Monday, October 8, 2018

We Are Doomed To Repeat History

When I was a teenager, my parents went on a work trip to Puerto Rico. Luckily for us kids, we were old enough to stay at home with a little bit of supervision from an aunt and an uncle. During this trip, which took place in the summer, we regularly pulled food for meals from my parent's upright freezer. During one of the many trips to get food to eat, someone didn't get the freezer door shut all the way. In case you didn't know, summer time heat and an open freezer do not mix. When we discovered the then soft food, it was too late to save any of it. Who left the freezer open is still a hotly debated item between the two of us older siblings, but we'll never know who did it.

Just a few weeks ago, Misty discovered that our upright freezer had not been closed completely after someone opened it. Nothing has changed in 20 years. Hot temperatures and an open freezer still don't mix well. Soft food that should be frozen still cannot be salvaged. And as you can imagine, there was plenty of finger pointing as to who was the real culprit. Our boys have regularly asked to hear stories from our childhoods and I thought I had shared this very important story with them, but obviously I had not. In the words of Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again."

It has been said that "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." How many times have we witnessed this through the pages of world history. Time and time again, we see where civilizations, nations, and kingdoms repeat the same mistakes and experience the same results. When it comes to our spiritual walk with Christ, we often find ourselves repeating history. We may find ourselves tempted by a sin that Satan knows is our greatest weakness and it isn't long before we are putting a palm to our forehead while asking, "Will I never learn?" If it is any consolation, you're making the same kind of mistakes people have made for thousands of years. The nation of Israel, as recorded in the Bible, regularly made these same mistakes over and over again. They would have a time of falling away from God, while they chased false gods and idols. Then, after some discipline from God, they would turn back to Him and walk closely with Him. Eventually, they would become complacent in their worship, let down their guard, and start down the slippery slope towards idolatry once again. The Israelites did this with such frequency that their spiritual highs and lows would make the most avid roller coaster rider nauseous. 

So if we find ourselves in this Groundhog Day scenario, how do we break the cycle of mountain top experiences followed by the darkest of valleys? I think the best way to break the cycle is to quit viewing your spiritual walk with Christ as a sprint, but rather as a marathon. Too often people will expect their spiritual growth to be like a 100 meter dash. They expect to see spiritual growth super fast and in just a few days every aspect of their spiritual life is on par with the spirituality of the late Billy Graham. But the reality is, spiritual growth doesn't work that way. To be spiritually strong enough to resist falling into the same temptations over and over again, requires a constant steady growth. It requires daily spending time in prayer. It requires daily spending time studying God's Word. It requires weekly worshiping with fellow believers. It requires a commitment to live out God's commands in your life. Day in and day out. On good days and bad days.

If you want to avoid the nausea-inducing spiritual roller coaster the Israelites were on, and many of us find ourselves on, then change your perspective of your spiritual walk with God. Don't look at it as something you'll do until it doesn't suit you anymore or something that you can accomplish in just a few days. Instead start looking at it as something you are committed to for the long haul. If you do, then you'll be less likely to repeat history.


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Monday, October 1, 2018

My Wife Said She Hated Me

On Saturday Misty and I needed to go do some shopping. The two of us were riding all over the country pricing the item we were looking to buy and had plenty of time to talk. During our ride Misty told me about some counsel she gave to a woman who came to her seeking help for a relationship problem. When asked by the woman if Misty had ever hated me during our 21 plus years together, Misty said, "I told her I hated you 3 times and then told her exactly when those 3 times were." I was a little taken aback by Misty's precise nature regarding her hatred for me. As I fully expected, Misty was more than willing to tell me what those 3 times were. Now in my defense, 2 of those times were not completely my fault. They had to do with emotions that come along when a woman is pregnant and I was the recipient of her hatred. I can handle that blame seeing as how she and I were each partially responsible for her pregnancies. The other time she hated me was shortly after our boys were born and I was a stupid husband. I don't remember the exact event but she did. She told me I had gone to play basketball with some friends that evening and then complained about being tired when I came home. She was also tired after working all day and then feeding, bathing, and caring for 2 kids under a year and a half old. I did stupid stuff like this early in our marriage and I have to own it because it left a mark on her, so much so she remembers her hatred for me in that moment. The remarkable thing is the grace she showed me in all three of those instances, even when I wasn't aware of her feelings or her forgiveness. She said she may have hated me in that moment with "ever cell in her body" but in the next moment she forgave me. We went on to talk about how marriage requires much more grace and forgiveness than it does anything else. 

As I do premarital counseling with couples I always tell them that marriage is God's perfect design for human relationships attempted by imperfect people. This is because we are all sinful, broken people who at times put our own wants, needs, and desires before the wants, needs, and desires of our spouse. Since we are two imperfect people attempting to live life together, marriage will have those times where you may love the person you are married to but you may not like them very much. In those times when anger, frustration, or even hatred creep up in your marriage, remember that grace and forgiveness need to be shared in greater amounts than those feelings that can tear your marriage apart. The bible tells us that forgiveness should be a part of the relationships we have with other people (Matthew 6:14; Luke 17:3). What should remind us to extend forgiveness in our marriage is what Paul writes in Colossians 3:13 (NIV). He wrote, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." If you are a Christian, then God has forgiven you every wrong you've ever committed against Him. How then can you not be willing to extend forgiveness and grace to your spouse? I believe that grace and forgiveness are the two most valuable commodities in marriage and, unfortunately, they are the things we sometimes seem so unwilling to share. If we want a strong and healthy marriage relationship, then we must be willing to forgive and extend grace to our spouse, even though it will cost us.

Today I would encourage you to start making grace and forgiveness towards your spouse a daily practice. Forgive them of their shortcomings, knowing full well you have your own. Give them grace because the next time they love you but don't like you, you'll want grace from them too. If you do, then you can have a marriage where your spouse can tell you they hated you and your marriage won't be affected by it.


