A Lego Lesson on Sharing  7-22-17

     Our boys love Legos. We like to buy used Legos in bulk, thus we have a large plastic tote with about 40 pounds of Legos in it that the boys share. Even with that large stash of Legos, our 7 year old used some of his birthday money to buy a special Lego set. He keeps this separate from the other Legos. It is his, not his brothers'.

     He understands that if he lets his set get mixed in with all the others, then some of the special pieces may get lost. I recently heard him scolding his brothers for taking his Legos as they played with the rest of their stash.

     This brings up a question: as Christians, should we allow our sons to have their own possessions, or should we teach them to share everything they have?

     We read in the book of Acts how the early Christians shared their possessions so that they could help each other meet any need that came up. We have no record of these Christians being commanded to do this, but we do have verses like Hebrews 13:16 which says, “And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (NASB) This same idea is also taught in 1Timothy 6:17-18, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,” (NASB).

     By giving all 4 of our boys a big bulk supply of Legos for Christmas, we are teaching them to share with each other, but now the 7 year old has his own Lego set. Is that fair?

     Although the scripture teaches the importance of sharing and the problems of greed, it also teaches that individuals have a right to own certain things. In fact, the problem with greed is wanting to get what someone else owns. There is even a command against covetousness within the 10 commandments. There is also a command against stealing. Both these commands are found in the Old Testament and clearly repeated in the New Testament. If there were no personal property rights, then we would not have to worry about stealing, because everything would already belong to everyone.

     Ephesians 4:28 should guide the Christian in this area. “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28 NASB)

     In other words, instead of taking what does not belong to us, we should work to earn our own private possessions. Then we should use those private possessions to help others.

     As I was writing this article my 3 oldest boys walked into my office and I asked them if they should share all their toys, or if they had to a right to have some of their toys as just their own. One said share, one said own, then they thought for a moment and they all agreed that they should do both. They understood that they had a right to their own property, but that as Christians they should be willing to share what they had with each other.

     Their Legos have helped them to understand a basic concept of Christianity. Respect other people's property, realize that all we have really belongs to God, and then be willing to share what we have with others while being careful not let people just steal what we have by taking advantage of us.



Amazing Random Creations   7-8-17


     I heard the sound of sirens and other noises coming from our backyard. The fire station is near our house, but this sounded much different. It sounded like it was coming from the mouth of a little boy. Sure enough, I looked out our back door to see our boys sitting on the top landing playing with their toy cars and making the sounds to go along with their play.

     Not only had they made up sounds, they had also made a whole play area. They had found an old piece of cement block, a small metal frame from a toy wagon, a scrap piece of wood, a metal screen, an empty flower pot, and other random toy parts that they had used to make some sort of building that they were driving their cars through.

     I must admit that their creativity was inspiring. I got to thinking, “they had made their little garage out of existing materials, but God created the whole world without any physical material.” “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3 NASB)

     The toy garage that my boys had cobbled together still took some design. It was obvious that the wind had not just blown a bunch of junk around to make their small structure. Still it was a very simple creation. A few years ago the boys had helped to build our garage. That was even more complex. It was not built out of random pieces of wood. Instead each stud was of a consistent length and spacing as were the trusses and other structural components. Still the garage is a very simple building. The tallest building in the world is over a half a mile high and required much planning. None of these structures happened by chance.

     Even the most basic life form is much more complex than the tallest building. The human body is extremely complex. The more we study science the more complex we realize our world is. So is it scientific to believe that man evolved from nothing to an extremely complex being, simply by chance or even by some big bang?

     Consider that half mile tall building. If totally left alone without a designer, what would happen to it over the course of millions or even billions of years? It would not get taller and more complex. It would become less ordered and may even cease to stand- especially if there were some sort of large bang. I therefore find it quite strange that some think that it is scientific to believe that with enough time, things will go from less order to more order without the aid of a designer.

     Isaiah 44:24 reminds us that the same God who created the whole world also made us. “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone,” (Isaiah 44:24 NASB) This verse tells us something else important. Our creator is also our redeemer. God did not make us and then just forget about us. The Bible describes Jesus Christ as both redeemer and creator in Colossians where it says,

“in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:14-17 NASB)

     The random creations that my boys made, can remind us that Jesus Christ is our creator and redeemer. Therefore we are accountable to Him. That means we should believe in Him and His authority over our lives.



Should We all Be Ministers?  6-23-17

I wear many different hats. I have more than one hat from Menards because they are free with a mail in rebate. My favorite hat is the one I bought from Sheels. It is a camouflage hat with their store name on it and I like how it looks. I also have a gray work hat with another company logo on it that I often wear. My friend Phil gave it to me. If it is real hot and I am out in the sun, I have a ventilated wide brimmed hat that covers my ears, eyes, and back of my neck. If it is real cold I wear a stocking hat.

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I also wear a variety of hats vocationally. As a pastor starting a new church, it is necessary to be bi-vocational. I have chosen to be self employed so that I have a bit more flexibility in balancing my work schedule and any ministry needs that may arise. As a self employed contractor, I keep busy with a variety of tasks. I also have some equipment to help me to accomplish those tasks.
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I am also the father of 4 young boys. Of course, my boys are fascinated by my equipment. It is not unusual to see them climbing on my mini-excavator or begging to drive the skid steer.
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Recently as they were riding in the vehicle with me, they began to talk about which pieces of equipment each of them wanted if I were to die. I expressed concern that if they took the equipment that they would use it to help support their mother (hopefully they would be adults by then). Soon they were involved in discussions about what sort of businesses they would start with the equipment that they would inherit.
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As my oldest was talking I made a suggestion about a possible business that had the potential to be profitable for him. My second son was listening and then replied that he would not be interested in that business. Instead he said that if I died, he would take over the church work, because that was the most important. I was so glad to hear him say that, because as a bi-vocational pastor there are times when the other jobs seem to take more time than the ministry. Still, my son was able to recognize what was really important.
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Although I get to claim the title “Bi-vocational Minister,” shouldn't that be a title that all Christians hold? The word minister means a servant. Shouldn't we all be servants of Jesus Christ? Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (NASB)
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My sons were talking about starting businesses with the inheritance that they would get from me, but Colossians reminds us that there is a more important inheritance- the reward from Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:9 encourages us, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
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We should not be serving Christ just so we get a reward. If that is our motive, then we are actually serving ourselves instead of Him. Still realize that there is a reward for those who serve and love Him. Therefore believe in Jesus as your Lord and master and be His servant/minister, no matter what your other vocation is. He is God. He is just. He is perfect. He is worth serving. We should not all be pastors, but we should all be ministering for Christ.


A Catastrophe of Crayons  6-9-17

     Our youngest son is autistic. Back in the late 1980's the only thing many people knew about autism is what they had seen in the 1988 movie, Rain Man. Today, most people know someone with autism. We do not know if autism is more common than it used to be, or if we are just more aware of it. Growing up one of my friends was diagnosed with autism and I knew him before even watched the movie Rain Man. Looking back I knew other people growing up who to this day have not been diagnosed as autism but share some of the same characteristics.

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     For example, as a child, I played with some boys who got immense pleasure in dumping out containers filled with items. They did not necessarily even want to play with the items, they just wanted to dump them out. My mother would cringe at the prospect of having to clean up after they left. Our youngest shares the joy that comes from dumping items and he also shares other characteristics with those boys that I grew up with.
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     We have taught our son that dumping items is not always allowed and for the most part he complies. Still, he is only 5 years old, and like any 5 year old, he will occasionally forget or simply disobey. Recently during a church service, as I was preaching, I saw him balancing a large container of crayons on his head. Soon they slipped from his head and spilled right towards the visitor. Of course the thrill of seeing them spill made it too hard for him to resist dumping the rest of them. He dumped them right next to the visitor who was sitting just ahead of him.
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     Part of me wanted to scold him and part of me wanted to laugh. Thankfully, I simply continued to preach. After the service I began to visit with the visitors when our oldest son came over and apologized for his little brother's behavior. They graciously smiled and did not seem at all bothered by it.
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     I explained that we have expectations for our children and that we expect them to behave, but that we also realize that they are kids and that we want the church to be a welcoming place for them- even if there are spilled crayons now and then.
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     They agreed and as we continued to talk the subject of autism came up. They then shared that they had an adult daughter with autism and that they understood what had happened. In fact, I believe that the spilled crayons actually brought comfort to them- reminding them of experiences from when their children were younger.
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     As I watched the crayons fall from my child's head, I was wishing that event was not happening. In hind sight, I am reminded that shared experiences and shared challenges in life are part of ministry. My moment of discomfort was a chance to encourage someone else.
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     We see similar comfort as we read the Psalms. For example, in Psalm 6:6 David says, “I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.” Yet just a few verses later he says that God hears his prayers and all through the Psalms we see David's trust in God. The Bible reminds us that others have faced challenges as well and that God was also there with them. We get to remind each of that from day to day.
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     When two of my nephews died in a car accident we were able to see how God could use a big event like that for His glory. Recently I was reminded of how he uses little events as well. 


Jesus Our Almighty King  5-27-17

Our boys like to role play. They will pretend to be soldiers, cowboys, or dinosaur hunters. Seldom do they pretend to be kings. In our society, the idea of being a dinosaur hunter is easier to grasp than the idea of having a king.

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Throughout history, kings were much more common than they are today. In fact, they were the norm for many periods of time. The kings were often more like what we refer to as dictators or strong men. They had complete authority with totalitarian rule.
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A king therefore has the right to make the laws, set the rules, and decide how they will be enforced. Those who resist will be punished- sometimes even killed. An unjust king can therefore become a menace to the people he is over. On the other hand, a good king, has the power to protect and to save his subjects from danger.
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Imagine you live in a land where a good king has left for a time and evil rulers have ended up taking his place. The nation is in turmoil and there is no justice. You know that once your good king returns, he will set things right. You are loyal to this good king as you faithfully await his return because you believe in him.
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Believing in him does not mean you simply believe he exists. It means you believe in his right to rule. It means you believe he is a good and just king. It means you believe in his authority to decide what is right and what is wrong. Jesus is my king. I believe in him. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).
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Now imagine that you had not always been faithful to the king. In fact, you had  joined with the evil rulers and had worked against the good king. You had actually committed treason against him. When we sin, we are essentially committing treasonous acts against Christ. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36 NASB) Throughout history, treason against a king has been punishable by death. Treason against Christ is no exception. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a).
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Though we deserve death for our sin, our King Jesus loved us so much that He died in our place. He paid for our treason with His own blood. “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b).
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My king is a king of justice who must punish sin, but He is also a merciful king who found a way to satisfy that justice and spare me from the penalty I deserved. He spared me when I believed in Him and trusted Him as my king. When I realize how wonderful my king is, I want to be His faithful servant. I want to humble myself before Him and serve Him. I also realize that since He is king, He has the right to make the laws and to tell me what to do.
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I fear that in our society too many people look to Jesus as their lobbyist rather than as their king. A lobbyist is hired to influence those in power to give the person who hired them what they want. A king on the other hand, is the one in charge. As a good king, Jesus does care for His subjects. He loves us so much that He died for us, but He is not there to just give us whatever we want. Instead we should view ourselves as His faithful servants who are there to do what He says to do. To go further into this subject, listen to the sermon from Ps 2 on the sermons page.


Don't Manipulate the Bible  5-12-17

Imagine that you walk into a French hospital and you see a man dressed in white and he says he has the cockroach. Your first thought may be that he is an exterminator, but then you are informed that when the French talk of having the cockroach, they mean they are depressed. With this added information, you then understand that this person is likely a patient rather than an exterminator.
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It is amazing how a little additional information can change ones perspective. Often as I talk about the Bible, others will point out how there are so many different interpretations. I must agree that this is true. Since I preach through the Bible verse by verse there are occasions when I must admit that there are a number of views on a particular verse. Still, most of the Bible is quite straight forward. For example there is little room for variations of interpretation when declaring that lying, stealing and murder are sins.
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But what do we do with the areas that we are not quite so sure about? Like the illustration about the French cockroach, we must strive for as much information as possible and grasp for the original meaning and intent of words that are used in scripture, realizing that they were not originally written in English. Further, we need to get as much information as possible from the text. In other words we should not just isolate a passage, but we should look both at the immediate context as well as the rest of scripture.
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Imagine if you started to read the story of The Three Little Pigs but only read the first two thirds of it. You could easily come to the conclusion that any house that a pig built, a wolf could destroy. You would actually miss the whole moral of the story and end up replacing that moral with one that the story never intended. Sadly the same thing often happens with Biblical interpretation.
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I once listened to an online sermon and I was exposed to such careless interpretation. The pastor pointed out that each of the 5 times the word “breeches” was used in the Bible, that it referred to men wearing them. His conclusion, based upon that information, was that women should never wear pants because only men had worn breeches in those verses. What he neglected to point out is that each of those 5 verses also referred to the priests. Based on his logic, only priests should wear pants. Further, he also missed another important piece of information. Every time the word “skirt” is found (10 verses), it always refers to men. Based on that preachers logic, only men should wear skirts.
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It has often been said that a person can make the Bible say anything they want it to say. The truth is, people try to convince others that the Bible is saying something different than what it says, but that does not change the actual text. The problem with some Biblical interpretation is that people try to manipulate the truth rather than just looking at what it says.
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2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The person who missed the moral of the Three Little Pigs, and the pastor who drew an unreasonable conclusion from the word “breeches,” had reason to be ashamed. I fear that often such foolishness is not the result of ignorance, but rather of manipulation. That is why all Christians, not just pastors, need to study God’s Word. It really can be understood.



The Kids Lived Me a Lesson  4-28-17

     We live in a small town, but that does not mean that there is nothing to do. A few weeks ago we went to the Easter egg hunt, and recently the Worthing elementary school hosted a carnival for the kids. At that carnival my young boys reminded me of a valuable lesson about contentment.

     The boys had fun even though we were only there for about 20 minutes. It was advertised as lasting until 8 p.m. and we got there at 7:10 (we did not get back to town until then) so I figured they would have close to an hour to play. We were disappointed when they started taking down the bouncy houses 5 minutes after we got there.
     This happened as the boys were standing in line for the shooting gallery. Our oldest stated that he would have been real disappointed if he had not know that they would get to go to the free bouncy houses the next day at the ACE Hardware open house in Lennox. He was looking at the bright side rather than complaining.

     I was so happy that rather than complaining about not being able to play in the bouncy houses, they were enjoying what they could do right then. Further they were looking forward to what they would get to do in the future. In the short time we were at the carnival, the boys got to do the shooting gallery and go on a train ride.

     The shooting gallery was simply some paper plates and Nurf guns. The train ride was a bunch of barrel trailers pulled behind a lawn mower made to look like a train engine. I actually started to have a bad attitude in my heart as I realized I had spent $10 to get the boys in, only to have them take down the inflatables right after we got there. But then, I realized that the boys did not even care and were having a great time. Not having the bouncy houses did not ruin their night at all, but my bad attitude could have easily ruined it if I had not kept it in check.

     The boys also got a gift bag and cotton candy at the carnival. Inside the bag was more candy and a token to a free kids meal at the Texas Road House. Since we had come late, we were given a discount on our admission price and those tokens alone were worth more than what we had paid. It was not until we got back home that the boys found the tokens and told me about them and I realized that instead of complaining inside, I needed to be rejoicing.

     Seeing the good attitude that my kids had that night reminds me of Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (NKJV)

     There are so many things that we could complain about in life when instead we should be thanking God and letting the peace of Christ work in our lives. So often we as parents are trying to train and teach our children to do right, but recently my boys were the ones who reminded me of a valuable lesson- a lesson that I have so often taught myself, but had started to forget. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Timothy 6:6)


Easter Eggs, Bunnies, and Jesus  4-14-17

Our boys had a lot of fun at Worthing's annual Easter egg hunt. The organizers divided the activity by age groups so that the younger kids did not have to compete with the older ones in order to find eggs. The 0-4 year old's got to go first and for some of them it was a challenge just to figure out what was expected. Once those little kids figured out that those brightly colored eggs contained candy, suddenly they found motivation to find the next prize.

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Our youngest son is 5, so he and his 6 year old brother got to go with the second group. They already knew just what to do. Still our youngest had just as much fun picking up the empty eggs as he did finding the ones with candy. He is at the age where the fun of the game is more important than the quest for the prize. Ironically, he was rewarded when he won the drawing and got a rubber ball AND a basketball. They were in an Easter basket and the package was almost as tall as he was, but he insisted on carrying it home himself.

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Our biggest boys were in the oldest group. They were the largest and fastest and had to compete with the other big and fast kids to be the first to get their eggs. Realizing the challenge, our 9 year old ran as fast as he could from egg to egg. Our 8 year old, however, took his time and noticed that there were a lot of eggs in one area that no one else was picking up. He simply went from egg to egg without hurry and ended up with more than his big brother had.

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Worthing's Easter egg hunt actually occurred the weekend before Easter. I am not sure why it was planned that way, but I am glad it was for a variety of reasons. First, it allowed kids that may be traveling for the holiday to participate. Still, from a spiritual perspective, I can see an even more important reason to like the timing. By having this event a week before Resurrection Sunday it allows for more of a disconnect between the secular holiday and the religious aspect of an important event for Christians.

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Eggs and bunnies can become a huge distraction from a very important event that is celebrated this time of year. Technically Easter is not even a Christian term and has nothing to do with Christianity at all, however this ancient religious holiday occurred around the same time as the Resurrection celebration and thus through the years the term has been redefined to represent the Resurrection.

