Monday, December 11, 2017

I hate I'll never get to meet Muhammad Ali.

"I hate I'll never get to meet Muhammad Ali." These are the words my eleven year old son used to start off a conversation as we left my parent's house the other day. Now my son is not a boxing fan and other than knowing that Muhammad Ali is the greatest boxer of all time, I don't know that he really knows that much about him. I was impressed that he knew Ali's name was originally Cassius Clay before he converted to Islam. I say all that because it was really odd to hear him just randomly mention never getting to meet Muhammad Ali. Now I'll be honest with you. I was not expecting a spiritual lesson when my kid brought up Muhammad Ali, so to say I was shocked at what he said next is no understatement. Without missing a beat he said he'd never get to meet Ali because Ali was a Muslim before he died and Ali won't be in heaven. In that moment I was both stunned at the theological depth to which this eleven year old had gone, but also proud of the confidence he had in the teachings of the Bible. All I could do was agree with him and then look out the driver's side window mouthing "WOW!" to my self as we drove home.

There will be plenty of people who are not in heaven, not just Muhammad Ali. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, and people who apply any number of labels to themselves. The only label that will be found in heaven is Christian. This is a person who has made peace with God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and received eternal life from God. Any other label means that a person does not have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. What that means is that their eternity will not be in heaven, regardless of how famous, how rich, how generous, or how kind they were in this life. Revelation 20:11-15 is very clear that those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ before this life ends, they will spend eternity in the lake of fire, spiritually separated from God. Muhammad Ali, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and any other person not personally connected to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ can expect to find themselves "thrown into the lake of fire" as it says in Revelation 20:15.

But all is not lost...yet. If you are reading this blog post, then there is still hope to avoid the same fate as Muhammad Ali and all those that will join him in the lake of fire. To avoid the torturous eternity designed for those who reject Jesus' sacrificial death, all you have to do is put your faith in Christ. It doesn't require adherence to five pillars, making pilgrimages, or any other number of deeds that will make you right with God. All it requires is for you to believe that Jesus is who the Bible says He is and that He did what the Bible says He did. It means believing He is the perfect and sinless Son of God who died on a cross for the sins of mankind and was raised from the dead by the power of God three days later. It means because of your belief in Him that you ask Him to forgive you of your sins (become your Savior) and ask Him to be in charge of your life (become your Lord). When you do, you'll receive the Holy Spirit of God inside of you as a guarantee of the eternal life that will be yours once this life is over. (If you want to read some more about this before making a decision, then check out https://peacewithgod.net/ or http://www.northcatawbabaptist.com/salvation for more information.

I'll close with this. My son had every bit of confidence he would not see Muhammad Ali in heaven for two reasons. First, as stated above, Muhammad Ali was not a Christian and therefore will not be in heaven. Secondly, and more importantly, my son knew he would be in heaven because he is a Christian. There was an unshakable confidence in his voice as he spoke. The question is, do you have that same unshakable confidence in your eternal destination? Are you confident you'll be in heaven when this life is over because you've trusted in Christ and received His forgiveness? Or will you be with Muhammad Ali and all the others who have rejected Christ? My encouragement to you today is that if you've not put your faith in Christ, then do so today. If you do, you can be confident about where you're going after this life is over. Plus, you can be like my eleven year old son and be bummed that you'll never get to meet Muhammad Ali.

If you have questions about salvation, Christ, or any other aspect of the Christian faith,t hen feel free to email at pastornick@northcatawbabaptist.com. I'll be glad to help you get answers to your questions.


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Monday, December 4, 2017

Marriage: An Archaic Tradition

Recently I was watching a show with one of my boys and the topic of marriage came up. One of the characters nonchalantly made a comment that would probably go unnoticed by most people watching the show. I happened to hear the comment and thought about how his comment is reflective of the attitude many in our society now take towards marriage. The comment made was "Marriage. An archaic tradition." Unfortunately, the words uttered by a television actor are words that resonate with the culture we now find ourselves living in.

Many people in our culture and society view marriage as nothing more than an ancient tradition that no longer holds the prominence it once did. One goal that many people, if not most people, in society used to reach for was to marry, have children, and build a life together. Today you find that less people seek this goal and many view marriage as simply a "piece of paper." We see this in the fact that more people today live together outside of marriage than they have in the past. We also see it in the fact that people try to rewrite the very definition of marriage to reflect their beliefs. Since marriage is as old as creation itself, one would think that we would not try to rewrite the definition of it to suit our own views. Regardless if people are cohabiting or entering into same-sex marriages, it does not change the fact that God's original design for human relationships was marriage between a man and a woman.

In Genesis 2:24 (NIV) we are told of God's plan for marriage and it is when "a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." God's original and best design for mankind's most intimate relationship did not involve shallow physical relationships, cohabiting, or same-sex unions. God's design (which is always the best design) was for humans to enjoy relationships inside the confines of a marriage union between a man and a woman. All the physical, emotional, and relational aspects of marriage relationships were designed to be enjoyed within a God-designed marriage. Any perversion of God's design only leads to heartbreak, disappointment, and of course, sin. When we try to replace God's design for anything in life, marriage included, what we find ourselves doing is being disobedient to His command and He calls this sin. When we try to put our design in the place of His, we basically set ourselves in the place of God and fall victim to the same sins that caused Satan to try and overthrow God (check out the Bible to see how that worked out for him). The only solution for our sin is repentance, either for the first time or the hundredth, and allowing God to forgive us.

