Monday, December 29, 2014

Don't Make New Year's Resolutions!

You read the title right. Don't, I mean don't, make resolutions for the New Year. You might wonder why I'm so adamant about it. The reason is more statistical than anything else. Did you know only 8% of those who make New Year's Resolutions succeed in achieving their resolutions. That means a whopping 92% of those who make New Year's Resolutions fail. That doesn't sound like very good odds to me.

So what should you do if you really want to make changes in the coming year but you don't want to fall victim to the horrible failure rate of New Year's Resolutions? Make a change, not a resolution. A resolution is defined as "an answer or solution to something." If you want to weigh less by the end of the year then your resolution would be to lose weight. But having the answer and accomplishing the goal are two different matters. If you don't make a change in your eating habits and activity level, then your answer is only that, an answer. So if you want things to change in your life then you need to make a change and then stick with it. Set goals and make them achievable. Don't plan to lose 50 pounds by January 15th because we all know that isn't possible. Celebrate as you accomplish milestones along the way. You will be amazed at how small things like that will keep you focused on your goal and motivated to accomplish your goal. If possible partner with others that have the same kind of goal. The accountability and support will only strengthen you for the challenge of accomplishing your goal.

Two things that Christians often "resolve" to do at the beginning of a New Year is to read the Bible more and spend more time in prayer. If those are two of our New Year's Resolutions, then the odds are you won't have a deeper relationship with God come February. Make the necessary changes you need to make in your life to carve out time for prayer and Bible study. If that means waking up earlier, do it. If it means rearranging your schedule, do it. Maybe something you need to do to help you grow spiritually is to get more active in attending services at your church. Only spending an hour on Sunday worshiping God isn't going to bring about the results most people hope for in deepening their relationship with God. Most churches have additional services, Bible studies, classes, small groups and other opportunities for you to grow in your faith. If you want to really make a change in your relationship with God spend more time in prayer, study the Bible more, and get involved in other disciple-making processes your church offers.

Here's to a New Year. I hope you'll make the necessary changes in your life in the coming year that will make you healthier physically and spiritually.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Get rid of your Elf on the Shelf!

Yes, we are one of those families that participate in the craziness that is the "Elf on the Shelf." At first it was entertaining to see the boys run around the house looking for Randy the Elf. We would even admit that it was entertaining on some weird level to watch the boys freak out when we pretended like we were going to pick Randy up and move him. We have woke up in a panic praying the boys didn't wake up before us all because we forgot to move the elf the night before. And yes, we've been those parents that had to make up some excuse for why the elf didn't move the night before. If we had small kids again, say 2-6 years old, I'd gladly do it all over again just to see the joy in their eyes. But I have to admit that I'm glad my two are aging out of the Elf phase, although I don't believe Misty is as happy as I am. I'm just glad that we will soon be getting rid of our Elf on the Shelf.

For some people they don't need to wait for their kids to grow up to get rid of their elf. They need to do it right now. You heard me right. Some people need to get rid of their elf right now and not use it again. Here's my reasoning on making such a claim. Your elf on the shelf is like most everything else in life, it's a tool to help teach and train your children. If the only use you have for having an elf on the shelf is to get your kids to behave and have some fun during the month of December, then you're missing a great opportunity to teach your kids about the real reason for Christmas. As parents we should take every opportunity we can to point our children towards God (Deuteronomy 6:7). We should use every day opportunities, like riding down the road or sitting down for a meal, to teach them valuable lessons about faith. With Christmas being solely about the birth of Jesus as the Savior of the world, how can we not use a silly game like Elf on the Shelf to point our children towards the true meaning of Christmas. I know some will say you shouldn't mix the secular views of Christmas and the
traditional religious view of Christmas. To them I'd say, "Why not?" How can we not use something that has so captivated the hearts and minds of our children to point out the reason we celebrate Christmas. If we don't use it from time to time to point to Jesus as the focus of Christmas, then we miss a great teaching opportunity. Plus we make the sole focus of Christmas about getting gifts because they've been good. I think the easiest way to put it is this. If you aren't willing to use your elf to lead your kids just a little closer to Christ, then you need to get rid of your Elf on the Shelf.


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Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas in view of the Cross

My grandmother gave Misty and I a crystal nativity set the year before we were married. Misty has kept it boxed up for 13 years for fear our boys would break it. This year it is displayed on a table in our living room. The other day I started towards bed and noticed something lying on the manger in that crystal nativity set. It was a little cross necklace Cooper had showed me earlier that evening. Before he went to bed, Cooper had laid the cross across the feet of the baby Jesus lying in the manger. I snapped a picture of it and thought to myself how powerful an image this 8 year old had created without even knowing it.

It is amazing to consider Christmas in view of the cross. The thought that this young child we celebrate at Christmas would die a torturous, suffocating death is hard to grasp while singing "Away in a Manger." But we view these events from our limited, finite, and temporal positions. The Advent, or coming, of Christ that we celebrate with hymns, plays, and gift giving was not the start of God's plan of salvation for mankind. His plan didn't even start in the moments after Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It started in eternity past. That plan always existed in the mind of God because, being omniscient, He knew He would create man and that man would fall into sin and need a savior. Since a savior was needed a child was born in Bethlehem and placed in a manger, some 5 miles from the place where His arms would be stretched out and nailed to a cross 33 years later.

Since Jesus is God we know that He has always known that He would be the sacrifice for mankind. He knew it before mankind was ever created. Can you imagine the thoughts as the divine, all-knowing part of Jesus knew the cross was coming and watched as people were crucified by the Romans? Can you imagine the thoughts as the fleshly, life-saving desires flooded His heart and mind as He grew into adulthood? These thoughts are hard to reconcile with our celebrations of the baby lying in the manger.