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Regardless of the origins of the original Easter holiday, today our society promotes eggs and bunnies as a way to sell products and entertain children, not as a way to promote any ancient religion. For the Christian, I do not see a great danger of the Easter egg leading our families into paganism. Rather Easter is a reminder of how there are so many things in society that can end up distracting us from God. In Matthew 6:33 Christ reminds us to first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He also warns, “And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19)

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Like the Easter egg hunt, there are a lot of things we can do with our time. Many of those things are not bad in themselves, but they can easily distract us from our savior. May this special time of year remind us that God loved us enough that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. May that motivate us to not forget nor neglect Him in our lives.



Are You a Hoarder/Prepper?  4-1-17

Spring has finally arrived and now I think I can finally take the winter survival kit out of the Suburban. Living with South Dakota winters means that we do make a few preparations. Both Crystal and I grew up out in the country and we remembered numerous times when we were without electricity during the winter time. Thus Crystal keeps a stack of extra blankets in the closet “just in case.”
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Our boys took that “just in case” principle a bit too far recently. As I enjoyed a calm spring evening, I started a fire in our fire pit. As the fire began to go down the boys came out with some cardboard that Mom wanted burned. Soon they came out with more and more. They then informed me that unbeknownst to their mother, they had filled their closet with left over empty cardboard boxes. They like to build things out of them, but when I asked them why they had so many our 8 year old replied, “just in case.”
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Ironically, our boys have not even watched the doomsday prepper shows. This does however raise an interesting question, “how far should a Christian go in preparing for the 'just in case'?” I have heard radio ads about food storage plans with a 25 year shelf life.
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On the one extreme we have people filling their basements with food to last decades. On the other extreme we have people who have chosen a life of homelessness and no job with no preparations for the future.
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The word of God addresses these issues. II Thessalonians 3:10-12 says, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.” (NASB)
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The Thessalonian passage tells us that we should be working, but should we work just to stock up food for 25 years? Another passage in Ephesians shows us part of what we should do with our gain. “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28 NASB). In other words, as Christians, instead of laying up 25 years worth of food for ourselves, we should be working so that we have a little extra to help others who might face a crisis. It is far more likely that a friend will get cancer or a neighbor's house will burn down than that we will face a nationwide crisis.
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Finally, we need to consider a portion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. After challenging His listeners that they could not serve God while also serving a greed for wealth He says, "For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NASB)
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Notice that Jesus is not saying that we should not have any concern about food or clothing. Instead He is saying that we should not be anxious about it. In other words, there is a big difference between recognizing that you should make sure to have enough food on hand to get through a snowstorm vs worrying about if you will have enough food 5 years from now. The one is an approach of showing responsibility. The other is an approach of showing unreasonable worry.
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“There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, But a foolish man swallows it up.” (Proverbs 21:20 NASB) It is wise for a Christian to save, but we do not need to be so anxious we hoard.


God's Judgment and Mercy   3-18-17

About a month ago Judge Joseph Wapner died at 97. He was the star of the TV series “People's Court.” In other words, he was one of America's most famous judges. Recently we have been studying the book of Judges at Southtown and have pointed out that these judges were a bit different than Judge Wapner. They did however have some similarities. For example, Judge Wapner would pronounce a sentence at the end of his show. The judges of the Bible would execute sentence on the enemies of God's people. In the Bible we see this done on the battlefield rather than the courtroom.
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In some ways, we could say that the judges are actually bringers of consequences and the book of Judges is a book that reminds us of the consequences of sin. First, the Israelites were supposed to drive the Cannonites out of the land. This was a consequence on them. When Israel disobeyed God, then God allowed their enemies to overpower them. That was a consequence of their disobedience. Finally, after they repented, God sent a judge (usually a military leader) to deliver the Israelites from their enemies. This cycle repeated itself over and over throughout the book of Judges.
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Although our attention is often drawn to judges like Sampson and Gideon who won amazing military victories, we must realize that the ultimate judge of both the book of Judges and of all of humanity, is God. God brought judgment on disobedience in the book of Judges, but He did something just as important. He also brought deliverance from that judgment. The same God who brought consequences also brought mercy.
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The book of Judges shows us a lot about God. It makes it very clear that God does punish sin. It makes it just as clear that God helps those who humble themselves before Him. These are themes that are found all throughout the scriptures. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (NASB) David says in Psalms 32:5, “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. Selah.” (NASB) Then in I John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (NASB)
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As we look at the book of Judges, we are able to see how God interacts with His people. First, He shows that He will not leave sin unpunished. This idea is reinforced in the first part of Romans 6:23 where the Word of God states that “the wages of sin is death.” But the book of Judges teaches us something else. It also shows that the same God who brings judgment also brings a deliverer. This is reinforced in both the last part of Romans 6:23 and in John 3:16. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
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God sent many deliverers in the book of Judges, but our ultimate deliverer is Jesus Christ.



The Heart of Hacksaw Ridge  3-3-17

Our oldest son loves watching war documentaries. All our boys seem to be interested in history. We watched “The Longest Day” with them. It is an old movie about WWII D-Day starring John Wayne. It gave a decent historical overview of the events but to a large extent it sheltered us from the extremes of war.
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Recently another WWII movie was made called “Hacksaw Ridge.” Although my wife and I watched it, I do not believe our children are quite ready for it since it does not sanitize the reality of war. For years I have heard how soldiers usually do not want to talk about war. After seeing this movie I better understand why.
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The story of “Hacksaw Ridge” centers around a young man who signs up to go to war even though he is not willing to take another life in war. He wants to go to the battle to help his country as a medic. He enters the battle unarmed and saves many lives.
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I would not recommend this movie for young audiences or those with weak stomachs because the battle scenes- particularly the aftermath of the battle- are quite grotesque. The main character's job is to save the lives of those who have been maimed by the ravages of war. These ravages have real results and those results are not covered up in this movie like they are in others.
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As shocking as these scenes are, I do not consider them gratuitous since they depict the realities of war. They enable the viewer to better come to grips with what actually happens. Although I believe that it is acceptable for a Christian to take another human life in war and self defense (the word for kill in “thou shall not kill” means murder which is different than wartime killing) I still respect the man who values human life so much that he will not even defend himself.
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The movie shows the character of the man who has a conviction about not killing, but it also gives a fair treatment to those who view the killing of war as a necessary restraint on evil.
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The movie also deals with the issue of human pride. There is a scene where a soldier in his vanity is not as modest as he should be in his lack of clothing. I do not condone nudity in movies, but this scene does show how vanity can backfire. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
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The movie depicted the problem of pride in a number of the characters, but it also showed how they came to grips with how wrong they were and later humbled themselves. It even brings out how the main character who refused to kill admits that he had already killed in his heart.
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I normally do not review movies, and this movie is not for everyone, but it brings out more than just the reality of war. It also brings out the reality of the human heart. Too often we try to sanitize how bad human hearts are just like we try to sanitize war. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” God knows it, and that is why He sent His son to pay the penalty for our sin that reaches right to our hearts. Let us rejoice that when we trust Jesus, He even pays for the sins of our hearts.


Yes, We Have Noisy Kids!  3-3-17

Southtown was very noisy last Sunday. After the service was over there were kids running around and making up their own games. Soon they were playing an old game that led to a debate among the adults about whether it was “Duck Duck Goose” or “Duck Duck Grey Duck.”
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In Mark 10:14, we read of people bringing children to Jesus and then getting scolded (rebuked) by the disciples for doing so. Often the disciples were right in what they did and said, but this time they were wrong. In fact, the response of Jesus shows that He was quite upset with His disciples and that He wanted the children to be there. “But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:14 NKJV)
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I have noticed a disturbing pattern among some Christians- especially those who are not around children very often. Often they want to have kids around, but they do not want the results of having kids around. It is kind of like wanting a puppy, but not wanting to have to feed it, clean up after it, or hear it bark.
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This often leads to unrealistic expectations about children. Children are to obey their parents, but for very young children it takes time for them to learn what that means. During that time they will make noise and they will cry when the do not get what they want. Further, different parents have different expectations of their children. If I allow my kids to play a noisy game of Duck Duck and you have told your children that they are never allowed to play any game while at church, that does not mean my kids are rebellious. It simply means I allow them to make a little noise until I tell them to quiet down a bit.
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This can sometimes be difficult for empty nesters who have forgotten how much noise kids really make. Some of us may be picturing the disciples as elderly curmudgeons pointing their wrinkly fingers at the kids. Actually the disciples were likely quite young. Many believe they were in their 20's. They were probably the millennials of their generation.
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It is not that surprising that this group might also be impatient with kids. Even today, teens and young adults without children can sometimes be more annoyed by crumb crunchers than the grandparents who have grown to value these little rascals.

Although kids should learn to behave and obey their parents, all the members of the church should make it a welcoming place for the next generation to come. If you are a millennial who is understandably upset with people constantly dissing your generation, make sure that you do not diss these little kids. If you are an older person who wishes that today's kids acted more godly, then realize that the church is the right place for them to be.
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Church of all places should be a welcoming place for children. It should be a place where they can learn, grow, and mature. We should not expect it to happen overnight. As true as this is for children, it is also true for adults. A healthy church is a place where children and adults can grow together just like a family. No wonder so many people talk about their “church family.” What a joy to gather not just with brothers and sisters in Christ, but with fellow Christians who are like aunts and uncles and grandpas and grandmas.



Get R Done South Dakotans 2-2-17


Our 6 year old is a true South Dakotan. He recently told us that his feet hurt while he was standing barefoot on a crate, but that he just “cowboyed up” until he was done. I grew up in Southwest Minnesota- just across the South Dakota border- so we had much of the same culture as this area.

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For me, the independent, tough it out, pull yourself up by your boot strap approach to life is normal. For example, one evening as I parked the vehicle to go into the house, I looked across the road and saw my neighbor unloading a very large upright air compressor from his trailer. Of course he was doing it by himself. It was on a pallet so he was able to anchor a winch in his garage and slowly pull the heavy tool off of his trailer.

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A few years earlier another neighbor was moving and had to get a large container out of his basement. He anchored his ATV to a tree and was using the ATV winch to pull the container up the steps. Both these neighbors were doing exactly what I would do- figuring out how to do it yourself instead of asking for help.

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Of course I did just what either of them would have done as well- I went straight over and helped them. The help was appreciated, but they had not asked for it. They were just living out the rural Dakota attitude of “git r done.”

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For many a rural South Dakotan, it is much more comfortable to help someone else than it is to ask for help. In many ways I admire such an attitude. In fact, I have that same attitude myself. Still there can be a problem with this attitude from a Christian perspective.

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Although I cannot speak for my neighbors, I realize that my independent attitude is rooted to a certain extent in pride. I am often too proud to ask for help. I want to prove that I do not need help and that I can get it done on my own. Such an attitude becomes a huge problem when we have that attitude with God.

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Too often we are too proud to ask God for help. The very issue of coming to God to save our souls is all about admitting that we cannot do it ourselves and that we need Him to do it for us. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (NASB) In other words, God does the saving of our souls so we cannot brag about it. The very next verse however, may be encouraging to the “git r done” South Dakotan. It says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (NASB) In other words, once you trust Christ, you need to realize that you were created to get to work for Him. That means you can apply that independent work ethic you have learned for the glory of God.

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But as we work for God, we need to be careful that we not be too independent about it. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” (NASB) For many of us that verse is not such a challenge until we realize that if Christians are to bear each other's burdens, than that means we need to let others help us with our burdens. That is not an excuse to let us mooch off of others (I think we have all met such people and I am not defending them). This is however a challenge to be humble enough to admit that we sometimes need help and that we can be a blessing to others by letting them help us.

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Most of all, we need to realize that we need God- not just to help us, but to sustain our very lives.



Life's Trials & God's Love  1-20-17

Does it ever seem like nothing is going right? Here at the the Miller household we have had some recent challenges. On December 20th, I slipped on the ice, strained my wrists and hit the back of my head. Then the next day Crystal was rear ended in Sioux Falls with all 4 boys in the minivan with her. She is still having some pain since the accident.
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Because of her back and neck pain she was scheduled for an MRI. On her way to the MRI the transmission went out of our Suburban. The week before the transmission went out, the furnace quit working- on a Saturday. The MRI was rescheduled and when she went for her doctor's appointment to get the results, the door handle to the vehicle broke. It seemed for a time like everything was going wrong.
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In Bible study we had recently looked at how the problems we face can sometimes be the chastening of God (Psalm 119:75, Proverbs 3:11, Hebrews 12:5-11, Revelation 3:19). Other times the trials we face are God's way of teaching us and building character.
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For example, Job lost everything, yet he was called a perfect and upright man (Job 1:1; 2:3). Romans 5:3-5 tells us how trials bring about perseverance and then perseverance builds character. Eventually that character brings hope and finally that hope helps us to see the love of God.
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Even if our trials are caused by sin and God is scolding us, that is still an evidence of His love. Consider Hebrews 12:6, “FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” (NASB- all caps in original).
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On the other hand, we can find God's love even in all the trials that Job experienced. First, Job was drawn closer to God and was able to understand God better because of the trials he faced. No doubt the trials built his character. Finally Job is given hope and even experiences the outpouring of God's love when at the end he ends up with much more than he had lost.
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Today I do not feel like Job in the sense of having had as bad of trials as he had, but I do feel like Job in the sense of having the hope and outpouring of God's love through those trials. First, I did not break any bones in my fall. Next, no one was killed in the car accident and there was only minor damage to the minivan. Further Crystal was able to reschedule her MRI and still keep her appointment with the doctor to get her results. Then, we were able to find a used Suburban that was 4 years newer than our old one for less than the cost of rebuilding the transmission.
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We ended up with a nicer vehicle when it was all said and done (it is our extra vehicle so it is not real fancy but it is decent). Then we opened the monthly financial statement from our missions agency and found out that 5 churches and one individual had independently sent special Christmas gifts to us. Next, my little brother decided to buy the old Suburban for parts and gave us more than the salvage yard would give, thus it is all paid for. No doubt we have hope and are rejoicing in the love of God.
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The furnace was also a challenge, but it allowed us to meet a new friend when we called the repairman. He showed the boys what he was doing and answered their questions and then stood around and talked after he was done. We hope he comes back again even though I don't want something to break. Did I mention we met another new friend when the Suburban broke down?
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Finally the door handle cost less than $35 and was an easy fix.
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Trials are a great time for self examination and also a great time to just focus on God for a while. They are also a great way for God to reveal His love for us. Let us not miss what He is trying to tell us through our trials.




Fearing God in the Storm     1/13/17

We survived Christmas. Normally Christmas is a time of enjoyment, not a time of survival. For people in northeast South Dakota, this year was definitely a time of survival. Some were trapped in vehicles- others had to rough it as they waited for electricity to be restored.
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In our part of the state, we escaped the snow, but still had to endure the wind. A friend of mine lost a roof on his shed, our neighbors lost some shingles, and many branches were down across the area.
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We listened to the wind howling throughout the night and another friend commented on how the wind put the fear of God into him. Storms should put the fear of God into us, but it should not take a storm for us to fear God.
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Christmas time is a time to remember God's love and mercy as He sent His only begotten son into the world to be born in Bethlehem and to grow up and pay for our sins on the cross. The Christmas story reminded us of God's mercy, but the Christmas storm reminded us of God's wrath. 
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John 3:16 is one of my favorite verses. It says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” I frequently quote that verse, but I want us to remember the next two verses as well. They say, "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:17-18 NASB)
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Jesus did not have to come to judge us because God had already judged us and found us guilty. Because of our guilt, God sent His son to pay our penalty. John 3:16 makes it clear that we must believe in order to have that penalty paid. This is not just an intellectual belief but an actual transforming trust. The scripture clarifies the difference in James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19 NASB)
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Notice that the demons shudder over who God is. As evil as they are, they are smart enough to fear Him. The wind storm was a reminder of God's power and even gave us a taste of how easily His wrath could be brought to bear on the lives of mortal men. Even John 3 warns us 20 verses after John 3:16, when Jesus says, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36 NASB)
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Some people tell us that because of God's mercy, we should not fear Him. The problem is that the Bible tells us different. Ecclesiastes 12:13 tells us, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” (NASB)
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Some argue that the word “fear” in that verse simply means to reverence. Although that is part of the idea, the Hebrew word also means to be frighted- to be afraid. In other words we reverence God because we tremble at His almighty power.
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Psalm 110:10, Proverbs 1:7, and Proverbs 9:10 all tell us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Notice as well the proclamation of the angel in Revelation 14:7, “and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."” (NASB)
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Yes, God is to be feared and that fear should motivate us to trust in His mercy and follow Him.
 


 Jonah and God's Great Mercy  
12-26-16

Imagine if there was a city where the people were so evil that God decided to destroy everyone there. That actually happened in both Sodom and Gomorrah. Imagine a world where the people were so evil that God destroyed everyone except for 8 people. That actually happened with Noah and the flood.
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These examples show how serious sin is. They also show that God judges sin. As we read through the Old Testament Scriptures we see a lot of sin and we see a lot of God punishing sin, but that is not all that we see. We also see a God who helps those in need. We see a God who cares about justice. We see a God who is merciful toward sinners- even when they do not even come close to deserving His mercy.
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One of the clearest testimonies of God's mercy is found in the book of Jonah. Jonah is famous for having been swallowed by a whale and surviving, but there is much more to this wonderful story. The reason Jonah gets swallowed is because he was running from God instead of doing what God told him to do.
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That part shows us that God holds people accountable, but there is an even more important part to the message. Jonah was supposed to go to Nineveh. Nineveh was located in what is now Iraq. The people of Nineveh were evil and were not Jonah's friends. Jonah was supposed to go there and warn them of God's judgment. He finally does what he is supposed to do only after God puts him through the ordeal with the whale.
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Ironically, the people of Nineveh- including their king- actually listen to Jonah and fear God and end up repenting. Notice what the kings repentance looks like: "But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.” (Jonah 3:8 NASB)
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Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of life. They called on God and changed from their wicked violence. In other words they changed their minds about not following God and then actually changed their behavior as well. Once they did this, God showed mercy and spared them from His wrath.
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This did not surprise Jonah. Although he had ran from God, he understood that mercy was part of God's character. In fact, that is why he did not want to got to Nineveh (he didn't like them and wanted them to be destroyed). Look at what Jonah recognized about God: “ And he prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” (Jonah 4:2 NASB)
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Yes, God is a God of judgment, but He is also a God of mercy. This truth is summed up so clearly in Romans 6:23 where it says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NASB)
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The book of Jonah shows God's mercy, thus it should not surprise us that Jesus would die for our sins.
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Beginning January 8th at 3 p.m. we will begin studying the book of Jonah in detail at Southtown Fellowship on Main Street in Worthing. This multi-week series will be presented in a way that is exiting for kids, but relevant for adults. Join us.