Consider this. One day we will all stand before God and be judged. Christians will be judged by Christ for what they have done in this life with the things He has given them (2 Corinthians 5:10). Non-Christians will be judged by God and find their name not written in the Book of Life only to be thrown into hell (Revelation 20:11-15). When we stand before Christ or God, not a single excuse we give will hold water. We can give any and every reason for why we perverted God's design for marriage and it won't matter one bit. For the Christian, unless repentance occurs, there will be spiritual blessings in heaven that will be withheld. For the non-Christian, unless repentance occurs, there is nothing to look forward to but an eternity of torture and separation from God.

I'll close with this. If you're a Christian currently living in a situation contrary to God's design for marriage, then you need to consider which relationship is more important to you. Your relationship with God should take top priority over any other relationship. Seek His forgiveness, repent, and do what is necessary to correct your romantic relationship. If your not a Christian check out this link to learn more about how to repent and start a relationship with God. Then you'll be able to put your relationship with your significant other in the proper context and make sure it is a relationship that honors God.


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Monday, November 27, 2017

Tom Petty's standing ovation at the Pearly Gates

A few weeks ago I was listening to a local classic rock station and there was a song playing by the late Tom Petty. When the song ended the DJ, like they normally do before a commercial break, transitioned with a few comments about the artist and the song. The first comment is what really caught my attention. The DJ started off by saying "Can you imagine the standing ovation Tom Petty received at the Pearly Gates?" I simply shook my head at the comment and changed the station not wanting to hear the upcoming commercials. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were an awesome musical group. With albums that went Gold, Platinum, Double and Triple Platinum, receiving the Billboard Century Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and many other honors, Tom Petty was more than deserving of a standing ovation in any room he walked in. His contributions to music are evidenced by the fact he sold over 80 million albums worldwide making him one of the top 100 best-selling artists of all-time. His greatness in the area of music cannot be disputed.

The real question that should jump out at us after hearing (or in your case reading) the remarks of a DJ on the radio is "Was Tom Petty deserving of a standing ovation at the Pearly Gates?" I don't pretend to know the spiritual relationship between Tom Petty and God, but if mentions of his belief in the benefits of transcendental meditation are true, then I doubt that Tom Petty was a believer in Christ. That being said, Tom Petty, and everyone else for that matter, can expect an ovation at the gates of heaven based on one thing and one thing only. This ovation is not based on record sales, awards, honors, how good a person you were, how much you gave to charity or the church. This ovation is not based on what you thought about God, how you treated your family or if you provided for your family. This ovation is not based in anything you can do on this earth as a result of your own power, intellect, or musical ability.

The only thing that needs to be done so you can receive a standing ovation at the gates of Heaven has already been done for you, but the ovation itself is based in what you do with what has already been done. The only way for you to be received into heaven, which will excite God, the angels, and every person there, is to trust in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Then and only then will there be a great ovation as you enter into heaven when this life is over. Jesus dying on the cross 2,000 years ago secured for you a spot in heaven. He's already done everything needed for you to get into heaven. The only way to claim that spot with your name on it is to believe that Jesus Christ is the perfect Son of God, who died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and was raised from the dead by the power of God three days later. If you believe this in your heart, and confess your sin, confess your need for forgiveness, and confess your desire for Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, then you will receive eternal life and a right relationship with God. When this life is over, you'll find yourself in heaven with a God and people who are excited to see you.

If for some reason you decide not to pursue a relationship with God and not receive the forgiveness Christ offers, then you'll find yourself on the outside looking in. To borrow from another classic rock artist, you'll find yourself "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and you won't be getting in. The sad reality is that you'll be eternally separated from God. This means you'll spend eternity in the tortures of hell. There'll be no standing ovation at the gates of hell only "wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12, 13:42). My suggestion to you today is to put your faith in Christ and avoid this awful existence after this life is over. By doing so you'll enter into a place God has prepared for you, specifically for you, and enjoy fellowship with Him and other believers for all of eternity. 

You can find more information on starting a relationship with God through Jesus Christ here or here.


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Monday, November 20, 2017

A Few Reasons for Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving on Thursday, the thoughts of most people have turned to those things for which they are thankful. I want to share some reasons for giving thanks 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 13, 2017

Diffusing a volatile situation

Friday evening my wife and I found ourselves right in the middle of a volatile and potentially violent domestic dispute. This dispute was between two people we'd  never met before but somehow while minding our own business we were pulled into the middle of this dispute. I can't go into the details of the situation but while the two were separated, my wife was talking to the woman involved and I went to give something back to the man that the woman had with her. From his demeanor and language I could tell he was more than upset before I ever got close to him. As I approached him I could tell he was not going to calm down anytime soon. I tried my best to talk to him and get him to calm down. After a few tense minutes of not knowing how things would go, he decided to leave. As he started to leave I told him I was a pastor and that I would be praying for him. I was surprised at how the simple words that I would be praying for him tossed a tremendous amount of water on a volatile fire. Although he did not leave before doing some more yelling and cursing at the lady, when he finally left I hoped I was done with the situation short of praying for him and the lady. 

Often times we tell people we will be praying for them and that is the extent of it. We say the words and never go through the process of actually interceding for the person. We talk a good game. We sound real religious but our actions don't line up. Only when we see the person again do we whisper a silent prayer for them as we're reaching out our hand so we can say we've been praying for them. It is like an old comic strip that showed a pastor thinking "Here comes Bob. Oh I forgot to pray for him. Lord bless Bob." Then the next strip shows the pastor shaking Bob's hand while letting Bob know he'd been praying for him. We see on social media, like Facebook, where someone shares a concern or problem, while requesting prayer. People "Like" or use an emoji in response or even comment "Praying." But how often do we click the buttons and continue scrolling without pausing to pray. Many times we have good intentions of praying for a person but it just doesn't get done. We're busy with our own lives and things slip through the cracks, including praying for others. The best advice I can give you on this topic is some advice an old, wise pastor once shared with me. Simply put, he said if you tell someone you will pray for them, then do it right then and there. Don't put it off because you could forget. As long as the situation lends itself to you praying for that person in the moment then do so. Not only will you keep your word but you will touch the heart of the person you are praying over.