When we celebrate Christmas, we are really celebrating the beginning of the end of Christ's life here on earth. I'm not suggesting that Christmas should take on some morbid or somber tone. But the birth of that Child should be celebrated with joy since God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place (John 3:16). But as we celebrate, as we give gifts, and as we sing hymns, we need to remember the price this "Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger" paid for you and I. It should bring all the more joy and peace into our lives as we celebrate the arrival of the One who is called "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, NIV).

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Watch out for the cow pie!

Yesterday afternoon Dru, Cooper, a teenager from church, and myself went to feed our cows. Rather than driving the tractor all over creation we drove to one of our farms and loaded two round bales of hay in my truck and headed to another farm to feed the cows. We pulled into the pasture to pull the hay off the truck and I had pulled up to a most inconvenient spot without knowing it. When the other three started to get out on their side of the truck there was a huge pile of cow manure beside the truck. It didn't help matters any that I had hit it with my truck and made it spread out. They were able to get out of the truck relatively safely. That is until it was Dru's turn to jump over this cow pie. When he jumped out of the open door of the truck he made the mistake of jumping downhill. After landing safely beyond the massive cow pie Dru fell victim to Newton's first law of motion and his momentum caused him to go face first towards the ground...and you guessed it, another cow pie. Dru was fortunate not to get a face full of cow manure (because from my perspective I thought he had). He stood up, dusted himself off, laughed it off, and no one was the wiser as to how close he came to a major disaster!

Our spiritual lives are often the filled with the same type of pitfalls and problems. We try to avoid those problems that seem so huge in front of us and by avoiding that one we end up nearly "eating it" on the next problem that we don't see. We have to be very careful spiritually because those problems, temptations and pitfalls that we face are as common as a cow pie in a cow pasture. For those that have never been on a farm that means you have to watch where you step. Those temptations and problems can be handled carefully if we have guidance from One who can truly help us. God knows the troubles we face in life. He sees the struggles that we have. He is more than willing to help us deal with our problems or help us to avoid them all together. We just have to ask Him to help us and then follow His lead. See, if my sons had told me about the cow pie yesterday, I would have told them the right way to avoid it was to get out of the truck on my side where there wasn't one. All we have to do is seek God's help and follow His directions and He will gladly help His children.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Should I encourage my child's belief in Santa Claus?

Here is a confession from a grown man, husband, and father of two boys. Are you ready for it? I believe in Santa Claus. There I said it. It feels good to get that off my chest. Want to know why? There are two reasons really. First, we have a saying in my family that has been passed down from my parents (primarily my mom) and that will be passed down to my boys when they are old enough to understand. The saying is "If you don't believe in Santa there won't be any presents at my house on Christmas morning." So when my boys ask me if I believe in Santa, I am quick to tell them of my belief in the jolly old elf. Call me greedy, childish, materialistic, immature, or what have you, but if you ask me if I believe in Santa I'll tell you I believe. Do I think my parents would leave me out of the gift giving if I said I didn't believe? Probably not. But if I ruined the magic of Santa for their grandkids they might! The second reason is because I don't believe there is any harm in it.

Now understand my second reason to be coming from experience rather than education. My training is in business and theology, not in psychology. That being said, I know some people who from their child's earliest years have never encouraged belief in Santa for their own personal reasons. But like most people, I grew up in a house that celebrated Christmas with cookies and milk left for this guy that would come and leave presents in our living room. And like those that grew up in homes where Santa was allowed, I grew up to be a relatively well adjusted adult (no comments please). So what harm is done to us by allowing us to believe in the fanciful? What harm is there to be on the blind side of belief in a man giving gifts, giant rabbits leaving candy, or a fairy that trades money for molars? In this man's opinion absolutely nothing. Psychologically speaking I don't think there is. When was the last time you met someone with real life issues because they believed in Santa as a kid. Theologically speaking I think it can be helpful.

If nothing else I want my boys to grow up and allow their belief in Santa to help them frame their view of their faith in God. I know that is a stretch for some but hear me out. When my boys are older I want them to have as comprehensive a view as possible of their faith in God. I want them to fully realize this idea that God gave us the greatest gift ever on that first Christmas morning, not because He had to, but because He wanted to. There were no strings attached. There was no reason that He had to give us Christ, but He willingly gave Christ to us at His own personal cost. I believe encouraging belief in Santa (a benevolent man, who gives gifts at his own expense, and with no strings attached) will only help my kids more fully understand the true meaning of Christmas and God's gift of salvation through Christ. Call it simple minded. Call it what you will. But that's just the thought of a man who believes in Santa and hopes his kids will always believe as well.


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Monday, November 24, 2014

Reasons for Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving on Thursday, the thoughts of most people have turned to those things for which they are thankful. Yesterday our message at North Catawba Baptist Church was on the Reasons for Thanksgiving from Psalm 100:4-5. I want to share those reasons in hopes of encouraging you to, as the Psalmist puts it, "give thanks to him and praise his name." 

Psalm 100:4-5 says “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (NIV).

In verse 4 the Psalmist tells us we should give thanks to God and praise His name. In verse 5 the Psalmist goes on to give us 3 reasons why we should give thanks. So here are those reasons to give thanks and praise to God.

God is good.
“For the Lord is good…”

What the psalmist is pointing out here is part of the character of God, part of what makes God…God. The goodness of God is part of His very essence. It is part of His very DNA. When it comes to goodness or something being good, we understand it to mean something is favorable and right, rather than bad, wrong or possibly even evil. With our understanding that God is good and what goodness entails, then we understand that in God there is nothing bad or evil. He is a holy God who loves us and shares His goodness with us. 

