Monday, December 5, 2016

Go to church on Christmas.

This year has been full of surprises. Our region of the country has experienced a severe drought for months. The presidential election did not turn out like many thought it would. Laws were put in place to make sure people knew which bathroom they needed to use. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908. A year of surprises is a good description for 2016. One surprise that some are finding out about as the month of December starts is that Christmas is on a Sunday this year. For some this is a surprise they didn't anticipate and frankly, they'd rather do without it. To others, they embrace the fact that the day we celebrate the Birth of Christ is on the day Christians set aside for worship each week. 

So far I haven't heard of any churches in our area that are canceling church altogether on Christmas. Many have an adjusted schedule of services but most every church in our area has plans for worship on Sunday, December 25. Since there will be churches having services on Christmas Day, I encourage you to go to church on Christmas. I know, "But Pastor, ___________." You can fill in the blank. There are plenty of reasons people can give for not going to church on Christmas Day (some of those reasons, I mean excuses, are used throughout the year). Consider setting aside the excuses and worshiping God on Christmas. Here are just a few reasons why you should attend church on Christmas Day.

It's Christmas Day!
If there is ever a day when people should gather in God's house to worship Him then Christmas Day should be at the top of everyone's list. We worship God because of the relationship we have with Him through Jesus Christ's death on the cross. Without Jesus' birth there would be no death. Without the crib there is no cross. Outside of Resurrection Sunday, the occasional Christmas Sunday should be a priority for Christians.

Order your Sunday around your faith, not around your culture.
For nearly 2,000 years Christians have set aside the first day of the week, Sunday, as their time to worship the risen Savior. Christians have been prioritizing their schedule, their very lives, around their faith and worship of God for two millennia now. Why should we now start prioritizing our faith around our culture's view of a holiday many celebrate for the wrong reason? They shouldn't. In a world that demands so much compromise from Christians to "fit in", worshiping God on Christmas is a small way to stay true to your faith.

If you aren't a Christian, attending church on Christmas Day will help you understand the real reason for Christmas.
Our culture has slowly changed the view of Christmas from being a day focused on the greatest Gift given by God, to a day focused on material gifts. What has been lost in translation is that Christmas is meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth started a 33 year progression through which Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life. Because of that perfect and sinless life, Jesus was able to die on a cross in our place, so we can have our sins forgiven. With our sins forgiven we receive eternal life and a right relationship with God. All of this is possible because of a tiny baby born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago (Luke 2). If you attend worship at a church on Christmas Day, chances are that the pastor will elaborate on this and help you make sense of any questions you might have on Jesus and Christmas.

I realize that for most people Christmas is a very hectic time of the year. There is rushing from this family event to another get together. Presents to put in the car and food to cook. Miles to travel and plenty of rushing around. But let me share one last piece of advice with you. If you go to worship on Christmas Day, the presents will still be there to be opened when worship is over. Lunch at Grandma's house will still be ready to eat. But more importantly, you will be able to slow down and focus for a little while on the God who gave us Christmas in the first place. And you never know, you might come away with a newfound appreciation for what you're celebrating on Christmas Day.


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Monday, November 28, 2016

Everything isn't a competition.

Before we had kids, Misty and I always joked about how our kids would have terrible competition streaks. Misty and I have always been competitive, even in the least little thing. As our boys have grown we've watched their competitive fires grow too. They compete to see who can get to the car first, who can hit the most shots on a basketball game, or who can win a board game. 

Recently, I witnessed what is possibly the oddest competition ever between our sons. It was a week when our town picked up both the recycling and trash at the curb. As we pulled in that afternoon, I dropped the boys off at the end of the driveway and told them to roll both cans back to the house. And what did they do? You guessed it. They competed to see who could get back to the house quickest with their can in tow. That is either really ingenious or really sad. You choose. But regardless of your view of it, our boys had once again made everything into a competition.

When it comes to childhood games and other trivial matters, it is okay to be competitive. Competition is important in many ways in life. In technology and business it drives innovation. But when we start to let competition with others drive other areas of our life we run into trouble. When we try to compete with others, whether we admit we're competing or not, we find ourselves turning God's blessings into catalysts for sin. If we aren't happy that others are making more money than us, then greed sets up in our hearts. If our neighbors have newer cars or nicer toys, then we allow jealousy and covetousness to take hold of our mind. These sins, and many others, start to take root in our lives because we've allowed what should be seen as blessings to stoke the fires of sin. We should see the blessings God has placed in our life as exactly that, blessings. We shouldn't see them as something lesser than our neighbor's. We shouldn't allow the competition or comparison games to take our eyes off what God is doing in our lives. If anything, we should be thankful for what God has given to us and happy for the blessings He's given to our neighbor.

In Philippians 4:11 (NIV), the Apostle Paul tells us, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Paul new the secret to being content, whether giving to his missionary work was up or down, whether he had food or was hungry, and whether his sandals had holes or not. Whatever circumstance Paul found himself in, He had learned to be content. His secret to contentment was shared in verse 13. He said his secret was, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Paul was able to be content with every circumstance in life because of the strength he received from Christ. When his neighbor had a newer donkey or the latest in Roman fashion, Paul knew he could be content because of the strength Christ gave to him. Through that strength he could resist, envy, greed, jealousy, and coveting. We should take note of Paul's secret to contentment and put it to practice in our own lives. When we do we'll find ourselves less worried about what we have compared to our neighbors and more content with God's blessings in our own lives.


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Monday, November 21, 2016

Take a break on the journey.

About 6 years ago, me and the boys went hiking. We wanted to hike from the peak of Mount Mitchell to the peak of Mount Craig. Mount Craig is the 2nd highest peak in the Appalachian mountains and about 1 mile south of the summit of Mount Mitchell. For a 4 and 5 year old, the hike over rugged terrain was very taxing. Like many of our hikes, the boys didn't want any help and were capable of doing the hike on their own two legs. When we reached the peak of Mount Craig, we followed our normal hiking tradition. This tradition is this: dad breaks out snacks and a drink for the boys while they rest and dad takes pictures. These two fearless hikers plopped down on a big rock on the side of the trail, just opposite the marker for the summit of Mount Craig, and enjoyed their hard earned snacks and drinks. The rest and the refreshments helped sustain the boys for the return trip to the car over the same rugged terrain. 