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Monday, September 17, 2018

Fear and Faith

People have been all out of sorts with all the chaos surrounding the recent storm that devastated NC. Some people have lost their lives, others have lost everything they owned, while others simply endured some wind and rain. Folks have been all over the spectrum, in regards to their responses and reactions to the storm. Some worried and were fearful over the damage the storm would do. This seems like the most reasonable response to a storm that wrecked havoc from one end of NC to the other. Would we fault someone for being fearful in the face of a catastrophic storm? Probably not. As the storm barreled towards NC with all the speed of a herd of turtles, I could tell that one of our boys was a little anxious about the impending storm. Neither of our sons have had to worry about a hurricane affecting them in their short life, but one son was a little concerned about how the storm would affect us. Misty and I tried to calm the anxieties as best we could as parents and we hoped we did a good job. Just moments after dropping my boys off at school I heard a person on the radio share something about fear. Addressing the worries that so many people had about the storm, she shared about how fear and faith cannot occupy the same space. The wisdom shared for the next few moments was wisdom I could give to my sons to help put them at ease.

Fear and faith are like oil and water. The two cannot mix and must occupy two separate places. If we have faith that God is sovereign (in control of all things; Psalm 115:3, 135:6) and that He has our best interest in mind (Romans 8:28), then fear has no place in us. We should not be fearful of the physical, financial, or spiritual storms in life if we have faith that God is in control. We cannot waffle back and forth claiming God's goodness and blessings when things are good and then retreat to fear when things are uncertain. We must choose which one, faith or fear, will take up the limited space inside of us.

I realize when the world is literally crashing down around you in the middle of a hurricane, it is easier said than done to choose faith over fear. Friday morning I woke up to the news of the devastation the hurricane had caused to coastal NC. We have family and friends living in the areas devastated by the storm. At the thoughts of what could be happening to a man I consider a brother and his wife, I allowed my fear and worry to get the better of me for a moment. Then I remembered the words from the radio. The same words I had reassured my son with just days before. I made the decision in that moment to not allow fear to overcome my faith in God's sovereignty, His protection, and His provision. It wasn't easy. It was much easier to worry, fret, and allow fear to consume me. But in that moment when I chose faith over fear, I felt the peace that is described in 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."

The next time fear tries to rob you of the joy found in trusting God, remember you have a choice to make. You can allow yourself to be consumed by worry and fear, going directly against what God tells us in the Bible (Isaiah 41:10, 41:13), or you can choose to trust the One who created you, loves you, and sustains you. Choose wisely though, because you can't choose both fear and faith.


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Monday, September 10, 2018

There Can Be Only One

On Labor Day I enjoyed my Father's Day gift from Misty and the boys. They gave me tickets to watch my two favorite baseball teams play. For years I have pulled for the Atlanta Braves in the National League and the Boston Red Sox in the American League. I once again had the opportunity to watch them play against each other in Atlanta and this time at the new SunTrust Park. In preparing for the game I found that I tended to lean more towards the visiting Red Sox as the team I would pull for, rather than the hometown Braves. When we finally made it to the ballpark our family of four were decked out in our Red Sox shirts and hats. I had told folks leading up to the game that it really didn't matter to me which team won since I liked them both. But when the pitches started being thrown, you could tell where my loyalty was placed. When the Braves made a good play or scored a run, I didn't stand and cheer like I did when the Red Sox scored. I couldn't help but notice, standing in a sea of Red Sox fans, that I wasn't the least bit worried about how the Braves would do in the game. My actions and thoughts proved a long held belief, that we have to decide who we will pull for or follow because there can be only one that we follow.

This idea isn't something new to us. We as humanity have known for millennia that we can only follow one direction. The idea that we can't serve two masters is a biblical truth that we see lived out in our lives every day. Jesus taught this idea in regards to two masters, God and money, stating that we would either love one or hate the other (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Jesus was right. We can no more serve two masters in our life than we can pull for both teams in the same baseball game. We see this lived out in the book of Genesis when Jacob was married to two sisters and he loved Rachel more than Leah (Genesis 29:20-30). As much as we would like to pull for two teams playing against each other or allow to masters to be the focus of our service, we see the reality of the fact that there can be only one focus for our attention.

In this life you have to choose your master. You have to choose what will be the focus of your attention, devotion, effort, finances, and service. Thanks to the freewill God has given you, you have the option to choose whatever you want to be the master you serve. Many people in this life put themselves as the master of their life. The king on the throne of their life is their own wants and desires. For those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they have at some point said they wanted Jesus to be their Master. For Him to be the Lord of their life means that He is in charge. He is the One who leads and directs their life. He is the Master they have given their attention, devotion, effort, finances, and service to as they allow Him to lead them. The catch is that so often we find ourselves, as well-meaning Christians, scooting Jesus to the side of the throne of our life and trying to place ourselves beside Him. The problem is there can be only one king on the throne of our life and it must be Jesus. 

I'll close with this. You have the freedom to choose what master you will serve and what king sits on the throne of your life. Choose wisely and remember there can be only one king on the throne. The wise choice would be the King of Kings.


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Monday, August 27, 2018

The Impact of a Teacher

It is amazing the impact, good or bad, that a teacher can have on a student. I heard just yesterday of a teacher that more than 35 years ago had told a family member they wouldn't amount to anything. I think this family member used it as a drive to become successful in their field and even own their own business. I can't help but think of the other students that may have heeded this teacher's words of discouragement and never realized their full potential. I think of the teachers in my own life who were encouraging and worked to draw the best out of me. I am grateful for the impact they had in my life.

In recent years both of my boys have had some of the same teachers. Being a year apart in age they swap war stories about what they liked and disliked about their teachers. I think the impact of a teacher has never been so clear to me as it was on Sunday night talking to one of my sons about his upcoming first day of school. One of the teachers that he and his brother both had in recent years, for lack of a better term, left a bitter taste in his mouth when it came to school. He dreaded going to school for the first day because he was convinced it would be as horrible an experience as he had with this particular teacher. One of the things I pointed out to him was the positive experience he'd had with another teacher and how well things seemed to go with this other teacher. Here I was trying to override the negative experience he had with one teacher with positive and reaffirming experiences with another. (To the teacher who gave him & my wife, albeit many years ago, a positive experience, we are eternally grateful!) I think we sometimes underestimate the impact of a teacher.