Many times in life we look at the difficult events in our life and we call into question where is the goodness of God in my situation. The loss of a loved one, a relationship that ends badly, a job that is downsized, and the list goes on. But just because we face a difficult circumstance here on earth or even live a life constantly filled with adversities and difficulties doesn't change the goodness of God. Ultimately it shouldn't give us a negative view of God or His goodness. What we ought to experience in those difficult times in life is a greater appreciation for God’s goodness to us. We ought to have an attitude of thankfulness to God for His goodness during those difficulties. If we see God for who He is, a loving, benevolent, good and holy God then we will be thankful for all that God does for us. Especially seeing us through those difficult times in life. Ultimately the goodness of God is a reason we should give thanks to God and praise His name. 

Another reason to give thanks and praise to God is because...

God loves you.
“His love endures forever…”

For us, one of the greatest things we receive from God and can be thankful for is His love. Like the psalmist says here in verse 5, “His love endures forever…”This is a reason to be thankful on so many levels. Think first about God’s love. God’s love for us is shown in many different ways. Through His provision, His care, His grace, His mercy and many other ways. The greatest way we've been shown God’s love was through Christ dying on the cross for all of us. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV). God showed His love to you by allowing Jesus to die on the cross while you were dead in your sins, so you could have your sins forgiven, a perfect relationship with God, and eternal life. 

But verse 5 tells us that not only does God love us, but his love endures. This shows us the staying power of God’s love. It means God doesn't love us for a short time and then discard us or give up on us. His love endures all of the mess we put ourselves through by sinning and disobeying God. His love stands the test of time and we ought to be thankful for that. 

Finally we see that this love of God that endures all of our failures, it will endure forever. There is no end to the love of God. God has loved us since before time existed and He will love us into eternity, millions and billions of years from now. It is like God says in Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (NIV). The everlasting and enduring nature of that love is all the more reason to praise Him and give thanks to Him. 

Another reason to give thanks and praise to God is because...

God is faithful.
“His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

God has proven Himself faithful for thousands of years through the pages of Scripture, through the pages of church history, and ultimately in your life. His faithfulness to you is found in verses like Deuteronomy 31:8 “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." His faithfulness to His children is as enduring as His love we mentioned previously.

Notice what the psalmist says there in verse 5. He says “His faithfulness continues through all generations.” Basically the psalmist is telling us that from Adam & Eve until the final generation of people on earth God will be faithful to His people. There will never be a time when God is not faithful to you or to anyone else who’s ever lived. God’s enduring faithfulness to you is deserving of praise and thanks. 

God’s faithfulness to you in every aspect of your life deserves your thanks and praise. Consider His faithfulness to provide for you, love you, guide you, mold you, care for you, and protect you. His faithfulness through all of that and much more deserves at the least your thanks and at the most your praise. 

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Monday, November 17, 2014

5:30 AM comes early!

I recently spoke to a person who visited our church. This man said he enjoyed the service and he would be back. In the conversation the man shared that he had been looking forward to coming to visit and he had came at 5:30 AM that morning to find the church. Chalk it up to anxiety, excitement, or nerves, but the man was making sure he didn't miss worship.

The ironic thing about this story is that from all indications the man isn't a believer in Christ. Here is a man who probably doesn't grasp the full understanding of what worship is all about and yet he wanted to make sure he didn't miss it. The sad thing is there are plenty of people who claim to be born again believers who have no interest in worshipping the God who provided them with salvation. For those who do worship God we should have the same excitement about worship that this visitor did. We should have a deep longing and desire to worship God both privately and corporately. 

If you are one who has lost that motivation for worship, I encourage you to take the first step today towards repairing your relationship with God. A good first step is to seek his forgiveness and find a church to worship in this Sunday. If you don't have a church you are currently attending come join us at North Catawba Baptist Church.  Contact me for directions or questions (828-234-6886).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lessons from a tractor seat.

The other day I spent several hours bush hogging a part of our pasture that had grown up in weeds and briers. For those who don't know what bush hogging is, it is mowing down high weeds and small saplings with an over-sized mowing deck attached to the back of a tractor. A pasture can be transformed in a matter of hours by bush hogging. The challenge comes in when you have a pasture like ours. It has a pretty good slope to it and has small gullies in it. And there is always the occasional rock or branch that gets in the way. My time spent on the tractor is often time where I have the chance just to think. Hours of bush hogging gave me plenty of time to do just that. As I reflected on the time spent mowing down weeds, I couldn't help but see the comparison to a person's spiritual life. So here are a few lessons from a tractor seat for your walk with Christ.

Watch out for holes!
If you hit a hole or the edge of a steep gully you can do some real damage to your tractor or bush hog. You could even flip the tractor and possibly be killed. Those holes (temptations, sins, etc.) we find in our spiritual walk are ones that can do plenty of damage. They will damage our relationships, our bodies, and ultimately our witness. We need to watch out for them and avoid them with Christ's help.

Don't look back!
If you look back while bush hogging you can easily have debris thrown at you or even into your eyes. When you look back you also don't see what is coming up, like a tree branch smacking you in the face (just trust me on that one). Jesus mentions this idea of not looking back in Luke 9:62. When we take time to look back at what we leave behind to walk with Christ we are doomed to fall. Looking back can only cause us problems as we move forward. We need to continue looking and moving forward in our walk.

Don't get discouraged by slow progress!
After I had been bush hogging for about 45 minutes I felt like I wasn't making any progress. Things were progressing much slower than I wanted. By staying at it, that slow progress eventually translated into several acres cleared. We generally don't want to wait on spiritual growth, but sometimes God has to help us grow more slowly. That slower progress of growth in our life will result in a greater accomplishment in our lives. Through this growth God can strengthen our faith and ultimately bring glory to His name.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Pack an OCC Shoebox and change a life.

