now one title given to the Holy Spirit is that of Counselor or Helper (John 14:16). The easy way to describe the counsel the Holy Spirit provides is by helping us to navigate this world, while living a life pleasing to God. We all need help and counsel to make wise decisions on a daily basis. If we are living a life pleasing to God and are sensitive to the leading of His Holy Spirit, then we will find that God will guide us, counsel us, and help us through the Holy Spirit.

It would be nice if the Counselor living inside of us would deal with us like we see in the old cartoons. Instead of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, we'd simply see our Counselor sitting on our shoulder giving us help throughout our day. Unfortunately things aren't that simple. Our desire to receive help and utilize that help requires more effort out of us. To discern, or figure out, what God is guiding us to do, we have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us or speak to us. This isn't an audible voice, although God could use one if He wanted, but instead it is a prompting or impression from the Holy Spirit. I'm not trying to make this sound like some kind of mystical, transcendental meditation type experience, but it is simply being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and His guidance. When our spiritual heart is in tune with God and His will, then we are easily led by His Holy Spirit. When we have sin in our life and are spiritually far from God, then we are desensitized to the Holy Spirit and have a harder time discerning His will, His guidance, and His help. If you spend time daily in prayer and Bible study, you will find it easier to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and you have a difficult time discerning the Holy Spirit's guidance, then spend time in prayer. Ask God to show you what sin is keeping you from fellowship with Him and then repent. After you get the barriers out of the way, then continue to daily spend time in prayer and Bible study so you can rightly discern God's wisdom and guidance for your life. Then you'll be glad to have Someone in your head!

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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Price We Pay

Recently there has been quite a bit of road construction in our area. There was a road widened to allow for a turning lane. This project took a long time and caused all sorts of traffic delays on one of the busiest roads in our area. Now there is a major repaving project occurring on a 2 mile stretch of the same busy road that is causing major disruptions in traffic. You can't go anywhere in our area without hearing about the traffic problems associated with this construction. People are very adamant about sharing their displeasure with the long waits in traffic. You hear about it at the store. You hear about it at church. Scroll through your Facebook News Feed and you'll probably get a digital earful of people's thoughts on sitting in the long lines of traffic. (Before you post those social media rants, you may want to check out this blog post on being careful what you post!) I have purposefully avoided this repaving project because I don't have an hour to sit in traffic. So I can't comment on how bad the traffic problem is, but the price we pay for a good road is ultimately worth it.

Now I am as impatient as the next person when it comes to sitting in traffic. I despise it and want to get on down the road so I can get to my destination. But how do I complain, criticize, and critique the situation when 2 months from now I will be reaping the benefits of a new, smooth road? There weren't many complaints about the road or the traffic on the road until there was a major upheaval in people's daily activities. When the project is done folks will go back to not complaining (too much) about the road or the traffic. So when we sit in traffic waiting on the paving to be completed, we have to remind ourselves that this current disruption is the price we pay for countless hours of smooth driving and little traffic.

Our spiritual life requires the same kind of perspective. None of us like to be stretched spiritually. None of us like to be pulled out of our spiritual comfort zone or forced to reevaluate our spiritual condition. None of us like to sit in that spiritual traffic jam watching as God does construction on the road we find ourselves on. The work that God does in our spiritual life when He forces us to confront our own sin, or apathy, or (you fill in the blank), means He is working to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:29). As He does this, sometimes it means we have to sit patiently and watch as He tears up the road we've been driving on as He replaces it with His road. It is difficult for us to watch Him work. It is hard to see the sins we have become desensitized to being brought into the light. It is hard for us to be confronted with our apathy towards God, spiritual disciplines, and worship. You cannot be conformed to the image of Christ, which should be the goal of every Christian, with out being sculpted by the Master Artist. All the sculpting, all the conforming, all the confronting is done with our good in mind. And just like sitting in traffic watching road construction, we have to remember that is the price we pay for the benefit that is coming. The price we pay for a stronger faith and a closer walk with God is always worth it in the end.