When it comes to our spiritual development, we must find a biblical teacher who will make a positive impact on us. In a recent study in Colossians that I am teaching in our church, I mentioned how, as part of Paul's ministry to the early church, he had to teach those things that were easy to accept and those things that are hard to hear. When we seek out a pastor, preacher, bible study leader, Sunday School teacher, or small group leader, we need to make sure they are willing to be like Paul. We need them to teach us the easy to accept parts of biblical truths. We want them to tell us about God's love and forgiveness. We want them to teach us about His grace and mercy. But we also need them to tell us about the things that are hard to hear. We want them to tell us about our sinfulness and God's judgment against sin. We want them to teach us about hell and repentance. When it comes to finding a biblical teacher to help you grow in your faith, you need a teacher who will be honest with you about the truths of the Bible. This means a teacher that will teach the whole counsel of the Bible, not just the parts that make you feel good.

There are images that you can find on social media from time to time that tell you what kind of biblical teacher you need teaching you. The quote is often credited to A.W. Tozer and although it references preachers I think the same is true of all bible teachers, whether they're on the stage on Sunday mornings or in the Sunday School classroom. It says, "We need preachers who preach that hell is still hot, that heaven is still real, that sin is still wrong, that the Bible is God's Word, and that Jesus is the only way to salvation." This is the type of bible teacher you can trust!

I'll close with this bit of counsel. If the bible teacher that you sit under only teaches you the feel good portions of Scripture, then it is time for you to find a new bible teacher. If your bible teacher doesn't talk about or teach about sin, judgment, hell, or any other unpleasant part of the Bible, then you need a new bible teacher. Because you can't understand your need for a Savior unless you have a firm grasp of your own sinfulness, your need for repentance, and your eternal destination if you don't repent. If you're a bible teacher of any sort and you aren't teaching the whole counsel of the bible, then you need to get your act together. The Bible is real clear on our responsibility as teachers (James 3:1). Your impact on the spiritual development of other believers is determined by your willingness to teach all the truths of God's Word, not just the popular ones. Never underestimate your impact as a teacher.


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Monday, August 13, 2018

The Relenting Parent

One thing I think all parents are guilty of from time to time is throwing the towel in. Giving in. Giving up. Folding. Caving. Relenting. However you package the action, the end result is still the same. Your kid has pushed you to the limit. You know you can't take it anymore, you fold, and you give in to their demands like a rookie negotiator. Blame it on stress, being tired, a long day, the tenacity of your strong-willed child, or any of the other countless reasons we use. You give in to a piece off candy before bed time or, like I did the other day when I caved, banana pudding for breakfast. It may be for a toy or a few more minutes of video game time. It may be to play in a mud puddle or to let them go out of the house dressed as a cross between a ballerina, a cowgirl, and Wonder Woman. Sometimes we pass it off as being the cool parent or not wanting them to make a scene. Whatever our reason our action is the same. Rather than standing our ground on something we know is for the best interest of our child, we give in. I don't know a parent who hasn't occasionally relented to the demands of a child. I have watched though as some have never shown restraint and gave in to every demand, which does no good for the child and the society that will eventually have to deal with them. Our relenting shows flexibility on our part as parents but should we ever be unrelenting?

The simple answer is "Yes." When it comes to sin in the life of our child, spouse, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers, and fellow believers, yes we should be unrelenting when it comes to our honesty about sin. Does this mean we constantly nag at others about how they need to quit sinning? No it doesn't. It does mean we need to speak plainly about sin and the impact it has on them and others. It means "calling a spade, a spade" without whitewashing it, but doing so in a tactful and grace-filled way. For example, when we have children reaching adulthood and they mention living with their significant other before marriage, we need to speak plainly to them about what Scripture says and how we feel about it. Ultimately the decision is theirs to make, but we cannot gloss over sin and relent just to appease someone. There are countless other examples you can fill in here, but the end result should be the same, us speaking in love to those we care about on how their sin will or is impacting their lives.

In our culture today, spiritual accountability is all but extinct. You can't try to follow the commands of Scripture (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20) and help someone stuck in their sin without being considered hypocritical or judgmental. But the last time I checked, the responsibility of a Christian is not to fit into the world but to minister to the world. When it comes to our responsibility to speak the truth in love about sin, we must be as unrelenting as God is on the subject. The Bible is clear in many places that God is unrelenting of His view of sin and the judgment that comes with it. Just as God is unrelenting about His view of sin, we ought to have the same dogged determination to stand our ground when it comes to sin. If we don't, then we are no different than the parent who showed no restraint, raised a spoiled child, and left society to deal with their own lack of tenacity.


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Monday, August 6, 2018

Building a Strong Fence

After our calves were out of the pasture for about the 10th time in 10 days, I had to rebuild a section of fence they had broken. As I worked on the fence this morning before coming into the office I couldn't help but think about this blog post from a few years ago. We need to make sure our spiritual fence is in good working order. Check out the post below.
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*This post was originally published 3.7.2016.

This past weekend I spent about 8 hours fixing the fence around the perimeter of our farm. I learned some valuable spiritual lessons from my time spent bending, wrapping, and pulling barbed wire. Here are just a few of them.

Don't let your neighbor build your fence.
We had a neighbor do some maintenance to their property and in the process they tore down a large section of our fence. The neighbor never told us about it and our cows got out because of it. These are the same neighbors who, in a different section of the property line, put up a convoluted mess of 10 strands of barbed wire in what seemed to be a basket weaving style. Needless to say, both of these fencing issues came about because our neighbor had been allowed to mess with our fence.