Jesus: King of Christmas  12-16-16

As Christmas approaches we often hear about peace on earth and goodwill toward men, yet as I read the news I see headlines of crime, conflict, and chaos. Christmas gives us a place to escape the chaos and huddle with our friends and families for a time of calm and comfort. But even if we are sheltered in our personal Christmas scene, that does not mean that there is peace outside our frosted windows.
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Christmas should not be about escaping the turmoil of the world around us for a moment of peace. It should be about a Savior who was born to bring peace.
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About 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the prophet Micah wrote about Him. Israel would fall to Assyria during Micah's life, so he was quite familiar with a world lacking peace. Still, he gave hope to a world in turmoil as he wrote of God ruling from Jerusalem. Micah tells us what God will do: “And He will judge between many peoples And render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war.” (Micah 4:3 NASB)
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Such a message would have been encouraging to a nation that was trying to defend it's borders- a nation that seemed to constantly be at war. Still, the time of peace for them would not be immediate, for as we come to chapter 5 we read this: "Now muster yourselves in troops, daughter of troops; They have laid siege against us; With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek.” (Micah 5:1 NASB)
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That does not sound at all like peace on earth. Instead he is saying prepare for battle. The context shows us why peace would not yet come. The peace would come when God would rule from Jerusalem. (see Micah 4:2-3). Then as we come to chapter 5, we are given some exciting news of hope in verse 2. "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." (Micah 5:2 NASB)
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Micah 5:2 says that from a little obscure town called Bethlehem, a ruler would come. Then he gives us some details about that ruler. He has been going around from long ago- actually from forever. In order to have existed from forever, He had to be God Himself. Peace would come when God ruled in Jerusalem and God's word is now telling us that He would come from Bethlehem. That is why when Jesus was born the heavenly host declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)
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As the baby Jesus grew into a man and Jesus began His earthly ministry, many expected Him to become king of the Jews in Israel and to rule from Jerusalem. Instead He went to the cross and died for sin so that man could have peace with God. Does that mean Micah was wrong? Not at all, because Jesus is not dead, He has risen and is alive and is coming back to rule and to reign.
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Christ is no longer a baby, He is the King of Kings. For those who reject Him there is a warning. “And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.” (Revelation 19:15 NASB)
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            For those who believe on Jesus Christ as Lord and  
            Savior His coming means rescue, not doom and gloom.
            He will lovingly rule with justice and will punish evil so that
            we can truly live in peace. As we celebrate Jesus Christ's
            birth, let us also celebrate Him as the perfect King who    
            will bring peace on earth.


If Possible Live at Peace     11-25-16

My wife likes to look at nativity scenes from different cultures. When she lived in Peru she saw lamas at the manger scene. The Peruvian nativity reminds her that different cultures have different perspectives depending on their life experiences.
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The same is true even for people within the same country. This is especially true for the United States. We are a country with a rich cultural heritage as we have become a melting pot of ethnicity and perspective from all over the world. In addition to ethnicity, we also have a cultural divide between rural and city dwellers. Adding to the challenge, we have rural dwellers who identify with the culture of the city and city dwellers who identify with the culture of the rural.
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As our society becomes even more mobile, and with the ease of interacting on social media, it is not unusual to come in contact with a person who has a different perspective. Different perspectives are not necessarily bad things. There is a lot we can learn from one another. In fact Proverbs 11:14 states, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” By listening to multiple perspectives, bad decisions can often be avoided.
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The challenge with multiple opinions is the reality that each opinion is not equally valid. For example if your nephew is convinced that pouring boiling water on a windshield is the best way to remove ice, you should be firm in warning him of the danger of shattering the glass.
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In warning your nephew you are risking offending him, but Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.” (NKJV)
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The challenge comes in being able to interact with a variety of perspectives without becoming angry, bitter, and offended. This is especially true in an an election year, since many of our perspectives have a direct connection to political matters. For the Christian, we must distinguish between political opinion and Biblical position. For example if someone were to propose that stealing be made legal, we have plenty of Bible verses to show why that would be wrong.
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Not all matters are as black and white however. For example two Christians may have completely different perspectives on the minimum wage. One may want a higher minimum wage because of their concern for people making enough money at work to be able to pay their bills. Another Christian may be concerned that low skilled workers will be replaced with machines if the minimum wage goes too high and that those low skilled workers will never be able to get their first job in order to gain more marketable experience so they can then get a higher paying job. Both sides care about the person at the bottom of the job ladder but they each see different solutions. Too often the sides accuse each other of not caring rather than listening.
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Disagreements are not limited to politics. Sibling rivalries, marital spats, and workplace tension are realities of life. Much relief for these disagreements can be found when we look to God's word. Sometimes God is so clear on the matter that it is immediately settled if everyone agrees to agree with God, but even when there is no clear answer, hope is found in obeying how we are to interact with each other. Romans 12:18 says, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”
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The reality, however, is that we live in a sinful world and some people do not even care about what God has to say. Others are so easily offended that they will seek a safe space if you tell them not to use boiling water on a windshield. In such a world, we should not avoid the truth, but we should also strive to live at peace and make sure that we interact in a loving, humble, patient, and peaceful manner.



Christ Focused Thankfulness   11/11/16

November 24th, 2016 looks to be an eventful day. For many it will include football. For most it will include turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. For others it will mean watching a parade, sleeping in, spending time with family, or travel. Of course some will have to work that day.
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With all the events happening, it would be easy to forget the most important part of the holiday- being thankful. Of course, with all the activity there is a lot that could happen that would make us feel 'not so' thankful. What if your favorite football team loses? What if the turkey is dry and you spill all the gravy? What if some of the family is not there because of a death or a fight? What if you have to work that day?
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If our focus is on that day, or even on any other day on earth, it can be hard to stay thankful. That is why it is important for Christians to put their main focus elsewhere. Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” (NASB)
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Colossians 3 is actually an important passage for the Christian life in general, but specifically for the area of thankfulness. Verses 1-4 tell Christians to put their focus on where Christ is and that when He comes, they can look forward to being with Him in glory.
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Such a focus is very helpful during times of discouragement. If you burn the turnkey, that event seems pretty insignificant in comparison to the bigger event of appearing with Christ in glory.
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In verses 5-10 the Colossian passage tells us the things that Christians should put off from their lives. Sins like sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness (greed), idolatry, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk are listed. In contrast as we read vs 12-15, Christians are to add, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love and peace to their lives.
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Without a focus on Christ and heavenly things, it is as difficult to get rid of the bad and to replace it with the good. It is hard to be thankful when your favorite football team loses. But as we read the list of things that Christians are to “put on” to their lives in verse 15, they are also told to be thankful.
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As a Christian, I want to be kind, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, loving, peaceful, and thankful. As a pastor, I want to teach Christians the importance of these as well. Yet the Colossian passage makes it clear that as our lives are focused on heavenly things- as they focus on Christ- we should all be encouraging each other to put off the bad and put on the good. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16 NASB)
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Notice how when we encourage each other to do what Christ taught in His word, we should do it with thankfulness in our hearts. In fact, the very next verse tells us to be thankful no matter what it is we are doing. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17 NASB)
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We should be reminding each other to be thankful all year long, but this is a special time of year to renew that call. On November 20th Southtown Fellowship will be having a special afternoon thanksgiving service at 3:00 on Main Street in Worthing.  Join us.


God or Us?    10-28-16

What is your motivation for doing right? For example, an employee may be motivated by the possibility of a raise. A politician may be motivated by their desire for your vote. In both these examples the motivation is actually self serving.
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Do Christians ever become self serving in their motivations to obey God? If you are simply going through the motions of serving God because you want Him to give you some benefit in return, how can you say that you are doing it for Him? In other words, if you are doing it so you can get a reward, then you are doing it for yourself rather than for God.
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Ezekiel describes a religious people who go through the motions of serving God, but who come short of really doing what He says to do because they are focused on themselves rather than on God. "And they come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people, and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain.” (Ezekiel 33:31 NASB) When people show up for church and sit through a sermon but then ignore everything God has taught for the rest of the week, they are acting just like the people of Ezekiel 33.
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But what about those who actually go through the motions of Christian behavior, yet really do not care about God? What if they are just doing what is expected so that they get along better in society or gain the approval of their families? Consider Psalm 119:36, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain. (ESV).
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Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and it is about God's word and obeying it. In vs 36, the point is being made that our hearts need to be focused on what God has said and not on what we want. In the previous verse he talks about delighting in God's commandments.
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But I want to focus a bit more on our motivation for putting what God says to do above what we want to do. Are we serving God so that He will benefit us, or do we want Him to benefit us so that we can serve Him? There is a big difference. The one is about us and our selfish desires. The other is about God and putting HIM first. Verse 17 of Psalm 119 really puts things in the right perspective when it says, “Deal bountifully with Thy servant, That I may live and keep Thy word.” (NASB)
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Notice that vs 17 does NOT say, “I will keep your word so that you will deal bountifully with me.” Instead it says to deal bountifully with me so that I may keep your word. In other words, the Psalmist wants to have a bountiful life so that he can use it to serve God.
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I fear too many Christians want to serve God so that they can have a bountiful life rather than wanting to have a bountiful life so that they can serve God. The one approach is self focused the other is God focused.
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Isaiah reminds us why God even created us. "I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' And to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth, Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." (Isaiah 43:6-7 NASB)
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When we realize that we are created for God's glory and that the greatest commandment is, 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” (Matthew 22:37 NASB), then we should focus on pleasing Him rather than ourselves.



I'm Tired of Others Morality

As a child I remember my dad talking about when they got their first TV. As a teenager I remember Dad getting a large bag phone that he could make calls from his vehicle with. It was an early cell phone. Within a few years he was able to upgrade the bag phone to one that he could hold in his hand and then to one that he could carry in his pocket.
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Today, cell phones can do so much more than make calls. They can send text messages, emails, and even go on facebook. An increasing number of young adults today have lived their whole lives with access to both email and cell phones.
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This new technology has helped to keep us connected to people that we would otherwise loose touch with. It also allows us to have contact with people we hardly know and even with some people that we have never met. Facebook is a great example. I have been able to keep in contact with family members that I do not see all that often as well as friends that live a long distance away. Sometimes friends of friends may join in on an online conversation, thus allowing us to have contact with complete strangers.
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Facebook can be a useful tool. For example I recently sent my neighbor a link showing him how the cap and rotor worked on his truck so that he had a better idea how to fix it. Others have sent us helpful links as well.
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Facebook can also be a place where people end up pushing their own morality on others. Some would suggest that it would be a moral outrage to not vote for Clinton while others would suggest the same about Trump. Still others suggest that it would be wrong to vote for either of them.
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Politics is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to moral outrage on facebook. For example some would suggest that friends don't let friends drive Fords, Chevy's, Dodges, or fill in the blank. Moral judgments are made about what kind of food to eat, what time to go to bed at night or when to get up in the morning as well as where you should or should not shop.
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It seems that in one way or another someone is always pushing their morality on someone else. This moral judgmentalism comes from both those who claim to be religious and those who do not.
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As a Christian, I as well make moral judgments, but I want to be careful that I not end up pushing my own morality on others. What I mean is that I want to push God's morality not Jerry's morality. I have my own ideas, but they are not really all that important in the grand scheme of things. God's ideas are. So when I say that stealing, coveting, adultery, homosexual behavior, getting drunk, and worshiping anything or anyone other than God is a sin (see I Corinthians 6:9-10), I am not pushing my own ideas of right and wrong. I am simply revealing what God has already declared in His word.
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It is quite hypocritical for someone to get upset about a moral standard that comes from scripture while bullying others about shopping at Wal-mart. Sadly this sort of thing happens all the time. That is why it is so important that we all appeal to a higher authority than ourselves. That authority is God, and He came to earth as the man Jesus Christ in order to pay for our sins because we have all come short of perfectly following His authority.
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The grace that God has shown us should not be an excuse to ignore His authority, but rather a motivation to trust Him and live for Him. Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (NASB)

  
Its Not Too Good To Be True  10-7-16

I get a lot of interesting emails. One came from a lady claiming to be a widow from some foreign country. She said that her husband had left her a lot of money and she wanted to give it to someone who would put it to good use. I think it had something to do with the proceeds of a diamond mine. Evidently she had randomly found my name and wanted to share her wealth with me.
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Of course this offer was too good to be true. I did not even respond, but instead sent the email directly to my span folder realizing it was a scam.
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These emails are a lot like the modern version of the snake oil salesmanship of days gone by. The salesman would come through town with his elixir, promising to cure whatever ailed you. Again, the promise was too good to be true.
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When a great offer comes along, most people are skeptical. Thievery and scandal are so common in our society that many find it difficult to trust anyone. This is understandable. In fact, our culture has accepted so much ungodly behavior as “normal” that it is not all that difficult to get people to recognize that man faces a real sin problem.
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For some God's offer of forgiveness may seem too good to be true. The word gospel means “good news.” The good news is that even though we are sinners deserving of hell, God offers us eternal life if we will just believe. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
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When I get an email offer from someone I have never met there is a reason to mistrust them, but when we get an offer from God we should be reminded that God cannot lie. (Titus 1:2). Jesus is God and He told us in John 6:37, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (NASB).
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Sin is so bad that it deserves the wrath of God (John 3:36). We also know that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). Some people feel very guilty for their sins and do not believe that God would ever forgive them. If that is you, consider what I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
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It is hard to understand why God would do this until we remember form John 3:16 that God so loved the world. But why would God send his son for a sinner like me? It would be amazing for Jesus to die for a really good person, but it seems too good to be true for Him to die for a bad person. Romans 5:7-8 answers this very objection. “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8 NASB).
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The good news of God's love is described so well in 1John 4:9-10, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (NASB)
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Propitiation is a big word, but is a word that if full of good news. It literally means to appease. It means that Jesus Christ appeased the wrath of God for us when He died on the cross. The news that seems too good to be true is that all we have to do to receive that appeasement is to believe on Jesus as our only hope of forgiveness- believing that He is God and thus worthy to have authority over our lives. That is good news.


My Mom's Love and Justice  9-16-16

     One of my childhood memories involves sugar cubes. I remember mom storing them on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard. I remember them as a treat for the horses, but I think that my mom had them on hand so Grandpa could add them to his coffee.

     I suspect that they were kept on the top shelf so that children could not easily get to them. Grandpa and the horses were not the only ones who liked them. I enjoyed letting them melt in my mouth as I enjoyed the sweet savor that seemed to increase as the cube crumbled.

     Since Mom knew how much I liked them, why didn't she just put them within my reach? The reason was because Mom loved me even more than I loved sugar cubes. As a loving mother, she wanted to protect her son. She understood that too much sugar would not be good for me. She also understood that climbing to that top shelf as a 3 year old would not be good for me either. That meant that Mom's love was often demonstrated through her punishment. Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” (NASB)

     Mom did not spank often, but we knew there would be consequences for disobedience. We also knew it was because she loved us.

     Love and discipline are not contradictory. Not only did my mother punish wrongdoing, but she was also concerned about justice. To this day, she tries to treat all her children fairly. As a child, that meant that if I wronged my brothers or my sister, I could expect consequences from Mom. That did not negate her love, since I also knew that my siblings would be treated the same if they wronged me.

     I believe that my mother's example helped me to better understand how God's love and justice can coexist. I also realize that not all parents are as consistent as my mother was. My dad was not. I am not suggesting we compare our parents to God, but rather that we learn more about God's love and justice.

     John 3:16 shows us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Just 20 verses later we also read, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36 NASB).

     God's wrath is serious.  It is even more strict than my mom's spanking. Matthew 25:41 says, "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;” (NASB). God's justice is so severe that if we do not repent and follow Christ, then we end up punished along with the devil.

     God's justice may seem severe until we remember how my mom would hold us accountable if we wronged our siblings. We have all been the victims of the sinful actions of others. God's justice will not overlook their sin, but since He is just, He will not overlook yours either.

     We have all sinned (Romans 3:23). Even my mom has sinned. We all deserve God's wrath, but His love is so strong that He provided a way to have that wrath appeased (propitiated). 1 John 2:1-2 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (NASB)

     God loves me even more than my mom loves me. Knowing of His love and also realizing His justice, I cannot imagine ignoring His call for repentance. I cannot image life without Him as my Lord and Savior.


The Bible and Church History  9-5-16

     I have been having a Bible study with a friend. He is a new believer in Jesus Christ, and so much of the Bible is totally new to him. He has been excited as we have studied the book of Acts.

     Acts is a book of church history. It tells about key events in the church just shortly after Christ ascended into heaven. This young man commented about how exciting the account was. We read about people getting stoned. We also saw innocent people thrown in jail and then released. We read about mobs getting upset and riots ensuing. We will soon read about a storm and a shipwreck. We also read about the conversion of many people as they trusted Christ and their lives were changed.