On Saturday, as I went through my day, I regularly prayed for different aspects of the situation we were pulled into on Friday evening. I prayed for the couple and have prayed for them from time to time since then. On Saturday afternoon the man caught up with me and apologized for the way he had acted and the things he'd said in front of me and my wife. He said the situation had caused him to act in a way that was out of character for him. Then he said something several times that got my attention. He told me he appreciated the fact that I was praying for him. I thought my comment the night before had landed on deaf ears, especially after the way the night ended. We never know how our prayers or our offer to pray for someone will impact a situation or impact a person's life. So if you say you will pray for someone, be sure to do it. You never know how it may impact their life.


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Monday, October 30, 2017

Who Are You Thanking?

During the upcoming month of November people traditionally focus more on giving thanks than they do at any other time during the year. We generally attribute this to our celebration of Thanksgiving at the end of each November. As one of only 3 countries in the world that celebrate a specific day to give thanks (the others being Canada and Liberia), we usually pause on the fourth Thursday in November to give thanks in some form or fashion. Often times people will take a few moments, before digging into the turkey and dressing, to give people an opportunity to share those things for which they are thankful. I think this is a good and noble practice. It gives people an opportunity to verbalize their gratitude for the things they enjoy and those things that mean a great deal to them. It may be things like family, good health, love between family members, or any other number of items for which they are thankful. Voicing one's gratitude is important because it shows what is important to that person. But the thing that is more important is who are you thankful to?

If I walk into a store and someone holds a door for me, I will tell them "Thank You." If my waitress fills my drink up, I will tell her "Thank You." If someone gives me a gift, you guessed it, I will tell them "Thank You." The concept of giving thanks is to express gratitude for something. This gratitude must be directed somewhere, or more importantly to Someone. We often see the Thanksgiving Parade hosts or folks gathered around our tables at Thanksgiving sharing what they are thankful for but rarely sharing to whom they are thankful. Some will say the universe, fate, providence, good luck, or any other hosts of man-made ideals (or maybe I should say idols). We often hear an obligatory shout out of thanks to no one in particular, rather than thanking the God of the Universe.

The entire reason the pilgrim's celebrated Thanksgiving in the first place was to give thanks to God for the support they received from the local Native Americans and for His provision in their lives. Our thanks today are still to be directed at the God who holds everything together and provides us with everything we have. Psalm 107 (NIV), among other places in the Bible, reminds us to "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his love endures forever." The Bible is clear that all of our thanks, gratitude, and appreciation for things in this life, should be directed to God because of His goodness and His love. He is the embodiment of goodness and love. Because these traits are part of His DNA, He gives us good gifts from the depths of His love (James 1:17). Because He gives us more blessings from His hands than we could ever count, we need to give thanks to Him. Not some arbitrary, lip service to the universe but to the God who created the universe and holds it all together. If you can thank a person for holding a door, pouring a drink, or giving you a gift, then why not give God the credit and the thanks for what He has done for you?

I'll close with this. I encourage you to work to adjust your thankfulness this November. Not only during the days surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday, but the entire month of November. When asked what you're thankful for, start off with the phrase "I'm thankful to God for..." As the month of November comes to an end, don't let your gratitude toward God end there. Work to make this a habit every time you give thanks going forward. It will help point others to Him and it will bring glory to Him as you tell others to Whom you are thankful.


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Monday, October 23, 2017

Danger in the Darkness

My boys and I recently put up a trail camera where we hunt on our family farm. When we found pictures of loads of deer we were excited at the prospect of this year's gun season for deer hunting. What caused us a great deal of concern was when we scrolled through the pictures and found images of two large coyotes. I'm not worried about the coyotes bothering the deer because of the nature of the deer. What I am concerned about is the coyotes attacking our cattle and possibly killing some of our calves. We had a calf die just last year and suspected a coyote killed it but we didn't know for sure. These coyotes can cause many problems for us. Everything from scaring the deer away, killing calves, or even possibly harming children walking around the farm. The photos our trail camera took show just how much danger there is in the darkness.

When we look at our spiritual lives, there are dangers in spiritually dark areas that are far worse than a couple of coyotes. For the follower of Christ, Satan uses every sin he can to try and draw us away from God and into those spiritually dark areas. When he is successful, there is all sorts of collateral damage done. Our witness or testimony can be damaged or possibly ruined. Our relationship with God and with others can be damaged. We can even find ourselves being sucked in deeper and deeper into sin that will make it harder and harder to turn away from the sin and back to God (the Bible calls this repentance). 

For the ones who do not have a personal relationship with Christ, the dangers in the darkness are even more lethal. Those sins that Satan uses to keep you captive to sin, they keep you from experiencing the freedom from sin that God offers you through Jesus. If Satan keeps you distracted by sin long enough and you don't experience salvation through Christ in this life, those sins will prove to be spiritually and eternally lethal. The dangers in the spiritual darkness for a non-believer in Christ is best explained as a pit of quicksand. You're already in the pit of sin and the more you struggle trying to free yourself the worse your situation becomes. The more you struggle the deeper in the pit you go. The only way you are able to get out of the pit is if you have Someone's help to get out. Jesus is the One who can pull you out of the pit, clean you up, and set you on solid ground. Satan will do all he can to convince you that you can get out of the pit yourself or try to keep you struggling in the pit so that you never try to get out. The good thing is Jesus knows you can't get out of the pit yourself and He is always ready to give you a hand to get you out. Reach out to Him today and allow Him to lift you out of the pit of sin if you've never asked Him to do so before (you can get more info at PeaceWithGod.net or by clicking here).