Last week I was reminded of this picturesque day as I prepared for this past Sunday's message. There was a good sermon example involved on the return trip from the summit of Mount Craig. So I went back to look at pictures I had of the hiking trip and saw the boys eating their snacks. I remembered how rejuvenating that break was for the two of them. Sometimes a break is exactly what we need.

Last week I spoke to a person who shared with me about their need to take a break from their church and participation in the work of the church. The person I spoke to had valid reasons for why they needed to stop serving in their church. Some were health related and others were personal in nature. As the person shared with me about their need to take a break from their church I agreed with them that sometimes we do need a break.

Sometimes when we find ourselves exhausted physically and spiritually the best thing we can do is take a break. If that means resting on the side of a trail to recoup for a few minutes, then do it. If it means stepping away from responsibilities at church to keep from being burnt out, then do it. If it means taking a few Sundays away from your regular church experience, then do it. The rest we receive from stepping away can do more than bring us refreshment, it can bring us clarity of mind. It can help us put in perspective the things that were causing our burn out. It can help us see what is really important in the grand scheme of things. It can show us where we need to dedicate our efforts in the work of the Kingdom and what we need to avoid doing. Through it all we see that God is able to work in our time of rest and refreshment to help sustain us for the long journey of faith ahead of us.

Let me close with this one warning. Yes you heard a pastor say it isn't a bad thing to take a break from your regular church experience for a few Sundays. This didn't mean not worshiping God. This means finding a different worship experience so you can gain some rest and perspective. The intention of rest is to continue down the path after being refreshed. Once you've gained your rest and perspective dig back in at your church and worship God with a rejuvenated spirit. Also be sure not to fall into the trap of getting out of the habit of going to worship God on Sundays. Because there are too many people in that trap already!


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Monday, October 31, 2016

Don't go to church on Sunday.

A few years ago I saw on Facebook that a church planter I know up north had led his church in a day they called "Don't Go To Church" Sunday. The idea behind it was not to go to a church building on that Sunday but to go be the church. They went out into the large city their church resides in and gave out water and food. They also shared living water and bread from heaven. The concept of "not going to church" wasn't lost on me. I've heard Bible teachers and preachers over the years make the same kind of comment with a different perspective than the church planter mentioned above. But there is plenty of truth in the statement...you need to stop going to church.

You should stop going to church and start going to worship. Now that sounds a little picky in the language used but it's the truth. Too often believers see the hour between 11:00-12:00 on Sunday, or whatever hour the service may be, as their required church time to stay in God's good graces. God doesn't want you to go to church, He wants you to join other believers and worship Him. Our worship of God is all about Him and nothing about us. It's not about what I like. It's not about what I hope to get out of the service. It's about my heartfelt devotion to God being poured out as a sacrifice on the altar before a holy and righteous God who is worthy of my worship. So Sunday, stop going to church and start going to worship.

You should stop going to church for the preacher and start going for the message. It's a sad but true fact that when there is a change in church leadership some people stop attending church. It's also sad but true that when the pastor is gone on vacation or preaching at another church that some people don't attend church. It is impossible to completely separate our worship experience from the pastor God has placed in leadership over our church. But when we find ourselves not attending church because the pastor is not there, we find ourselves falling into the trap of idolatry. We are starting to worship the one who leads worship rather than the only One worthy of our worship. A few years ago our church had missionaries share during the message time on a Sunday morning. I advertised this with our congregation for a few weeks and was concerned that our attendance may drop because the pastor wasn't the one who would be preaching. To my surprise we tied our highest attendance to date that year and had several who were out sick. That is the mentality we have to have, that regardless of who is sharing the message we are coming to hear God's message. So Sunday, stop going to church for the preacher and start going for the message.

You should stop going to church for the style of music and start going for the praise of God. I've heard it said "I can't worship unless it's _____ kind of music" or "I can't worship God unless it's ______ type of a service." To those who would say that I would tell you that "Worship is not about you or what you like, it's about God." Yes, we should have our preferences in how we worship God and hear from Him. But when we limit our worship because we limit our mode of worship, then we limit our reception of God's message. Music is only one small part of the worship experience. Worship involves prayer, preaching, testimonies, giving and so much more. If you are only attending a church because of the style of music, I encourage you to stop going to church for the style of music and start going for the praise of God.

My intentions with today's post is not to ruffle feathers. My intentions are that we all really examine our motives for why we attend the church we attend. What we as believers should do is find a local body of believers where our family is ministered to and the truth of the Bible is taught. We should throw ourselves into the life of the church so we can truly worship God there. That way regardless of who is behind the pulpit or the song being sung we are connected in spirit with God, pouring our heartfelt devotion out to Him. So Sunday, you need to stop going to church!


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Monday, October 24, 2016

Plant a Banana Tree.

Sunday morning I ate a banana as I drove to church. When I finished the banana I thought what am I going to do with this banana peel because I don't want to hold on to it for the drive to church. Not wanting to litter or reenact a scene from Billy Madison, I knew I couldn't throw it out the window. But for a moment the idea to toss it in the weeds along a vacant piece of property did cross my mind. The next thought that caught me off guard was the fact that I thought to my self, "Just say, 'Plant a banana tree' and it will be okay." Now that sounds like an odd phrase to say and I admit it is, but I can't take credit for coming up with it. When I was a kid I had a cousin who was 10 years older than me and I remember riding with her in her car. On more than one occasion I remember not having a place to put some piece of trash or apple core or banana peel and she said if you toss it out the window and say "Plant a banana tree" then it's not really littering. In the mind of a kid it sounded legit, so out the window went my trash. My parents quickly fixed this bad habit, but I couldn't believe that after nearly 30 years this phrase came to mind when I thought about tossing something out the window of my truck. In any case, I laid the banana peel down in the truck and tossed it in the trash at church.