If you want a good spiritual fence to protect you, then you cannot expect anyone else to build it for you. No one else can properly maintain your spiritual fence. Not your parents, your siblings, your children, your spouse, your friends, or your pastor. In the book of Nehemiah we read about the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah had each person build the section of wall that would protect their home and family. Why did he do that? Because if you build your wall (fence) you'll make sure it's done right.

Build your fences strong.
The old farmer's saying is that "Your fences need to be pig-tight, horse-high, and bull-strong." There is definitely some truth in that statement. But after we put some newly weaned calves into a field separate from their mothers, I'd amend that to "Your fences need to be strong enough to keep a calf from it's momma." Two of our calves broke through our divider fence and went back to their mothers. Needless to say the fence should have been tighter, higher, and stronger than I originally built it.

A weak fence is a useless fence. If you don't have a strong spiritual fence then you leave yourself open to all sorts of spiritual issues. Fences are used for two things. To keep things in or to keep things out. If you want to protect yourself spiritually from the attacks of Satan (1 Peter 5:8-9), then you need to do the work to build up a strong spiritual fence. The five spiritual disciplines that will help build a strong spiritual fence include: Prayer, Bible Study, Worship, Fellowship, & Service. As you practice these disciplines your fence will become stronger and stronger.

Talk to the One who knows how to build your fence.
Nearly 20 years ago I started helping my dad farm. In those 20 years he's taught me many valuable lessons about farming. Last week while I was fixing a section of fence, he came to check on me and see what I was doing. Even after all these years, I found myself asking his advice on how to do something. While working on the fence, he kindly advised me to do something differently than the way I was trying to do it. Both times his counsel was spot on.

When it comes to building your spiritual fence, no one knows better what needs to go into building your spiritual fence than God. That even includes you. Most times we think we know exactly what we need to do spiritually, but we are simply fooling ourselves. God knows us more intimately than we even know ourselves (Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 10:30). That means we should seek His counsel for building our spiritual fence. As we ask Him for guidance, He will tell us how we ought to build our fence. When we start to build our fence our own way, He'll loving guide us to build it a better way. But the key is we have to spend time in prayer seeking His help.

I hope these three simple lessons from hours of fencing will help you develop a strong spiritual fence.


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Monday, July 23, 2018

Dented Marriage

Recently I was carrying some stuff from the pool to the house following a swim with Misty and the boys. As I reached for the door the items in my left hand shifted and I dropped something. Usually I am able to grab things I drop before they hit the ground because I have quick reflexes. This time I wasn't so fortunate because of the stuff I had in my hands. The one item that slipped out of my hand was Misty's wedding ring. And of course it didn't gently land on the ground and wait for me to pick it up. No, it landed stones down on the corner of our brick steps and rolled across the cement floor. As you can imagine, the ring did not come away unscathed. One of the stones on the ring was knocked out and fortunately no more damage was done. Thankfully for me Misty was understanding and I'm sure this will be the catalyst to her getting a well deserved and newer form of jewelry.

As I've considered what to do about Misty's ring over the past week, I couldn't help but think about how her ring was representative of any marriage. Marriage is the second most difficult job you'll have in life, just behind raising kids. When you consider what marriage is and was originally intended to be, you easily understand why it is so challenging at times. Marriage is God's perfect design for human relationships practiced by two imperfect people. Those two people are attempting to fulfill a perfect plan when they themselves are flawed, sinful, broken people. In the course of attempting marriage we all make mistakes. At times we make it all about ourselves and not about our spouse. We might put all our attention and focus into work. We may give all our energy to our kids, hobbies, or something else in life and none of it to our marriage. You can fill in whatever mistakes you've made in your marriage here. Simply put we all mess up in marriage and no marriage is immune to mistakes. But the way we respond to those mistakes made in our marriage reveals the true health of our marriage. If we shut down and refuse to work on the problems in our marriage, we are begging for more problems. When we refuse to work on the problems in our marriage we are inviting Satan to wreck havoc in our marriage and he'll gladly oblige.

If you'll come to a realization about a few things in your marriage, then you can begin to work through the problems you are facing. First, you probably didn't get into this situation overnight and you won't get out of it overnight. Be patient and willing to work on your problem for the foreseeable future. Secondly, you aren't perfect. No matter how perfect you think you are, you are just as flawed as the rest of us. That means you aren't always a joy to live with, but your spouse loves you anyways and wants the best for your marriage. Remember, they know you more intimately than anyone else and they love you in spite of your flaws. Thirdly, extend grace to your spouse. He or she needs more grace and less criticism when it comes to the problems in your marriage. Approach this the way Jesus would have, you know, treating your spouse the way you want to be treated (Luke 6:31). Lastly, your problems can destroy your marriage if you don't address them. Like a cancer or infection that goes untreated in the body, a problem in your marriage can start out slow but have grave affects on your marriage. When you stop communicating because of the problems in your marriage, you are putting the nails in the coffin of your marriage. You have to communicate to work on the problems in your marriage. If you don't communicate and aren't willing to work on your marriage problems, then you might as well realize that at best you'll have an unhealthy and miserable marriage and at worst your marriage will fail.

I'll close with this. The family unit in our society is daily being attacked by Satan. He is trying everything he can to undermine the success of God's plan for human relationships like marriage. Look at the cultural acceptance of same-sex marriages and cohabitation and you'll see how effective Satan has been at his job. Take seriously the vows you made before God and each other and work to make sure your marriage stands the test of time. It's one thing to have a marriage that has been dented and dinged by the trials of life, but it's a whole other thing to throw it away because you've not done what was necessary to keep it from breaking apart.


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Monday, July 9, 2018

Training in Cages

Not my plants!
One of the things I despised as a kid but enjoy as an adult is working in the garden. My great-grandmother would have us picking beans and shucking corn the minute we were dropped off at her house during the summer. My grandfather had us picking up potatoes as he and my uncle plowed them up using a hand plow behind a 1949 Allis-Chalmers G. My parents and grandparents regularly used us in the garden to cut off cornstalks and harvest vegetables. As kids we hated it. Now that I'm an adult, I enjoy working in the garden with my dad or in my own raised bed garden in my backyard. This year I planted two tomato plants, two cucumber plants, a zucchini plant, a squash plant, and 3 pepper plants in my raised bed. I've been watering these plants nearly daily and put out fertilize a couple of times to help them get big and strong. Over the last 5 weeks I've been carefully training my tomato & cucumber plants on a daily basis to stay inside the cages I put around them. These cages help protect them from storm damage and to support them as they grow larger. These plants that started out small have turned into beautiful, mature plants that are starting to bear vegetables.