For those who follow Christ and are struggling with the dangers in the darkness, I would encourage you to do the same thing I've started doing on our farm. Every time I go to check my trail camera or put out more deer corn, I carry a rifle with me. I have something with me to take action against the danger I face. The weapons you need to use to protect yourself and help you get out of the spiritual darkness you find yourself in are prayer, Bible study, and worship. Spend time in prayer confessing your sins to God and repenting. Spend time searching the scriptures for what God says about the sins you are struggling with. Make sure not to neglect the time you should spend worshiping God with other believers. Not that it will necessarily be an easy trip out of the darkness, but if you make these a part of your spiritual life, then you will find it much easier to deal with the dangers in the darkness.


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Monday, October 16, 2017

Multitasking doesn't work.

There is an ancient proverb credited to Confucius that says, "The man who chases two rabbits catches neither." In a day when your survival was dependent on catching those rabbits, this bit of wisdom would prove invaluable. In today's world, we chase more than two rabbits on a regular basis and can still feel like we have not accomplished anything. In our modern vernacular we call chasing two rabbits multitasking. It is where we try to do two or more tasks at the same time. Some people claim to be really good at multitasking, but I don't think multitasking really works.

The way our brains are geared and our bodies are designed, we can only truly focus on one thing at a time. We might say we can check our Facebook and watch TV at the same time, but only one of the two will get our attention. Trust me I tried it last night! If we're reading our phone, we won't be able to fully understand what is happening on the TV show we're watching. This is a simple example that many people are guilty of nowadays. I will share with you a sobering statistic to help drive the point home that multitasking doesn't work. *In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Distracted drivers include people distracted by many different things, including those texting or talking on cell phones while driving. But the reality of the statistic still stands. If we are not giving our full attention to our driving then we can be involved in an accident. If it wasn't the case hundreds of thousands of people each year wouldn't be injured by people multitasking.


This little fact about multitasking not working translates to our spiritual lives as well. There is an old saying that goes something like this, "You can't walk with God while holding hands with the devil." This drives home the point that we can't live a multitasking spiritual life. We have to make a choice and give our attention and allegiance to either God or to sin. If we put our faith in Christ and have a relationship with God through Christ's death on the cross, then our focus should be on Him instead of sin. We can't sit on the fence and lean back and forth between God and sin to appease what we want at a given time. We have to choose which one is going to be our focus and head in that direction. There are plenty of people out there who profess to be Christians but live like the devil. If we claim the name of Christ as our Lord and Savior, then we have to live up to His standards and expectations. This means living a life holy and pleasing to Him and living it out daily, not just when we feel like it.


A good example of making this decision and then sticking to it is found in the last pages of the story of Joshua in the Bible. Joshua was born a slave in Egypt. He watched as God delivered the Israelites from slavery and he walked on dry ground through the Red Sea. For the rest of his life Joshua watched as God was faithful and provided for himself and the Israelites. Joshua also spent his life in service to God. First leading Israel's army, then leading the nation after death of Moses. Not long before Joshua died, he gathered the nation of Israel together and gave them some words of wisdom. Those words put the people on notice and made them make a choice. This same choice is set before us every day. The choice Joshua gave them was to choose who they would serve. Would they serve the gods other people had worshiped or were worshiping or would they worship and serve the Living God of Israel. Joshua finished his statements by saying, "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"  (Joshua 24:15, NKJV).


Each and every day you have to choose who/what you will serve, who/what you will worship, and who/what will get your attention. If you try to multitask spiritually, then you will be like the proverbial man chasing two rabbits. You won't catch what you really want or what you really need. So take Joshua's challenge to heart today and decide who/what will get your undivided attention. Then make your decision tomorrow and all the days that follow. If you choose like Joshua did, you won't be disappointed.



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*www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving


Monday, October 9, 2017

Immutable

There is an old adage that says something along the lines of "The only constant in life is change." It sounds like an oxymoron but there is quite a bit of truth in the statement. Things are constantly changing around us. The weather. Seasons. Moods. Age. Likes. Dislikes. Health. Things are constantly changing around us whether we like it or not. I, like most people, am not a fan of change. In many ways I like routines and schedules. Not that I can't handle change, but I prefer things to stay the same in most areas of my life. When we grasp the reality that basically everything around us is constantly changing, we naturally think about things that do not change.

When something is described as unchanging or insusceptible to change we refer to it as being immutable. We might think of a rocky island in the ocean as never changing, the same year after year, and therefore immutable. But the reality is that the waves are slowly eroding the shore and eventually the island will be on the bottom of the ocean. When we search the galaxy, the depths of the ocean, the deepest rain forest, or the smallest molecules, we will find that everything changes. The only things that are really immutable are God and His Word.

Over the centuries mankind has done all they can to relabel, repackage, and even do away with the God of the Universe. Some such as Friedrich Nietzche have even went so far as to claim that "God is dead." But regardless of what mankind has devised, God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and the reports of God's death are greatly exaggerated. Regardless of what mankind says, thinks, or does, it does not change the fact that God is the "same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).