In the last 9 years I've helped collect nearly 1,000 Operation Christmas Child (OCC) Shoeboxes for Samaritan's Purse. That's no exaggeration. I've helped lead the OCC Shoebox collection at the two churches I've served in since 2006. The first year I was in ministry it was basically dumped on me and I was told in October "Oh yeah, the youth pastor does the shoebox collection too." The first year I honestly didn't know what I was doing. I set a goal of 50 shoeboxes and we hit our goal. From then on I increased the total each year as we continued to meet our goals. Last year at North Catawba Baptist Church we surpassed our goal by 12 and this year raised our goal by 25. I've had the unique opportunity for several years to deliver our shoeboxes with church groups to the OCC Collection Center in Boone. By doing that I've had an opportunity to hear more in-depth about the collection process while touring the facility. All of this has combined to give me a heart for this particular ministry. When you pack an OCC Shoebox you are literally changing the life of a child somewhere in the world.

Each child that receives a shoebox also receives a presentation of the gospel in their own language. Not only do they hear the local pastor share the gospel at the community distribution, but they also receive a booklet explaining the gospel in their own language. Receiving the gifts is enough to change a child's life. Many children around the world do not have a fraction of a percent of what our children in the U.S. have in their homes. The shoebox shows these children around the world that someone loves them and more importantly that God loves them. The gospel presentation that accompanies your shoebox is more important than any toy, notepad or ball found in the box. The gospel will impact their lives and change their eternity. And that presentation is able to be given all because you packed a shoebox.

Let me close by sharing a story with you that I hope will encourage you to pack a shoebox and change the life of a child. I use stories during my children's sermons when promoting OCC Shoeboxes but unfortunately I can't share this one in church for fear of scaring our children. But it is a true story and a sad reality of the world we live in. This story was shared once by a Smaritan's Purse employee discussing OCC with my church group. 10 years ago OCC did a shoebox distribution in Beslan, Russia. One young man received a shoebox and the book that presents the gospel as well. Not long after the distribution the boy was headed to school and on his way out he gave his mother something to mail. He told her it was the decision card from his book and that she had to mail it today so the folks at OCC would know he had made a decision to follow Christ. That day his school was taken hostage by Chechen rebels. It was also the last time his mother ever saw him alive. During the attempted rescue of those in the school this young boy was one of the casualties. But that young boy had his life changed because someone had spent the time and the money to pack a shoebox for OCC. More importantly his eternity was changed. When you pack a shoebox you are literally changing people's lives.

I encourage you if you haven't already started to pack a shoebox do so now. Local churches are usually collecting them in October or early November. You can contact one and drop it off if your church isn't collecting them. Or better yet start a collection at your church and get your church involved in changing lives around the world.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Are you praying for or against yourself?

In my sermon yesterday I used an example from the life of George Muller. For those who don't know who George Muller was, he ran five orphanages and cared for thousands of orphans in England during the 1800s. The interesting thing about Mr. Muller is that he never sought out financial support from anyone. He made his requests known to God (Philippians 4:6) and watched as God provided everything that was needed. The stories of God's provision are more than remarkable. Google him to read some of the stories for yourself. Muller's life was a constant reliance on God for provision. One challenging thing that I read during my preparation for that message and to use Muller's example was how Muller approached God. He didn't pray out of duty or out of some since or responsibility to pray a particular way. Muller prayed with an explicit expectation that God would answer his prayers. He made his requests to God and waited knowing God would provide what was needed.

I haven't been able to shake what I read. I couldn't help but consider whether at times we as Christians are praying for ourselves or against ourselves. I wonder how many of us pray against ourselves by praying out of habit or a sense of Christian duty, rather than praying for ourselves so we develop our relationship with the One who loves us. How often do we pray without any real expectation that God will answer our prayers? Do we pray and ask the "right" things because we know that is what God wants us to say? Or do we pour our hearts out and show God the vulnerable places in our life that no one else sees? Do we ask with a sense of urgency and a real desire to see the heart and hand of God be moved by our requests? My hope for each of us who trust in Christ is that we do not take our prayers for granted. I hope we see our prayers for what they are. A time in which we can ask the God of the Universe to move in our lives, so long as His will is satisfied. A time of expectation knowing that God hears our prayers and will respond. A time of praying for ourselves and not against ourselves.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Only one way to make coffee.

This morning was one of those mornings where I had to have some coffee. Now I'm not one of those folks that requires coffee every morning to be able to function, but on the mornings I have it I do seem to function better. In the past couple of years since I started drinking coffee, I have found out an interesting tidbit about coffee. There is only one way to make it and that is my way. I am a creature of habit. When I find something I like, I don't tweak it I go with it. Like the old saying goes "If it isn't broken, don't fix it." Well I fix my coffee religiously the same way every time. The same amount of coffee, the same amount of water, the same amount of sugar, and the same amount of creamer. Every. Time. I've tried coffee at restaurants and they don't suit my taste. But on the mornings I fix my coffee at home, I know with great confidence what my coffee will taste like. For me there is only one way to make coffee and that is my way.

My preference on my coffee is like what we see in the Bible concerning God's will. There is only one way to do things and that is His way. Now you and I both know that this world would be much better off if we all followed God's will. But sadly it doesn't work out that way. Even the greatest of believers have those moments where they lapse in spiritual judgment and make a bad choice. It happens to all of us. Just ask Simon Peter. What we need to do is strive daily to live inside of God's will. Because He is constantly reminding us through the pages of Scripture and the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our lives that His way is the only way to do things. When we step outside of His will for our lives things go awry. Why? Because they aren't going according to the perfect plan which is God's plan. But when we focus and seek God's will daily we will find peace knowing we are following the perfect path that God has for us. All because we are doing things the only way we should. His way.

