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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Monday, April 23, 2018

The Cross Intrigues Us All

There is a show on History Channel that I've watched for a few years now. The show is called "The Curse of Oak Island." The show follows a treasure hunt by a team from Michigan as they search for treasure on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. There is a history of 223 years worth of discoveries and expeditions to find treasure on this island. In the latest season the group made an extraordinary find while metal detecting along the shore. They found a lead cross that is believed to be from the 12th-14th centuries. If the age is correct, then it could completely rewrite the history books on who first landed in the new world. One of the main searchers, Rick Lagina, made a comment while discussing the lead cross and the statement has stuck with me. He said, "The cross intrigues us all." The discovery of this lead cross, believed to possibly have European and even a Templar Knight origin, is definitely intriguing. How did it end up in Nova Scotia? How was it not discovered before now? Who brought it to the island? When did they bring it to the island? There are plenty of intriguing things about this cross and it raises many more questions than answers. 

The really intriguing cross isn't the one found in the sand of an island in the North Atlantic. The really intriguing cross is the one used 2,000 years ago on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem. This cross was used by the local Roman governor to appease the Jewish leaders. These Jewish leaders needed to get rid of a Person who was disrupting their hold on power in the Jewish Temple. Although the Jewish leaders couldn't condemn a man to death, they trumped up charges against this Man and had the Romans to do their dirty work. This Man was scourged (whipped and beaten) until His back was mutilated. Then the Romans had Him carry His own cross out of the city and up to a hill where criminals were executed. There they nailed His hands and feet to the cross and hoisted it into place. They left the Man there to die, but due to all He'd endured, He didn't last very long. After roughly 6 hours on the cross this Man died.






The intriguing thing about this cross isn't the horrific death this Man endured, the place it was used, or the empire using it to execute criminals. The intriguing thing about this cross is what it made available to all of humanity since the moment this Man died. This cross was part of God's perfect plan to reconcile mankind to Himself. Without this cross mankind would still be spiritually separated from God because of their sins. But instead, now that this Man died on this cross, you, me, and everyone who has lived since then has been able to reconcile their relationship with God. See, we are born with a sin nature (Psalm 51:5) meaning we come into this world separated from God because of the sin nature passed down to us from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Because we've all sinned (Romans 3:23) and are spiritually separated from God, we need to find a way to make our relationship right with Him again and do away with our sins. The Bible tells us the only way in God's economy to deal with a sin debt is through the shedding of blood (Romans 6:23; Leviticus 17:11). Before the cross was used to shed the blood needed, God expected animal sacrifices to pay for mankind's sins. The blood that was expected to pay for our sins was our own. The good thing for you and I is that God loved us enough to send His Son Jesus to live a perfect and sinless life so He could die in our place (Romans 5:8) so our sins could be forgiven. Jesus is the Man who died on this intriguing cross on a hill outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. He did so because of God's great love for you and me. By dying on that cross Jesus paid our sin debt and gave us a way to have perfect fellowship with God. The only catch is that this grace extended to us from God has to be accepted. It is like a gift. If I give you a gift and you leave it sitting on a table unopened, then you are missing out on all the joy this gift can bring into your life. For the gift to impact your life you have to freely and willingly accept the gift. God's grace through Jesus' death on the cross is a gift as well, but you have to make the decision to accept it into your life. Once you do, then you'll receive the forgiveness of your sins, a right relationship with the God who loves you, and eternal life in heaven when this life is over.

When you think about it, the cross really is intriguing. It is intriguing because through two wooden timbers and three spikes, God was able to reconcile all of humanity to Himself. If you are intrigued by the cross more now than ever and are interested in accepting God's free gift of grace into your life, then check out this link or email me at pastornick@northcatawbabaptist.com. I hope you are intrigued enough by the cross to have honest conversations about what Jesus' death on the cross means for you.


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Monday, April 16, 2018

What Does Forgiveness Require?

This weekend I have been struggling with what it takes to truly offer forgiveness and what that forgiveness means for me. Without going into the details, there was an extended family member who broke our family's trust. The long and the short of it is that, although there will be consequences and ramifications for that family member's actions, on my side of things forgiveness is required. Not that they have to seek my family's forgiveness, although it is the right thing to do, I have to consider my responsibility to forgive them outside of their desire for it. 

One of the primary tenets of my faith is forgiveness. The very foundation of my faith is based on God's forgiveness of my sins so I can have a relationship with Him. Even before I came to an understanding of my need for forgiveness, God sent His Son to die in my place so I could have my sins forgiven (Romans 5:8). He did this to provide a way to be forgiven regardless if I ever sought out His forgiveness. God has readily offered forgiveness every time I have broken His trust and sinned against Him. He's never added a condition to my forgiveness. It has always and will forever be an unconditional forgiveness extended from the God who loves me. Forgiveness is such an important part of the Christian faith that we are commanded, not asked to do it if we want to but commanded, to forgive those who hurt us (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-22; Luke 11:4, 17:3-4; Colossians 3:13). But, as it is with many things in life, forgiving someone is often times easier said than done.