Thankfully God's Word is as immutable as He is. It seems like mankind is constantly coming up with new packaging on millennia-old sins and trying to pass them off as something mankind has never heard of or seen before. As our world "develops" these "new" things that are in contradiction with the Word of God, the first comments are generally that God's Word is wrong, archaic, and judgmental. The problem with this philosophy is that God's Word is as correct today as it was some 2,000 years ago when it was recorded. Call me old-fashioned but I still believe the Holy Spirit of God inspired more than 35 authors, from many different backgrounds, on 3 continents, over 2,000 years, to write His message using 3 different languages. The important aspect of the immutability of God's Word is not in who wrote it or when they wrote it, but the truths contained within it. God's Word, for all the variety in locations, authors, time periods, and languages, has one central theme at its core. This theme is God's desire to have a personal relationship with mankind through Jesus Christ's sacrificial death on the cross. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, you read a story of mankind's disobedience towards God and God's plan to redeem mankind. The truths contained within God's Word tells us how to make our relationship with Him perfect once again and how to pursue the holiness God expects of us. No matter how enlightened mankind thinks they have become, we never get to the point where the truths of God's Word are no longer valid and no longer apply to us. 

The next time you think about how crazy things are because everything is always changing, give thanks to God for the fact that He and His Word never change. In a world of constant change, it is nice to know that God and His word never change.


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Monday, October 2, 2017

Coincidence? I think not.

"Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous." I heard this phrase years ago and thought it was just one of those hokey, cliche things preachers and bible teachers said. The longer I pastor, the more I grow in my faith, and the older I get, I realize this is not so cliche after all. 

We define coincidence as "the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection." We often times chalk things up to coincidence because we don't know how to explain them. We think it is an accident or some cosmic joke being played on us. The  reality of the matter is, nothing happens by coincidence and everything happens for a reason. The reason I am confident in this last statement if because I am confident in the sovereignty of God. This basically means that God is in control of everything, including those things we chalk up to coincidence, accidents, fate, or dumb luck. If we attribute things to "the universe", coincidence, luck, or any other host of non-existent credit claimers, then in our view, we remove God from His place of supremacy over everything and place something above Him. In the Bible this is called idolatry. Today it is still called idolatry. My encouragement to you would be to start giving God credit for the things He does in your life, and don't give credit to those things that man has created as the source of those things we want to easily explain away.

I'll give you three recent examples I've experienced where people without a biblical worldview may credit coincidence or luck, when the credit and glory are owed to the Sovereign God of the Universe.

On a recent mission trip to Honduras our team built a 20' x 20' cinderblock home with a concrete floor and a tin roof. Prior to leaving we checked the weather and the minimum chance of rain while we were supposed to be working was 60%, but was usually 70-80%. On the Wednesday night before we left, our church prayed specifically that the weather would not be a problem and that the rain would not affect our construction or delay us. For 5 straight days, during the rainy season in Honduras, we never so much as saw a cloud in the sky that threatened to rain on the job site. It did rain torrential downpours after our work was done for the day, but it never rained a drop while we worked. Coincidence? I think not.

While working to mix concrete for the floor of the home, we started to run dangerously low on sand. We weren't even halfway done with the floor and I could tell we were going to run out of sand at the rate they were using it. I talked to the foreman, a fellow pastor, and he said it would all work out. I made a comment about how we needed to pray for "loaves and fish" (referencing Jesus' miraculous feeding of the 5,000; Matthew 14:15-21). Somehow God stretched the sand and concrete and gave us "12 baskets leftover" (again, check out Matthew 14:15-21). We had sand and concrete left over enough for the family we helped to pour a 4' x 8' pad of concrete. Coincidence? I think not.

After returning from the trip to Honduras, we buried an uncle who had passed away while I was out of the country. The day after his funeral, which was also six months after losing my grandmother, and the day a beloved aunt had died the year before, a bible app on my phone popped up with Philippians 4:7 (NIV). It says, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." To most it would have gone unnoticed. To me it was one of those times God chose to remain anonymous. This particular verse is a verse I have prayed over bereaved families for years. Here in the midst of my own grief, God was sharing with me the same verse I'd shared with dozens of families over the years. Coincidence? I think not.

Whether a person wants to admit it or not, God is in control of everything. Nothing is outside of His control or His power, or He wouldn't be God. Next time you think about chalking something up to luck or coincidence, instead consider giving God the credit for what He's done.


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Monday, August 28, 2017

Prescription for Life

This past weekend was a bit odd. Nothing out of the ordinary happened except one question came up nearly 10 times with people I know. The question I was asked over and over this weekend was about how much weight I had lost. I jokingly told Misty, I did not know which was worse, that people could tell I had lost so much weight or the fact I needed to lose weight and no one said anything about it.


Last October a pastor's study group I'm in worked through a book called Prescription for Life by Dr. Richard Furman. To say this book changed my life is a gross understatement. When I cracked open the book, I initially did so with the hopes of losing some weight. As I read the book my focus changed from weight loss to long-term care of my body. Dr. Furman lays out in his book three simple strategies that will help you take care of your body and live younger longer. One of the benefits of following Dr. Furman's prescription for a healthier life is weight loss. I can attest that the program works having shed 50 pounds in 7 months and having maintained the same weight for almost 4 months now. The strategies in the book work, but as Dr. Furman puts it in the book you have to go from deciding to do something (your thoughts of what you want to do) to committing to do it (putting action to your decisions).

One of the things that caught my attention and has been more of a driving force for me behind changing my lifestyle is the fact that a simple change of lifestyle now can help me avoid common health problems later in life. Those problems are ones that everyone thinks is "just a part of life," such as heart issues, strokes, & dementia. This new lifestyle helps to protect your arteries against vascular problems. Both of my grandfathers were affected by dementia. I have joked for years with Misty that I knew it was coming for me and when it did, just put me in a home because I wouldn't know where I was anyways. But by changing my lifestyle now, I could do my part to avoid much of the vascular problems that plague so many. Avoiding dementia 30-40 years from now was enough incentive for me to be committed to this change of lifestyle.