My encouragement to you today is this. If you have been headed down the wrong path, doing things your own way and are ready to get back on God's path, then do it today! Ask Him to show you the direction you need to be headed. The key is when He shows you, don't hesitate to follow it.You'll be glad you listened to Him.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Mistaken Identity

About 15 years ago I sat at home on my lunch break from work while home on summer break from college. I called Appalachian State University (Go Mountaineers!) to find out what the problem was with my schedule for the upcoming fall. I had received a letter in the mail that notified me that I could not take a class I needed because of a conflict. While talking to a woman in the Registrar's office she told me "Mr. Wilson your coach has flagged your schedule because this class conflicts with your practice times." Realizing there was a mistake I told the lady that I wasn't on any teams and it was a mistake. I did ask her what team I had been placed on in the hopes it was the basketball team and I could see about fulfilling a dream to play college basketball. Unfortunately she informed me I had ended up on the football roster and I promptly informed her I was not built for college football. Evidently my student number, name, or social security number had been mistakenly entered into the football roster. One funny aspect of this story is that for the past 15 years I have continued to receive mailings as a "football alumni" and never put on a pair of cleats for ASU. I once received an invite to run onto the field during homecoming, but graciously declined. This past week I received another such letter. It got me thinking about the problem of mistaken identity that can so easily happen in life.

There are plenty of mistaken identities that go on every day when it comes to matters of faith. There are people around the world who claim the name of Christ as their Savior. But their identity with Christ ends right there. They allow Christ to be their fire insurance for hell but give Him no further allegiance or attention. They are mistakenly identified as Christians when they very well may be something else. Now I'm not the one to judge whether a person has given their heart to Christ but you can tell someone's spiritual condition by the fruit they produce. If someone walked an aisle and said a prayer as a kid and never again gave another thought to what God wanted for their life, then I would encourage them to check their own salvation. The premise of being a Christian is one who has allowed Christ to be their Lord and Savior. This means that Christ is in control of their life as much as He has been the one to save their spiritual life. That doesn't mean a Christian is perfect. It doesn't mean a Christian won't backslide or fall away from God. But what it does mean is that they pursue Christ out of a love for what He has done for them. It means they try to grow closer to God by conforming to the image of Christ.

My encouragement to you today is this. If you have fallen away from God take the first step back to Him today. It doesn't matter what you've done, He willingly accepts you back. All you have to do is ask Him for forgiveness and head in a new direction with Him. If you are one of those that walked an aisle and said a prayer but haven't thought twice about God since, I encourage you to contact me so we can talk. Email me at pastornick@northcatawbabaptist.com

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Monday, September 22, 2014

It's not the years...it's the mileage.

As a kid of the 80's I grew to love watching the Indiana Jones movies. I don't usually watch movies more than once or twice at most but I could watch the Indiana Jones movies over and over. A few years ago, my wife bought me a card for my birthday. On the outside it has a picture of Indiana Jones and reads "When they ask you how old you are, take some advice from Dr. Jones..." On the inside it says "It's not the years...it's the mileage. Here's to being well traveled!" I've kept the card on a shelf in my office as a reminder of many things. My wife's love, her sense of humor, and her desire to keep me in my place as the older of the two of us. But I've kept it also as a reminder of the perspective we should have as Christians when it comes to our walk with Christ.

Many people who profess their faith in Christ can tell you how old they were when they became a Christian. Some can even give you down to the date and time (which always impresses me because I can't remember info like that). But the problem is that the longer we are a Christian, the more we sometimes make it about our term of service and less about what's gone on during that time. I can tell you that I've been a Christian for 25 years and on some level that is important. It shows when God changed my life and how long I've had a relationship with the One who is "the way, the truth, and the life." But what does it matter if you've been a Christian for 25 years or 60 years if that time spent in relationship with the God of the Universe has done little to mold you into the image of Christ? The goal of every believer should be to be more like Christ today than they were yesterday. If you show little difference from the time you received Christ as your Lord and Savior to today, then you have made it all about the years and not about the mileage.

Here's my encouragement to you today. If you have been one of those that revel in the fact you've been a Christian for umpteen years but you've done little in those years to draw close to God, then start today. There is no time like the present when it comes to working on your relationship with God. Seek God's forgiveness for your lack of attention to your relationship with Him and move forward in a new direction with God. You won't regret it.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why we cannot Coexist.

There are many things about traffic that drive me nuts. Quite possibly the greatest irritant to me when driving isn't being cut off or sitting in traffic, but a bumper sticker that has the word "coexist" on it. The letters of the word are religious and secular symbols used to spell out the word "coexist" (as seen at the right). Every time I see this bumper sticker on the back of a car I can't help but start shaking my head in disbelief that someone else has bought into the lies. 

There are three reasons why man cannot coexist while practicing different religions and worldviews. 

The first reason is based on the definition of the word "coexist." Webster's Dictionary defines coexist as "to live in peace with one another."  Most religions in the world seek some sort of peace so as to worship one's god or live their lives in their own way.Here is an easy example of how this is not possible that has made the news in recent years. Members of ISIS, the extremist Islamic group, are taking to heart the words of the Prophet Mohammad concerning jihad and are murdering those who are not Muslims. I know there is a lot more to the Islamic faith than this one teaching but nevertheless when a religion has murdering non-believers (Quran, Sura 4:89) as a part of their faith there is no hope to coexist. Some will always become fanatics over it and use it for their own personal gains.

The second reason is every religion believes their religion is the only true religion. Ask a Buddhist and he will tell you there is only one way to enlightenment. Ask a Jew who has the correct path to heaven and he will say that he does. Ask any member of any religion or particular worldview if there are other ways to live or worship that are identical to what they do and believe and they will tell you no. Some religions will take an universal view of things and say that there are many paths to god or enlightenment but most stick to their guns and claim their way is the only way.

