Monday, March 27, 2017

These Two Things

As a pastor I have the opportunity to be present in the lives of people at some of the most important times in a person's life. Births, deaths, weddings, salvation experiences, baptisms, and many other life events. I have stood in rooms when people have taken their last breath and had the opportunity to hold a new born baby taking some of their first breaths. As I consider the things said by people at some of these life changing moments, two things become abundantly clear. Two things are of greater importance to people, especially those about to pass away, than anything else in this world. It is not that they wish they had spent more time working. It is not that they wish they had made more money. It is not many of the day-to-day "important" things we seem to be so consumed with most of our life. These two things are what seem to really matter when it is time for a person to leave this world. These two things are faith and family.

For a person who has put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, their faith is what sustains them in this life when times are hard and when times are good. This same faith is what they want others to experience. The need to point this out is never so clear to a person as when they are on their death bed. The need for their family and friends to hear the importance of the gospel (the Good News of Jesus Christ) is never as clear as when they know they will not be able to share it again. The important thing for those of us left here on earth is to develop our own faith in Christ and heed the warnings of those who have gone on before us. By developing our own faith in Christ we are better able to weather the storms of this life.

The relationships we've built in this life time is what makes life worth living. In this crazy world, family takes on all sorts of faces and descriptions. Sometimes families are blended and sometimes they are not. Sometimes family is the neighbor you take care of when they have no one left to care for them. Sometimes family is that elderly great-grandparent who is full of wit, wisdom, and on some days a lot of spice. Sometimes family is a friend that could pass as a sibling and no one would know the difference. Regardless of what family is comprised of, when this life is over the one thing people long for is to show their love for family.

From the observations of a relatively young pastor, these two things are what matter most to people when life comes to an end. Last week I was able to witness my 80 year old grandmother sharing these two things with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren shortly before she passed away. She wanted the generations following after her to know how important it was to love Jesus and how much she loved them. These two things are what really matter in this life. If you have love in your heart for Jesus, growing in your relationship with Him, and have love in your heart for your family, then everything else will take care of itself.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Bracket Buster

Last week the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament started. The tournament usually lives up to its nickname of "March Madness." The teams you thought would be a guarantee to go deep in the tournament may make an early exit. Other teams, like Cinderella teams, will go further than anyone ever expected. This is what is so maddening about the tournament and the brackets people fill out. The chances of picking all the correct wins in the tournament has been estimated to be 1 in 2.4 trillion. So the odds of you having a bracket busted by an early exit or an upstart Cinderella team are pretty high. When your bracket is "busted" by one or two games it can have significant ramifications on the rest of your bracket. If you had a team picked to go deep, say a 1 seed like Villanova or a 2 seed like Duke (both of which are now out of this year's tournament), and they lose early, then all those wins you picked for them are games you automatically "lose" because the team you picked isn't even in the tournament anymore. At some point many of us get frustrated at how badly our bracket has performed and toss it aside and wait for next March to roll around.

Many times in life this is the same way we see life working out. We make some choices we think will benefit us in the short term or in the long run only to see things not work out the way we hoped. The disappointing part of some of those life busting moments is the continued ramifications we see further down the road. Those poor choices continuing to haunt us days, weeks, and even years later. We feel like we cannot get out from under the weight of the consequences of those poor decisions. 

So what do we do? How do we live with the results of our poor choices and not let it drive us mad? There is an old preacher's illustration that tells how we are to handle these type of life busting situations better than I could ever do. Here it is. "There once was a little boy who found himself in trouble regularly. His father told him that every time he got in trouble, he must hammer a nail into the tree in the back yard. For years the father handed a nail to the boy when he got into trouble. As the boy grew older he found himself hammering fewer and fewer nails until he didn’t hammer them anymore. His father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to stay out of trouble. The days passed and the young man was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the tree. He said, 'You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the tree. The tree will never be the same.'" When our poor choices are made because of our own sinful desires, then our sin is like the nail. Even though the penalty for our sins can be removed, the consequences of our sins stay with us long after the nail has been removed. We can ask for God's forgiveness, either for the first time by trusting in Christ or for the millionth time because of our relationship with Christ. When we do, God will forgive the penalty of our sin, which is separation from Him, and restore us to a right relationship with Him. This doesn't do away with the consequences of our poor choices, we still have to live with them. What forgiveness does is it helps us endure the consequences because of our faith in God and His provision to see us through even the worst of our decisions.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Was it Satan or God?

On Saturday, as we were expecting some snow on Sunday, I jokingly asked my youngest son a question. He has recently asked some really good spiritual or theological questions and so I thought I would throw one back at him. I asked him, "With us expecting snow tomorrow, is it Satan trying to disrupt our Revival services or is it God simply causing it to snow?" Before he could answer and while he was considering it I paraphrased a few scriptures that refer to Satan's power to influence things here on earth (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:1-3, 6:12) and reminded him of God's sovereignty over everything (Psalm 135:6, Job 42:2, 1 Timothy 6:15). He just looked at me and a grin started to creep across his face. His answer was a simple, "That's a good one."