As a kid I thought that I could rationalize my littering by saying a simple phrase as I committed the act. The act of trying to rationalize actions that we shouldn't do, let's call them sins, has been around forever. Man has always found a way of rationalizing his sin so he doesn't feel so bad about it. We do it to make our sin more palatable to us and so we become desensitized to it and can move on with our lives without the guilt. The problem is sin is sin. Regardless of whether we try to justify or rationalize our sin, sin is still sin. The old phrase that comes to mind is "You can put lipstick on a pig but its still a pig." Dress it up however you want, sin is still sin. Regulate it. Legislate it. Gain society's approval of it. Sweep it under your own spiritual rug and it doesn't change the fact that you're sinning. Pick the sin that you rationalize on a daily basis and realize that your rationalization doesn't hold water with God.

The problem with rationalizing our sin is not just that we become desensitized to something that should bring repentance. The problem is that as we justify and rationalize our sin, we don't seek forgiveness for that sin because we view it as acceptable. When we don't seek forgiveness for our sins, then a spiritual gap widens between us and God. We become less sensitive to His Holy Spirit's leading in our life. Our hearts harden towards God and it makes us more vulnerable and susceptible to more sin in our life. In the end, we end up distancing ourselves from the one who has the cure for our sin problem. We end up distancing ourselves from the one who loves us unconditionally. We distance ourselves from the victorious life He wants us to experience.

1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Right here God tells us in His Word that no matter what sin we commit, even the ones we rationalize and grow accustomed to committing, He will still forgive us. Choose today the sin you find yourself rationalizing and come to grips with the reality of what you're doing. See your sin the way God does, as something you ought to avoid at all costs. Seek His forgiveness for your sin and seek His help to rid your life of that sin. It won't be easy but in the end you'll be glad that you did.


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Monday, October 17, 2016

Don't avoid a regular cleaning.

I recently spent time washing my truck after it saw the bad side of driving through a cow pasture. Dirt, dust, and cow manure can make for an unsightly truck. When I had finished washing it and had done a final inspection for any spots I'd missed, I put my cleaning supplies up. I walked around one more time to see if I had missed anything and low and behold I did. I found that in my rush to get done I had forgotten to wash the wheels. They weren't too dirty so I thought I'd wait until the next time to wash them. No harm, no foul, right? Wrong! By the time I washed my truck again the front wheels on my truck had accumulated a large amount of brake dust. As I was cleaning the wheels I noticed how thick the break dust was but also how shiny the wheel looked as I began to clean it. As I found myself nearly halfway done with one wheel, I drew a line down the middle of the wheel with my rag and snapped a picture. It was remarkable how bad the tire looked when I neglected cleaning it.

Our spiritual life faces the same type of problem when we neglect to seek forgiveness from God for our sins. You and I sin daily. This means we disobey some aspect of God's rules each and every day. We can't get around it because we are sinful beings with a natural bend towards sin. The fact that we sin every day is a constant reminder of the fact that, even after we become a Christian, we daily need God's grace and forgiveness.

Prayer is one spiritual discipline that we should practice every day. Yes, we should share our requests with God, praise Him, and thank Him for His provision. But in addition to that we ought to also daily seek His forgiveness. In my humble opinion, it ought to be the very first thing we do in prayer before we do anything else. Why? Because our sin separates us from God. If we are separated from God spiritually because of sin, then how are we able to lift up our prayers of praise, thanks, and request with an attitude of humility and holiness. We ought to seek out the forgiveness of God first and foremost in our times of prayer, as well as doing it daily. This practice will not only help keep us spiritually clean, but it will help draw us closer to God with each passing day. It will help us see more clearly the sins that trip us up on a daily basis and we can seek to avoid them. 

If we don't see God's forgiveness on a daily basis we'll find ourselves like the tires on my truck. At first things don't look to bad, but before long we are covered up with unconfessed sin that separates us from God. This separation makes it harder for us to draw close to God and makes it harder for us to hear the Holy Spirit leading, guiding, and directing us.

Commit today to making prayer a daily habit (if you haven't already). Also commit to seeking God's forgiveness first and foremost in those times of prayer, so you can be drawn closer to Him and more sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. In the end, you'll be glad that you did!


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Monday, October 10, 2016

Here's who to vote for in November.

This year's presidential election is shaping up to be one of the most divisive and contentious elections in our nation's history. So how does a person decide who to vote for in November? There are many factors that should affect who you vote for in the elections, regardless if it is the mayor or the president. The one thing that should have an overriding say in who you vote for is your faith. Not the party you're parents and grandparents voted for. Not recent changes to society's view on hot topics. Your faith should have the final say in who you vote for in November. If you are a Christian your allegiance shouldn't be to a particular political party or a set of societal ideals, but to the God of the Universe.

Last night during our evening service I was answering questions from our congregation on different things pertaining to faith, God, and the church. One question I answered was on how Christians should relate to the political process of voting. Here is part of the answer to that question. "Christians should educate themselves on where the candidates stand on key issues, pray about the decision, and then vote the way they feel God leading them." If you aren't educated on where the candidates stand on issues, then you can't make an informed decision. If you don't pray about the decision, then you disregard the wisdom and will of God for your decision. As Christians there are key issues that should be considered and prayed over before you vote. Abortion is one because the sanctity of human life matters to God and unborn children matter to Him. The U.S. relations with Israel also matters because God has warned us that He will bless those who support Israel and curse those who don't (Genesis 12:3). Same-sex marriage and LGBT issues matter as well because the Bible clearly defines homosexuality as a sin. Of course there are other issues as well that need to be researched, considered, and then prayed over before you vote in November.