Last week as I was putting a cucumber vine back in the cage I thought about how these plants were similar to children. Like plants, children start out small and need many things to grow to maturity. They need the water of love and the fertilize of time with parents to develop into strong, healthy people. This work requires daily attention on the part of parents. They also need the cages of rules and discipline. To kids, rules and discipline feel as confining to them as the cages do around my cucumbers and tomatoes. But just like the plants in the cages, children thrive and flourish when there are rules and discipline used to train them. When parents consistently train their kids with firm rules and adequate discipline, then the children are better off because of it. We've all seen "those" kids who have never been disciplined a day in their life and never been made to follow a rule. We've all seen them in the store, or in church, or in restaurants, or at school. Why do they act like a cucumber vine growing all over the back yard? Because they haven't been trained and they are running wild. Unfortunately it isn't good for the kid and eventually you, I, and the rest of society will have to deal with the parent's lack of willingness to train their kids.

My plants.

As my plants have grown to be healthy, strong, mature plants I've had a sense of pride in them. I look at them and think about all the mornings I've watered them after running on the treadmill. I think about the time I've put into pulling weeds so they didn't take over. As I picked the first couple of cucumbers the other day I was proud of what my plant was producing. When it comes to our kids, we can have the same sense of pride as we watch them mature into young adults who are emotionally healthy, spiritually strong, and mentally mature. The best way to accomplish this is through spending time with them and teaching them to be respectful of rules and the discipline that comes with breaking those rules. When they are older we will finally see the training we did when they were younger paying off.


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Monday, July 2, 2018

Tuna gods

One of the shows I always try to catch, no pun intended, is National Geographic Channel's Wicked Tuna. For those unfamiliar with the show, it follows several fishing vessels out of Gloucester, Massachusetts as they try to catch giant bluefin tuna. It is always interesting to see how the process goes and how sometimes they land monster tunas and other times the fish gets away. One thing that always causes me to roll my eyes when watching this show is a reference I've heard from all but a few of the cast on the show. When things are going good or when things are going bad, they regularly give credit or blame to the "tuna gods." Sometimes they go as far as to put their hands together as if they were praying, look to the heavens, and plead with the tuna gods to give them a fish. There are a few captains who seem to be believers in Christ and give credit to Him for the fish, but all the rest seem to seek out provision from the tuna gods.

I realize many will say, "What is the harm in it? What does it matter if they playfully ask the tuna gods for a fish." The reality of the matter is that when it comes to everything in our life, good, bad, or otherwise, God has allowed it into our lives and He alone is to be praised for it. When we give credit to anything other than God, what we do is we put that "thing" above God, as if it were more powerful and more important than Him. Whether it is the imaginary good luck or bad luck we as humans have created or some fictional fish god, we are still committing good ol' fashion idolatry when we give credit to anything other than God. God is clear on this topic in the pages of the Bible and spells it out for us time and time again how He is the only one worthy of worship, praise, glory, and honor. This idea is most explicitly spelled out for us in Exodus 20:3 (NIV), "You shall have no other gods before me." He goes on for the next 3 verses and details how we aren't to worship other gods or have images of gods. God is serious about His worship and we should take it serious too. It is real easy for us as humans to give credit to anything and everything but God. We can worship luck, coincidence, fate, destiny, and a myriad of other idols without ever giving God the honor He is due. We are hardwired to worship God and often times we pervert that innate desire to worship by focusing our attention on other things. We have to be vigilant and diligent about making God the focus of our worship and then keeping our focus there.

Take some time right now to examine your own life and those areas where you have idols. Ask God to show you those idols and ask Him to bring you to the point of conviction and repentance over those idols. Then pursue Him as the only object of your worship. I'll leave you with this closing thought from Dr. Walter Martin and it best sums up why we need to only worship God. "[God] does not share His throne with Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed, Zoroaster, or any of the endless assortment of gurus and gods." This includes the tuna gods!


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Monday, June 25, 2018

A Trickle or a Flood?

Last Saturday I had to work on one of our tractors. After baling some hay a few weeks ago, we had a fuel system problem on our Allis-Chalmers 185. The strainer or sediment bowl that keeps debris in the diesel fuel from reaching the motor was clogged. As we were working on it a few weeks ago we found that parts of the 40 plus year old sediment bowl had deteriorated. We had to order a new one to replace the whole set up and I set out early on Saturday morning to knock out this 30 minute job before it got hot. But, like anything on a farm, things rarely go as planned and take much longer than you expect! I had to drain more than 20 gallons of diesel fuel out of the tank so I could replace the old part. The problem was that to drain out the fuel I had one of two options available to me. I could either take the sediment bowl off and let the fuel come flooding out and hope to catch it in buckets, or I could put a hose on a part of the sediment bowl and allow it to trickle through the blocked fuel line into a hose and into containers. I chose option 2 and in the words of the narrator on Spongebob Squarepants, three...hours...later...I had the fuel finally drained from the tank and replaced the part in 20 minutes. I was able to get other things done during the tedious draining process, but it caused me to repeatedly second guess myself as to whether I should have gone with a trickle or a flood when draining the fuel.

When it comes to our spiritual growth as Christians, we don't have a choice between a trickle and a flood. The only option is a slow, methodical process of growing our spiritual life to a place of maturity. Think about it from this perspective. Our spiritual growth is based on our relationship with God through our faith in Jesus Christ. You cannot rush the development of a relationship in the physical world, so why would we think we could rush the growth of our spiritual relationship with God? We cannot flood ourselves with an intense 2-3 days of reading the bible or spending a bunch of time over a few days in prayer and hope to suddenly be on par spiritually with the late Billy Graham. It doesn't happen that way.