The next time God has you sitting in a spiritual traffic jam as you watch Him work to replace your road with His road, remember that it is for your good and the end result will be well worth the price you pay.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

The Cross Intrigues Us All

There is a show on History Channel that I've watched for a few years now. The show is called "The Curse of Oak Island." The show follows a treasure hunt by a team from Michigan as they search for treasure on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. There is a history of 223 years worth of discoveries and expeditions to find treasure on this island. In the latest season the group made an extraordinary find while metal detecting along the shore. They found a lead cross that is believed to be from the 12th-14th centuries. If the age is correct, then it could completely rewrite the history books on who first landed in the new world. One of the main searchers, Rick Lagina, made a comment while discussing the lead cross and the statement has stuck with me. He said, "The cross intrigues us all." The discovery of this lead cross, believed to possibly have European and even a Templar Knight origin, is definitely intriguing. How did it end up in Nova Scotia? How was it not discovered before now? Who brought it to the island? When did they bring it to the island? There are plenty of intriguing things about this cross and it raises many more questions than answers. 

The really intriguing cross isn't the one found in the sand of an island in the North Atlantic. The really intriguing cross is the one used 2,000 years ago on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem. This cross was used by the local Roman governor to appease the Jewish leaders. These Jewish leaders needed to get rid of a Person who was disrupting their hold on power in the Jewish Temple. Although the Jewish leaders couldn't condemn a man to death, they trumped up charges against this Man and had the Romans to do their dirty work. This Man was scourged (whipped and beaten) until His back was mutilated. Then the Romans had Him carry His own cross out of the city and up to a hill where criminals were executed. There they nailed His hands and feet to the cross and hoisted it into place. They left the Man there to die, but due to all He'd endured, He didn't last very long. After roughly 6 hours on the cross this Man died.

The intriguing thing about this cross isn't the horrific death this Man endured, the place it was used, or the empire using it to execute criminals. The intriguing thing about this cross is what it made available to all of humanity since the moment this Man died. This cross was part of God's perfect plan to reconcile mankind to Himself. Without this cross mankind would still be spiritually separated from God because of their sins. But instead, now that this Man died on this cross, you, me, and everyone who has lived since then has been able to reconcile their relationship with God. See, we are born with a sin nature (Psalm 51:5) meaning we come into this world separated from God because of the sin nature passed down to us from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Because we've all sinned (Romans 3:23) and are spiritually separated from God, we need to find a way to make our relationship right with Him again and do away with our sins. The Bible tells us the only way in God's economy to deal with a sin debt is through the shedding of blood (Romans 6:23; Leviticus 17:11). Before the cross was used to shed the blood needed, God expected animal sacrifices to pay for mankind's sins. The blood that was expected to pay for our sins was our own. The good thing for you and I is that God loved us enough to send His Son Jesus to live a perfect and sinless life so He could die in our place (Romans 5:8) so our sins could be forgiven. Jesus is the Man who died on this intriguing cross on a hill outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. He did so because of God's great love for you and me. By dying on that cross Jesus paid our sin debt and gave us a way to have perfect fellowship with God. The only catch is that this grace extended to us from God has to be accepted. It is like a gift. If I give you a gift and you leave it sitting on a table unopened, then you are missing out on all the joy this gift can bring into your life. For the gift to impact your life you have to freely and willingly accept the gift. God's grace through Jesus' death on the cross is a gift as well, but you have to make the decision to accept it into your life. Once you do, then you'll receive the forgiveness of your sins, a right relationship with the God who loves you, and eternal life in heaven when this life is over.

When you think about it, the cross really is intriguing. It is intriguing because through two wooden timbers and three spikes, God was able to reconcile all of humanity to Himself. If you are intrigued by the cross more now than ever and are interested in accepting God's free gift of grace into your life, then check out this link or email me at I hope you are intrigued enough by the cross to have honest conversations about what Jesus' death on the cross means for you.

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