It will most likely be difficult to find a candidate that matches 100% to your views about life and what the Bible says on issues. Here's a bit of common sense reasoning on how to make this work for your vote in November. Let's say you research the candidates and find 6 key issues that relate to matters of faith and you research what the Bible says on the matters. If Candidate A matches with the Bible on 3 issues and Candidate B matches on 4 issues, you should vote for Candidate B. Why? Because they line up more closely with what Scripture says on the issues. Maybe I'm simple-minded but discerning one candidate has more in common with the Bible isn't too hard to figure out.

I'll close with this. Do the research on the candidates and their take on the issues and what the Bible says on those issues. Pray. Pray like you've never prayed before because the future of our country depends on it. Most likely the future of your religious freedom depends on it. Then vote. The right to vote in a free election is a right that has been given to us by God and it is our responsibility to vote. If you don't vote because you don't "like" the candidates, then you do an injustice to those who died to give, maintain, and defend your right to vote. When all is said and done, regardless if your chosen candidate is elected or not, pray for the elected officials. We're commanded in the Bible to pray for those in government and God's sovereign will allowed them to be elected (Romans 13:1). Those elected to office need your prayers.

One place you can find out information about the candidates, their views on the issues, and other aspects of this upcoming election from a trusted biblical perspective is the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. You can do some of your research here.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

The Learning Curve

There is one thing that every single person on earth cannot get past when it comes to new experiences. This one thing can be time consuming and even at times cause us to throw our hands up and quit. What is that one thing? It is called The Learning Curve. The Learning Curve is "the rate of a person's progress in gaining experience or new skills." Simply put, it is how quickly you pick something up. This morning I was reminded of the dreaded learning curve as I worked to get our church's sermons on to YouTube. We've been asked regularly about our messages being online. I finally bit the bullet and was able to record Sunday's services via my iPad and have now put them on YouTube (you can check them out here). The aggravating thing for me was it seemed to take longer than I expected to get everything finalized and in to a presentable format on YouTube. I had to set up an account, find usable images for the channel art, and then take audio files recorded on an iPad and get them into a format to be presented on YouTube. It was definitely time consuming, but if the end result challenges and changes lives for God's Kingdom then it is all worth it. The next time I go to upload messages to YouTube, it shouldn't be as time consuming because the learning curve will be less this time and I will have picked up on how to move through it faster.

When it comes to the church, we often times assume that new Christians can bypass the learning curve. We hear of someone's conversion, we baptize them, and then expect them to know everything we know about matters of faith. Unfortunately, conversion to Christianity doesn't automatically mean you know everything about faith, why the church does certain things, or even what God expects of you. Christians in the church need to be patient and understanding about new believers and their learning curve when it comes to the faith. It takes time for new believers to settle in to this new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) they have become and really start to mature in their faith. Also remember that none of us quit maturing in our faith in this life. We never reach a place where we know it all and live it out perfectly. So technically, we all deal with the learning curve from the moment of conversion to glorification (when we die).

Look for ways to help mentor and mature new believers. If you are further down the path of faith than they are, then come alongside a new believer and help them grow in their faith. It will not only help them but it will also help you grow in your faith as well. Then the both of you are able to get a little bit further over the learning curve of faith.


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Monday, September 26, 2016

You Only Live Once!

"You only live once!" This was the answer given to me and my wife when we discussed the picture to the right with my aunt. Shortly after her diagnosis for pancreatic cancer, my aunt took my sons for a ride to McDonald's while we waited at the hospital for a family member to have surgery. When my aunt and my sons returned from McDonald's my wife happened to snap this picture as they pulled back in to the parking lot. Yes, that is my aunt's convertible VW Beetle with the top down and my, then 7 year old son standing up in the back seat. The only thing is this was December 27th and it was 40 degrees. We tried our best to scold my aunt when she came back in, but you know how that goes when it comes to scolding those who helped raise you. It basically falls on deaf ears. She looked at us and plainly told us it was fine because, "You only live once!"

This same fun-loving and vivacious aunt has come to the end of her time on earth. The pancreatic cancer has won the battle that started nearly 3 years ago. Even though cancer may have won the battle, my aunt's faith has won the war. During the last 3 years, she has packed plenty of life into every day. Even on the days she was beaten down by chemotherapy treatments, radiation, and side-effects from medicines, she continued to live life to the fullest. Why? Because you only live once.

It has been remarkable to see how her faith has been so strong through this entire journey. It was her faith that saw her through the difficult days of treatments designed to destroy your body. It was her faith that sustained her as the doctors offered different treatments and options. It was her faith that helped her endure these final days. Through all of this, her faith has seen her through it. She used every opportunity she had to share about the God who was strengthening her for this difficult time in her life. She witnessed about Him to family members, friends, doctors, nurses, and anyone who would listen. Why? Because you only live once.

If you are a believer in Christ, you should use every opportunity God gives you to share about Him. It shouldn't take a catastrophic loss or life-threatening health condition to get you to share about how good your God is. We should share with others about His love, grace, mercy, and salvation every day as if it were our last. Why? Because you only live once.

If you are not a believer in Christ, you should really consider the salvation God offers to you. He offers you forgiveness of your sins through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. He did this so you could experience a right relationship with Him and have eternal life when this life is over. But that offer is only good on this side of eternity. If you step into eternity without choosing to accept Christ's free gift of salvation, you won't have another chance. So I implore you to make a decision for Christ while you still have time. Why? Because you only live once.

I'll close with this. A verse that has meant so much to my aunt through this journey is Psalm 57:1. It speaks plainly to the faith she has placed in God during this journey. Psalm 57:1 says, "Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by." Trust in Him, again or for the first time, and let Him be your refuge. Why? Because you only live once.


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Monday, September 19, 2016

How do you represent?

One would think that after 10 or 11 years of life a kid would learn to eat without wearing more than they swallow. Not in our house. I can't tell you the number of times in a given week that we have to tell our sons "You have food on your face." Many times they'll eat and have food stretched past the corners of their mouths in something resembling Heath Ledger's Joker face. Recently we were eating a quick meal in the truck and I turned to one of my sons in the back seat and told him that over used phrase "You have food on your face." He looked back at me with an "I don't care" look and told me exactly that, "I don't care." I promptly told him that I did care how he looked and how when he steps out in public the way he presents himself not only reflects on him but me and his mom. He begrudgingly wiped his face off and finished his meal.