Over nearly 11 months God has worked on me about this change. I was selfish about it at first, wanting to lose weight and avoid dementia or heart issues like my grandfathers. The reason I say I was selfish was because it was all about me and what I would get out of changing my lifestyle. As God has worked on me, I've realized a greater benefit than avoiding those health problems or losing weight. The greater benefit is that I'm being a better steward of the greatest resource God has given me, a healthy body, and I can make a bigger impact for His Kingdom for a longer time, just by taking care of my health. I now want to be that old guy at 85-90 years old that is still outworking 65 year old men. But more importantly, I want to be that old guy who is still able to serve God faithfully up to the last breath because I made a change in my life at 36 years old. I want to serve my God alongside my grandchildren and great-grandchildren so I can leave a greater legacy of faith than I could if I don't remember my name or I'm worried about overtaxing my heart.

I usually end my blog posts by trying to encourage my readers to put into action whatever biblical truths I've discussed. Today's encouragement is simple and can be life changing if you do it. I encourage you to pick up a copy of Dr. Furman's book here and start to make a change in your life that will reap temporal as well as eternal benefits. Trust me, you won't be disappointed if you do.

If you have questions that I can answer, feel free to email me at pastornick@northcatawbabaptist.com. You can also check out Dr. Furman's website here.


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Monday, August 21, 2017

It's the End of the World

Monday's solar eclipse is definitely the talk of the town in our part of the country. Many people are making their way to parts of South Carolina where the total eclipse will be at 100%. In our area it is predicted to be at around 97% which will still be a cool sight, as long as you use the hard to find eclipse glasses. From ancient times, solar eclipses and other unusual scientific phenomena have caught the attention of people. Its even been recorded that a solar eclipse caused a battle between the Medes and Lydians to end with both sides putting their weapons down and declaring peace. There is no doubt that these people, and many others before and after this time, believed that the "gods" were giving them a sign. Some cultures today probably still consider a solar eclipse as an omen or sign from a deity and possibly a sign that signals the end of the world.

We do not need a solar eclipse to signal the end of the world. The reason being we have already been given a signal through God's Word. Now I'm not one of those preachers who gives a day and time when the world is going to end because we do not know when it will be (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). I am also not one of those preachers that points to every last thing that is an anomaly in the natural world and says it is judgment from God and assigns a spiritual significance to it. But I am a preacher who believes what the Bible tells us about the end of the world as described in the Book of Revelation and other parts of scripture. 

We are told about the next event in the events leading up to the end of the world in 1 Timothy 4:1 (NIV) where it says, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." You can look around the world today and see that this is taking place. Talking with pastors who have ministered as long as I've been alive, they are quick to say they believe we are in this time of apostasy as it is called. How long does this last? We are not told. But after this we can expect the next prophetic event from scripture which is the Rapture. 

If you view Revelation as a prophecy of the end times as many do, then the words of Revelation 4:1-2 point to the time when Jesus will call His church out of this world and into heaven. Following the Rapture will be seven years of literally hell on earth where things go from bad to worse to you can't believe how bad it gets! All of those events in the Seven-Year Tribulation are found in Revelation 6:1-18:24. The real end of the world will happen after those events when Jesus returns in the Glorious Appearing, sometimes referred to as the second coming of Christ (Revelation 19:11-21). Borrowing from the lyrics of a R.E.M song, this will be "the end of the world as we know it." Christ will begin his thousand year reign, defeating the antichrist and Satan. All this leads to a judgment from God as described in Revelation 20:11-15, where He will judge mankind for their sins. Revelation 20:15 is very clear that those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will be "thrown into the lake of fire." For those who do not have a relationship with Christ and are either alive when He returns or die before that time, they will be judged and found guilty of their own sins, only to pay the punishment themselves by being separated for eternity from God in hell.

The good news is that God has given us a way to avoid that punishment. All you have to do is put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. To do this you must believe in your heart that Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life, died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins, was raised to life by the power of God, and confessing you want Jesus to be the master of your life and to forgive you of your sins. It is that simple. Why not allow your punishment for your sins to be taken away by Jesus' sacrifice? If you do then you will really be prepared for the end of the world.

* If you want to put your faith in Jesus and need someone to talk with, feel free to email me at pastornick@northcatawbabaptist.com or go to www.peacewithgod.net.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Lessons from the Road

As a kid I was captivated by stories of missionaries serving God in foreign lands. Some of my closest friends have been missionaries serving God in the far reaches of the globe, in places like Asia and Indonesia. As I grew up our church never really did short term mission trips that gave people the opportunity to serve, although we did give to missions and served our local community. When I was 28 I finally had the opportunity to go on a mission trip and I have been hooked ever since. In the next four weeks I will have the opportunity to lead my 9th and 10th short term mission trips since 2008. In those first eight mission trips to Canada, Philadelphia, Vermont (twice), Wyoming, Honduras, and West Virginia (twice), I have covered a little over 16,000 miles and led 119 different people to serve God through missions. In all of those travels, adventures, and misadventures, I have gleaned just a little bit of experience and wisdom. As I reflected this morning on lessons learned and experience gained, I could not help but see how the wisdom of those lessons from the road can impact our spiritual life. So here are a few of those lessons from the road.