     The Bible book of Acts is really exciting. Still the history of Christianity did not end with the book of Acts. In fact, there have been about 2000 years of history since that time. The historical events of the church after about 90 AD have not been recorded in scripture, but there are other records that outline many key events.

     Our fellowship is sponsoring a church history series to look at a number of key events that happened after the book of Acts. The first 13 lesson series covers the years AD 100- AD 600. Because it covers such a wide time span, the series will cover some key issues that ended up shaping so much of church history.

     The historical events that we will focus on are not part of the Bible, however they do give us valuable insight into what is considered orthodox Christianity. “Orthodox” means what is established and approved. Even thought there is wide variation of belief among Christians today and many of those differences are quite important, there are still a number of core beliefs that for years were held in common by the vast majority of Christians. This is what we would refer to as orthodox beliefs.

     Today, many of those beliefs are being challenged. This is nothing new. History shows us that they have been challenged for thousands of years. History also shows us that Christians have been going back to the Bible to determine what we should believe. Although the Church history series that we will be studying deals with events that occurred after the Bible was written, that does not mean we will not be looking at the Bible. Instead we will be looking at history and seeing how the Bible shaped events in our world. We will also be challenged to continue to study the Bible and to make sure that we are acting faithfully in our place in history.

     We should be reminded that the Bible is a relevant book. It is so relevant that its pages have impacted the whole world. We can see that in history and we can still see it today. We should also see it in our own lives.

     September 11th is a historical day. It is also the day Southtown Baptist Fellowship will start our church history series in Worthing. Join us at 116 Main St. (just across from the Old Town Dinner Theater) in downtown Worthing, SD. We will continue to meet at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoons to study church history and look into the scriptures.



King David's Humble Worship   8-27-16

Soon thousands of people will converge on a farm field just east of Worthing, SD.  Many will come because they want to glorify God.  Others will come just to have a good time.  Still others will come because they want to see someone famous.
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There can be an excitement about seeing someone famous, but there can also be a danger for the Chrisitan.  Worship is to belong to God and God only.  We must be careful that our admiration for talent not turn into idolatry that ends up directing our worship towards someone other than God.
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Sadly it is very easy misdirect our attention.  For example, last year at Lifelight the announcer asked that the crowd give their all for the performer.  Then the performer was elevated about 20 feet in the air as lights flashed and his arms waved and the crowd went wild.   The performer may not have had any intent to accept any form of worship.  In spite of his intentions, if someone were to stumble upon that scene they could easily get the impression that the event was about the worship of this man on the rising tower with his face on a jumbo screen, rather than about Christ.
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King David faced a similar challenge in II Samuel 6.  He wanted to hold a major event that would bring glory to God.  The problem was that David was already very famous by this time.  He was a popular king and war hero as well.  Further he had a lot of musical talent and had even composed some of his own songs.
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The big event was to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem, but the challenge was for David to particpate and thus worship God with his particpation, while not having the event be about him.  Rather than avoiding the event, David is involved because he wants to worship God.  In fact, he offers burnt offerings and peace offerings to God.  Further he worships God in a very public and personal way as he literally dances before God as the ark is carried into Jerusalem.  "And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet." (II Samuel 6:14-15 NASB)
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I do not know what David's dance looked like.  The scripture does tell us that it was directed toward God.  Thus, David worshipped God with his dance.
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Notice however what David was wearing as he danced.  He wore a linen ephod.  That may not mean a lot in our culture, but at that time the ephod was a very simple garment worn by either servants or priests.  It was not what you would expect a king to wear.  In other words, by dressing like a servant rather than a royal leader, David was taking the attention off of himself so that he could focus on worshipping God along with the rest of the people.
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His wife actually gets upset with his attire and confronts him for uncovering himself.  I do not believe she was upset with him revealing too much skin, since the ephod was acceptable attire even for a priest.  I believe she was upset because not only was she married to a king, but her father had been a king as well and she was used to the attention that went with the wearing of royal robes.  
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As we reflect on what David did, let us also reflect on Lifelight Christian Music festival and realize how easy it would be to misdirect our affections.   Let us encourage one another not to do anything that would even look like idolitry even if our intentions are to encourage worship of the true God.  Instead let us focus on glorifying God like David did.


God's Awe-inspiring Power          8-5-16

      A few weeks ago we got to see the Blue Angels. The Blue Angels are a group of United States Navy fighter planes that put on an airshow as a means of public outreach from the US military. They are able to show the power of our military to protect this nation as we see the amazing capability of both our aircraft and our pilots.

      As powerful as these Blue Angels and the rest of our fighting force is, God is even more powerful. Thousands of years ago, countries would look to horses and chariots for military supremacy rather than fighter planes, yet king David recognized an important truth. He wrote, “Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.” (Psalm 20:7 NASB)

      I am not suggesting that we disband our military. King David kept a fighting force, but he understood that his forces would only be successful if God permitted it.

     As the air show in Sioux Falls was going on, a plane flew right over our yard. I could hear the sound and I could even feel the vibration. About a week later I was shaken awake in my bed. I felt the house moving and I heard loud banging sounds. Soon I heard the sound of water running as well. I had been awakened by a thunderstorm. The thunder was so powerful that the house shook. It was much louder than the plane had been.

      As I lay in bed I felt comfort from those sounds, since they reminded me how powerful my God is. If He can send such power in a simple rainstorm, He can take care of me. Romans 8:31 says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (NKJV) Military historians are well aware that many battles were won and lost simply because of the weather. What a reminder that God is in control and that we must trust in Him.

      But what about those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ? "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36 NASB) The same power that shook my house during the thunderstorm is the power that will judge man.

And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 NASB)

      The book of life is the book of everlasting life. The only way to be in that book is to have a believing trust in Jesus Christ- a life changing belief. Jesus called this change “born again” at the beginning of John chapter 3. In the middle of that chapter He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

      Knowing how powerful God is, why would we even consider resisting Him when we know that He loves us so much? 



Christian Love and Forgiveness  7-23-16

     Imagine that your cup holder is broken so you set your 52 oz drink on the dash of your car. Now imagine that you hit a small bump in the road and it lands on your lap. You look down startled and then look up just in time to see that the the stop light has turned red. You hit the brakes but it is too late. You end up just barely hitting the car in front of you. Further, you stopped so quickly that the car behind you also hits you. Both of the other drivers are very upset and you are forced to endure their yelling- knowing that you are the cause of the whole fiasco.

     I recently read about a similar situation, but with a different reaction. A man received a phone call from his wife saying that she had been rear ended. His immediate response was similar to the drivers in the example above. He became upset and to speculate about whether texting had been involved. His wife calmly assured him that everything was fine (other than the vehicle) and that he needed to hear the rest of the story instead of getting upset.

     She relayed that the first thing she did when she got out of her vehicle was to go to the other vehicle and ask if the driver was okay. The other driver, who had caused the accident, then told her that she had just received a chemotherapy treatment for her cancer. She was very apologetic. The cause was not a carelessly placed Pepsi, but rather the side effects of a medical treatment along with the stress of having a life threatening disease.

     Upon realizing that they were both okay, the two drivers then stood in the street and hugged each other. They were both Christians and although strangers before this point, realized that their love for each other was far more important than the damage to their cars.

     Once the police officer arrived he was shocked to see these two drivers showing such love for each other. Christian love should not shock people. Such behavior should be the norm among the followers of Christ. In fact, Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35 NASB)

     Notice that both the ladies acted the way that Christians should act. The first lady was concerned about the other lady before even knowing the circumstances. The second lady did not hide her responsibility for causing the accident, but rather immediately apologized. Then the first lady showed love and helped the second lady bear her burdens with a hug.

     There is a small single chapter book in the Bible called Philemon. It is written to a Christian man named Philemon who was wronged by a man named Onesimus. These two men have not seen each other for some time, and Onesimus has since become a Christian and is returning to Philemon. As he does, the Apostle Paul writes this letter encouraging Philemon to show love and forgiveness. In the letter Paul says to Philemon, “I hear of your love, and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints;” (vs 5). Because Paul knows that Philemon is a loving Christian, he is confident that he will show love toward Onesimus and forgive him (vs 21).

     May we as Christians be like Philemon and the lady who gave the hug and show our love by our actions.



Are You God's Frenemy?  7-8-16

     Do you have any frenemies? A frenemy is defined as a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry (google).  Frenemies are not strangers, they are people that we personally know- people we actually have a relationship with. Thus you could say that you have a personal relationship with your frenemy even though you do not like him.

      For years I have heard about the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and I agree that it is important. The problem is that in some cases the phrase “personal relationship” has been equated with the gospel itself. Man has a sin problem and must be reconciled to God, but simply having a personal relationship does not reconcile someone.

      A criminal can have a personal relationship with their probation officer. In most small businesses the employees have a personal relationship with their boss. The problem is that sin has caused humans to be enemies of God and a personal relationship does not take care of sin.

     Colossians 1:21-22 actually describes the frenemy relationship between man and God and how that relationship can change through Jesus Christ. “ And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach--”(NASB)

      Notice how the word of God describes us apart from Christ- alienated, hostile, evil. If a person claims to have a personal relationship with Jesus, yet their mind is still hostile toward Him and alienated from God, then that person has not been reconciled to God. Instead, they are thinking of Him more as a frenemy than as Lord and master

      So how serious is it to be God's frenemy? “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” (Romans 1:18 NASB) If we do not agree with God and if we maintain a rivalry with Him, we are promised His wrath. I for one do not want to mess around with the creator of the universe. Instead I want to agree with whatever He says and not argue with Him. That is really the essence of repentance. It is the idea of changing my mind to agree with God and then changing my direction to align with what He says I should do.

      The personal relationship that I have with Jesus Christ must be the personal relationship of me being His servant and He being not just my master, but also my savior.

      Jesus died so that we might be reconciled to God. That means that Jesus died in order that we would no longer have to be enemies of God. He died to pay for our sins and then rose again. If we simply think that some sort of superficial relationship is all that we need, then we have not grasped the fact that sin is so serious that the son of God had to die so that God's wrath could be appeased.

      When the greatest command of all is to love God with all we have, then how could we think that we could be frenemies of God and still be saved? “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NASB)



Orlando Shooting Response   6-24-16

     Many Christians have been trying to sort out what sort of response they should have had to the recent Orlando shooting incident. A Muslim man walked into a gay nightclub and shot about a hundred people. Around half of them were killed and others were injured.

     God tells us to love our neighbors. God also makes it clear that homosexual behavior is sinful. These are not contradictions. Christians must show love and compassion to those who were injured in this terrible event. That same love and compassion should go out to those who lost people that they dearly cared about.

     The challenge is that there are some people who would suggest that love and compassion toward a homosexual would imply an acceptance of their behavior. Some of these people actually pour out hate rather than love. There are also people on the opposite extreme that would suggest that if the behavior of a person is not accepted, then there is no love. Neither position is correct. Consider John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die for our sins. He did that without ever accepting sin as okay. In fact, it was just the opposite. Sin is so serious that God would not overlook it unless Jesus paid for it with His death. Even though God would not overlook sin, He showed love.

     God's example should help us to respond to this situation as well. We can and must show love, without accepting sin as okay. As Christians, we must take a stand against those like Westboro Baptist Church who are showing hate rather than love.

     At the same time, we must also take a stand against the idea that in order to show love, we must tolerate sin. Sadly, the idea of tolerance has practically become its own religion. The preachers of this movement have replaced God's morality with their own. For many of them, it is not enough to care about the victims of the shooting, we must also support their homosexual lifestyle. Some of these preachers of tolerance are quite tolerant of sin, but are very intolerant of what God says about sin.

     The Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. A homosexual is just as much our neighbor as the Samaritan was. In Jesus' day it was taboo to show love for the Samaritans yet He made it clear that they were neighbors to be loved (see Luke 10:27-37). Sadly, some Christians today think it is taboo to show love for homosexuals. Christians must do what is right regardless of what others think.

     Next, the Christian must not endorse sin, but that stand can also anger some. Once we grasp the truth that love and condemnation of actions can go hand in hand we also understand that such an approach will set us apart from those around us. It can also challenge us to be holy like God is holy, realizing that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).



Is Covetousness Wrong?      6-9-16

     We like going to garage sales. Not only do we enjoy finding bargains, but it is also fun to meet new people. With 4 boys ages 4-8, we like to watch for clothes that are not worn out- especially jeans that still have the knees intact.

     Not only do we try to find bargains for the boys, but we also use the rummage sales to educate them on economics and budgeting. As we set out on our search for the best deals, I gave each of the 3 older boys $2 and told them they could spend it however they wanted. (The youngest did not yet get the concept, so I simply purchased a toy that he liked). I instructed them that once their money was gone, that they could not get anything else. Further they had to stay within their $2 budget.

     My 7 year old had brought some of his own money, so he added his two quarters to the $2 and purchased a real nice toy John Deere tractor and disk set. Next the 6 year old bought a wallet and toy binoculars. The 8 year old bought a tool for 50 cents and then saved his money until near the end of the day when he finally found a whole bag of toys for another 50 cents and still had enough money left over for another toy.

     When his brothers saw how much more he had gotten, they wanted more money. I told them no. They had gotten the same amount and if they had been as patient as their older brother, they could have gotten better deals as well.

    This then led to a lesson about covetousness, since one of the brothers had become very resentful about that large bag of toys. If the older brother had not gotten so many toys the other boys would have been very happy with the things they had gotten. In fact, the toy tractor and the wallet were actually worth a lot more than the bag of junk the 8 year old got.

     Sadly the behavior that my boys displayed is not contained to little kids. Adults display just as bad of behavior. If you want what your neighbor has and you resent him for having it, that is called covetousness.

     Is coveting really that bad? Don't political parties even promote it in order to motivate voters? When God is left out of the picture, covetousness is not only accepted, it is often encouraged, but that does not make it right.

      The 10th commandment is very clear, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.” (Exodus 20:17) In fact, covetousness is ranked with thievery and extortion. 1 Corinthians 6:10 says, “Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

     I Corinthians 6:10 suggests that covetousness is such a serious sin that if it actually characterizes your life, you should not even call yourself a Christian. I am not suggesting that if you have ever begun to covet that you are not a child of God, but if you continue in that sin and do not feel any remorse over it, then how can you claim that you really care about God and His standards of right and wrong?

     For those who are caught up in covetousness or any other sin, there is hope. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The wages of all sin- including covetousness- is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us realize that our God is a holy God who must punish all sin. Let us take our sin seriously and realize that our only hope for eternal life is to agree with God about our sin and trust Christ's payment and His righteousness applied to our account.



What Do Christians Obey?  5-30-16

     I love pork chops on the grill. Pork ribs are even better. Of course I consider bacon a delicacy. As a Christian I see no problem with consuming hogs, but as I read the Bible I see that there are commands in the Old Testament that forbid the eating of pork.

     There are other Old Testament commands that I do not follow either. Does this mean that I think it is okay for Christians to just pick and chose which of God's commands that we want to follow? Not at all! Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

     To better understand this issue, let us look at the human history of God's interaction with mankind. First, God gave a simple command to Adam and Eve about not eating from a tree. They could not keep that one simple command. As time went on men ignored God so much that He sent a worldwide flood and only Noah and his family were saved. After the flood God told them that they could eat any animal (Genesis 9:3), but that they could not eat the blood from the animals. Further they were not to murder other humans. The commands to Noah were given in the context of a covenant with him and all his descendants. All humans have descended from Noah, so this applies to all of us.

     As we continue reading the history of the Bible, we come to Genesis 17 and a man named Abraham. God makes a covenant with him and his descendants. With that covenant there was a promise of a land. God then gives a special command that only applies to Abraham's descendants- they are to be circumcised as a token of God's promise to them. The Israelites (Hebrews/Jews) were descendants of Abraham, so this command was important to them.

     God ended up setting the Israelites apart from other nations and dealing with them in a very special way. As we read the Old Testament of the Bible we see the History of God's interaction with them. Moses ends up leading them out of slavery in Egypt and as he does so, he gives them the 10 commandments as well as other ordinances including the restriction about eating pork. This was a new restriction- remember that Noah had not been given this command. Further this command only applied to the Israelites.

     The strict rules that the Israelites were given were important because Jesus Christ- the savior of all mankind- would come from that nation and these rules showed that just like Adam and Eve, all of mankind could not perfectly obey God's rules and therefore needed someone who could pay for their sins. Jesus was the first sinless person to walk this earth because He is God in the flesh. Therefore the rules that God gave the Israelites showed them they needed a savior. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3:24-25)

     In other words, after we have trusted Christ there is no more need for the Hebrew law. Other passages such as Romans 10:4; Galatians 2:16; Colossians 2:13-17; and Ephesians 2:15 also show that the Hebrew law is no longer in effect for the Christian. This issue actually came up in the early Christian church and we can read how it was dealt with in Acts 15:1-20. At the end of that passage the Christians are told to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. This shows that although the Christian is not under the Hebrew law given by Moses, there are still expectations for the Christian. In fact the Old Testament law given to Noah still applies as we see the continued restriction on blood. Further as we read the New Testament is clear that Christians are not to lie, steal, covet, murder, or commit adultery. Further there is condemnation for gossip, drunkenness and extortion. We are not picking and choosing what we obey, we simply obey the commands of God that apply to us today.


Doing The Father's Work   5-14-16

     We are starting a new church here in Worthing, so I am a bi-vocational pastor.  I do some carpentry work and while I was on the job site this guy shows up. He is unemployed but he watched me for a while and then when he saw I needed a screw for the boards I was fastening he handed me one and said "another one." I'd like to give him a job as a reward for his initiative, but he is only 2 years old.

      He is the son of the man I was working for and he had learned to hand screws while helping his daddy. His older sister wanted to help me as well, so I had her pile up the little scrap pieces of board. Since I was working by the hour on this particular job I told her that her help would save her dad some money. She grinned and told me that her dad would be smiling when he got home because he likes saving money.