When it comes to living a Christian life, the way you present yourself matters more than you realize. Too many Christians in this world take the same view of their Christian witness that my son does about food on his face. They simply don't care because they don't see that it really matters to anyone. But that thought couldn't be farther from the truth. If you wear the name of a Christian, then you claim to be one who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ and are trying to live your life according to His standards of holiness and His Word. But if you claim the title of Christian, whether prominently or quietly, and then live like the rest of the world, why would people who aren't Christians think they need to be a Christian? They wouldn't. Why? Because if you live like they do, why do they need to seek forgiveness, be involved in the local church, serve God, or strive for holiness. To them this world is hard enough without the added pressures of a religion that hasn't really changed your life.

Like I told my food covered son, if you're a Christian, when you step out in public (or even at home) the way you present yourself not only reflects on you but on your Father. The way you dress, the way you speak, the relationships you have, the way you treat others, and the way you handle yourself all reflects on the life-changing power of a personal relationship with God. If you don't carry yourself as one who has been changed by Him, then others won't take seriously their need for Him.

Please understand I'm not advocating false pretenses and masks to hide who we really are to put on some kind of "Christian" show. Yes, you will have a bad day from time to time and it will show. Yes, you will say the wrong thing at the wrong time in front of the one person you've tried to witness to. We all mess up but we can't use that as an excuse to not live out a godly witness in front of everyone, every day, and in every way. When we mess up it makes a great case for us to explain the grace and forgiveness of God and hopefully others will start to see their need for the same grace and forgiveness.

If you're a Christian, make a commitment today to live out a Christian example in your life that represents well the life-changing relationship you have with God. If you're not a Christian, then I'd encourage you to read more here about how you can experience a life-changing relationship with God.


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Monday, September 12, 2016

Old habits die hard.

I recently stopped in a store to pick up some supplies to work on a project at home. It was hot and I was thirsty, so I picked up a bottle of Gatorade to drink on the drive home. As I walked to my truck, I found myself doing something I have done for nearly 30 years when opening a bottle of Gatorade. Don't ask me why because I can't tell you why, but I took the lid off, placed the lid back on the Gatorade, shook it up, took the lid back off, and started to drink it. I'm not exactly sure why I have the habit of opening a Gatorade and then recapping it to shake it up, but I've done this most of my life. Most likely I heard from a friend when I was a kid that you need to shake up your Gatorade before drinking it, as if the ingredients settled to the bottom like a Yoo-hoo. Or maybe someone once told me you needed to let some fresh air into it, as if it needed to breathe. Regardless of why I have this odd habit, I stood their beside my truck staring at my bottle of Gatorade and thinking, "Why in the world did I just do that?" The answer is because it was an old habit and I did it without even thinking about it.

Some of the most difficult habits for us to break are those habits that have been ingrained in us for a long time. As the saying goes, "old habits die hard." It is definitely true because we see it everyday of our lives. Those habits that have been a part of who we are, they tend to take longer for us to break. But why would we want to break a habit? Generally because we don't want it to be a part of who we are. We want our self to be a better version of who we are and that requires us to get rid of the habits that we don't want in this better version.

When it comes to our spiritual life, breaking old habits isn't any easier. We want to "be" better or "do" better and so we pick out those spiritual habits that need to change. We decide to: "Go to church more." "Read my Bible more." "Pray more." Or even "Serve God more." Those are all noble spiritual habits to have as a part of your walk with Christ, but how do we break the old habits of not going to church, not reading my Bible, not praying, and not serving God?

The answer is discipline. Why do you think they call these things "spiritual disciplines"? Because it takes discipline to do them as a regular habit. Discipline has taken a backseat in today's world of instant gratification. We want everything and we want it now! We even want our habits to be instant and not have to work towards them. When we don't have the spiritual discipline to pray for 5 minutes, then we feel like a failure and we throw in the towel. What you must realize is that spiritual disciplines take time to develop. So as you work to develop spiritual disciplines in your life, it will take time. So don't get discouraged if you find yourself faltering after the first couple of weeks. Stick with it and you'll be glad you did. Also spiritual habits are like anything else in life, you'll make time for what is important. Don't you make time to get a cup of coffee if you can't make it through a day without a cup? Then won't you make time to read God's Word if you can't make it through a day without it? If developing spiritual disciplines are important to you, then you'll make time for them. You won't find other things to do on Sundays when you should be worshiping God. You'll adjust your daily routine to make time to read the Bible or pray. You'll look for opportunities to serve God and then make them a part of your schedule.

I've never met someone who was spiritually disciplined and regretted it. I encourage you to find those old spiritual habits that need to be changed and commit to being spiritually disciplined. In the long run, you'll be happy that you did.


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Monday, August 29, 2016

Quantum Leap

Several weeks ago I found out that one of my favorite shows as a teenager had made it to Netflix. When I found out that Quantum Leap was available through Netflix I decided to expose my boys to this great show. Cooper didn't take to it, but Dru asks regularly for us to watch it together. I'm glad I'm able to share with him this piece of my past.

The premise of the show is that the main character, Sam, travels through time "leaping" from one point in time to another and all within his own lifetime. When Sam leaps his mind inhabits the body of the person he leaps into and that person's mind leaps into Sam's body in the future. After the first couple of episodes you find out that God is the one directing Sam's leaps in an effort to, as the show says, "put right what once went wrong." Sam rescues people from death, changes the course of people's lives, and even helps bring justice where injustice originally prevailed. It is a noble thought and it is interesting to see how Sam is able to change the future by helping to adjust the past.

As I started watching shows I had not watched in over 20 years, a certain aspect of the show caused me to rethink my view of the show. Yes, I still enjoy the show, but the idea that God needed Sam to "put right what once went wrong" really stood out to me. This idea that things in the past needed to be changed is more deeply theological than we would originally think. We all have parts of our past that we would like to change if we were able to "leap" into the past or jump in a Delorean with Marty McFly. But what we need to ask ourselves is could we change things?

