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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