Time is required to grow spiritually mature and to develop your personal relationship with God. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Time is required. In the time it requires for this maturing and development to occur, a few things need to be happening. Here is you a list of the things you need to be doing to grow spiritually mature and to develop your personal relationship with God.

Prayer. Spend time in prayer daily with God. Praise Him. Confess your sins to Him. Thank Him for His provision. Share with Him your needs.

Study your Bible. Get on a daily bible reading plan that fits you. But don't simply read a handful of chapters each day and think that's all you should do. Find unique and creative ways of studying the Bible as you read. Use devotional material that speaks to your situation. 

Worship. Make it a priority to be in your church for worship. If worship in your church is once a week, then be there. If worship is 3 times a week, commit to being there to worship God. Connect with God during worship through the songs, prayers, giving, and the spoken message.

Fellowship. Churches offer many different ways to fellowship together. Some are formal and others are informal. Some are based around meals and others are based on nothing more than good company. Take advantage of opportunities to grow closer to fellow believers.

Service. God gifts every believer for service to Him in His kingdom. Find your unique gifting and find a way to serve Him through your local church. There are plenty of ministries and missions that you can be a part of that will help build up the church.

I can guarantee you with 100% assurance that if you regularly and systematically practice these five disciplines you will grow more spiritually mature and develop a strong relationship with God. There are no two ways about it. If you practice the disciplines that are essential to the Christian faith, you cannot help but accomplish the goals of the faith. Those goals are to grow to spiritual maturity and to develop our relationship with God. And the only way to do this is through a slow, methodical trickle rather than a flood.


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Monday, June 18, 2018

All At Once

After a stint on the injured reserve I've recently been able to take back up running. The most aggravating aspect of a long layoff due to injury is that you aren't automatically back where you were when you had to quit. I was running at a pretty high level, for me anyways, and was doing really well before a knee injury sidelined me for a bit. Now that I've recovered to the point I can run again, it would be nice if I could just pick up where I left off. But unfortunately that isn't possible. Stamina decreases without exercise. Muscles atrophy some and aren't as strong. It would be great if none of this happened but of course it does and we have to build back up to where we once were. The only catch is it takes time. We can't do it all at once. 


It is interesting to hear people talk and watch their actions in regards to their spiritual life. Some imagine that sitting in a pew on a Sunday will make up for their limited interaction with God the previous week. Others will see their Sunday Duty as a chance to get ahead on spiritual things for the week ahead. Their thought, I'm assuming, is that as long as they make it for church on Sunday then they are good to do all of their "spiritual stuff" all at once. The sad reality is that nothing could be farther from the truth. A man doesn't ask a girl out on a date, start a relationship with her, and then only interact with her once a week for an hour, does he? Not if he has any common sense! We all realize this is not a healthy way to attempt a relationship. If we realize this fact, why do we try to make our spiritual relationship with God fit in to this type of mold? If it doesn't work in physical relationships, it surely won't work in spiritual ones.

To have a healthy, growing, and vibrant personal relationship with God means you have to put the time in. It means you have to do the work necessary to develop your relationship.When a new relationship starts between a man and a woman, they both put great effort into learning about each other and spending time together. To continue to grow together and have a healthy relationship, these two people must continue to spend time together and learn about each other. Our relationship with God follows the same principles. If we want a healthy and strong relationship with God, then we have to spend time with Him and put effort into learning more about Him. This requires us to intentionally carve out time in our day, each day, to spend time with Him in prayer and learn about Him by reading His Word. When we do, we'll find that our relationship with Him will change for the better. But we can't expect a week's worth of relationship building with God to take place in an hour service on Sunday morning. I've mentioned a few times to my congregation the perspective believers ought to have about worship on Sunday. Worship should serve as the pep rally preparing you for what God has in store for you in the week to come or the post-game celebration where you celebrate what God has done in your life the previous week. This is a simple perspective of worship that will help you frame how you ought to view worship.

I'll leave you with this. If you are approaching your church's corporate worship as anything other than a time to revel in the goodness of God and celebrate Him, then you're missing the point of worship. Don't expect worship to complete what you should have done in the previous week in regards to your relationship with God. The reason being, developing a strong relationship with God requires time. It isn't something you can do all at once.


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Monday, June 4, 2018

With a Little Help from My Friends

This morning I admitted to my wife and youngest son a startling truth. I swallowed my pride and admitted that when I play a video game with my son, I can do better than if I play by myself. The video game that the two of us are now addicted to, thanks to a pastor friend of mine who will remain nameless, is a Hunger Games style game. It is a game where you run around picking up weapons and supplies and try to be the last man standing. You can play it solo or you can team up with others. My son and I found out the awesome advantage we have over other teams when we sit in the same room and play as a team. We regularly place in the top 5, even winning a few times, and have had some real fun playing together. I've noticed that when I play the game solo, that even though I've won a few times, I'm consistently placing in the top 5-10. Talk about taking a hit to your ego! It seems like if I want any hopes of winning this game on a regular basis, then I need to make sure my 12 year old is playing with me.

As I ruminated on this pride killing realization this morning, I realized that this video game had taught me more than I could have imagined. This fact of being able to accomplish more in a video game with my son's help correlates to the way God designed the church. From time to time I will hear the biblically inaccurate comment made by a person saying "I don't have to go to church to worship God." Although on some level that is true. We don't have to be in church to worship God. God is worshiped "in the Spirit and in truth" (John 14:23-24), but God also designed believers to thrive in community. We thrive best and grow spiritually more mature when we are plugged in and active in a local body of believers. This means being involved in the ministries and missions of the church, not simply taking up space on a pew. It means participating in Bible studies that will help you grow in your knowledge of Christ and your faith (Ephesians 4). It means being in relationships with other believers you can rely on and who can rely on you for support during good times and difficult times. To borrow from an old adage, when you disconnect yourself from the local church you are "cutting of your nose to spite your face." As challenging as it can be at times to live and fellowship in a community of faith with other believers, the pros of fellowship in the church far out way all the cons of life outside the church. If you want to grow to a place of spiritual maturity as God intended you to do, then the best place for this to happen is as an active part of the local church. If you are a believer and you aren't actively plugged into a church, then make the commitment to get plugged in this weekend.

