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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