There is a theological term called sovereignty. When it is used in reference to God, we refer to God as being sovereign, exercising supreme control over everything. This means there is not one aspect of existence where God is not in control. (Yes, God does give us freewill to choose to follow Him or not, but that is a deeper discussion for another day.) What that means for us is two things. First off, there is nothing to be put right that once went wrong. According to God's sovereign will, things went right the first time. Secondly, we can rest assured that God is in control, even when we think things are falling apart. There is a certain level of peace that comes with this second aspect of God's sovereignty. The peace comes from the fact we have a good and loving God in control of all we experience in this life. Yes, sometimes we struggle to see the good in the more difficult situations God allows into our lives. But we have to remember that God isn't "doing" anything to us, but He does allow things to occur in our life. Sometimes it is to draw us closer to Him. Other times it is to strengthen our faith in Him. Sometimes it is to get our attention. And yet other times it is to bring glory to Him. Regardless of what we face, we can rest easy knowing that God is sovereign and in control.

I'll close with this, even though we'd all like to "leap" back and change the things in our life that we think went wrong, we need to remember that those events made us who we are today. From birth to death we are a work in progress. As God works to mold us into what He wants us to be, we have to trust in His sovereign control over our lives and the situations He allows into them.


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Monday, August 22, 2016

The mountains couldn't be found.

Recently my sons and I were doing our morning devotions through the book of Revelation. They wanted to do a chapter each day and I obliged them. As we worked our way through, I shared with them how things progressively get worse and worse for those on earth during the end times. We talked about famines, pestilence, war, and supernatural events that brought suffering and pain to those still on the earth.

Keep in mind that I have read through Revelation several times and I've taught through the entire book a couple of times. Yet verse 20 in chapter 16 really caught my attention like I was reading it for the first time. It says in Revelation 16:18, "Then there came...a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake." John makes an unbelievable observation following the cataclysmic earthquake in verse 20. It says, "Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found." Let that thought soak in for a second. Not a single mountain on earth -- Everest, K-2, McKinley, Mitchell, Grandfather -- could be found. They were completely leveled by this unimaginable earthquake.

I'm not much of a beach guy, but I do enjoy my hikes and visits to the mountains. I guess that is why the last part of this verse caught my attention. Those mountains that I have spent hours hiking with my boys will one day be gone. Razed. Leveled. Gone. But why would God do such a thing to His creation and do it to the thing He said in Genesis 1:10 was "good." The answer is simple and can be summed up in just one word. Judgment. 

The reason God would shake the earth like a 3 year old shaking a snow globe is all based in His love and judgment. I know it's crazy to think that anything so catastrophic could be based in love but it is. God's judgments described in Revelation are a result of mankind's disobedience and rejection of God. When man rejects God and His salvation from their sins, they continue to sin and be an enemy of God (Colossians 1:21). Disobedience to God's law is like disobedience to any law or rule. The result is judgment and punishment. When God finally ends the opportunities for mankind to receive His salvation from their sins, then comes His judgment and punishment. One of those punishments is a teeth-chattering, bone-jarring earthquake that levels every mountain on earth.

The good thing is God tells us we don't have to be here to watch the mountains be turned into mole hills. God tells us in His Word that we can have forgiveness of our sins and receive eternal life. All we have to do is admit to Him we've broken His laws and disobeyed Him, believe that Jesus is His Son who died on the cross to offer you forgiveness for your sins, and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and be Lord of your life. It's that simple. All it takes is faith in Jesus being who He says He is and belief that He did what the Bible tells us He did. 

If you want to miss the shake up at the end of time and more importantly, a life without God's direction and grace, then I'd encourage you to put your faith in Christ. His love knows no bounds and His forgiveness covers every sin imaginable. It is definitely a decision you won't regret!


If you want to learn more about putting your faith in Christ check out this linkMy hope for you is that you'll put your faith in Christ while you still have the opportunity to do so. When this life is over there are no second chances. If you need to talk to someone about salvation, then feel free to email me at pastornick@northcatawbabaptist.com.


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Monday, August 15, 2016

Keep your fence pulled tight.

Recently I had to enter our pasture with my truck. I drove to the edge of the barn and opened the gate which consists of two strands of electrified barbed wire fencing. I carried them back out of the way like I have many times before and laid them on the ground and went into the pasture. When I was leaving I went to close the gate and found that the two strands of electrified barbed wire were now entangled. After some nifty moves that resembled a Crossfit participant using the heavy ropes, I was able to untangle the wires and close the gate. I stood there for a moment in the midst of this frustrating event and marveled at something I had witnessed more times than I could count. A barbed wire fence, even after years of being pulled tight and strung between posts, when released from the posts will still coil up like a Slinky or a spring. Often times when that happens it is with disastrous effects. You have to spend valuable time unwinding and untangling a convoluted mess that usually leaves you bleeding and looking like you've been in a fight.

The spiritual reality of what I witnessed with that fence seemed to speak loudly to me that day. A Christian can spend many years of spiritual sobriety drawing close to God. They can serve Him faithfully in the church or on the mission field. They can lead their family to faith and help their faith grow. All the while being a tightly pulled barbed wire fence between the fence posts of faith. But remember when something happens to the post and the wire is released, it coils up into a terrifying bundle of pain, agony, and lost time. When a believer allows temptation to unhook their spiritual fence from the post, they will find themselves in a convoluted mess of hurt and pain as sin coils them up like a broken Slinky. 

Now don't think this only happens to those who backslide from the faith and walk away from God. It does, but the hurt and pain sin causes occurs even with the slightest of transgressions against God's commands. Although we often times try to sweep those minor infractions under the rug, they eventually become a mound that causes us to trip. The catch is that even minor sins cause a distance between us and God. This is why it is so important that we keep our spiritual life drawn tight between the posts of faith. When we keep our fence tight and stay close to God, temptation has less of an affect on our life. Not that we won't ever fall to temptation again, but the closer we are to God, then the more we see Satan's temptations for what they really are. Lies, deceit, and pain.