The third reason is because Jesus does not share His throne with any others. In John 14:6 Jesus tells us that He is the only way to God. Paul even reminds us, with one of the earliest church hymns, with the reason coexistence cannot happen. He writes in Philippians 2:10-11 "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (NIV). Other religions cannot coexist when they all must kneel in the presence of Christ. Dr. Walter Martin says it best when he wrote "The second person of the Trinity does not share His throne with Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed, Zoroaster, or any of the endless assortment of gurus and gods.  As the Savior of the world, He bore our sins in His own body upon the cross."

And that my friends is why we cannot coexist.

*I know that this post can come across a bit aggressive but it is not intended to be that way. With so many in this world calling for tolerance and coexistence between religions, there has become a blurring of the lines when it comes to the truth. Believers in Christ must stand on the truth of Scripture when it comes to Jesus and the salvation He offers while living out Paul's command to "as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18, NIV).

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Worship is not about you.

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it — we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy.
“So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
The comments above were made recently by Victoria Osteen, Joel Osteen's wife, as the two of them addressed the congregation of their mega-church in Houston. The sad thing is comments like these, and the Osteens aren't the only ones who make them, mislead people in their walk with God. Worshiping God so you'll be happy is nothing short of worshiping the idol of happiness.
Sorry to put it so bluntly but...Worship is not about you. Regardless of what you personally think or regardless of what a prosperity preacher may tell you, worship is not about you. It's not about making you happy. It's not about making you feel good. It's not about the type of music you prefer. It's not about what you get out of it. Our worship of God is about us recognizing His holiness in comparison to our sinfulness. It's about showing our love and devotion to Him for what He has done by providing us with salvation through Christ. Our worship of God should look to glorify Him (Psalm 29:2), not give us a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Don't misunderstand me to be saying that we shouldn't have our preferences of ways to worship God. Variety is the spice of life and worship. I'm also not saying that worship should be dull and boring, full of routine for routine's sake. Psalm 100:2 says "Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs" (NIV). Worship is to be a celebration of what God has done in our lives through the salvation He's provided to us. But when we start to worship God because of what we get out of it, then we start to tread on spiritual thin ice.
Psalm 99:5 wraps up the idea of worship for us. It says "Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy" (NIV). We are to exalt or lift up God in our worship. We are to humble ourselves before Him as if bowing at His footstool. And finally, we do all of this because He is holy...not to make us happy.
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Monday, August 25, 2014

Going through the motions

Last Friday, while Dru practiced football at a local park, Cooper and I went onto the baseball field to work on his pitching. Next year will be his first year in "kid pitch" so he wants to be prepared to try and pitch. Although I pitched very little back in the day, I do know the mechanics and motions of pitching and so I agreed to work with him. To put it mildly, the kid started off throwing like "Nuke" LaLoosh or Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn. He had all power and no control. After we worked on some fundamentals of his pitching motion, we were able to tame that wild arm that was hitting the back stop with more pitches than the catcher's mitt. What Cooper needed was some instruction on how to do things right and what he was doing wrong. What he needed was for someone to come along side of him and show him what he needed to do. This is similar to what is needed in developing new believers.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Christ commands all of His followers to "make disciples" of those who come to faith in Christ. Unfortunately, what we often times see is that when it comes to making disciples we will "dip" them and then we will "drop" them. This simply means we focus intensely on leading someone into a relationship with Christ and then once they are baptized and sitting in the church pew, we "drop" them and end our discipleship making process. What we do is we lead them into a relationship with Christ and then expect them to figure out how to develop that relationship without any help or guidance. We as individual believers in Christ and as churches need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to help new believers develop in their faith. It may be that we need to start a "Next Steps" class at our church to lead new believers into a more grounded faith. Maybe we need to individually mentor a new believer. Regardless of how it happens, we need to make sure that new believers have someone coming along side of them to show them how to develop their faith and live the Christian life. So here's a challenge for you today. Find a new believer that you can help develop in their faith. It may be a family member, friend, co-worker, or church member, but find someone you can help develop. Then get started. Don't wait or you won't do it. Make contact today and find a way to pour into this baby Christian so that you can help them mature in their faith.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Guarding the Archer

Saturday afternoon the boys had a friend over and they decided to go outside and play. I went outside to check on them and make sure they weren't doing anything to get themselves in trouble. Somehow my presence ended up with the four of us playing a game of "War" with bows that shot foam arrows. Dru and I played against Cooper and his friend. Living in the parsonage of the church does have it's advantages, so we ran around the outside of the church, hid in the bushes, and ran through the playground. We had a great time. We played with the rule that if you were hit by the opposing team's arrow you died. In the middle of the game I saw Cooper doing something that I thought was remarkable. Cooper was standing in front of his friend, who held the bow, as a human shield. He was regularly giving his "life" in the game for his teammate. It was an example of self-sacrifice that wasn't lost on me.

When we consider the Christian faith and bring up the idea of sacrifice, most people generally jump to one area of the faith. Most people think of Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross for mankind. But what we sometimes forget about the Christian faith is that we are called to live our lives as a sacrifice for the One who loved us enough to die for us. That means we no longer live for ourselves but we live for Christ. We are to live with an eternal perspective when it comes to every aspect of our lives. This means we sacrifice our own wants, desires, and needs for what God wants and desires from us. We start looking for areas to serve Him. We find ways to give to the work of His Kingdom. We use our gifts and abilities to praise Him in worship. All of this is done with the same attitude we read Paul had in 2 Timothy 4:6 when he wrote, "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering..." (NIV). We should gladly pour our selves out as a sacrifice to God for the salvation He's provided. We can always do more to show our devotion to God. What is an area of your faith you need to do more to pour yourself out to God?