Lesson 1: Things will not always go as planned.
No matter how much planning you do and preparations you make, not everything on a mission trip will go as you had planned. Whether it is an extra bathroom break for the teenager who bought the jumbo sized drink at the last stop, a traffic delay because of a DEA drug check point in northern Maine, or unexpected hospital visits, things will not always go smoothly, much less according to your plans.

We often times have plans of how we hope things will work out in the future in regards to our relationship with God. We hope this time next year to be closer to Him because we're committed to reading our Bible more and praying more. But things happen and a year later we are in the same place spiritually that we were a year ago. The lesson is to not let those unplanned mishaps derail us altogether. We have to be flexible and allow the momentary problems that creep up to be exactly that, momentary. Don't allow a minor slip up to become a rut that keeps you bogged down for years on end. Get back on the spiritual road you need to be on and keep working around those problems that creep up.

Lesson 2: Traveling with friends is much more exciting.
Some of my closest friends over my years of ministry have been able to join me on short term mission trips. We've had some real adventures and witnessed many awesome sights. Whether it was an outrageous BBQ joint in Kansas City, Missouri, playing outdoor laser tag on a dairy farm in Vermont, or watching the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Washington, I've had some great experiences and memorable times with my friends on these trips.

The spiritual journey you find yourself on as you pursue a relationship with God, is not meant to be a solitary existence. God created us to thrive in community and our spiritual lives thrive best when we are in fellowship with other believers. This is why worship and fellowship with a church family is so vitally important. As you travel down your spiritual road, there will be times where you need help to get out of the ditch. There will be other times where you are in a position to help someone else who may be stuck in the same ditch you once found yourself in. The point is we need each other. This is how God designed us and how we can best flourish in our relationship with Him.

Lesson 3: Get dirty!
There hasn't been a mission trip I've led where I, and everyone with me, did not end up dirty or sweaty at some point. In Honduras we sweated until every stitch of clothing we wore was drenched with sweat. In Canada, Vermont, & Wyoming, we dragged branches and cut trees until we were covered in sawdust and pine resin (and not necessarily in that order). All of the dirt, sweat, and grime we found ourselves covered in was to minister in some way to someone else.

Life is messy. Life is dirty. Life is hard. If Christians are to be the light of the world, that we are told we are by our Lord, then we have to get into places outside of the church pew and get dirty alongside those who we need to minister to. This doesn't mean giving in to the sins others may be struggling with, but it does mean digging in with both hands to help them as you minister to them. Think about it from this perspective, can you wear a white suit and help someone out of a muddy pit without getting a little dirty? No you can't. So as you travel down your spiritual road and develop your relationship with God, get your hands dirty as you help others on to the road they need to be traveling spiritually.

I hope a few of the lessons I've learned over the years can help you in your walk with Christ.


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Monday, August 7, 2017

What do people see?

Yesterday at our church, we had baptism for a lady who recently accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior. We do baptism at the beginning of our services and this means I go change before joining the church for worship. When I came in to the sanctuary our church was in the middle of a song, so I took a spot on the front row and joined in the singing. After the service a parent of a 2 year old told me her daughter noticed me coming in the service. What was interesting about this is the timing of the song and what the little girl said. The lyric in the song being sung as I walked in was "Jesus." The little girl noticed the tall guy with a beard that talks from the stage and naturally assumed that I was Jesus and pointed it out to her parents. When this funny story was shared with me after the service, I couldn't help but be challenged by it.

This small child made an observation that we can find humorous. But to be completely honest with you, my first response in my mind was "No. No. No. Don't compare me to Him. I don't stack up to Him." There is a little bit of truth in my initial thoughts, but there is also much spiritual immaturity as well. I don't stack up well to Christ. Honestly, none of us do. He is perfect, holy, omnipotent, sinless, limitless, eternal, omniscient, and so much more. I don't stack up as a sinful, broken, fallible, and finite human being.

Since I carry the name of Christian, I can't be so spiritually immature as to tell someone not to compare me to Christ. When I took the label of Christian to describe my affiliation with Christ, I automatically gave people the right to compare me to Christ. The word Christian was originally used as a derogatory term that meant "little Christ." So I have to ask myself, when people look at me, what do they see? Do they see a "little Christ"? Do they see someone doing their best to live up to the example Christ set before them? Do they see a person modeling their life after the perfect and sinless Son of God? Or do they see someone who wears the label of a Christian but has no more affiliation with Christ than a person wearing a sports jersey does to that team? What do people see when they look at you? Can they more honestly and candidly than the 2 year old did yesterday, look at you and say they see Jesus when they look at you?

If they can, then keep up the good work. It is hard to live out a consistent Christian witness in the world we live in. If people see you day in and day out living a life surrendered to Christ, then you are on the right path.

If they can't look at you and say they see Jesus when they look at you, then what needs to change in your life so they can? Speech? Attitude? The way you treat people? Your commitment to worship God on Sundays? Your commitment to serve Him in His church? Whatever needs to change so people will see Jesus in you, that needs to be your top spiritual priority. Otherwise they will continue to see something other than the label you claim.

I hope today's post has challenged you. I know I was challenged spiritually by a 2 year old that mistook me for Jesus. The take away for all of is the same. When they look at you, what do people see?


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Monday, July 17, 2017

Traveling the same difficult road.

On my Hiking Bucket List is one of the most challenging (and frankly insane) hikes in the world. I don't know that I will ever be able to get to it but if I can it would be awesome! The trail is on Mount Huashan in China. The picture to the right is a picture of this famous trail with the planks attached to the side of the mountain that make up the trail. I've read about the hike and looked at pictures of others on the trail. Thousands of people travel this trail each year, with an estimated 100 falling to their deaths. With this many people traveling this trail I think I could travel the same difficult road to the top of the mountain.