I'll leave you with this illustration that is credited to the author and preacher Dr. John MacArthur.




A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his pastor's visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination. As the one lone ember's flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and "dead as a doornail." Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it. As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, "Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I will be back in church next Sunday."


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Monday, May 21, 2018

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled

I like pranks. For some reason my mind is constantly evaluating situations where I can pull a little trick or prank on people. I'm not sure why this is, but I seem to be wired in this way. This past Sunday as I was preparing to leave my office to head into the sanctuary for the evening service, I reached for a paperclip. When I pulled it out of the holder on my desk 18 others came with it. There is no doubt in my mind that one of my sons has picked up dad's bad habit of pranking people and chained my paperclips together. We've all seen pranks taken too far where someone is hurt or really embarrassed. But little, harmless pranks like my son's prank are no big deal and make life more fun. One of the most damaging pranks or tricks ever devised was one the devil pulled on mankind.

In one of my favorite movies, The Usual Suspects, this trick is referenced by one of the characters. The actor Kevin Spacey plays Verbal Kint who is being questioned by police. In the course of his interrogation Kint makes the now famous quote, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Ever since I heard this quote years ago, it has stuck with me. 

There is a great spiritual truth in this statement. If you look at statistics you find that, depending on the poll used, around 50% of Americans do not believe that Satan is a real being. Many believe he is simply a symbol of evil developed by man. From these types of figures we would say that Satan was very successful at pulling his trick on mankind. When many people think of Satan, they think of the caricatures of cartoons from decades ago. These cartoons portrayed Satan as a figure dressed in red with pointy little ears and a pointy tail. He was carrying a pitchfork to poke people being punished in hell or to stoke the flames of hell. It is perceptions like this that helped Satan propagate his trick on mankind. 

The reason Satan wants to pull this all-time greatest trick on us is because if we don't believe that he exists, then we won't believe he is impacting our spiritual lives. We would be more easily led astray than if we were watching out for him. Satan has made it clear over millennia that his goal is to destroy what God has made good and holy. If he can keep mankind fixated on their problems, their toys, their wealth, or their health, then they are not focused on God and what He is doing in and through them. According to the world we live in today, Satan is doing a fantastic job of distracting mankind from focusing on God, much less being leery of an evil spiritual being bent on their destruction.

Some may read this post and think, "How can you really think there is a literal devil?" My answer would be really simple. Jesus Christ, the One I've put my faith in, believed Satan existed by the things He said. Some of those closest to Him, Peter and John, wrote about Satan as if they believed he existed. Possibly the greatest Christian thinker of all-time, the apostle Paul, also believed Satan existed. So why wouldn't I heed words like those written by Peter when he wrote, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).

My encouragement to you today is this: Be mindful of the harm Satan can do in your life. Stay close to God through prayer, Bible study, and worship. Focus on God and what He wants to do in your life, rather than the distractions and temptations Satan throws at you. Don't allow yourself to be deceived into thinking Satan isn't a problem for you. Because if you do, then Satan has already successfully pulled the greatest trick ever on you.


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Monday, May 14, 2018

A Walking Bible

Recently my oldest son bought a jar of honey at a local community marketplace. The gentleman who packaged and sold the honey also gave him a business card with the purchase. The card had all the usual pertinent information, but on the backside it had a bible verse. The verse was from the book of Proverbs and referenced eating honey. When my son arrived home he shared with me about the honey and the business card. He asked me if the Bible verse quoted was a real verse or not. I told him I wasn't sure, but rather sarcastically reminded him that he could open his own Bible and check to see. Not to be out done in the sarcasm department, my son responded by saying "Well dad, you're basically a walking Bible. I thought you could just tell me." I've been called many things in life, but a walking Bible has never been one of them, until that particular day. I'm glad my son has such a high regard for my biblical recall, but it is impossible for me, or anyone else, to know every last verse of the Bible from memory.



The underlying truth of the statement my son made wasn't lost on me. He had in his mind the idea that dad knows the Bible very well. One would expect a minister, who studies the scriptures weekly for messages, outside of his own personal Bible study, to be a man with a firm grasp of the scriptures and what they mean. But this idea of being a man or woman with such a firm grasp of the scriptures that we could be called a walking Bible is not just for the clergy. 50, 75, or even 100 years ago men and women had a much stronger grasp of the Bible and what the Scriptures taught. With the invent of the many time-devouring inventions of the last 70 years, mankind has allowed these distractions to devour time they normally would have put towards, among other things, reading and studying their Bibles. With this decrease in attention and time given to Bible study, biblical literacy has decreased. Many men and women who profess to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ have very little understanding of the truths of Scripture outside of what they are taught in a class or hear from the pulpit on Sunday. Don't hear me being critical or cynical about people's lack of participation in the spiritual discipline of Bible study. All I'm doing is stating the facts.



If we as believers want to stand on the truths of God's Word in a world that is falling apart spiritually, then we have to know those truths. The only way we can know those truths in this way is by studying the Bible on a regular basis and outside of participation in church services. If we want to raise children who know how to use their Bibles for more than a coffee table decoration, then we need them to see us studying our Bibles and hear us encouraging them to read it for themselves. Until we get serious about studying the Scriptures, our families and our own spiritual life will suffer. The reason we will suffer is because of the primary effect of reading and studying the Bible. If we know what the Bible says about how we are to live, how we are to treat others, and how we are to interact with God, then we are able to not only know those things, we can put them into practice in our life. Otherwise we are spiritually illiterate Christians groping in the dark for ways to please God and relate to others.