      It is a joy to see kids learning a work ethic at a young age. In the Hebrew culture children would usually began an apprenticeship at the age of 12 in order to learn a trade. We know very little about the childhood of Jesus. The only Bible passage we have about that subject is at the end of Luke 2 where it talks about what happened when Jesus was 12- the age when a Hebrew young man would start to be an apprentice. “And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And His parents were unaware of it, but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day's journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for Him.” (Luke 2:42-44 NASB)

      Notice that Jesus was 12 when this happened. He was the age where He was expected to start learning a trade. His step father Joseph was a carpenter like I am, so it would not have been unusual for Him to learn to do that job. In the temple, we find Him doing the work of His heavenly father instead of the work of his step father. “And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (Luke 2:46-47 NASB)

      I am not aware of any carpenters in my ancestry, but I am guessing there was probably someone who ground grain (a Miller). As we look at the ancestry of Jesus on His father's side, the line goes directly to God in Heaven. In Mark 6:3, Jesus is called a carpenter, so it is likely that His step father, Joseph, did teach Him that trade. Jesus was more than a carpenter though. The last 3 years of His life, we find Jesus teaching, healing the sick and even bringing justice as He chases thieves out to the temple. This is truly the work of His heavenly father.

      Jesus Christ was completely faithful in His heavenly father's work. He went to the cross to satisfy the wrath of God against sin. God's justice demands that sin must be dealt with. That is why it is no surprise that He would chase the money changers out of the temple. That is also why Jesus would say, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36 NASB)



Illustrating for Understanding  5-2-16

I love to watch old westerns. I like to sit and watch “Gunsmoke” with my boys. Festus is Marshall Dillon's sidekick and is one of my favorite western characters. He is actually smarter than he first appears and has a caring side behind his rough exterior. My boys just think he is funny.

I read the Bible to my boys more often than I watch “Gunsmoke” with them. Recently we have been reading in the book of Acts, and actually came across a man named “Festus.” He wasn't a sidekick, instead he was a ruler. When the Apostle Paul got in trouble with the authorities, he had to appear before this man named Festus. After reading about him, our boys were told that it was a different Festus than they had seen on the cowboy show.

We actually got a bit of chuckle out of it since these two men seemed so different. One of the biggest differences is that the man we read about in Acts chapters 24-26 was a real man. The one we watch on TV is actually a make believe character played by a real man named Ken Curtis. Still it got me to thinking. My boys actually understand more about the culture and expectations of the make believe world of the old west as portrayed by these movies, then they do about the culture of the Bible times.

Although we have seen many episodes of “Gunsmoke” we do not actually have a true understanding of what life was like in Kansas during the 1800's. Instead we have a sensationalized Hollywood version of that setting. When we read the Bible account, we are separated by much more time and geography than we are from 1800's Kansas. Still we have an advantage. The Biblical account is real. Still there are large advantages to gaining insight into the culture of that time period and location. Many of the illustrations that Christ used (we call them parables) are better understood once we realize the significance of what He was saying in the day to day lives of those He was speaking to.

Although we should hold scripture in such high regard that we not change it, we like Christ can use illustrations to help others better understand it. For example I was recently teaching about the encounter that David had with a foolish man named Nabal (I Samuel chapter 25). I was explaining it to a man who watched westerns, so I said that what happened would have been similar to some guys on a cattle drive. David would have been like a cavalry colonel who came across the cattle drive with his men and protected them from being raided by Indians. Since no cattle were lost, at the end of the drive he asked that a steer be given to his men to feed them since they were out of food. Imagine how upset the colonel would have been if the man were rude to him and would not even give him any food. Nabal in the Biblical story was like the rude cattleman.

A bit later, we were talking about David trying to avoid King Saul who wanted to kill him. David did not want to fight Saul so he went and lived with the Philistines even though they had been his enemies. The young man I was talking to then said, “It would be like him going to live with the Apaches.” Exactly! This new Christian had figured out how to use illustrations to make a connection to real life events. He took something that he understood and used it to help him relate to a culture and time that he was far removed from. The Bible text was not changed, it was simply explained in a way that he could relate to.

Although our parables cannot compare to Christ's mastery of the illustration, we should not overlook this powerful tool for gaining better insight into the scriptures. At the same time we must be cautious not to carry our illustrations too far so that they distort the original narrative.



How Serious Is God's Wrath?   4-16-16

     A political candidate has made headlines for claiming that he has never asked God for forgiveness. He also said, “I fully think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong.” Of course it does not make sense to apologize if we have done no wrong, but the truth is that all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Further the Bible tells us that there is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10).

      We live in a society that blushes less and less over sin. In fact, sin is being redefined. Fewer people are looking to God and the Bible to determine what is sinful and are instead looking to the media and their peers on Facebook to decide what is right and wrong.

      Suddenly we have people arguing that it is wrong to burn fossil fuel, but it is not wrong to commit adultery. Once we leave God out of the equation, then no one has the right to tell another person that they have sinned. I have not asked forgiveness for burning fossil fuel because I do not believe that it is wrong. Perhaps others have not asked forgiveness for adultery because they do not believe that it is wrong.

      What we need to realize is that regardless of our own opinions about right and wrong, God is still in control. God is a God of love, but He is also a God of judgment and He warns: ”But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.” (Jeremiah 10:10) Romans 1:18 also says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” (NASB). Heed this warning as well: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5-6 NASB) "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8 NASB)

     We are all sinners and God has warned us that the consequences of sin are serious. That is why we are warned to repent. Repent means to literally change direction. In other words instead of resisting God we need to submit to Him. "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent,” (Acts 17:30 NASB).

      Although God must punish sin, He is also gracious, but in order to receive His grace, we must humble ourselves before Him. “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." (James 4:6 NASB)

      God's grace is provided through His son the Lord Jesus Christ. He died on the cross to pay for our sins. In order to have that payment applied to our lives- in order to appease the wrath of God- we must humble ourselves before God as we believe on Jesus and His payment. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

      We can be too proud to humble ourselves before God and therefore face His wrath and end up in the lake of fire for eternity, or we can humble ourselves before God and live with Him forever. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:36)


We Have Been Fighting the Flu 4-4-16


We have been fighting colds and fevers in the Miller house. We started out with the coughs and runny noses and then the first boy got a fever. A day or two later another of our boys woke up saying that he dreamed that he was dizzy and and after he woke up, he was still dizzy. He too had a fever. Each boy would end up with a fever and so did I. We would get over the fever and then about a day later we would have another, but the cough and runny nose would continue for another week. Crystal got sick too, but not quite as bad.

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It is not fun being sick for multiple weeks, but it does help me to appreciate the times when I am healthy. God allows the trials of sickness even to those who are faithful. For example Job (Jobe) was a man who faced terrible trials, yet God said of him, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to ruin him without cause."  (Job 2:3 NASB)

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As Job faced the trials he and his friends tried to figure out the reason. When we face trials we often ask “why?” as well. At the end of the book of Job, God essentially tells them that in all their reasoning about why, they are missing the fact that they are not able to grasp why God does everything that He does. He reminds them that they were not there when He created the world.

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In trying to answer “why?” Job's friends even accuse him of facing trials because of his sinfulness. Job defends himself, but the reality is that Job was not without sin. Still as we saw in Job 2:3, God himself showed that Job was the most blameless and upright man there was. As people face trials in life, it is not always the result of specific sin.

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The Bible actually shows why even righteous people like Job would face trials. “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Having a fever and feeling sick is not fun, but it can build character as we look to God for our strength. As we do so, we develop patience through our experience. Then as we survive our trying experience we are reminded that we now have hope to face the next trial. “Knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”

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Job was an example of a righteous man who suffered, but the Bible also warns in Hebrews 12:4-11 that God disciplines Christians when they do wrong. In other words, there are times that we might get sick so that God can get our attention. The passage in Romans showed how trials can build character even in a righteous man, but Hebrews shows that trials can also build character in a Christian is who not living so righteously. “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:9-11 NASB)

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Whether a rough time we are facing is a trial or discipline, if we draw close to God during those times, both should result in fruits of righteousness as we become more like Him through the character building experience of the hardship.



Trusting God in Our Elections  3-18-2016

Our 7 year old son was disappointed when he heard that Marco Rubio was no longer running for President. His mother and I were actually supporting a different candidate, but when our son heard Marco Rubio's name on the radio he asked me if he would be a good President. I told him that I thought he would. From that point on, he was rooting for Marco.

Not everyone agreed with his choice, just as not everyone agrees with mine. The fact that my choice is not the front runner proves that point. I actually heard a discussion on the radio concerning this topic and one of the people began to speculate about who Jesus would vote for. I turned to my wife and said, “well I guess we will find out. He voted for President Obama last time.”

I, however, did not vote for President Obama in either of the last 2 elections, so why would I not vote for a man that I believed Jesus had voted for? When I say that Jesus voted for our current President, I mean that God ultimately decided to allow or stop every President or potential President our country has ever had. “Daniel answered and said, "Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. "And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, And knowledge to men of understanding.” (Daniel 2:20-21 NASB) Daniel shows that God has the power to remove and set up kings. He continues, "This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers, And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes, And sets over it the lowliest of men."  (Daniel 4:17 NASB)

God is in control of who rules over nations, but notice that He does not always chose the best men to rule. “He sets over it the lowliest of men.” Every candidate running for President has sinned and come short of the glory of God. In fact every past President- even George Washington- has sinned. As I go to the ballot box, I must make a judgment call based on the information that I have, realizing that God is ultimately in charge of who actually becomes our next President and that He does not promise to give us the most righteous or smartest ruler.

Still there are benefits to having a righteous ruler. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan.” (NASB) We understand that God is ultimately in control, but He also gives man a certain amount of freedom to make decisions. How all that balances out is decided by God Himself. Thus with an understanding of God's sovereignty over our elections, I also understand our responsibility to do what is right. With that in mind, I vote for those who I believe would be a righteous leader. For example, I look at their view of the unborn in making a determination.

I also realize that God allows evil men to rule. In I Kings 11:31 we read of His selection of Jeroboam who was an evil king over Israel. Though they did not have an electoral college like we do, Jeroboam rose to power as the people rallied around him. This is a reminder that an all powerful God is able to use even sinful men to accomplish His ultimate purposes.

Romans 13 reminds us that the governmental powers are ordained by God. As Christians we should prayerfully consider our voting choices and should realize the benefits of voting for a righteous ruler. At the same time, we need to trust God even if we are given an evil ruler that may end up causing much grief for our country.



Conforming vs Transformation  3-4-16


When I was a child, my little brother asked who would win if a mountain lion attacked a horse. Well, about a month ago we found out that the Broncos defeated the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Imagine that you were a Broncos' fan, but you had been invited to go to the super bowl by a group of friends who were die hard Panthers fans. They agreed to give you a ticket and to pay your way to the game as long as you wore a Panthers jersey to the game.

You still wanted the Broncos to win, but you did not want to pass up the chance to go to the Super Bowl, so you conformed to their request. Wearing the jersey did not turn you into a Panthers fan, but it got you into the game.

You were not actually transformed into a Panthers fan, you simply conformed to your friends request. How does this fit into the issue of faith? Christianity should not be about being conformed to some outward appearance or even conformed to some set of ideas, but rather to being transformed by Christ. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (NASB)

Obviously Christians should not be conformed to the sinful behaviors of the world, but what if we are simply conformed to the idea of presenting ourselves as Christians without actually having an inward transformation? Christ had to address this very issue when He says, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25 NASB) The scribes and Pharisees were conforming on the outside, but inside there was no transformation. They were conforming both to an external appearance to be seen of other men, and also to a set of rules and standards drawn up by man. The problem was not with their zeal to obey God, but rather a zeal to follow man's standards while rejecting God's. Sadly that is still what happens today when religious people focus on conforming to religious expectations rather than being transformed by God.

True transformation should have an affect on our lives. In the Matthew passage Jesus next says, Mt 23:26 "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” (NASB) True transformation should cause the Christian to conform to God's standards, but simply conforming gets men stuck in ritual rather than renewal.

If you really become a Panthers fan, you will want to promote that team. It will be transformation rather than conformation. If you think that Christianity is simply going through the motions of religious expectation, you do not understand transformation. Christianity is about realizing you are a sinner in need of forgiveness. It is about changing direction in your life to follow Jesus Christ. It is realizing that He is your only hope for forgiveness. At that point old things are become new and you are completely transformed from a lost sinner on his way to the lake of fire, to a Christian saint who is now following the risen Savior.

Conforming is about following people. Christian transformation is about following and obeying Christ no matter what people think.

Finding the Right Way  2-18-16

      My brother-in-law recently moved. I had not been to his new apartment, but had been told that it was near Samaritan's in Albert Lea. I happened to be in that town, so I was going to stop in to see him. I drove to Samaritan's and called my wife for directions from there. I followed her instructions but told her that there was nothing but an open field where she said his apartment should be. After a bit of confusion she told me that he lived near St. John's, not Samaritan's.

      I then drove to St. John's and found the street that I was told that he lived on, but I still could not find his apartment. I did find another apartment. I called my wife to see if this was the right building. As I described it to her, we realized I was again in the wrong place. After more confusion, we discovered that I had also been given the wrong street. No wonder I could not find my destination.

      Fortunately, I was very close by this time. In fact I was only about a block and a half away, but I needed to turn down another street from the street that I had been told to go on. Once I found the correct street, I quickly found the apartment.

      What if you were searching for eternal life with God, rather than your brother-in-law? What if you missed out because you had been given the wrong directions? This issue is so serious that the Apostle Paul wrote, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9 NASB)

      The word “gospel” means good news. In the Bible, it refers to the good news of eternal life through Jesus Christ. So how does a person apply the gospel to their lives in order to have eternal life? John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

      A jailer asked the Apostle Paul and his fellow minister Silas how to be saved. The answer was, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.” (Acts 16:30-31). That same offer was extended not just to the jailer, but to his whole household.

      Notice that belief must be in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Acts 4:12 says, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." (NASB)

      I am often asked about those who have never heard about Jesus. For them to try to find eternal life would be like me trying to find the apartment with the wrong directions. Let us not forget that the same God who is powerful enough to create heaven and earth knows the very thoughts of men's minds. He can know who would and would not believe if they heard. That means He is able to get the right directions to those who are truly seeking Him. In Acts chapter 10, Cornelius prayed and God sent Peter to tell him about Jesus. As hearts are moved and the truth is shared, people all over the world are able to hear the gospel and realize that the only directions to an eternity with God are by believing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior who died for your sins and rose again. www.southtownchurch.com



Faith Like a Mustard Seed   2-5-16

      My little boys are still at the age where they think that their daddy can do almost anything he sets his mind to. Part of me enjoys that they have such confidence in me, but I also want them to understand reality- even if I become less of a hero to them. I would rather they understand the truth now than to have them face a major letdown later.

      As Christians, we need to be cautious how we teach on faith, otherwise both children and adults can end up facing a similar letdown. Are there dangers in teaching that if we have enough faith, then we can do whatever we set our minds to do? Does the Bible support such teaching? What about Luke 17:6 which says, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.” (NASB)?

     In order to understand Christ's statement in Luke 17, we must look at the context of what He was talking about. He had just finished teaching about how Christians should not be a stumbling block to others and how we should forgive a brother even if they repent 7 times in one day. It is difficult- seemingly impossible- to consistently obey these expectations, thus in Luke 17:5 the disciples ask the Lord to “increase our faith.” The reason they are requesting faith is so that they can obey what Christ has commanded them to do. Upon hearing that request, Jesus gives the mustard seed illustration.

     James shows in 4:3, that prayer requests are not granted because they are asked for out of selfish motives. In other words, they are man's requests rather than God's will. The point is that if we pray according to God's will rather than our own, then all it takes is faith like a mustard seed for what we prayed about to happen.

     The challenge is to know God's will. In Luke 17, Jesus had just shown the will of God when He taught on forgiveness and not being a stumbling block. In other words, the context shows us that all it takes to obey God is faith like a mustard seed. This is supported further as we continue to read the next verses. In Luke 17:7-8, Jesus talks about a servant who worked hard all day, but then still had to work more to prepare a meal for his master at the end of the day instead of expecting his master to make the meal for him. The point is that in a servant master relationship, the servant does not get to order the master around even if the servant has been working hard.

     Christians must remember that our Lord is our master and even if we have been working hard, we do not have the right to order Him around. We do not have the right to make demands of God in our prayers. Instead we should focus on obeying Him.

     To suggest that an increase in faith gives us a right to make demands of God totally contradicts the teaching of Luke 17:1-10. The faith of a mustard seed is the power to obey God, not the power to order God around. Realizing that God is all powerful, loving, merciful, and must judge sin, we should be thankful that He restrains us from doing whatever we decide while showing us that it only takes faith like a mustard seed to obey Him.


Is There a Key To Heaven?    1-22-16

     Have you ever lost your keys? Imagine being outside your own house and not being able to get in because you do not have the key.

     What if you do not have a key to heaven? Can you simply slide the locks on the pearly gates? How about just climbing over the gates? It is not that simple. Without Christ, you cannot even get close to heaven. Consider the account from Luke 16, where Jesus tells of two men who died. "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. "Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' "But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'” (Luke 16:23-26 NKJV)

     In this parable Jesus tells us that there is a great gulf between the place of torments and the place of comfort. Even if you think of hell simply as the grave, Jesus shows us in Luke 16 that the place of the departed dead has a place of comfort and a place of torments and that there is no way to get from the one place to the other. Notice as well that the place of torments had flames.

