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 pastornick@northcatawbabaptist.com. 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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Monday, April 16, 2018

What Does Forgiveness Require?

This weekend I have been struggling with what it takes to truly offer forgiveness and what that forgiveness means for me. Without going into the details, there was an extended family member who broke our family's trust. The long and the short of it is that, although there will be consequences and ramifications for that family member's actions, on my side of things forgiveness is required. Not that they have to seek my family's forgiveness, although it is the right thing to do, I have to consider my responsibility to forgive them outside of their desire for it. 

One of the primary tenets of my faith is forgiveness. The very foundation of my faith is based on God's forgiveness of my sins so I can have a relationship with Him. Even before I came to an understanding of my need for forgiveness, God sent His Son to die in my place so I could have my sins forgiven (Romans 5:8). He did this to provide a way to be forgiven regardless if I ever sought out His forgiveness. God has readily offered forgiveness every time I have broken His trust and sinned against Him. He's never added a condition to my forgiveness. It has always and will forever be an unconditional forgiveness extended from the God who loves me. Forgiveness is such an important part of the Christian faith that we are commanded, not asked to do it if we want to but commanded, to forgive those who hurt us (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-22; Luke 11:4, 17:3-4; Colossians 3:13). But, as it is with many things in life, forgiving someone is often times easier said than done.




Our hurt and emotional involvement clouds our judgment and thinking when it comes to forgiving those that hurt us. The pain of the betrayal or hurt blinds us to the need to forgive those who hurt us. Although forgiveness is the first step of the healing process, we often act like a kid afraid of hydrogen peroxide being used to clean a scrape on their knee. We pull away from forgiveness, sometimes literally kicking and screaming, because we don't want to let the person "get away with" what they've done. But forgiveness isn't about getting away with anything. Forgiveness is about following the example Christ set for us and living out our faith. This is about walking the walk when we've talked the talk of the Christian faith. This is showing the world that our faith is more than just a label, instead it is a faith that impacts the way we live.

So what does forgiveness require? First off it requires us to be sincere. We can give lip service by saying we've forgiven someone, but unless we've sincerely forgiven someone all we've done is talked a good game. Sincerely forgiving someone is the most freeing things a person can ever experience. It releases the bitterness and resentment we harbor and it frees us from sinning because of the hurt we've held on to. Forgiveness also requires that we don't "hold it over" the person who hurt us. Does this mean we forget what they've done? No it doesn't. Does it mean we completely trust them right out of the gate and expose ourselves to more hurt? No it doesn't. What it does mean is that we use godly wisdom to determine how we interact with that person. Trust has to be rebuilt. Burnt bridges aren't rebuilt overnight, if they are able to rebuilt at all. If the hurt is bad enough we may not be able to have a relationship at all with the person but we still need to forgive them. Using godly wisdom to determine how to proceed is crucial. It may mean we have to end all contact for our own good or it may mean that we slowly allow the person back into our lives. Either way forgiveness is needed.

I'll close with this. Colossians 3:13 says "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." The forgiveness Jesus modeled on the cross and that God extends to us, these should be the examples we live out in our relationships. Regardless of the damage done to us. Regardless of the depth of the hurt and betrayal. Regardless of how bitter and resentful we are over the wrong done to us. Regardless of all of it, forgiveness has to be given. It must be given sincerely and in a way that doesn't hold it over the person, but instead holds them accountable for their actions. In the end, forgiveness frees us from the hurt and starts the process of our own healing.


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Monday, April 9, 2018

Don't Be Deceived

Last week I spent the week fishing on Oak Island with my family. When we are able to slip off for vacation at Spring Break we try our best to go fishing. This last week was no exception. We enjoyed good weather and we were able to spend time together as a family doing something we all enjoy. Fishing off a pier like we were doing requires a different setup than fishing in a pond or river. You need a rig to hold your line in place so the bait doesn't move with the current. Most of the time the three or four ounce sinker weights are enough to keep your bait where you want it. The funny thing about these weights is they can be a bit deceiving. It is funny to watch kids as you reel up your rod, knowing their isn't anything on your hook, they can't help but ask "Do you have something?" as they see your rod bending under the weight of the sinker. The only thing funnier than the kids asking this question is when you reel in your line to check your bait and you find a small fish on your line that you had no idea was even on there. One other amusing aspect of this is when you catch a small fish, like the one mentioned above, and you try to pass if for a whopper of a fish. All you have to do is hold fish between you and the camera and the fish seems much larger than it really is. My youngest son tried to make a 4 inch fish look like a 2 foot fish by doing this.