My encouragement to you today would be to make a commitment to take seriously the study of the Bible. Get your hands on a daily reading plan that you like and begin reading. After you start reading daily, then find some Bible study material such as commentaries or books on a particular topic or book of the Bible. If you do you'll find that it will start to change the way you think, change the way you relate to God and others, and change the way you live for Him. Who knows, others might come to you with questions because they think you're a walking Bible too!


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Monday, May 7, 2018

There's someone in my head but it's not me

Over the last 20 years I have gained a great appreciation for classic rock. In high school I listened primarily to country but occasionally listened to classic rock. During college I started listening to more and more classic rock and was hooked. Like any fan of the genre there are certain bands and songs that appeal to me more than others. Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Pink Floyd are three of those bands. The other night I was headed home and turned on a local classic rock station and eventually heard Brain Damage from Pink Floyd's 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. This song has some very memorable lines in it. One that has always intrigued me is the line "And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes." I guess you know you're on the outs if this happens because you're on a completely different page than everyone else around you! The line on this particular night that stuck with me was a line I had heard many times before. The line was "There's someone in my head but it's not me." I can only imagine the lyric was originally composed to represent someone with brain damage of some sort and in the resulting aftermath experiencing voices in their head.

As a pastor it is hard at times to shut off the context with which you look at the world. I'm not sure you can ever really do so. Things are said, things are seen, and things are thought and they are always generally filtered through a type of spiritual filter. You see things as spiritual lessons and examples that can be shared with others to make spiritual matters more relevant. When I was listening to this song by Pink Floyd the other night, no pun intended, this line was stuck in my head. I immediately filtered it as I described earlier and saw this poetic verse in a new light. There is Someone in our head if we are a follower of Christ, but not in a worrisome way as described in this song.

The Bible tells us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then God's Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us (1 Corinthians 6:19, Ephesians 4:30). By the Holy Spirit living inside of us we have a guarantee from God that He will always be with us. Now one title given to the Holy Spirit is that of Counselor or Helper (John 14:16). The easy way to describe the counsel the Holy Spirit provides is by helping us to navigate this world, while living a life pleasing to God. We all need help and counsel to make wise decisions on a daily basis. If we are living a life pleasing to God and are sensitive to the leading of His Holy Spirit, then we will find that God will guide us, counsel us, and help us through the Holy Spirit.

It would be nice if the Counselor living inside of us would deal with us like we see in the old cartoons. Instead of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, we'd simply see our Counselor sitting on our shoulder giving us help throughout our day. Unfortunately things aren't that simple. Our desire to receive help and utilize that help requires more effort out of us. To discern, or figure out, what God is guiding us to do, we have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us or speak to us. This isn't an audible voice, although God could use one if He wanted, but instead it is a prompting or impression from the Holy Spirit. I'm not trying to make this sound like some kind of mystical, transcendental meditation type experience, but it is simply being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and His guidance. When our spiritual heart is in tune with God and His will, then we are easily led by His Holy Spirit. When we have sin in our life and are spiritually far from God, then we are desensitized to the Holy Spirit and have a harder time discerning His will, His guidance, and His help. If you spend time daily in prayer and Bible study, you will find it easier to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and you have a difficult time discerning the Holy Spirit's guidance, then spend time in prayer. Ask God to show you what sin is keeping you from fellowship with Him and then repent. After you get the barriers out of the way, then continue to daily spend time in prayer and Bible study so you can rightly discern God's wisdom and guidance for your life. Then you'll be glad to have Someone in your head!


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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Price We Pay


Recently there has been quite a bit of road construction in our area. There was a road widened to allow for a turning lane. This project took a long time and caused all sorts of traffic delays on one of the busiest roads in our area. Now there is a major repaving project occurring on a 2 mile stretch of the same busy road that is causing major disruptions in traffic. You can't go anywhere in our area without hearing about the traffic problems associated with this construction. People are very adamant about sharing their displeasure with the long waits in traffic. You hear about it at the store. You hear about it at church. Scroll through your Facebook News Feed and you'll probably get a digital earful of people's thoughts on sitting in the long lines of traffic. (Before you post those social media rants, you may want to check out this blog post on being careful what you post!) I have purposefully avoided this repaving project because I don't have an hour to sit in traffic. So I can't comment on how bad the traffic problem is, but the price we pay for a good road is ultimately worth it.


Now I am as impatient as the next person when it comes to sitting in traffic. I despise it and want to get on down the road so I can get to my destination. But how do I complain, criticize, and critique the situation when 2 months from now I will be reaping the benefits of a new, smooth road? There weren't many complaints about the road or the traffic on the road until there was a major upheaval in people's daily activities. When the project is done folks will go back to not complaining (too much) about the road or the traffic. So when we sit in traffic waiting on the paving to be completed, we have to remind ourselves that this current disruption is the price we pay for countless hours of smooth driving and little traffic.







Our spiritual life requires the same kind of perspective. None of us like to be stretched spiritually. None of us like to be pulled out of our spiritual comfort zone or forced to reevaluate our spiritual condition. None of us like to sit in that spiritual traffic jam watching as God does construction on the road we find ourselves on. The work that God does in our spiritual life when He forces us to confront our own sin, or apathy, or (you fill in the blank), means He is working to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:29). As He does this, sometimes it means we have to sit patiently and watch as He tears up the road we've been driving on as He replaces it with His road. It is difficult for us to watch Him work. It is hard to see the sins we have become desensitized to being brought into the light. It is hard for us to be confronted with our apathy towards God, spiritual disciplines, and worship. You cannot be conformed to the image of Christ, which should be the goal of every Christian, with out being sculpted by the Master Artist. All the sculpting, all the conforming, all the confronting is done with our good in mind. And just like sitting in traffic watching road construction, we have to remember that is the price we pay for the benefit that is coming. The price we pay for a stronger faith and a closer walk with God is always worth it in the end.

The next time God has you sitting in a spiritual traffic jam as you watch Him work to replace your road with His road, remember that it is for your good and the end result will be well worth the price you pay.


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