     As bad as this place of torments is, things will get even worse. “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14-15 NKJV)

     Right before this we are told of the dead standing before God. This is referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment. Those who are not written in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire along with the place called Hades/Hell.

     Some are not worried about this place because they figure that they can just hold out until the fire burns out. Christ makes it clear in the Gospel of Matthew that this is a foolish idea when He says, "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:” (Matthew 25:41 NKJV) Notice that the fire is everlasting. Still some suggest that even if the fire is everlasting that those being punished will soon be burned up. This too is false for Jesus says, "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:46 NKJV) Notice that the punishment is everlasting. Remember the man in Luke 16 who was in the place of torments. That torment will not end. God is a merciful God but He is also a just God who must punish sin. We are all sinners and deserving of the lake of fire (see Romans 3:23 and 6:23)-
     There is some good news. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Though sin must be punished, God loved us enough to send His son Jesus Christ to take the punishment for us when He died on the cross. If we confess our sinfulness and trust in Jesus alone as we believe in Him, then we are given eternal life and written in the book of life. That means we do not have to keep track of a key to heaven. Jesus will let us in. He promised, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37) It also means if we do not believe on Him that we will face eternal damnation.



Is the Bible Too Hard?            1-8-16

Our oldest son just turned 8.  We were excited when he finished his math worksheet and said, "Tomorrow I want to do more like this. I like them."  That wasn't always his response to schoolwork.  In fact, when he first started school he struggled with grasping concepts and did not like it very well.  Now that he "gets it," his schoolwork has become fun.  

I did fairly well in school- except for gym class.  I later found out that when most people look at a moving ball, they literally see where it is going to be in a few seconds, allowing them to catch it easier.  When I look at a moving ball, I actually see where it is really at, thus making it much more difficult for me to catch it.  The gym teacher kept telling me to keep my eye on the ball, but had he known my condition, he should have told me to keep my eye in front of the ball.  I was well into adulthood before I actually figured that out.  Although I am still not that good at sports, they are much more enjoyable now that I understand the challenges and have the tools to help overcome them.

Although it can be fun and exhilarating to face a challenge, it is not as much fun if there is little to no hope of success.  I recently heard a New Year's challenge to read the Bible. The pastor making the challenge to his congregation recognized that there were parts of the Bible that were more difficult to read than others.

Too many people get discouraged and give up too soon. Please don't give up. It may appear that the Bible is too hard to read, but it is kind of like math homework.  If you get a few basic concepts down, the rest of it will make much more sense.  

First, we must recognize that the Bible is a compilation of 66 different books that are divided into two sections- the Old and New Testaments.  The Old Testament was written before Jesus was born, died on the cross and rose from the dead.  The New Testament was written after these significant events.  With that in mind, we must realize that God's expectations for the Hebrew people before the cross were laid out in the law of Moses.  Old Testament books like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy record these laws in detail.  

These laws were important in showing man that he could not do all that God expected.  The Apostle Paul called them a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.  Galatians 3:24-25 says, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster."  Christians therefore are not under the law of Moses, because of their faith is in Jesus Christ.  That is why Christians do not have to obey all the rules laid out in the Old Testament.

This does not mean that the Old Testament isn't still important.  By studying it we are able to learn a lot about God and His interactions with man.  In addition to the law, the Old Testament has beautiful poetry, history, as well as prophecy.  Much of the prophecy concerns the coming of Jesus Christ.  

The New Testament is made up of 27 books. These books can be divided into the Gospels (they tell of the life and ministry of Jesus), early church history (the book of Acts), letters to churches and individuals, and prophecy.

The individual books of the Bible are divided into chapter and verse simply to make them easier to study.  These were not part of the original Bible. Realizing that the Bible can be kind of intimidating, I like to start out with a Bible study just in the book of John. This allows the “student” to get used to the chapter and verse divisions without having to find a number of different books. If you are interested in a 4 lesson study in the Gospel of John, please contact me at jdpastor@yahoo.com.

New Babies & Christmas Grace  12-27-15


As we traveled to spend Christmas with my in-laws, Crystal's brother's wife was in labor.  We were blessed with a new niece at about 11 p.m. Christmas Eve.  They named her Jana Grace.  What a wonderful Christmas gift.

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When I heard this new baby's middle name, my mind went to the birth of a couple of other babies.  Of course, on Christmas day, we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ- the baby who came into this word to demonstrate the grace of God to mankind.  Shortly before Jesus was born the scripture records the birth of another famous baby, John the Baptist.  His parents did not name him "John the Baptist," but simply named him, "John."  The title Baptist would come later.

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The selection of the name "John" was quite significant.  That name had not been used by that family and many even questioned the choice, but John's parents were insistent.  (see Luke 1:59-63)  There was a reason why they wanted that name for their son.  In Luke 1:13, we are told that an angel had told told John's father to use this name.

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We must not build our theology on the the names of all Biblical characters, but this particular name was chosen by God, and thus I believe we should take notice.  The name John means, "God is gracious."  Just as our niece who was born at Christmas time is able to remind us of God's grace, John was able to remind the people of God's grace as well.

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John had a very specific purpose in life.  He was the forerunner to announce the coming of the King of the kingdom as he prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ.  As he prepared the way for the King, he spoke of the kingdom, but he also told people that they needed to repent.   Matthew 3:1-2 says, "Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying,'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (NASB)  

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To repent is to think differently.  It is actually more than just a change of mind though.  It is a change of direction.  John was preaching that men were sinners and needed to change their direction to follow God.   He is known today for baptizing as well as for preaching, thus he is known as John the Baptist.  His baptism was not able to cleanse his followers of their sins.  It did however remind them of their sins, and they were being baptized for/because of their sins.

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John's ministry told his followers that the King was coming and that they needed to repent because they were sinners.  Let us not forget that the man bringing that message had a name that meant, "God is gracious."  The man whose name reminds us of God's grace, brings us the message that we are sinners who need to change our direction.  The baptism of John was a public admission of sin.  

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The King who John prepared the way for is Jesus Christ.  He was born into this world so that He could grow up to die on the cross in order to pour out His grace for our sins.  That is why the gospel is called good news.  "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

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As we share this good news, we like John, must remind people that they are sinners who need to repent.  "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God"  (Romans 3:23)  At the same time we must share the good news of God's grace.  There is eternal life for sinners who repent and change their direction to believe in Jesus Christ.  "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23).  

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Yes, we are sinners who need to repent.  Yes, God is gracious and if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)  



Christians & Christmas Giving   12-12-15

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our wonderful Thanksgiving meal. Recently we sat down to another meal, but at the end of it, or boys said that they were still hungry. Crystal told them that they could have more chicken, but they wanted more potatoes. The potatoes were gone but they did not want more chicken. The truth was that they were not THAT hungry.

We had a similar issue happen when I was a pastor in small town Iowa. We got a phone call asking for food. The person said that their food stamp payment would be late and that they needed food. We were being very careful with our budget and ate a lot of rice. We could get a 25 lb bag for less than $9. We offered to share our rice and a few other basics, but the response I got was similar to when my wife offered more chicken to our boys.

I then looked up the Iowa food stamp payment. It was about double what our food budget was at that time. I did not think it was right that we were expected to give up our hamburger for someone who could afford to buy steak if they ate more rice like we did.

The scripture is clear that we are to help others. Jesus said in Luke 3:11, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” The Apostle Paul says in Acts 20:35, “I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Consider as well 1John 3:17, “But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (NKJV)

The scripture teaches us that we are to help others. That does not mean that we are always expected to help everyone who has less than we have.

During the time of the Apostle Paul, the widows were among the most needy people in society. In First Timothy 5:3-10, he gives a list of requirements that widows must meet before the church would take care of all their needs. First, if she has children or grandchildren, they are to take care of her. Further, she is to be faithful in prayer and not just living her life for pleasure. She is to be blameless (not sinless, but not scandalous either). She is to be at least 60 years old and is to have a good reputation which includes having helped others.

These standards do not mean that we should not help others if they do not meet all these requirements. These are simply standards for whether or not to help these widows for the rest of their lives. There are some individuals in our society that expect to be helped for the rest of their lives regardless of whether they meet any standard. The Christians is not obligated to help all these people.

At the same time there are many people who find themselves in temporary circumstances of need. Things come up that there was no way to plan for. As Christians we must be willing to help those with needs without allowing them to have an expectation that they will no longer have a responsibility to work themselves. “For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.” (II Thessalonians 3”11-12 NKJV)

We can and should have compassion for those in need. That compassion should translate into action (James 2:16). Christmas time is a wonderful time to give to those who could really use a gift. At the same time, Christians are not required to become slaves to those who would take advantage of them.



Be Thankful, not Covetous  11-27-15


We had another wonderful Thanksgiving. We were able to go to Crystal's parents where our boys got to see cousins, aunts, uncles, Grandma, and Grandpa. I enjoyed visiting and playing a game of Scrabble. I also enjoyed the meal. There was turkey, ham, potatoes, gravy, string beans, corn, cranberries, numerous kinds of pickles, bread, crackers, pickled herring, jello, punkin pie, apple pie, other desserts, etc, etc. There was much to be thankful for as we sat down to eat. In fact there was so much good food that I did not even notice until later that there was no stuffing. I was so appreciative of the abundance we had. There was no thought of what we lacked.

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If we end up focusing on what we do not have instead of what we do have, it is easy to become a complainer rather than a thankful person. We actually witnessed that when we sat down to eat the evening meal. Our boys were given leftovers from the noon meal and one of them responded by asking, “didn't we just have this?”

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As we drove home, I turned on the radio and we heard about some orphans from Ukraine who were brought to a McDonald's for the first time in their life. A little six year old girl was unaware that they could get free refills, yet she still shared her drink with her little sister. Another little girl only ate half of her hamburger, because she wanted to share the other half with a friend back at the orphanage. They all saved their empty happy meal boxes.

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As I listed to this, I realized how much we have to be thankful for. No doubt there are poor people in our own country who have slipped through the cracks, but those who are crying the loudest for more assistance already have so much more than those poor orphans do.

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I Timothy 6:6-8 says, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (NKJV) Notice we are to be content with food and clothing- or basic needs. Few people are content with such things. In fact, political movements have been formed to demand that if anyone has more than another, then they should share it. Too few involved in these movements are thinking of the little girls in Ukraine, but instead many are thinking about what they can get for themselves. In the very next verse of Paul's letter to Timothy he writes, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.” (I Timothy 6:9 NKJV)

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You can be in the lower class socially and still have a preoccupation with being rich. Paul is warning us to be content with food and clothing and not to get distracted by wanting riches. Why would he give such a warning about foolish and harmful lusts? If we go back to the 10 commandments we are warned not to covet what other people have. Many of the “demands” being made today are not “requests” for food and clothing, but rather a call to have covetous desires satisfied.

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Though we as Christians must have compassion on those who are truly in need, we must not encourage sinful behavior. In fact, we should call it what it is. Exodus 20:17 says not to covet anything that is thy neighbors. Romans 13:9 repeats the command not to covet. To covet is to disobey God. To disobey God is sinful.

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Instead of demanding a share of the worlds riches, let us work hard so we can share what we have when we see a true need. “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28 NKJV) 

Will His Love Make us Obedient?  11-12-15

     I love it when one of my little boys crawls onto my lap, looks up at me, and says, “Daddy I love you.” I quickly reply that I love him too. I hope that my wife and all four of our boys know that I love them. I also hope that they all understand how much God loves them. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

     Is my love for my boys enough to make them do what I want them to do? For example, we often tell our oldest son to bring the garbage can back to the house after the garbage truck has come. If he would rather play with Lego's than to get the garbage can, would I be able to get the result I want from him by simply reminding him of how much I love him?

     Let us take this a step further. If I consistently show my son how much I love him, would he always do whatever I wanted him to do without me even telling him what I expected?

     I am sure that most readers will understand that human nature just doesn't work that way. Further, how would my son know what I wanted without clear instructions? Sadly, there are Christians who are teaching some really bad theology that is just as ridiculous as my illustration.

     I recently heard of a pastor who suggested that it was simply his job to let people know how much God loves them and that realization alone would transform their lives. No doubt, an understanding of John 3:16 should be transforming, but what if we understand God's love for us, without actually loving Him? When my wife and I first met and I found out that she liked me, I wanted to please her because I liked her too. On the other hand, when I was a kid there was a girl that liked me and I still thought girls were icky. I had no desire at all to please her. Even as a teenager, I had no interest in pleasing a girl that liked me when I had no interest in her. In fact, I was careful not to do anything special for her because I did not want to lead her on.

     Thinking that people will obey God simply because of His love for them is not the way to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. The great commission tells us, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20 NASB) Notice that we are to teach them to do all that Jesus commanded. How will people even know what to do unless they are taught?

     The Apostle Paul spoke to pastors in Acts 20:27, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” I fear that too many pastors are not willing teach all that God has taught. Consider what Paul says next, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. (Acts 20:28-30 NKJV)

     Many pastors are showing why Paul had to make such a warning. I pray that they repent and actually teach the whole Bible without adding their own rules and ideas to it. 

Excuses for Disobedience?    10-30-15

Many of our readers already know that our youngest son is autistic. His talking is delayed and he has a few other habits that are unique to him. For example, when I ask him to do something, he wants to be able to finish what he is currently doing before moving on to the next task. We expect our boys to obey their parents and to obey right away, but we also recognize that autism causes people to look at tasks differently.

We were recently asked how much we let our son “get away” with because he is autistic. The person was asking because he knew of parents who had children diagnosed with certain conditions and those children were allowed to behave terribly.

My answer was that sin is never acceptable and that as a parent I had to punish sinful behavior. At the same time, I recognize that because he has autism, there will be situations where immediate obedience will be more difficult for him than it will be for his brothers. With that in mind, we try to give him advanced notice when we tell him to do something so that he has more time to follow through. In other words, we do not want to put him in a place where we are hoping he fails at obeying his parents, but we also want him to understand that obedience is not an option to be ignored.

Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (NASB) Colossians 3:20 states, “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” (NASB) But then the next verse says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” (NASB)

As parents, we must enforce standards, but we must also realize that God has shown grace to us and we must show grace to our children. In many ways, God is like a strict parent who will not tolerate any misbehavior. In fact, He is so strict that he tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. Yet God is so loving, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. That payment only benefits us if we believe on Him as we trust Christ as our savior. Once we have done that, we become children of God, but that does not mean that we can do whatever we want. God is still a strict Father. Hebrews 12:5-11 says,

“and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. ” (NASB)

God is loving and merciful, yet He still disciplines us for our sins in order to make us more like Him. That should motivate us as parents to be consistent in disciplining our children when they sin. As long as we do not do it in a way that exasperates them, they will be better off because of the discipline.


The Powerful 350 V8 Engine    10-17-15

We have a Suburban with the powerful 5.7/350 motor.  These motors have a reputation for both power and reliability.  I love having that extra power to merge with traffic as I pull onto the interstate.  As I step on the throttle, the engine roars and pulls the big SUV forward.  
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Our minivan does not have the same potential, so when I utilize that V8 muscle, our boys take notice.  Though they are not usually back seat divers, they occasionally scold me for speeding as they hear that “Chevy” roar.  I explain is that I am not speeding and am not driving in a reckless manner.  It is just that there is such a contrast in power that they take notice.
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God has even more power than the most aggressive big block motor.  How often do we act like my little boys and try to hold back His power for fear that something bad will happen if His full force is released?  In other words, do we really trust His power.
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Although God may chose to grant our requests as we pray, we do not have the authority nor the power to order Him around.  My boys can appeal to the authority of the traffic laws as they speak to me about my driving, but God is the ultimate authority over all matters.
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When Jesus was asked about how to pray, He told His disciples to address God as our Father in heaven and to set apart His name.  Then He spoke of God’s kingdom coming and told us to ask that God’s will be done.  As we appeal to God in prayer, HIS will should be what we pray for.  Let us not forget that He is so powerful that we cannot make Him do anything.  In fact, we are reminded how powerful He is as Jesus teaches on prayer in Matthew 6:8 and says at the end of the verse, “for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”  Imagine if my Suburban knew when to accelerate before I even touched the pedal and knew when that time would occur before I had even decided what road to drive on.  
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God is so powerful He knows what we need before we even ask for it.  Still He wants us to ask.  In the next chapter of Matthew Jesus says, "Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.  "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.”  (Matthew 7:7-8 NASB).  
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So why don’t Christians get whatever they ask for?  God is powerful enough to know our needs before we even ask.  That means He is also powerful enough to know what is best for us.  Perhaps I want a new Suburban, but God knows that it is better that I keep my old one.  Consider the very next verse in Matthew 7, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?” (Matthew 7:9)
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Further, if I asked for a new Suburban, it would be because I was greedy, not because I wanted God’s will to be done.  James clarifies this, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3 NASB)  My wife really likes our Suburban.  Imagine if she was praying that we keep the old one and I was praying that we get a new one and we both believed our prayers would be answered and both of us were praying that we would only have one Suburban.  This is not a problem, because our faith is not more powerful than God’s will.  God knows what is best and we can trust whatever He decides.  
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Think of it this way, if you ask for something in Jesus’ name and it is not God’s will, it is like forging His name without authority.  God is far too powerful for us to always get our way instead of His.  Trust His power and His will.