Our hurt and emotional involvement clouds our judgment and thinking when it comes to forgiving those that hurt us. The pain of the betrayal or hurt blinds us to the need to forgive those who hurt us. Although forgiveness is the first step of the healing process, we often act like a kid afraid of hydrogen peroxide being used to clean a scrape on their knee. We pull away from forgiveness, sometimes literally kicking and screaming, because we don't want to let the person "get away with" what they've done. But forgiveness isn't about getting away with anything. Forgiveness is about following the example Christ set for us and living out our faith. This is about walking the walk when we've talked the talk of the Christian faith. This is showing the world that our faith is more than just a label, instead it is a faith that impacts the way we live.

So what does forgiveness require? First off it requires us to be sincere. We can give lip service by saying we've forgiven someone, but unless we've sincerely forgiven someone all we've done is talked a good game. Sincerely forgiving someone is the most freeing things a person can ever experience. It releases the bitterness and resentment we harbor and it frees us from sinning because of the hurt we've held on to. Forgiveness also requires that we don't "hold it over" the person who hurt us. Does this mean we forget what they've done? No it doesn't. Does it mean we completely trust them right out of the gate and expose ourselves to more hurt? No it doesn't. What it does mean is that we use godly wisdom to determine how we interact with that person. Trust has to be rebuilt. Burnt bridges aren't rebuilt overnight, if they are able to rebuilt at all. If the hurt is bad enough we may not be able to have a relationship at all with the person but we still need to forgive them. Using godly wisdom to determine how to proceed is crucial. It may mean we have to end all contact for our own good or it may mean that we slowly allow the person back into our lives. Either way forgiveness is needed.

I'll close with this. Colossians 3:13 says "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." The forgiveness Jesus modeled on the cross and that God extends to us, these should be the examples we live out in our relationships. Regardless of the damage done to us. Regardless of the depth of the hurt and betrayal. Regardless of how bitter and resentful we are over the wrong done to us. Regardless of all of it, forgiveness has to be given. It must be given sincerely and in a way that doesn't hold it over the person, but instead holds them accountable for their actions. In the end, forgiveness frees us from the hurt and starts the process of our own healing.


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Monday, April 9, 2018

Don't Be Deceived

Last week I spent the week fishing on Oak Island with my family. When we are able to slip off for vacation at Spring Break we try our best to go fishing. This last week was no exception. We enjoyed good weather and we were able to spend time together as a family doing something we all enjoy. Fishing off a pier like we were doing requires a different setup than fishing in a pond or river. You need a rig to hold your line in place so the bait doesn't move with the current. Most of the time the three or four ounce sinker weights are enough to keep your bait where you want it. The funny thing about these weights is they can be a bit deceiving. It is funny to watch kids as you reel up your rod, knowing their isn't anything on your hook, they can't help but ask "Do you have something?" as they see your rod bending under the weight of the sinker. The only thing funnier than the kids asking this question is when you reel in your line to check your bait and you find a small fish on your line that you had no idea was even on there. One other amusing aspect of this is when you catch a small fish, like the one mentioned above, and you try to pass if for a whopper of a fish. All you have to do is hold fish between you and the camera and the fish seems much larger than it really is. My youngest son tried to make a 4 inch fish look like a 2 foot fish by doing this.

These deceptions are a perception problem that leaves us deceived. We are deceived into thinking we have something when it isn't there. Or we are deceived into thinking nothing is there when it really is. Or we are deceived into thinking something is much larger than it really is. These types of perception deceptions bleed through into our spiritual lives as well. We can be deceived in many different ways by our adversary, Satan, who is known as the "father of lies" (John 8:44) and the one "who leads the whole world astray" (Revelation 12:9). One of the more difficult deceptions we deal with is when he convinces us that our small fish of a problem is the size of a whale. Satan's ultimate goal in these instances is to get your attention off of God and on to your problems. The reason he wants to make a mountain out of a mole hill is because if he can you won't be worshiping and glorifying God like God designed you to do. If Satan can get your focus on your problems rather than God, then you will live a defeated life where you live in your own power trying to solve your problems. Satan knows that if your focus stays on God then you can be victorious over anything he and this world throws at you.

One final perception deception Satan tries to use on you is one like the sinker weight hiding the small fish on the hook. It is the idea that something doesn't seem to be there but it really is. Satan pulls this same deception with sin. He tries to get you to justify and rationalize your sin. If he can convince you that your sin is culturally normal or accepted by society, then you won't see it as sin, even if God's Word speaks against it. What happens with this deception is you grow spiritually desensitized towards your sin, you no longer view it as sin, and it causes you to become less sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading in your life. With this type of deception Satan is able to further distance us from God by using our own sin to lure us away from God.

The best advice to give you on not being deceived by the perception deceptions Satan uses is the counsel of two men dead for nearly two millennia. The apostle Peter said it best when he wrote these words, "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). Other translations say be vigilant, as in not letting your guard down, because Satan is on the prowl and he is out to harm you. If you want to protect yourself from these perception deceptions, then you need to be spiritually on guard, 24/7/365. You cannot take a moments rest from spiritual vigilance or Satan will pounce like a lion on a wounded gazelle. The other man who gives great counsel on this is the half-brother of Jesus. His name was James. He wrote something as well that is a good way not to be deceived by Satan. James wrote that we ought to "submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:7-8, NKJV). By submitting ourselves to God through prayer, bible study, worship, and service we are able to more easily resist the devil and draw closer to God. When we do so, we find that we are closer to God and He is closer to us, and Satan's deceptions can be seen for what they truly are, lies. Follow the counsel of these two wise men from another time and don't be deceived.


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