Monday, January 30, 2017

Your Choices Determine Your Destination

This past weekend my wife and I celebrated a milestone in our relationship. 20 years ago, we started dating while in high school. The two of us have been inseparable for more than half of our lives. We went back to the place we went on our first date and reminisced about all we had done together over the last 20 years. High school days when we were struggling to make our relationship work. College when we were learning to be adults. The struggles of the early years of marriage. The days when we were told we could not have kids. The joys of God's blessings as parents. And everything in between. 

The one thing we looked back on, and still cannot believe we strongly considered, was getting married the week after we graduated high school. We were at the beach with friends following graduation and the idea was floated around by the two of us. We thought we would just elope and start our lives together since we were out of high school. Our rationale was we could find a way to pay for our own college tuition and still enjoy the benefits of being married. We talked about it during the week, and thankfully for the two of us, we decided to not get hitched and instead wait until after we finished college. We were married after college and the rest is history.

Looking back on it now, nearly 18 years removed and with much more life experience, we are both confident we made the right decision for us. Had we married then our marriage may not have withstood the challenges of the first five years of marriage, which are challenging under the best of circumstances. We probably would not have gone to college and we probably could not have afforded to visit the fertility specialists that resulted in our two sons. Our lives would have been drastically different than they are today. All because of one choice. All because we would have said "Yes" instead of "No."

I tell that lengthy example to point out that the choices we make determine our destination in life. Poor decisions will inevitably lead us into troubled waters. Wise decisions will help us avoid those same troubled waters. From one minute to the next we are faced with choices that affect us, our spouse, our children, our family, our friends, our co-workers, and unknown strangers. We can list millions of hypothetical scenarios, but I am sure you get the point. Your choices determine your destination. Poor decisions will bring you to a destination you probably would not want to be at. Wise decisions will bring you to a destination you can be happy with.

The Bible speaks very strongly to the point of making wise choices. The book of Proverbs tells us the importance of wisdom and understanding over foolishness. Many other places in the Bible we read about the benefits of making wise choices. So how do we make these ever important and life-preserving wise choices? Simply put, we use godly wisdom. In the book of James, we are told that if we do not have wisdom and we need it, then we "should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." Through this promise, God offers to help equip us to make wise choices that will impact our lives in positive, God-honoring ways.

The longer I pastor and the longer I live, the more I find myself praying this specific prayer. Seeking God's wisdom to lead our church, to lead my family, and to make wise decisions in every part of my life that reflects God's glory and His will for my life. I have found Him to be more than faithful to this promise in James 1:5. Do I always follow the wisdom given to me? No. Do I pay the consequences for making unwise choices? Yes. But do I follow much more of the godly wisdom given to me now than I did 20 years ago? Definitely. In another 20 years, I hope to follow more of God's wisdom than I do today.

I encourage you today to start making it a habit of making wise choices and asking God to give you the wisdom you need to make those choices. Down the road, you'll be glad you did and you'll be able to see the benefits of choices made that kept you from going down the wrong path.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

A Godless Generation

I recently turned my radio back on in my truck after having it off for several months. This sounds a little odd considering I like music and have always listened to the radio. For several months now I have spent my time on the road in a different way. I usually spent much of the time I was on the road in thought and prayer. Concerns about our church, church members, family, our farm, and many other things had preoccupied me. The music was a distraction to my thoughts, so I turned off the radio. During this sabbatical from the radio one thought seemed to recur more often than others. This recurring thought was more of a nightmare than anything, but nevertheless this thought was about the Godless generations being raised in our country.

Don't get me wrong, I realize there have always been those who were raised to believe something contrary to what the Bible teaches. I realize there are plenty who were raised outside of the church because their parents and family never understood what God did for them by sending Jesus to die for their sins. Even though this group continues to grow, those aren't the people that came to mind while I drove.

The ones that came to mind were those who were being raised by parents who have faith in God through Christ, but are not raising their children to do the same. In the Baptist denomination, we believe you cannot lose your salvation in Christ based on a particular sin you may commit. (I realize there is a deep theological discussion that can go on about this topic but this is not the point of today's post.) With that being said, there are an alarming number of people who were raised in church, professed their faith in Christ, and have now grown to adulthood. Many of these adults are now parents who seem to not take their faith very seriously and their children are paying the price. The parents have a relationship with God through Christ, even if it is a cold relationship at best, but nonetheless they have the security of salvation. Their kids are left in the cold spiritually and don't know about the love, peace, and grace that God offers them through Christ. The sad reality of this is that there will be parents watching in heaven as their children are judged by the Righteous Judge and are thrown into hell (Revelation 20:15).