I did not really expect my 10-year-old son to answer off the top of his head a question people have struggled with for thousands of years. Man has struggled with this question of "Was it Satan or God?" since time began. I have a feeling that it will be a question that people will ask until Jesus returns and raptures the church out of this world. Even though it is a difficult question, this does not mean we cannot get some biblical perspective on it. Because if we are going to struggle with a question of faith, then we should at least approach it in a biblical way.

Was it Satan?
We know many things about Satan from the scriptures. We know he was once an angel who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven. He deceived one-third of the angels in heaven to join his rebellion and they were cast out of heaven too. He deceived Eve into disobeying God in the Garden of Eden and he is bent on destroying God's creation, including any hope of a relationship between man and God. But we also read in places like 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Ephesians 2:1-3, 6:12 about the power Satan has at his disposal. Satan, as a former angel, is more powerful than we fully comprehend. With that being said, he wields that power over this world as he seeks to destroy God's creation. So, when we see things happening that would affect the benefit of God's kingdom here on earth, like snow on a Sunday when Revival services begin, we ask ourselves if it is Satan using his power to influence this world and God's kingdom.

Was it God?
If you are a Christian, you would naturally want to jump to the conclusion that it was God because He is sovereign over everything. This theological fact is true and a safe answer. God is in control of everything that happens involving His creation. He is in control of the earth, humans, animals, and everything in between. God is in control of the weather from the question we are considering. God is also in control of what is allowed into our lives. Whether we view it as good or bad, nothing in this life touches us without first passing through the hands of our sovereign God. This includes poor health, success at work, disobedient children, and spiritual blessings. God is in control of everything that touches your life. This also includes the things Satan does to try and destroy you and your relationship with God. Although Satan is powerful, he is not more powerful than God. He is held in-check by God, but ultimately allowed to exercise his power.

So, was it Satan causing a disruption to the day Christians meet to worship God or was it God testing His children's devotion to worship Him? We will never know on this side of eternity. But what we can rest assured of is that either way, God was completely and unequivocally in control of the situation.

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Monday, March 6, 2017


Every morning I get up at 5:30 AM to run on the treadmill and exercise. When the alarm goes off I get up, put my contacts in, and get ready to hit the treadmill. This morning, like most mornings in our house, I heard multiple alarms going off between the time I woke up and the time I was out the door headed to the garage. (My favorite is "Sharp Dressed Man" by ZZ Top that one of my boys uses as his alarm on his phone!) Now there are three other people who live in my house and I counted at least five times when I heard alarms going off. My youngest son is like me, the alarm goes off and he is up and at it. My oldest son and my wife are cut from the same cloth. They unashamedly set multiple alarms to "wake them up" before they actually get out of the bed.

As I listened to another alarm going off this morning for someone who had no intentions of getting out of bed at that time, I thought about how this practice of setting multiple alarms or hitting the snooze button works in some people's spiritual lives. There are many people in this world who profess faith in Christ but do not take seriously the "alarms" we read about in God's Word. What has happened is they have conditioned themselves to ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit in their life. When He (the Holy Spirit) convicts them of their sin they simply hit the snooze button. When He urges them to worship God with other believers they push the snooze button. What happens is they eventually quit hearing the alarms all together. They end up growing cold towards God and the faith they at one time professed had changed their life. Don't believe me? Look around any given church on a Sunday morning and you'll notice on average that half the church (those who are members on the roll) is not there for worship. Why? Some are sick or out of town, but the vast majority of the ones who are not there have simply grown cold towards their faith and it is no longer a priority in their life.

There are others in this world who have never put their faith in Christ and ignore the alarms of God as well. They hear friends inviting them to church or inviting them to put their faith in Christ. What do they do when those alarms are sounding? They push the snooze button. Some think, "There will be time for that sort of stuff later." Others believe, "I've done good things so I will get in to heaven." There are a host of excuses people will give for hitting the snooze button on God's alarms of faith in their life. We aren't promised tomorrow. There is only one Way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). All the other excuses people give don't hold up against the truths of God's Word. In the end, each person must make their own decision for Christ and believers must be faithful to still be the alarms sounding in their lives as to the truth of the Gospel.

Today I encourage you to wake up to the spiritual alarms sounding in your life. This means recognizing the alarm for what it is and then responding to it. It means getting into action and doing whatever God is compelling you to do. If it is taking seriously the faith you once held dear, then do it. Start back to church, get involved in the life of the church, spend time in prayer and studying God's Word. If it is surrendering your life to God's call to salvation, then stop making excuses and follow Him. His grace is greater than anything you have ever done and it is powerful enough to see you through your darkest days. Give your life to Him so He can transform your life. Whatever the spiritual alarm is going off in your life, quit hitting the snooze button and wake up to the alarm that is sounding!

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