These deceptions are a perception problem that leaves us deceived. We are deceived into thinking we have something when it isn't there. Or we are deceived into thinking nothing is there when it really is. Or we are deceived into thinking something is much larger than it really is. These types of perception deceptions bleed through into our spiritual lives as well. We can be deceived in many different ways by our adversary, Satan, who is known as the "father of lies" (John 8:44) and the one "who leads the whole world astray" (Revelation 12:9). One of the more difficult deceptions we deal with is when he convinces us that our small fish of a problem is the size of a whale. Satan's ultimate goal in these instances is to get your attention off of God and on to your problems. The reason he wants to make a mountain out of a mole hill is because if he can you won't be worshiping and glorifying God like God designed you to do. If Satan can get your focus on your problems rather than God, then you will live a defeated life where you live in your own power trying to solve your problems. Satan knows that if your focus stays on God then you can be victorious over anything he and this world throws at you.

One final perception deception Satan tries to use on you is one like the sinker weight hiding the small fish on the hook. It is the idea that something doesn't seem to be there but it really is. Satan pulls this same deception with sin. He tries to get you to justify and rationalize your sin. If he can convince you that your sin is culturally normal or accepted by society, then you won't see it as sin, even if God's Word speaks against it. What happens with this deception is you grow spiritually desensitized towards your sin, you no longer view it as sin, and it causes you to become less sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading in your life. With this type of deception Satan is able to further distance us from God by using our own sin to lure us away from God.

The best advice to give you on not being deceived by the perception deceptions Satan uses is the counsel of two men dead for nearly two millennia. The apostle Peter said it best when he wrote these words, "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). Other translations say be vigilant, as in not letting your guard down, because Satan is on the prowl and he is out to harm you. If you want to protect yourself from these perception deceptions, then you need to be spiritually on guard, 24/7/365. You cannot take a moments rest from spiritual vigilance or Satan will pounce like a lion on a wounded gazelle. The other man who gives great counsel on this is the half-brother of Jesus. His name was James. He wrote something as well that is a good way not to be deceived by Satan. James wrote that we ought to "submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:7-8, NKJV). By submitting ourselves to God through prayer, bible study, worship, and service we are able to more easily resist the devil and draw closer to God. When we do so, we find that we are closer to God and He is closer to us, and Satan's deceptions can be seen for what they truly are, lies. Follow the counsel of these two wise men from another time and don't be deceived.


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Monday, March 26, 2018

It's Not a Gun Problem.

A few months ago, following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, my wife and I had a conversation with our boys. With the unfortunately common occurrence of school shootings, we have always tried to prepare them, as best we know how, should something like that happen at their school. But with the gun debate fires being stoked, as they always are after a shooting, we took the opportunity to help our sons understand the heart of the problem. As we talked about guns, safety, and all the topics surrounding them, we wanted them to be able to talk intelligibly about the real issue at hand. The real issue isn't about an age limit to buy guns, because how many underage kids find ways to buy alcohol and cigarettes? It isn't about outlawing certain types of guns, because if that worked we would make drugs illegal? It isn't about tighter regulations because when was the last time a drunk driver cared about regulations prohibiting driving while impaired? It isn't about background checks or bump stocks or anything else that the media and some in government want to point to as the problem. The real problem when it comes to guns, as it is in so many other areas of life, is it's a heart problem.


When my boys were about 5 and 6 years old, my wife and I gave them each a .22 rifle for Christmas. The guns were kid-sized and had safety locks built in. We went over safety, marksmanship, and all the other necessary information for using guns. As they've grown they have advanced to larger guns and use them for target practice and deer hunting. All of the repeated safety talks and gun handling comments are important, but something more important has shaped my boys' views on guns than any talk dad could give them. From the time my boys were old enough to be taught by my wife and I, we have taught them according to our Christian faith. We've taught them about a love for God and service to Him. We've also taught them about what it means to show God's love to others, namely how you treat other people. By training our kids from a very early age to respect people, respect life, and to respect God, we've been able to raise boys who have compassion and love for other people. The heart problem that lies behind the gun debate issue is that too many people in recent decades have not been taught respect for human life, compassion for fellow people, and, unfortunately, no love for God. We cannot expect men and women who have never been taught compassion for people or respect for human life to grow into teenagers or adults and magically change into those who do. We can't have shootings, blame it on the guns used, and expect things to change. Until there is a change in the hearts of men and women, these types of tragedies will continue. Take away the guns and man will find a way to murder and destroy life. Look at Cain and Abel and the millions killed for centuries before gunpowder was invented. It is a heart problem and until there is a change of heart, people will continue down the rabbit hole of death and destruction.

If you want to see a different world where children do not have to worry about whether they will have someone shooting at them in school, then it takes more than marches on the capital, walking out of class, or outlawing guns. What it takes for our society to change is for people on an individual level to change and for this change of heart to be taught to the next generation. The greatest change of heart that will help is to allow Jesus Christ to forgive you of your sins so He can replace your heart of stone with a new heart. If you want to learn more about how to do this click here or here. If you have compassion and love for other people, do your best to pass it along to the generations coming behind you. Because if we don't teach them, no one else will.