Take it from one who has had to unwind and untangle both his physical barbed wire and spiritual barbed wire. It is much easier to keep your barbed wire tight than it is to untangle the mess because you allowed slack in your wire.


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Monday, August 8, 2016

Cheeseburgers & Church

One of my all-time favorite quotes goes like this: "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonald's makes you a cheeseburger." It's humorous and gets across one of the truths about being a Christian. Another similar quote goes like this: "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car." The truth that is shared by these quotes is that church attendance does not guarantee you are a Christian. All church attendance implies is...you attended church. It doesn't guarantee that you even paid attention to the songs or the sermon. It doesn't mean you encountered God in a way that brought transformation into your life by His grace. It doesn't mean your sins are forgiven because you've been washed by the blood of the Lamb. All church attendance implies is...you attended church.

This quote about cheeseburgers and church came to mind when I recently performed a funeral for a person where the family was unsure of the deceased person's spiritual condition. Comments made by the deceased have not given much hope that they had a relationship with Christ. The Gospel or "Good News" of Jesus Christ had been repeatedly shared with this person in the hopes they would put their faith in Christ (click here to read how you can put your faith in Christ). The family is uncertain if their loved one ever followed the words of Romans 10:10 (NIV) where it says, "it is with your heart that you believe and are justified..." Their loved one may have believed after they were unable to speak but the family doesn't know. Following the graveside service I had an interesting conversation with one of the friends of the deceased. This friend told me they were certain the deceased "was saved because we went to church together." The tone of the friend's conversation was trying to put the deceased in heaven based on the fact they "went to church." The deceased person's salvation wasn't determined by a repentant heart and a life changed by Christ. The matter of their friend's eternal salvation was being considered based on the reality they had sat on a padded pew in a brick and mortar building.

The sad reality is that there are thousands, if not millions, of self-proclaimed Christians who grace the pews every Sunday but are no closer to salvation than the most vile person alive. Salvation, a relationship with God through Christ's sacrificial death on the cross, is not based on anything other than faith in Christ. God tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast." Basically, God is saying you can't do anything here on earth from your own intellect, skills, abilities, aptitude, or physicality to receive salvation. That means you can't use your muscles to walk into a church, sit in a pew for an hour, listen to a sermon, and expect to have a relationship with Christ based on those actions. That isn't how it works. Salvation is all based off of your belief in Jesus Christ as the sacrificial Son of God. If you put your eternal security in anything other than Christ and what He did for you on the cross, then you will be sadly disappointed when you take your last breath.

I know the tone of this blog can seem a little aggressive but that is not the case at all. We live in a world of watered-down, feel good theology that does not stand on the truths of God's Word. When people put their belief and faith in something other than Christ for their hope and salvation, they are putting their faith in something that will eventually fail them. I hope this post will help to steer some towards the truth rather than giving them false hope in eternity based on their ability to sit on a bench in a building.

If you have questions about salvation and need to talk to someone, then feel free to email me at pastornick@northcatawbabaptist.com

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Monday, July 25, 2016

A Father knows His child's voice.

One evening last week I was called to the hospital and made it home just after supper. Ready to sit down and grab a bite for supper, I came in and headed to put up my truck keys and take off my shoes. As I walked down the hall towards my bedroom, I heard my oldest son Dru make a statement. This statement is the same statement he's made time and time again. The only thing different about the statement is the tone in which he spoke. Like any conversation you have, his tone reflected something different about the statement. All he said was "Hey dad." The thing that caught my attention as I made my way to the bedroom was that his tone implied he needed something. He might have had a question. He may have needed some help with something. He might have wanted something. In the end, I knew my son needed something from me.

I thought it was interesting that after 11 years I had tuned my ear to my child's voice in such a way that I could tell the inflection of his voice when he needed something. I find it even more interesting that it doesn't take that long for God to recognize that we have a need. Sure, God's ear is probably tuned to each of His child's voices like mine is, but the Bible tells us that God knows our needs before we even present them to Him. Jesus said in Matthew 6:8 (NIV), "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." How reassuring is this. How comforting is it to know that before our need even arrives in our life God already knows about it. Not only does He know about it, but He's already made plans to meet your need.

Many times though, rather than relying on God to meet our needs we seek help and guidance from every place under the sun except Him. We talk to our friends. We Google an answer. We read articles. We do all this extra and unnecessary work when God has planned to provide for our need before we were ever born. All we have to do is ask Him for help. James 4:2 (NIV) warns us as to why we don't have God's provision in our life when we go chasing after help from the world. James wrote, "You do not have, because you do not ask God." Many times we wallow in need when God, who already knows and is ready to provide for our need, simply wants us to ask Him for the help. This isn't because He is some sort of power hungry, egotistical, self-absorbed megalomaniac. It's because He wants us to see He is our provider and He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to put our faith in Him for everything in this life, including when we need some help.

I'll end with this. I stopped in when I came back down the hall past my son's room. I simply asked him if he needed something and he did. If you're struggling with something and need God's help, don't wait. Go to Him in prayer and share with Him your need. He'll provide for your need as His will determines and you will begin to trust Him more as you see He is faithful to provide.


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Monday, July 18, 2016

The one thing some Christians will regret most.

Regret is a natural part of living life. We regret not taking action when we should have done so. We regret poor decisions we made. Even when someone says "I have no regrets," deep down there will always be regrets over things they would have done differently. 

So why do we have regrets? We have regrets because we eventually have clarity that only comes with time. In the moment we can't see how a particular decision affects every aspect of our life down the road. It is only when we get farther down the road, further removed from the decision, that we see what we would have done differently.