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Monday, August 11, 2014

What are they running from?

Last week, while on vacation at the beach, I had the chance to watch an interesting sight and have some fun while doing so. We were regularly watching these small fish jumping out of the water near where we were playing in the ocean. I couldn't resist the opportunity to mess with my family, so of course I said something that caused my family to take notice. I said, in a serious dad-type of way, "That's not normal. Fish don't just jump out of the water like that unless their being chased by something. I wonder what they're running from?" Of course the boys start edging towards the beach (and to sell it I did too). Having been in the ocean near a shark 20 years ago, and having told the story to my boys, they don't doubt me (yet) when I say stuff like this. Nevertheless, we did see these fish jumping in the water for reasons known only to them.

When we find ourselves running from God we do some pretty dumb things. We react like a fish jumping out of the water when there is no predator around. We try to avoid God, like that could ever happen (just ask Jonah). We stop reading the Bible and stop spending time in prayer. We may even avoid church or friends that we know go to church. But why? What are we running from? We are running from a God who loves us and wants only the best for us. We are running from a God who is intimately involved and personally invested in our lives. We are running from grace and mercy that are far better than anything this world has to offer. Instead of running from God, especially when we feel unworthy because of sin in our life, we should instead run to Him. We should run headlong into the arms of the one who loves us so much that He gave His only Son to die for us. So if today you find yourself running away from God, then take that difficult first step in the opposite direction and start the short run back to Him. He'll welcome you back with open arms, abundant love, more than sufficient grace, and mercy beyond belief.

Sorry for the short hiatus in posting. As of late ministry and life made it difficult to find time to post. Mondays will be the norm going forward. So be sure to check back each Monday for a new post.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Consider the Perspective

Yesterday I spent much of my day in a hospital room in Asheville. I sat in that room waiting on a member of our church to be discharged so I could drive them home. As we sat in that room, I spent much of my time sending emails and texts to stay caught up on my work. My church member spent the time listening to Tennessee Ernie Ford singing hymns on TV and occasionally glancing out the window at the view. When I first walked into the room I noticed the view and took a good long look at it. Off in the distance you could see a beautiful mountain backdrop like you would expect in Asheville. On this day though the rain clouds going by sometimes hid the tops of the mountains but that didn't diminish the beauty of the view.

From my perspective the view was something similar to what I've enjoyed on numerous hiking trips with my boys. I would almost say I took it for granted. From my church member's perspective, I felt it was a glorious revelation of the majesty of God. Listening to those beautiful old hymns that praise and glorify our God, while viewing a beautiful landscape, surely gave that church member a moment of heartfelt worship with God.

Worship of God can be much like our view yesterday. We can sit in church, listen to the same songs and sermon, and yet our perspective can be completely different than someone less than 10 feet from us. From what I've observed in life, you see a picture of newer and experienced Christians in that hospital room yesterday. One of us, like a new Christian, had basically been given a changed heart. To my church member the songs had a new meaning and the view of God's glory took on a whole new perspective. One of us, like a more experienced Christian, saw the same view and heard the same songs, but they had a different meaning. Yes the songs resonated in the heart and the view still revealed the majesty of God. But the context of the person listening and seeing determines the worship experience.

As we develop in our faith, our worship often times takes on a different feel. Do we still want to worship God because of the salvation He's given us? Yes we do. Do we worship in the same style or the same form? Maybe. Maybe not. But the important thing that needs to be consistent, regardless of our perspective is that God is worshiped from our heart. We don't do it to show off. We don't do it because it's expected. We do it because He is God and He alone is worthy of our worship. Regardless of your current perspective on worship, God is still God and we should worship Him as such.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Lead by Example

Last fall my son Cooper played football for a local optimist team. When they started practicing I noticed something about Cooper's work ethic when it came to practice. They would normally stretch out and then run two laps around the perimeter of the field. With Cooper being taller than all the other kids on his team (and 99% of the league) I was surprised that his size didn't translate into a first place finish on the two laps they ran after warming up. After a few practices I really started paying attention to the situation and the reason for him not coming in first place made me proud.

Misty and I have taught the boys from a young age that they need to be leaders in all they do rather than being followers. We've taught them that whether it's sports, school or church, they need to use the gifts God has given them to be leaders in every aspect of life. We've told them the reason they have to lead effectively is because others will follow them and they need to lead in the right way. When I started watching Cooper run I noticed that all but one other kid would cut the corners of the field and with each corner gain a sizable lead on Cooper. He was precise in his corners. He had a laser focus until he reached the corner and didn't cut the least bit of the corner. The one kid following him stayed right behind Cooper. Cooper was bummed because he wasn't coming in first but I told him not to worry about it because he was doing the right thing and he would be stronger for going the extra distance others weren't willing to go. The more laps they ran the more followers Cooper had on the outer corners. Eventually the coaches took notice of Cooper, told all the kids to follow Cooper, and because of his hard work, Cooper was made team Captain.

When it comes to every aspect of life we need to be prepared to lead and lead by example. We garner no respect from our fellow believers, employees, or family members if all we do is direct and command them instead of leading them. The greatest example we could ever hope to see on this matter comes to us from John 13. This is where we see Jesus leading by example. During His final meal with His disciples, Jesus takes time to wash the feet of the disciples. This task was a servant's job and Jesus being a renown teacher and prophet He should never have done this task. But Jesus leads the disciples here by setting the example of how to be a servant to their fellow man. In verse 15 Jesus even says, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (NIV). If we want to effectively lead in every aspect of our life then we need to follow Jesus' example and lead by example. When we do others will follow. Employees will be motivated. Our family will be inspired. And other believers will be encouraged.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

7 Signs You're "Judging" Others

I recently read a blog post by the popular pastor and author J.D. Greear. It definitely gives the believer who wants to grow in their faith some tools to ensure they aren't judging others. I wanted to share the link to it here so others can benefit from the wisdom found in his post. Check it out here. I hope you are able to use it to grow in your faith.