Why are Shootings Happening? 10-2-15

Aside from casino robberies, we don’t expect to hear about much crime in southeast South Dakota.  Yet, a school shooting took place in Harrisburg.  Praise God there were no serious injuries.  Less than a year earlier Lennox was the scene of a workplace shooting with tragic results.  
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The citizens of our communities are right to be concerned.  Some think the solution is fewer guns.  Others recognize that it is impossible to get rid of all guns and are suggesting that more guns is the solution so that victims can protect themselves.
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The problem is that when we start talking about guns, we end up being distracted from the real issue:  SIN.  Neither the event in Harrisburg, nor the incident in Lenox would have occurred had it not been for sin the hearts of the shooters.
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The sin problem is actually more widespread than just these shootings.  Without sin, there would be no murder or stealing.  Further there would no longer be broken marriages caused by adultery.  In fact, there would not even be arguments between husbands and wives caused by selfishness.  There would be no lying, no cheating, no greed, no parents being dishonored by children.  Without sin, people would put God first and not worship anyone or anything else.  They would honor His name and not use it as a swear word.  They would love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  They would also love their neighbor as themselves.
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We obviously do not live in such a world.  Since Adam disobeyed God, all people have continued to sin.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23 NASB).  “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--” (Romans 5:12 NASB).  Eve disobeyed God before Adam did, but once Adam disobeyed as well, then all humans on the earth at that time were sinners and sin thus passed to all their offspring.  
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God knew this would happen.  It was serious, because God is holy and sin separates man from God.  But God still loved the people He created and He provided a way to deal with sin.  Before Jesus died on the cross, people offered animals for their sins, but that offering was only a temporary covering until something final could be done.
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Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death.  Romans 5:12 told us that death is the consequence of sin.  Because we have all sinned, we all deserve death- not just physical death which is separation of body and spirit, but eternal death which is separation from God for eternity in the lake of fire (see Matthew 25:41 & 46; Revelation 20:15).
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In order to deal with the sin problem, God sent His son to pay for our sins on the cross.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
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Jesus was able to pay for our sins, because He never sinned Himself.  Sin did not pass on to Him from His father, because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not by man.  “For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)  Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.  For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:17-19 NKJV).
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Sin is the problem with our world.  Jesus is the solution.  Once we believe on Him as our savior, our sins are forgiven.  We do not stop all sin at that point, but He does give us power to say no to sin.  (see I Corinthians 10:13).  Getting rid of guns is not the way to stop sin.  Jesus is.



The Bible:  A Reliable Source 9-18-15

While eating breakfast the other day, my 6 year old said, “I thought it was supposed to rain today.”  I asked why he thought that and he told me that he had heard it on the radio.  I told him that sometimes the radio is wrong.  He looked at me with complete surprise and replied, “really?”
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The innocence if youth is refreshing, but it also reminds us that we should not believe everything we hear.  As school starts, many teachers and playground supervisors are going to be drug into conflicts between students.  They will have to try to figure out what the truth is as they hear two different stories about what happened.  The rest of us face the same challenges as we turn on the radio or the television.  Fox news and MSNBC can report and the same story, yet have different “facts” about what actually happened.  If you do a quick internet search on the conflicting reporting, you will soon find that there are a number of different versions of what actually happened.
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Of course we know that the weatherman will be wrong sometimes because he is trying to guess about things that have not even happened yet.  It would be nice if we could go to a place where reports of events that have already happened and predictions about the future were always accurate.
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There actually is such a place.  You can even find it online.  All you have to do is type in www.bible,com and hit a link to start reading the word of God.  The Bible, whether in electronic or printed version is trustworthy and accurate.  
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The reason that the Bible is trustworthy and accurate is not because it had great editors and fact checkers.  The Bible is accurate because it came from God.  “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (II Peter 1:21 NASB)   When you watch Fox or MSNBC the reporting is filtered through humans with wills and agendas.  The Bible, however came about as God moved men to write what He wanted them to write.  He allowed them to use their own writing style, while still ensuring that what they wrote was completely accurate.   “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (II Timothy 3:16 NASB).
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When the Apostle Paul came to a city called Berea, he told them about Jesus Christ.  The Old Testament scriptures speak of Jesus in many places.  Just a few examples are Micah 5:2, Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 7:14, and Isaiah 53.  The Bereans listened to Paul, but they realized that he may not be any more reliable than some biased reporter.  Instead of just accepting whatever he said, they went and checked it out with the Bible.  “And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.  Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11 NASB)
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Notice that these Bereans did not just look up a verse or two and then agree with what Paul had said.  Instead they examined (the Greek word here actually means scrutinized) the scriptures.  We know that the Bible is true and accurate, but just like a biased reporter, many people take it out of context and misuse it.  Since the Bible is true, we should study it carefully.  Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB)  Men are often wrong, but God is never wrong and the Bible is God’s Word.


God With a Capital “G”          9-4-15

Who is Jesus?  Is he simply a great prophet sent to help the world, or is he actually God with a capital “G”?  Some would suggest that he is the son of God, but not actually God.  Others suggest that followers of God are sons of God in the same way that Jesus is.  Though true Christians are God’s children, we are not deity (God).  
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The deity (Godness) of Christ is an important doctrine to consider.  John 1:3 tells us Jesus made all things.  Micah 5:2 tells us that he has been going forth from everlasting (existed forever).  I Corinthians 10:4 speaks of Christ being with the Israelites during the time of Moses.  This was nearly 1500 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  Ephesians 3:9, Colossians 1:16, and Hebrews 1:2 all show that Jesus is the creator.  Consider Isaiah 44:24, “Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself”.  This shows that God created all things alone.  Jesus is the Son of the Father.  Each member of the trinity has a distinct role, yet they are all God.  For example the shell of an egg is not the yoke.  But the yoke, white and shell are all egg.
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In Revelation 22:8-9, the Apostle John is reprimanded for worshipping an angel who connects himself with the prophets.  Jesus Christ, however, did not rebuke people for worshipping him.  Remembering that Jesus is the creator, consider Revelation 4:10-11, “The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
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Not only do the elders worship Jesus, but they make it clear that he is worthy to receive glory.  This is significant considering that God will not share his glory with anyone else.  Consider Isaiah 48:11, “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.”  See also Isaiah 42:8 “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”  In John 17:22, Jesus speaks of giving glory to his followers, that the Father had given to him.  There is, however, a difference between glory given to us by Christ and God sharing his full personal glory as deity.
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Jesus prayed in John 17:5, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”  Hebrews 1:3 speaks of Christ, “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;”.  This is not just glory like Christ shares with us mere humans, but the actual glory of God in heaven.  How could the Father share his personal glory with Jesus Christ, if God will not share his glory with another?  The answer comes from Jesus’ own statements when he says in John 10:30, “I and my Father are one.”  Also consider his response to Philip in John 14:9, “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?”
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Jesus Christ is not a separate God from the Father.  There is perfect unity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The three are as distinct from each other as a yoke, white, and shell are, yet as unified as a complete egg.  All can claim deity- the right to be called God with a capital “G”.



How Peculiar is Autism?       8-21-15

My friend Brian has autism.  We are about the same age and I got to know him in my early teens when I bailed straw for his dad.  Before meeting Brian, I did not really understand what autism was.  
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A few years later the movie “Rainman” was released.  Though there were similarities between Dustin Hoffman’s character and my friend Brian, there were also differences.   Each autistic person is an individual and they do not all hate K-Mart.
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As we stacked bales I discovered something that is quite common among those with autism.  Many, though not all, of those with autism like to follow a standard routine.  For example, as we stacked straw, every other bale was mine and the other bales were Brian’s.  I decided to help him out and take two bales in a row.  I soon realized that if I did that, I had to take 3, because the next one was mine, not his.  I also had to learn to stack the straw better.  I would sometimes switch which side I started the stack on, but Brian’s dad had taught him to start on a particular side, so that is how we did it.
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My friendship with Brian prepared me to relate to 2 of my nephews.  My sister’s sons Josh and Matthew were also diagnosed with autism.  Though there are similarities between these three people and even with Rainman, each of them is distinct and may not have the same characteristics as others.  
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My nephew Matthew cannot count cards like Rainman, but he has memorized many roads and railroads, by observing Google Earth.  His brother Josh passed away this year in a car accident at the age of 18, but before he died he was elected a student ambassador for an online home school group.  Rainman did not have the best social skills, and often this is characteristic of autism, yet Josh had such good online social skills that he became a mentor to other non autistic students.
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Recently our youngest son was also diagnosed with autism.  He is almost 4 and is not yet talking.  Once he gets to know someone, he is quite social and he does not have to stick to a routine, yet he has other autistic characteristics.  
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Some people would describe autistic individuals as somewhat peculiar.  1 Peter 2:9 describes God‘s people,  “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”  Hundreds of years ago, peculiar meant something different than it does today.  It actually meant a possession of great value.  Instead of “peculiar,” the NASB says, “A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION.”  The NKJV says, “His own special people.”
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My son has autism and is not yet able to talk.  If peculiar means that he is of great value, then I would agree.  In fact, people with autism have been of great value to the world.  It is believed that Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton  may have had autism.
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We are all unique, whether we have autism or not.  We are of value to God.  In fact He loved the world and the people in it so much that He sent His son.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)  



Trusting God in Tragedy       8-6-15

About 150 years ago there lived a wealthy businessman named Horatio Spafford.  He had invested in Chicago real estate, and then lost most of it in the infamous Chicago fire of 1871.  A few years later, he scheduled a vacation for his family, but had to send them ahead to Europe while he took care of some last minute business, hoping to join them later.  The ship that was carrying his wife and daughters sank.  His wife survived but his daughters did not.
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Imagine the heartache he must have felt.  Within just a couple of years, he had lost wealth and family.  Would you be able to trust God if such an event had happened in your life?  Horatio Spafford then got on another ship to go and comfort his grieving wife.  While on that trip he wrote these words,  “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”  
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The words were set to music and became the well known hymn, “It is Well With My Soul.”  Another verse of the song poetically describes Christ shedding His blood for our sins and that not just part of our sins but all of them were taken care of on the cross.  In this song, we hear of a man trusting God in the midst of heartache.
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This spring after two of my nephews were killed in a car accident, our family was sad, but we did not fall apart.  Our trust in God sustained us in the midst of our sorrow.  My sister and brother-in-law were a great testimony to a trust in our almighty God- so was my mother.  
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Mom called me this week and told about a friend of hers who had lost her adult son.  This lady was understandably devastated, yet Mom commented on how she seemed to be taking it harder than my sister did when she lost her 8 and 18 year old sons.  Mom was not being critical of her friend for her devastation, but was rather showing thankfulness that our family had such a confidence in God that we were able to face a tragedy and still say that it is well with our soul.  
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Mom’s phone call reminded me that not everyone- not even every Christian- has such a confidence in God.  The book of Job tells about a man who lost his possessions, his family, and his health, yet refused to curse God.  Throughout the book, Job and his friends try to figure what God is doing and why.  They all speak some truth, but they also say a lot of things that are totally wrong.  Finally at the end, God speaks and reminds Job that he was not there when God made the earth.  God then goes on to explain so many things that God does, that man does not understand.  The point is that God is stronger and wiser than we are, and we should therefore trust Him no matter what.
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As we realize who God is- as we understand both His justice and His mercy- as we understand His chastening and His love- it becomes easy to trust Him no matter what happens.  That does not mean we always enjoy the testing that we experience, but it does mean that we trust Him when it comes.
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I cannot help but think of a couple of my Mom’s favorite Bible verses.  “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)  
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Trust God and realize that the only way to be right with Him is to have your sin paid for. Then realize that the only one who can pay for your sins is Jesus Christ.  Therefore, believe on Him as your Lord and Savior.



More Than Baby Parts     7-24-15

Is Planned Parenthood good or bad?  That debate has been raging in America for decades.  Recently another scandal has erupted with video showing that Planned Parenthood has been selling body parts from aborted fetuses.  
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How outraged a person becomes over this scandal often depends on whether they regard the fetus as a human baby or as a clump of cells.  
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If the fetus is not human, why is there a market for their body parts?  If they are simply a cluster of tissue then a cluster of animal tissue would be just as valuable.  If they are really human, then they are valuable for human research.  
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Do the mothers who have the abortion know what is happening to the remains of their babies?  Many who defend abortion suggest that the baby is part of the woman’s body so it is her choice.  If that were true, then it would be wrong to sell these babies without her consent.  Women’s rights advocates should be very concerned by this.
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Many expectant mothers have been excited to see the first ultrasound pictures of their baby.  These pictures make it very clear that this is not just a clump of tissue.  It has been suggested that a mother see an ultrasound before making the choice for an abortion.  Others have suggested that such a step would place undue guilt on the mother.  Would it have been wrong to personalize the Jewish prisoners and thus placed guilt on those conducting medical research in the Nazi concentration camps?
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The answers to these questions will likely generate anger from those on both sides of the debate.  If these babies are really human, then that is understandable.  Still the debate is not as simple as whether or not the baby is human- it is also a debate about when the baby becomes a human.
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It is not up to me to decide when the baby is human.  Instead we should look at what God’s word says on the subject.  Isaiah 44:24 says, “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone” (NASB).  No doubt God formed us in the womb, but beyond that, He knew us personally even before that.  Read what He told Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5 NASB)
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A baby in the womb is clearly a human.  The whole Planned Parenthood and abortion debate should thus center around this one question:  “When is it okay to kill an innocent human?”  Some would answer, “when the mother’s life is at stake, or when many others can be saved by sacrificing this one life for research.”  Those are often difficult debates if your goal is to preserve as many lives as possible, but if someone answers that it is okay to kill an innocent person simply because they are an inconvenience, then we should all be appalled.



God Decides What is Right  7-10-15

The United States of America is known as the most powerful nation on earth.  It has been said that our military is able to fight two wars at the same time.  Further, in spite of a recent recession, our nation is still one of the most stable countries economically.  Still doomsayers are making a lot of money selling reports about the impending economic collapse of America.  I do not know if they are right or wrong, but I do know that as powerful as our nation is, God is more powerful.
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As patriotic as I am, it is comforting to know that my ultimate security is not in my nation but in my God.  That brings comfort in a couple of ways.  First, if our nation were to fall apart, my God would still be just as powerful as He is now.  Further, if our nation continues to gain power and influence and uses that power and influence for evil instead of good, it still will not be more powerful than God.
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Many of us were saddened over the recent Supreme court decision that essentially reversed the Defense of Marriage act.  Some of the sadness centered around the idea that the definition of marriage has been changed.  From a strictly legal standpoint, that may be true, but we as Christians need to look a the broader perspective.  No manmade law can change God.
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I fear that too many Christians have reacted as if a simple court decision changed an all powerful God.  No court- no nation- is that powerful.  Regardless of how the state defines marriage, God’s word has not changed.  This message is important to both those who are celebrating the Court’s decision and to those who are discouraged by it.  God has not changed and no human law can change God’s standard of morality.
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Let us be reminded of God’s power: “O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?” (II Chronicles 20:6).
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The apostle Paul ministered during a time when another superpower controlled the world.  The Roman Empire was not Christian and it did not get its morality from the Bible, yet he told the early Christians to pray for their leaders and to submit to their authority (see Romans 13 and I Timothy 2).  Even though we are to pray for our government leaders and submit to their authority, there is another authority that is even more important- God’s authority.  “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”  (Acts 5:29)
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Our Christianity should not be used as an excuse to rebel against an ungodly government, but we must also realize that right and wrong are determined by God, not secular laws.  For example, it has been legal to tell lies, commit adultery, and to get drunk long before our latest supreme court decision, yet we as Christians should never condone those activities even though they are legal.  At the same time, it is not our job to stop every non-Christian from doing those sins.  Instead it is our job to point out that sin is a reality in all our lives and that God will judge sin.  In fact, all sin- including homosexual behavior- is so serious that it separates us from a holy God, yet God loved us so much that He sent His son to pay for our sins.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
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Not everyone will agree that homosexual behavior, getting drunk, or committing adultery are wrong, but as Christians we must remember that it is God who decides what is right or wrong, not society or any powerful government. 



Trust and Follow the King    6-26-15

Rachel Dolezal recently made headlines as a white person who identifies as black.  Bruce Jenner now identifies as a woman, though he was born a man.  These examples make headlines, but there is another identity crisis that is not being talked about- those who identify as Christian, but who really are not.
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Just calling oneself a Christian does not mean someone is really a follower of Christ.  Acts 11:26 tells us that the disciples were first called Christians in the city of Antioch.  Often when we hear the word “disciple,” we think of the 12 men who closely followed Jesus Christ, but as we look at the Gospels, we see that there were many disciples.  These were people who followed Christ in order to learn from Him.
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Christ taught much moral truth.  Truth that showed that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but Jesus also proclaimed the message of the kingdom.  Jesus Christ shines as a bright light in a dark world of sin.  Matthew 4:16-17 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.  From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."“ (NKJV)
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The darkness of sin shows a need for repentance.  After calling for repentance (a turning from sin) Jesus tells of the kingdom.  In fact that kingdom message was a message that He told His disciples to share.  In Luke 9:2 Jesus sends the 12 disciples to preach the kingdom and then in vs. 60 He tells another man to do the same.  So why is the message of the kingdom so important?   Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords.  Thus a true Christian is someone who recognizes that Christ is the King and thus has the authority of a king.  
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As we understand that Jesus Christ is the king, we also need to understand that without Him there is no real Christianity.  The very word “Christianity” has the word “Christ” in it and that is no accident.  Christianity must be all about Christ.  In fact the very way of salvation from sin- the way to eternal life is centered in Christ.  Consider John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  The word “belief” in John 3:16, means to have faith in, to entrust, to commit.  When a Christian believes in Jesus Christ, they are trusting and committing to the King of kings and Lord of lords.
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They are also understanding that Christ is their only hope.  Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6 NASB)  The apostle Peter when speaking of Jesus Christ said, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."  (Acts 4:12 NASB)  In order to be a real Christian, you must be trusting in Jesus Christ and no one else.  That means you cannot be trusting in your pastor, your priest, your parents, or even yourself.  
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That last on is probably the hardest.  As Christians we understand our behavior should be different because we are following the King of kings.  We must also realize it the King who makes us Christians, not our behavior.  Ephesians 2:8-10 explains it best, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (NASB)
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Our works do not save us, the King does, but once we follow the King, we should be doing what He says to do.  Are you just calling yourself a Christian, or are you trusting and following the King?