Please don't think that I am one of those preachers who try to scare people out of hell. I've never approached ministry that way and I never will. But the truth of the matter is, there are generations of children being raised in our neighborhoods who have no understanding of salvation, while mom and dad rest easy in their salvation security. There will be a judgment one day and there will be people, without faith in Christ, who will be thrown into hell. Some of those watching the judgment will see the very children they raised be cast into eternal punishment. Godless generations are being raised by those who profess to be Christians. Isn't that the greatest and saddest of ironies?

In nearly 13 years of ministry, I have watched as many parents with good intentions succumb to the pressures of this life and give up raising their children in church where they are exposed to the Gospel. But as the old saying goes, "The path to hell is paved with good intentions." If you are one of those parents I plead with you to get your act together and start doing what you know to be right. Raise your children in church and live a life worthy of the faith you've placed in Christ. If you need to repent and return to God, then get serious about your faith and do it. The greatest benefit will be knowing you've raised a child that has faith in God, rather than one who will be separated from Him for all of eternity.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Out of Place

Last Friday I did something I never expected to do. I brought our farm's cattle trailer and parked it in the side yard at my house. I had agreed to help a friend move some livestock early on Monday morning and wouldn't have the time on Monday morning to get it from the farm. So I dropped the trailer beside my garage in the yard until Monday morning. The only thing is that trailer looked really out of place in the new development we live in. Yes, others have utility trailers, campers, or boats in their yards. But as I've jogged in our neighborhood I've never once seen another livestock trailer. I was a bit amused by the fact that our family had to be the only ones in the neighborhood to have a livestock trailer and how much that trailer seemed to be out of place.

When it comes to the Christian, they are to be as out of place in this world as that livestock trailer was in my neighborhood. For the believer in Christ, we are to be a peculiar people who stand out from our surroundings. We are to be "in the world, but not of the world." Our thoughts and actions are to be completely different from the world around us. The reason being the Christian's priorities and beliefs are completely different from those of the world. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world." This means we are not to be molded and shaped into something that resembles the attitudes, beliefs, and motives of this world. Instead we are to resemble Christ and His holiness. No we won't ever be perfect like Christ, but we can strive for the type of holiness He exhibited here on earth. This holiness, when practiced in today's secular society, will stick out like a sore thumb. Others will take notice and, in a good way, you'll find yourself out of place.

Start today to conform your life to the standards of heaven rather than the standards of this world. When you do, you won't mind being out of place.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

The Flash

Over the recent snowy weekend, my oldest son and I binged on Netflix and watched the first season of the superhero TV show The Flash. I enjoyed watching the earlier version more than 25 years ago and enjoyed watching the reboot with my son. In case you're unfamiliar with this particular DC Comics superhero, here is what he does. He runs really fast and defeats the bad guys. Not much to it but it does have a good story line in this recent adaptation.

As with most superhero stories, there is something physically different about the hero that allows him to take on his newfound powers and be the superhero he was designed to be. On the most basic level there is something inside of the superhero that needs to be awakened to bring to life the powers they will use to save the world. For some it's bombardment by gamma rays. For others it is a scientific anomaly such as a radioactive spider or a super soldier serum. And for others, like the Flash, it is a bolt of lightning and an explosion at a scientific research facility that gives them their powers. On the inside though there was the beginnings of a superhero long before they came into contact with their superpower catalyst.

Every person whoever lived has had something similar inside of them. Some suppress it and say it isn't there. Others accept it and allow it to impact their life in an unbelievable, superhero-type way. A man named Blaise Pascal, who lived more than 300 years ago, described this interior "thing" best. He said, and I paraphrase, there is a God-shaped vacuum inside human heart that can only be filled by God. This Christian philosopher shared in modern terms what the Bible has told us for more than 2,000 years. There is a longing in the human heart for God that can only be satisfied by God. In Acts 17:27 (NIV), Paul puts it this way, that God created man in such a way "that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." God designed us with an internal GPS pointing us toward Him. Ecclesiastes 3:11(NIV), written by the wisest man ever, King Solomon, says "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men." So not only has God placed a desire in us to pursue Him but also a desire to spend eternity with Him.

The best thing any of us can do is to give in to our internal, God-given desire and pursue Him. We ought to first pursue Him through a relationship through Jesus Christ (you can learn more about doing this here). Once you've started to pursue Him through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then pursue Him daily. Spend time in prayer and converse with Him. Read and study His Word so you know what He expects of you and what He wants to teach you. Also, spend time worshiping and serving Him as you grow in your relationship with Him. As you do, you'll find the God-shaped hole in your spiritual heart filled by Him and you won't need to fill it with the meaningless things of this life that will leave you empty spiritually. So choose today to fill that longing inside of you. Either through starting a relationship with Christ or by practicing the spiritual disciplines that are necessary to fill that God-shaped hole in your spiritual heart.

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