This past week I had the opportunity to speak to a lady who is starting down a very difficult road. This woman recently received a difficult cancer diagnosis. The road she is beginning to travel is the same one I walked down 16 years ago. This sweet woman found out she has melanoma skin cancer and will have to have a procedure in the near future to remove it. When I was informed of her diagnosis, since I had walked that worrisome path myself, I went to minister to her. In our conversation I tried to encourage her and give her hope. Even though everyone's body is different and every one reacts differently to treatments, I wanted her to know there is hope in what the doctors could do and there is hope in her relationship with God. While we talked I mentioned to her how people don't understand, unless they've been in that situation before, how you stop listening when the doctor says you have cancer. I could see a light come on in her eyes when I made that comment. She knew she was talking to someone who knew what she was experiencing. Part of the reason she was able to be encouraged by our visit was because the more we talked, the more she realized that she was hearing from someone who truly knew how she felt. She knew that she was dealing with someone who had traveled the same difficult road she was beginning to travel.

Sometimes we look at the hardships in our life as difficult circumstances that we would rather avoid. No one enjoys physical, emotional, spiritual or any other kind of pain. We can be left battered, bruised, and scarred by the difficult roads we travel in life. Often times we look at those experiences and think "God, what good can come from this?" We see it as nothing but pain and think its only purpose was like the old adage "What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger." We can turn our experiences on those difficult roads into opportunities to care and minister to others. God uses those difficult circumstances to bring about not only our good (Romans 8:28), but also His good in other people's lives. We should look at our experiences as an opportunity to be a guide for others who start down the same road we've traveled. There is comfort in knowing that there is someone out there who has faced the same exact struggle you are facing. It is encouraging to hear them describe how they faced the same challenges you are facing.

In my years of ministry I've had the opportunity to minister to several people facing the same kind of cancer I faced. I've had other difficulties in my life that have allowed me to more effectively minister to those facing those same difficulties. But we don't have to be called by God to pastoral ministry to be used by Him to minister to those around us. The man facing the role of caregiver to his wife struggling with dementia can minister to others as no one else can. The woman abused as a child can minister to others in a way only she can. The parent who has lost a child can minister because they know the pain a parent faces in that situation. Those made a widow or widower after decades of marriage can only be consoled by those who have experienced the same life-shattering loss in their own life. Don't view the difficult roads you've traveled as something meant to destroy you. View them as something used by God in your life to bring hope, peace, and comfort to the lives of those traveling the same difficult road.


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Monday, July 10, 2017

When things get crazy.

Saturday was an interesting day on our farm. I worked with my dad to sort out some calves to be sold at a livestock market. The way things went wasn't exactly like I had planned. First the calves wouldn't voluntarily go into a holding pen to eat feed while I shut the stall door behind them. This generally works and is much easier and safer for all involved. Instead they stayed out in the large open area of our barn meaning my dad and I had to sort out a few to keep at the farm while trying to keep the ones to be sold in the barn. We got down to one last 500 pound bull calf we needed to put back in the field and we were close to getting him out of the barn. Then out of nowhere a 400 pound heifer started freaking out. If you've never been in an enclosed space with animals that size, then you don't know what exciting (or terrifying) is. When the heifer lost her mind she came charging at me with no plans of slowing down. Now I'm a big guy at 6'5" and 195 pounds, but I was not about to get ran over by a 400 pound freight train. As she made a lap inside the barn and headed at me, my only option to avoid the ER was to climb the wall of the barn and hold on to the top of the wall for dear life. If you've ever watched a rodeo where people climbed the wall to get out of the way of a bull, then you get the gist of what I looked like trying to get out of the way of this crazed heifer. Fortunately for me she ran under me and missed me when she kicked at me. After 2 more laps inside the barn and two more wall climbing adventures that would've make Spider-man proud, we finally were able to get the bull calf out of the barn. After a few minutes the heifer calmed down and followed other calves as they went in the stall.

So where is the spiritual lesson in locking yourself in an enclosed place with quarter ton animals that can run you over and send you to the hospital. Well, I'm glad you asked. The lesson is all about training yourself spiritually and developing a stronger faith. Last year when we sorted calves in the summer time to send to the market. I was 50 pounds heavier than I am now. Also I didn't exercise in anyway and wasn't taking care of my body. Since October of last year I've changed my eating habits and started exercising 5-6 days a week. Saturday it paid off because I was leaner and stronger than I was a year ago and it kept me from some serious injuries. Had a calf went crazy like that last year, it would have definitely ended differently for me.

When we become spiritual couch potatoes we aren't prepared for those difficult times that arise in our life. We are out of shape spiritually, we are weak in our faith, and we aren't living on a healthy diet of prayer and bible study. The result is we don't have the energy or strength to spiritually keep ourselves from harm. Instead if we put in the dedication, day in and day out, to care for our spiritual bodies, then we will see a different result when those difficulties in life appear. If we're spending time in prayer and bible study, then God will use those spiritual disciplines to strengthen us from the inside out. If we exercise our faith daily by strengthening our spiritual lives through other opportunities such as service, worship, fellowship, and giving, then we are regularly preparing ourselves for those days when things don't go exactly as planned. Does this mean things will be perfect for us? No it doesn't. What it does mean is that when things go from perfect to terrifying, you are better equipped to handle the situation because God has already prepared you for it.

If you've not been actively strengthening your spiritual life, then make a commitment and start today. Do what is necessary and make the needed changes so you will have a stronger faith tomorrow. Allow God to start working in your spiritual life in such a way that you will be better prepared for those difficult moments in life.


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