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Monday, March 19, 2018

Potholes and Scars

Saturday afternoon I was working in the garage on a woodworking project and my son, Cooper, came through to get a scooter. He grabbed a helmet and started to ride his scooter in the driveway while I worked. After all of about 2 minutes of riding, if that long, I heard him hit the ground with a loud thud. Now Cooper falling is not unusual. We joke with him that he falls down on flat ground with nothing around to trip him up. So him lying on the ground didn't alarm me too much. When he asked for some help I realized he was probably hurting. He had a large scrape on his knee that required a large amount of peroxide and a good sized bandage. While washing the wound I couldn't help but notice all the scars on his knee. Had he felt better I would have joked with him about his knee looking like a road full of potholes. He had gashes from jumping off a scooter at a friend's house. He had a scar where he fell on our back deck and required stitches. There were an assortment of other scars on his knee as well.

As I cleaned the wound and waited for back up to arrive, namely my wife, I thought about how his knee and the thought of a pothole damaged road looked so similar. Then I started thinking about how our spiritual life can look like a scarred knee or a road full of potholes. The mistakes we make in life, let's call them sins, they leave wounds on us spiritually. Like a fresh scrape on your knee, these sins hurt, causing pain and even at times tears. The healing process is hard. You have to clean the wound and that can sometimes be more painful than the actually injury. To clean the sin out of your life you have to come to the realization of what your sin is doing to you spiritually. Sin is damaging your relationship with God, if you have a relationship with Him, and it is also damaging your relationship with others. You must allow God to step in and pour the peroxide of grace on the wounds that sin is causing in your life. When you do He will forgive you and bring about spiritual healing in your life. But what about the scars those sins have left behind. Not that you haven't been forgiven, but the fact you can't forget about them? What good are those spiritual scars? Those scars, like any scars, are reminders. In this case, they remind you of the damage done by sin. They serve as a warning to us of what happens when we fall spiritually and sin injures us. They work to bring wisdom into our lives to keep us from making the same mistakes again. Sometimes we learn and we have no more scars like the one we received before. Sometimes we don't learn and that same sin, or maybe a different sin, trips us up and we fall once again.

But maybe you are like the road near our church that is severally in need of repair because it is full of potholes. Maybe you liken your spiritual life to a road that has never been repaired and is full of teeth-rattling potholes. Maybe you don't have a relationship with God, so repairing the damage to your spiritual life has never happened. Your sin separates you from God and He wants to forgive you of your sins, repair your pothole filled life and start a personal relationship with you. What it takes to get rid of the potholes is not to fill them in and pack the holes full. No, He wants to give you a completely new spiritual life. What that means is He wants to completely do away with the old road and lay down a new road that is pothole free and smooth as can be. He can do it. He wants to do it. All you have to do is ask for it. All you have to do is believe that His Son Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was raised from the dead 3 days later, ask God to forgive you because of Jesus' sacrificial death, and ask Jesus to be the one in charge of your life. It is that simple. Why wouldn't you want a new life in Christ that gets rid of all the spiritual potholes?

If you need God's grace to be poured on the wounds of your sins today, then take time right now to confess your sin and ask Him for forgiveness. He is faithful to forgive us when we do (1 John 1:9). If you are serious about having God pave you a new spiritual road, then check out this link or this link, or email me at pastornick@northcatawbabaptist.com

Whichever decision you make today, you won't be disappointed!


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Monday, March 12, 2018

Too Hot to Handle

Today we had a freak snow event that dropped a little bit of snow in our area. Of course as the weather started deteriorating the school system cancelled school and sent students home. On days like this I go by the school and pick my boys up. As I drove to the school I found myself sitting in traffic less than a half mile from where I needed to turn into the school. While sitting in traffic I looked out my window at the road beside my truck. The snow was falling in huge flakes and landing in the lane beside me. As I watched, I couldn't help but be mesmerized by the snow falling on the road. I guess what was so mesmerizing about it was that the snow was not sticking to the road but melting almost instantaneously. As I watched I found my self routing for the bigger snowflakes to make it and be the one that started the chain reaction that would make my trip to the school worth it. Time and time again the snow simply melted causing the road to be wet. Sure the bigger snowflakes held on longer but they too were ultimately overcome by the warmth of the road.

As I watched the snow, I found myself thinking about how this unfolding drama with snowflakes is characteristic of how Christians can sometimes be. Times become difficult, life happens, sickness creeps in, finances fall apart, or apathy takes hold and this once flourishing Christian starts to melt under the pressure. Like a frozen flake of snow landing on a warm road, the Christian starts to melt under the stress, anxiety, and pressure of their circumstances. Eventually the once vibrant and pristine Christian is nothing more than a puddle in the road.