The Christian life is no different. As we grow older we start to look back on our walk with Christ and feel regret over things we would have done differently. Some would have given their life to Christ much sooner. Others would have spent more time in prayer. Some would have spent more time reading and studying God's Word. While others would have served Him more faithfully. The list could go on and on and on.

So what would be the one thing some Christians will regret more than others? In a word, "apathy." I think that the one thing some Christians will regret more than anything else will be their apathy towards God, their relationship with Christ, and their service in the Kingdom of God. They will look back on their life and realize all of the time they wasted on things of this world all because they were apathetic towards their faith. They will look back over their life and see all the ways they tried to enjoy life and make the most of it, only to find that those things will pass away. The only thing in this life that will endure for eternity are the things we do for Christ. If we have nothing, or at the most very little, that we have done for Christ when this life is over, then we will see the regrets creeping in.

If regrets occur only after we've had time to see the affects of our decisions, then when will some Christians regret their apathy towards their faith? It could be when their older. It could be when they see their children and grandchildren growing up without a strong spiritual foundation. It could be when they take their first glance at Christ in heaven. The best time to have those regrets is right now, so you still have time to do something about it.

To the Christians who don't take seriously their walk with Christ, I hope you will hear this as a wake up call. A call to set aside the excuses of "I'm busy," "I sleep in on Sundays," or "I will get back in church soon." Hear this not as judgmental words but the truth spoken in love. Set aside the apathy and do what God designed you to do. Worship Him. Serve Him. Teach your family to do the same. Quit putting off to tomorrow what you need to do today. Because if you don't, eventually you will wake up with plenty to regret.


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Monday, July 11, 2016

Is swearing a matter of integrity?

Recently I found myself somewhat surprised by the language we heard when our family was on vacation in New York and Boston. With these two cities being as large as they are, not to mention northern cities well outside the Bible-belt, and a concentration of people who hold completely different values than we do, I fully expected to hear quite a bit of swearing. The ironic thing is I can only recall one specific time where we heard swearing to a degree that it caught our attention and we were concerned our kids would hear it. No, my kids don't live in some holier-than-thou bubble where they don't ever hear swear words, but my wife and I work hard to instill in them that swearing is not acceptable or common place. We don't swear at our kids or at each other for that matter. They do hear swear words in TV shows and movies. Unfortunately, our society is shifting to see swearing as more and more acceptable. The real question we ought to be asking ourselves is this, "Is swearing a matter of integrity?"

When you look up the word integrity in Webster's Dictionary here is the definition you will find. "The quality of being honest and fair; Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values." When we think about swearing and integrity the two don't generally seem to be related. But when you think about the definition of integrity from a spiritual standpoint the two seem to more closely related than originally thought. If integrity has to do with "being honest" about who we are, say about being a Christian, then the words we use reveal how honest we are about who we are. If we have a certain moral code, say Christianity, that we adhere to and swearing is not a part of that moral code, then we see that swearing really is a matter of integrity.

If we are a Christian, then our responsibility is to live according to the teachings of the Bible. Basically, our faith determines the moral code we adhere to. That being said, we read in the Bible, in no uncertain terms, that swearing has no part in the life of a Christian. James 3:9-12 (NIV) says, "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." That needs no explanation or elaboration. That is as clear as it could be. Swearing has no place in the Christian's speech.

If our integrity, us being honest about who we are as a Christian and adhering to a Christian moral code, means that swearing should not be a part of our speech, then we must work to make it happen. We must seek God's help and His guidance through prayer. We must work to replace those words with more wholesome words (Ephesians 4:29) that edify and build up. In the end, those around us will notice a difference in our speech and not only will we be closer to God but hopefully others will be led closer to Him through our speech.


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Sunday, July 3, 2016

There can be only one...

There is something unusual about the way the wind blows in front of our church. It probably has to do with a couple of things: the lay of the land, the point on the hill where the church is located, and the trees on surrounding properties. One thing I have noticed on several occasions is that one of the two flags out front of our church moves more than the other. Could it have to do with the placement of the flag poles in relation to the hill and the trees? Sure. Do I take it as a "sign" of something bigger? No. The flag that seems to move regularly is the Christian Flag, as evidenced in the picture to the right. It moves with more frequency than the Flag of the United States of America. It has been a rather interesting sight to see from time to time.

The reality of what we see in those flags will one day be played out. Only one kingdom will remain standing when all others fall to the wayside. Now don't hear me prophesying doom to America because I'm as patriotic as the next red-blooded American. I stand, remove my hat, and place my hand over my heart when the national anthem is played or the pledge of allegiance is said. I think that America is a great nation with opportunity for all people and a land where, currently, I can practice my faith without fear of punishment or imprisonment. But one day my allegiance to the country of my birth will no longer matter. In that day my allegiance to the kingdom I've been adopted into will be all that matters. 

God's Word tells us in Titus 3:7 that when we put our faith in Christ we become heirs of the God of the Universe. God also reminds us in Ephesians 1:5 that Christians are adopted into His family. This means that Christians are citizens of heaven (Paul's words not mine) and that we must remember we are simply passing through this country in which we live. What that means for us is that we should be good citizens of our nation and take full advantage of the liberties God has given us in this country. We should vote. We should pray for our government leaders. We should exercise our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We should do all of this as citizens of this great country. But we must also do it with an eye to the future when there will be only one Ruler and all earthly nations, kingdoms, and governments will have passed away. We look to that future either with fear or anticipation. Fear if we don't have a relationship with Jesus because we won't be ruling with Him. Instead we would be separated from Him forever. Anticipation if we have a relationship with Him because we will rule alongside Him (read the book of Revelation for a confirmation). We will rule and reign with Him forever.

Will it be disheartening one day in the future, after Christ returns to see my country and all the countries of the world no longer in existence? I'm sure on some level it will. But it won't compare to the joy experienced by being eternally in the presence of Christ. My encouragement to you today is to be ready for that day when it arrives, so you can remember with fondness the country that afforded you the freedom of worship and experience the kingdom that will last forever.

*Not sure if you'll be ready for that day when it arrives? Click here to make sure you are ready.


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