Monday, July 7, 2014

To serve or not to serve...is there a question?

I recently had a conversation with a godly man who has a passion for serving God. Not only does he have a passion for serving God, but he does all he can to encourage others to do the same. Part of the conversation we had centered on the need for more believers in the church to be active in the missions and ministries of the church. There is a definite need for more believers to step up and take on roles of service in the church. There is an old statistic that is thrown around in churches, but it actually is a fairly good representation of what goes on in the church. The statistic is that 20% of the members do 80% of the work. It's a sad statistic but it is true nonetheless. With that many people sitting on the sidelines, is not serving in the work of the church an option?

The answer is a resounding no. Search the Bible and you will never find a place where God says, "If you are this type of person, you don't have to serve me" or "If you are this old, you can take it easy" or "Those who fall into this category are exempt from serving." There is only one class of Christians and they are all called to serve God. We serve God not out of obligation, but out of love for the salvation He has provided us. Although we don't serve out of obligation, God expects each believer to serve in the work of the Kingdom. Ephesians 4:12-13 tells us that God has gifted each of us "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (NIV). God would not have given us spiritual gifts for service if He did not expect us to serve Him. God has gifted us all in some way so that we can serve Him. When we do not serve God with our spiritual gifts, talents and natural abilities, then we are defying God's desire for us to serve. And going against God's will is never a good idea.

To serve or not to serve? Is there a question? No. My encouragement to you today is to seriously consider what areas of service you can take part in at your church. Once you decide, don't wait, act on it quickly and find out how to get involved. You'll never find the same kind of fulfillment in life that you will when you are serving God exactly where He need you to serve.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Asking God Why

Yesterday I received a phone call from a family member who is battling a serious, and often times fatal, form of cancer. This family member received a really good report and it appears that God has nearly healed this person through the treatments and wisdom of doctors. God is definitely to be praised for this healing. I also know another person battling cancer. The cancer this person has is terminal and there aren't any treatment options. The family is constantly evaluating options for pain management and any changes in this person's condition. We would normally say this is a sad situation and not give a second thought to praising God for this type of situation. But here's the common denominator in both of these people other than the fact they have cancer and it is that they both are believers in Christ.

When we look at both of these situations we often wonder why God would allow such things to happen to God fearing people. How can this be the fate of people who have served Him faithfully and want to continue to do so? Why would God allow this to happen to people who want to make a difference in the world for Him? Why did He choose to heal one and not the other? Why?

Some say we shouldn't question God. I believe part of our relationship with God is being able to question Him, but with an understanding that we do it in a respectful way. We must realize though, that just because we ask the question doesn't mean we'll get an answer? When we ask the big question of "Why," we may have an answer in a few days or a few years. God may choose to wait until we are in heaven to reveal His answer to us. Whatever God chooses, we are at His mercy because He is the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe.

So ask your questions of God. Why did You allow that? How can this be for my good? When will You lift this burden? What will You do about my pain? And whether you get an answer right now or not follow the instructions in 1 Chronicles 16:8 that I shared with my family member before the test results were revealed yesterday. It says "Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done" (NLT). Let the world know how great your God is and what situations in life He is seeing you through.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Lessons Learned in VBS - Part 3

Today we'll finish looking at the 2 most important lessons we learn in VBS. (Sorry for not posting this on Friday but it's better late than never!)

2. To worship with child-like excitement.
If you have never watched the children at VBS during the worship rally then you have truly missed a blessing. There is nothing like watching these kids sing praises to God and dance around as they worship God. There is a purity and joy in their worship that is probably only outdone by the angels in heaven. But you watch the kids don’t watch the older ones like the teenagers because they are too cool to sing loudly and dance wildly. My favorite kids to watch are the preschoolers. Their exuberance makes you want to jump right in there with them even if you sing and dance as poorly as I do. Jesus tells us in Luke 18:16-17 “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (NIV). When we come to faith in Christ we have to exercise child-like faith. But to worship God we ought to worship like a child, with joy in our heart and a purity of devotion that makes it all about God and nothing about us. 

The most important lesson ever taught in VBS is...
1. That Jesus loves you.
 The reason we do VBS is not to give kids a fun activity in the summer. We don’t do VBS so people will start attending our church or so we can brag about the number of kids we had at VBS. We do VBS so we can introduce children and hopefully their parents to a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s it. That is the only reason we do VBS. My wife learned about God’s love at VBS and then accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior. Many people over the years have come to faith in Christ through VBS. That is why we teach God's love at VBS through the Bible Studies and the songs we sing. We teach the children what John 3:16 means. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV). We teach them how God loved them enough to allow Jesus to die in our place and that if we believe in Him we can have eternal life. We teach the children the simple message of the Gospel and we usually do that through the ABCs. We teach them first that God loves them but we’ve all done things that hurt God. We teach them that we must A - Admit to God that we are a sinner. We help them understand that we have all sinned and fell short of God’s standards. We teach them how they have to admit that they’ve sinned and to look for a way to have those sins forgiven. We then teach them that the only way to have those sins forgiven is by B - Believing in Jesus. We explain to them that if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross so we could have our sins forgiven, then all we have to do is ask for it & we’ll receive it. Finally we teach them C - ConfessWe teach them to confess to God that they’re a sinner, that they need forgiveness of their sins, and to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That is the message we teach and preach through Bible School. That is the whole reason we round up the volunteers, find the teachers and buy all the supplies. It’s so we can introduce children to a relationship with Christ that will alter their life forever. 

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