But what if things could have been different? What if the Christian had a way to avoid this fate? What if there were a way for them to feel the heat but come out no more worse for wear? Wouldn't that be a future worth pursuing? There is a way. It isn't easy, but it is possible. It isn't a matter of changing the temperature of the "road" we are falling on or avoiding it all together. The way to avoid the fate of so many Christians who have succumbed to the problems of this life is to take a different path and do things altogether different. 


First, you have to stay close to God (James 4:8). One thing I have noticed in my years of ministry is that most of those who face struggles and then fall away from their faith, they did not stay committed to pursuing God through their struggles. It could be that they weren't disciplined to begin with, so praying, studying God's Word, worshiping Him, and serving Him were things they didn't continue to do as the temperature rose around them. If you find your self facing a struggle or maybe you find yourself in the middle of the storm right now, what you need to do is make your top priority your relationship with God. Pray. Study the Bible (don't simply read it). Worship with believers in God's house on His day. Serve Him with your spiritual gifts. If you do, you will find yourself much better equipped to deal with your struggle. 

Secondly, stay connected with other believers at church. If several of the snowflakes I watched had landed in the same place on the road, then the one that hit first would have been able to ultimately withstand the warm temperature of the road. This principle plays out in the life of a Christian facing trials. Too often, rather than seeking strength, comfort, and other forms of help during a struggle, many Christians try to go it alone and withdraw from fellowship with other believers. The end result is the proverbial puddle in the road I described earlier. They end up being a Christian not in practice but in name only. When we face times of trial, God uses other believers to strengthen, encourage, uplift, and sustain us. Why throw to the side one of the greatest earthly resources God has supplied us with for making it through our times of struggle?

My encouragement to you today is this. If you are struggling under the pressure of one of life's problems, stay close to God and stay in fellowship with other believers. If you will do these two simple things, although they won't be easy, they will ultimately pay off for you in the end. One result will be you going down a different path than the one that has destroyed the faith of so many before you. The other result will be a strong and vibrant relationship with God that will prepare you for the next struggle you face.


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Monday, March 5, 2018

The Integrity of a Stoplight

There has been several months of road construction on the route I normally take from my house to the church. The construction has resulted in delays at times, but nothing too severe. One change I have noticed since construction started is the adjustment of the stoplight in the construction area. I believe the timing of the light has been adjusted to compensate for the construction and to allow a better flow of traffic on the road that goes directly through the construction area. The road I use to get to church intersects this main road at this newly adjusted stoplight. I have noticed recently that it takes longer for the light to change when I am sitting in traffic. This isn't because of my impatience but instead a careful examination of how long it takes for the light to turn. Needless to say, the additional time required to sit at this light has caught my attention.

This past Sunday when I was headed to church I pulled up to this light and I was the only person in line. I thought since I pulled up that hopefully a sensor would cause the light to turn green and I'd be able to head on to church. Well, that isn't what happened. I sat there at the light for what seemed like an eternity waiting on the light to turn green. The part that frustrated me was that there was absolutely no traffic on the road besides myself. I sat at the light for a very long time waiting on the light to change and it seemed like it never would. I thought to myself, "There isn't a soul around. No one would know if I turned left on red and went on my way. There isn't any danger of causing an accident because no one else is on the road." Reluctantly, I stayed the course and eventually this light turned green and I was able to go.

Now I could have safely turned left on red and no one would be the wiser, right? Wrong. I would have known and God would have known. But would it have really mattered? I mean come on, it was a stoplight with absolutely no traffic around. Of course it would have mattered. It was ultimately a test of my integrity. When no one would know about our choices but us, what we are faced with in those moments is a matter of integrity. Integrity is defined as a "firm adherence to a code of moral values." It is the idea that something is incorruptible. I think the famous basketball coach John Wooden's quotes on character help to define integrity even better. He said, "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching." The things we do, the way we act, and the things we say when no one is around is a real test of our integrity. If we are willing to compromise our integrity in the small things of life (a stoplight), then what will happen when major events (persecution for your faith) require us to stay the course and be a person of integrity? Chances are we'll buckle under the stress of the situation because we haven't disciplined ourselves to be men or women of integrity. In a society that is constantly putting more and more pressure on us to compromise our morals and our values, we need men and women of integrity that will not compromise, but instead hold firm to their integrity. If we want to see a change in this world we need to model for our children and those following us, what it means to be a person of integrity, regardless of the situation. It means doing what is right, not what is easy. It means committing to a life of integrity long before you pull up to the stoplight. It means pleasing God by living a life that adheres to His standards in an unwavering manner.

I will close with this. Commit today to living a life of integrity. Regardless of how easy it is to compromise at times, commit yourself today to living a life pleasing to God by living a life of integrity. You'll be glad you did when you can look back on your life and see that you were a man or woman of integrity when no one else was looking.


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