Should I be a Jerk to Win?    6-13-15

A recent news headline suggested that jerks often get ahead by being jerks.  I skimmed the article and it showed that people who mistreated others actually advanced in life.  As I reflected on that article, I could not help but think of some of the famous mobsters who stole and killed and ended up rich.  Sadly, I also thought of some preachers who mistreated others in order to grow their congregations and to leverage positions of power.  I also thought of the schoolyard bullies who manipulated their own popularity by putting others down.
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No doubt, many have learned to get ahead at the expense of someone else, but there are also those who have gotten ahead by doing right.  The point of life, however, should not be to see how far we can get ahead without regard for who gets hurt along the way.  The point of life should be to glorify God.  In Isaiah 43:7 God speaks about those who are called by His name and how He created them for His glory.  If you are really a Christian you should understand that your real purpose in life is to glorify God.  Hurting others in order to selfishly advance yourself should not be part of your purpose.
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The Bible is filled with commands and ordinances.  There are 10 well known commandments, but a lawyer ends up testing Jesus Christ to see if he can trip Him up.  It kind of reminds me of an interviewer on FOX or CNN.  The question he asks is which is the great commandment in the law?  Of course the first of the 10 commandments says that we are not to have any other god’s before God.  In other words, God is to be our supreme ruler.
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Jesus answers the question, but does not directly quote the first commandment.  Instead, He shows what a person who has God as their ruler should be doing.  Listen to His answer,  "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.'  This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'“ (Matthew 22:37-39 NASB).
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Jesus had a very insightful reason for giving this answer and He explains, "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40 NASB)  The reason we are to obey God is to show our love for Him and others.  
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If we disobey God and mistreat others in order to get ahead, how can we say that we love God and our neighbor?  In other words, if we are being jerks to get ahead, we are disobeying the most important commands of all.  
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In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul speaks of loving your neighbor and warns about biting and devouring one another and then he follows that warning with a list of the works of the flesh.  “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  (Galatians 5:10-21).
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These works of the flesh are sins against God and man.  Notice that selfish ambition is included.  That sin is serious enough to keep man out of the kingdom of God, but all sin is serious enough to do that.  That is why we need Jesus.  Still once we have believed on Jesus and thus become a real Christian, our lives are to be characterized by the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, & temperance.)  These things may not make us the top dog on the block, but they do show that we are more concerned with loving God and others than with selfish ambition.



Tears & Trust- God is Good      5-15-15

Many people are killed each year in traffic accidents.  My nephews recently became part of those statistics.  To us, they are more than just numbers.  Caleb was an 8 year old with a quick smile and a cheerful disposition.  He was about the same age as our oldest son.  Jared cried when he heard what had happened to his cousin.  Josh was 18.  He was ready to graduate and face the next exciting stage in his life.  He was a polite young man and a joy to be around.  Their lives came to a tragic end after a 2 vehicle accident that occurred on May 3rd.
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In our minds, it was a tragedy, but we also know that God is good all the time.  As we grieve the loss of loved ones, we have not become angry at God.  Instead we continue to trust Him- realizing we need His strength more now than ever.  
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For us, such loss is tragic, because we will miss these wonderful boys, but death does not always have to be viewed as a tragedy.  For the believer, there is comfort even beyond death.  The Apostle Paul spoke of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and told how our Lord’s resurrection gives us hope for a resurrection as well.  Consider I Corinthians 15:19-22,  “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.  But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.  For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.” (NASB)
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Jesus died and rose from the dead showing us His power over death.  The Apostle Paul pointed out that death came through Adam.  In other words, men have been dying ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden.  Not only have men been cursed with death since then, but they have also been cursed with sin, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).  But notice the hope in I Corinthians 15:22 where it says that, “in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
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Christ overcame death and rose from the tomb the 3rd day.  Those who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior will one day be raised from the dead as well.  If we jump ahead to verse 26 of I Corinthians 15, we read that, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
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Life may end at death, but Christians look forward to a new life after death.  For those who have believed in Christ, that new life will be a life of joy with God.  For the unbeliever it will be an existence in the reality of torment.  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.  "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18 NASB)
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These verses provide both comfort and warning.  As we grieve our loss this week, we find comfort knowing that God is good all the time and that He loves us so much that He provided a way for our sins to be forgiven.  If anyone believes on Him as their Lord and Savior, then God will give them eternal life.  Those who do not believe will be condemned.
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For the believer in Christ, death is sad, but it is like someone moving to a far away country that does not have any mail service, internet, or telephone.  We will miss them, but we know that it is not all over.  We look forward to the next life and rejoice for those believers who are already there.



Do You Pick Your Nose?       5-2-15

Do you pick your nose?  Of course it is necessary pick it from time to time, but most of us do not do it when other people are around.  Too often Christians approach sin in a similar manner.  But when you are alone, ask yourself, “would I do this if Jesus were in the room with me?”  
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When I first met my wife, I would not have considered picking my nose in front of her.  She was so beautiful that I wanted to make a good impression.  Today Crystal is even more beautiful than when we first met, but I have become so comfortable around her that I find myself picking my nose in her presence.  
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How many of us have become too comfortable around Christ?  He loved us enough to die for us, and we are saved by His grace rather than by our works, thus it is tempting to become careless with sin- even when we remember that God is in our midst.  
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The disciples spent a lot of time with Jesus.  John was so comfortable around Jesus that he even leaned against Him as they crowded around the table for a meal.  As comfortable as John was around Jesus, he was given a powerful reminder that Jesus was not just one of the guys.
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About a week after Jesus said that His followers should take up their cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23), Peter James and John went up a mountain to pray with Jesus.  While there, something amazing happened.  Jesus’ appearance changed.  His face and clothes glowed (Luke 9:29).  Further, He met with Moses and Elijah- men who had long ago left this world.  This was an amazing reminder that Jesus was not just one of the guys.
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These three disciples had hung around with Jesus a lot, but look at their reaction on the mount of transfiguration.  “And while he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.” (Luke 9:34 NASB)  They were afraid.  This is a reminder that the power of God should make us fear.  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (NASB).  In the Bible, the fear of God is represented as a good thing.  We should desire to be as close to Jesus as Peter, James, and John were, but we must never forget who Jesus is and we should have a reverent fear for Him.
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God then speaks from the cloud, reminding the disciples who Jesus really is.  “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!’" (Luke 9:35 NASB)  Jesus is the Son of God.  That makes Him equal to God.  As God, Jesus has the authority to tell us what to do.  He is King of kings and Lord of lords.  We ought not to become so comfortable around Him that we forget who He really is.
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Jesus no longer walks on this earth like He did 2000 years ago.  He has ascended into heaven.  Still He has given us His Holy Spirit.  As we ask the question, “would you do that if Jesus were in the room?”- remember that if you are really a Christian, not only is the Holy Spirit in the room, He is in you.  Imagine how much differently we would act and think if suddenly the Holy Spirit within us revealed His glory like Jesus did on the mount of transfiguration.



Getting What They Deserve       4-18-15

It is frustrating when we run into rude people.  Some of the rude people that we run into are simply having a bad day and are normally pleasant to be around.  Others just have interesting personalities.  I once met a man who I thought was rude.  Later I got to know him, and I realized that he just had an “interesting” sense of humor and was making an awkward attempt to be friendly.  Unfortunately, there are some people who really are jerks.
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As you read that last sentence, you will probably have a name come to your mind.  It may even be tempting to let your mind wander and to become bitter toward that person.  You may even hope that that person would get what they deserve and that everyone would know how terrible they are.
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So what should our attitude be toward such people.  First, we must realize that there is such a thing as evil and that God will judge evil.  Further, we must realize that if the person is a fellow Christian, then we have a duty to lovingly confront that person and challenge them to do right and avoid wrong (see Galatians 6:1 and Matthew 18: 15-17).  
If on the other hand, the person is an unbeliever and does not care about Christian love, then what can do to confront their rudeness.  
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Today we have Facebook and Twitter.  We can go online and tell everyone what a rude terrible person he or she is.  You “could” do this, but that doesn’t mean you “should.”  You will likely feel real good when you see all the people who “like” your comments.  You will feel good because you have gotten your vengeance, but should you feel good?  Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.” (NKJV)
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There is a difference between justice and vengeance.  Vengeance is the idea of getting even just for our own pleasure rather than dealing fairly with a wrong that has been committed.  A Facebook post to shame someone sounds more like vengeance than justice.  Further if the person is such a jerk that everyone would agree with your post, then others know that already without you posting it.  Finally consider Matthew 5:44, "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” (NKJV).
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Does that mean that evil jerks can just get away with whatever they want to do?  Vengeance is not ours, it is God’s (remember Romans 12:19).  What God will do to them is far worse than a Facebook post.  Consider Psalm 11:6, “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.”  In other words, God will give them what they deserve.  Psalm 9:16 says, “The LORD is known by the judgment He executes; The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.” (NKJV)
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Not only will God hold them accountable, but their very actions will snare them.  It is not uncommon for people to be rewarded with bad consequences for their bad behavior. Others may seem to get away with their rudeness or other evil, but we do not know what God is doing with them behind the scenes.  Finally we know that ultimately we must all stand before God.  That should humble us all and cause us all to be careful what we say or do.  It should also cause us all to realize that Christ is our only hope.  "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.”  (Matthew 12:36 NKJV)

 
 

 Did Jesus Die on Friday?        4-6-2015

If Jesus died on Friday, how did He spend 3 nights in the tomb before raising from the dead on Sunday morning? (Matthew 12:40)  This question could easily be resolved, by simply suggesting that the crucifixion took place on Thursday instead of Friday.  This view does face some challenges, but a better understanding of the Hebrew holidays and Jewish culture helps to bring much clarification.
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The problem with a Thursday crucifixion is that Mark 15:42 tells us that Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath (the day of rest).  The Hebrew Sabbath occurred each week on what we call Saturday, thus the day before Saturday is Friday, not Thursday.  This only gives part of the picture however.  The Hebrews also observed other Sabbaths in addition to weekly Sabbath.  For example there was to be a day of rest in conjunction with the Passover which was taking place that very same week.  John clarifies this in his gospel account as he points out that this was one of the special Sabbaths.  John 19:31 states,  “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”  (NKJV)
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The preparation day was the day that the Passover lamb was killed and prepared for the big Passover feast.  Jesus was killed on that very day showing us that just as the blood of the Passover lamb delivered the nation of Israel prior to the Exodus, Jesus blood delivers us from our sins.  The next day was a special day of rest.  The next Hebrew day started at 6 p.m. rather than at midnight.  Thus when Jesus died at 3 p.m. there would have only been 3 hours before the high Sabbath.  That is why there was such impatience to get the bodies of all 3 men off the cross before this time.  Please note that the Romans used midnight as the start of the new day and counted hours from that time thus we find Jesus before the Roman authority at the 6th hour (6 a.m.) in John 19:14, whereas Mark and Luke record Him on the cross from the 6th-9th hours (Jewish time calculated from  our 6 a.m. thus noon to 3 p.m. our time).
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Since there was such a short window of time between Jesus being taken off the cross and placed in the tomb, the women who wanted to anoint Him did not have time to both prepare the spices and apply them.  Luke 23:54-56 tells us that they went to see where He was laid and then went to prepare the spices as the Sabbath was getting close and that then they rested on the Sabbath just as they were commanded.
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Then fast forward to Sunday morning (the resurrection day).  They arrive at the tomb to apply the spices and find it empty.  Why did they wait so long to arrive?  Friday was a high Sabbath, so they were not allowed to work on that day.  Then Saturday was the weekly Sabbath and they were not allowed to work on that day either.  That Sabbath would have ended at 6 p.m. Saturday, but they were likely finishing up preparations that night, so they wait until early morning on Sunday and arrive at the tomb to find it empty. (see Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:1).
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Thus we would have Jesus placed in the tomb on Thursday, remaining there Friday and Saturday (3 days- the scripture does not specify that they were 3 full days).  Further He would have been there Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.  Therefore I believe He was crucified on Thursday, not Friday.


Are You In The Ministry?      3-20-15
 
I have a good friend who used to be in “professional” ministry.  Though his current job does not allow him to “preach the gospel” in a public way, it does allow him to make a lot of friends.  Further, he has made friends in the small town where he lives, and his life has been a ministry to them as well.  Finally, he has ministered to me personally; therefore, I view him as involved in ministry
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As we consider the word “minister,” it really means “servant.”  A minister of Christ is thus a servant of Christ.  As a bi-vocational minister, I am both a missionary pastor as well as a carpenter, yet I look at both my jobs as a service to Christ and to others.  The greatest command of all is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and then the second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Each of us should make these commands our ministry as we become servants of Christ.
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In my previous “ministry” I was the pastor of an established church and did not have to be bi-vocational, but before that I was also a bi-vocational minister.  During that time I was doing carpentry work for a lady that became a good friend.  Her son was still living with her and was struggling with drunkenness.  He came home from work discouraged one day as I was working on a remodeling project in their house.  This man was close to my age and needed someone to talk to, so I set my tools down, noted the time so that I would not charge my customer for the time spent visiting with her son, and proceeded to talk with him for about 45 minutes.  
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During that conversation, he told me that the alcohol was killing him.  I listened, but I also told him of God’s love and that Christ came to pay for our sins.  He had tears in his eyes as we spoke of Jesus Christ and how He loved us enough to die for us.  I was not on the job site that day as a pastor, I was there as a carpenter, yet because I loved God and my fellow man, I was able to minister- to be a servant.  Each Christian should realize that there are opportunities all around them to minister for God’s glory.
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This young alcoholic and I then became friends, but that friendship was brief, because he died just a couple of months later.  Though I was no longer able to minister to my new friend, I was still able to minister to his family, and the best part is that they were able to minister to me.  As I was missing my friend, it was so encouraging to hear his mom say that he had quit drinking and was talking about God the last few days of his life.  Sadly the alcohol had already done so much damage to his body.
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We do not all minister in the same way.  I am a pastor and my ministry today is different than it was just a few short years ago.  Today I am leading Bible studies as we get ready to start a new church here in Worthing.  Since we do not have an established congregation yet, I also do carpentry work, thus I am bi-vocational again.
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I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul as I think about ministry.  “For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?  And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?  But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” (1 Corinthians 12:14-18 NKJV)
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Let us all minister as we put God first and love others.


Change is not Always Bad        3-7-15

Now that the days have gotten longer, what should we do with all our extra time?  I say this tongue in cheek, because of course we still have only 24 hours in the day, it just stays light later due to the time change.
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There has actually been some talk about South Dakota no longer springing ahead and falling back, but instead keeping one consistent time throughout the year.  Change- even good change- can be difficult.
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For example, several years ago Coke Cola, reformulated their premier soft drink.  They made this move after much testing.  It was determined- based on their testing- that new Coke was much better than their classic soda.  There was a big problem however.  The most loyal Coke drinkers had become used to the classic formulation and did not like the new pop as well.
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Jesus faced a similar problem 2000 years ago.  He did not introduce a new soft drink, but instead introduced a new way to relate to God.  For years God’s people, the Israelites, had been relating to God through animal sacrifices and other temple rituals in addition to many commands and ordinances that God had given to them at the time of Moses.  Before Moses, people still related to God, but for the Israelites, that relationship changed when God gave the Old Testament Mosaic law.  Through the years the Jewish people had gotten used to that Old Testament standard.
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Suddenly Jesus arrived on the scene.  His death burial and resurrection would do away with the Old Testament Mosaic law.  Colossians 2:14 describes it this way:  “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (NKJV)
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As Jesus was teaching, He showed that certain people would have trouble with the idea that there would be a new way of doing things now that the Messiah had come.  "And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, 'The old is better.'" (Luke 5:39 NKJV).  Just like many consumers did not embrace New Coke, many of the Jews did not embrace Jesus.  Further clarification is found as we look at more of  Jesus’ illustration.  "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 "But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Luke 5:37-38 NKJV)
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Wine in those days was put in leather type bags.  New wine would stretch the bags and new bags were able to stretch, but old bags would break if stretched.  Christ used that illustration to show that He would not just tack His sacrifice on the cross on top of the Old Testament Mosaic law, but that He would actually replace the Old Testament law with His payment on the cross.
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Sadly, many people liked the old law because they were used to it, even though Christ’s way was better.  Today we no longer have to follow the law that Moses gave to the Israelites.  Instead we realize that although God has expectations for man that preceded the Law of Moses, our sins have been taken care of on the cross and we no longer have to worry about the Old Testament Mosaic law. The old law simply pointed out sin to temporarily cover it.  Instead we have something far better- Christ’s payment on the cross which has permanently paid for our sins.  The new is far better.


A Military Officer’s Example        2-21-15

When I think of Roman soldiers, I often think of treacherous villains who  used their power to suppress and abuse those under them.  I think of their role in the crucifixion of Christ and of how they were portrayed in the popular movie “Spartacus.”  
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As I read the Bible, however, I do not necessarily see a group of people that are any worse than others.  Just as we have good cops and bad cops today, there were godly and ungodly Roman soldiers in Christ’s day.  In fact, Roman soldiers are portrayed in a positive manner in the Bible.  For example, in Luke 3:14, we find soldiers asking John the Baptist for spiritual guidance.
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Not only do we read of common soldiers in the Scripture, but we also read of military officers.  They are most commonly referred to as Centurions and may have been leaders over 100 men, but that number could have been lower or even as high as 1000.  Regardless, they were men of rank, with power and authority.
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When Christ was crucified, a Centurion who was there, testified that Jesus was righteous and that He was the Son of God.  In Acts 10, we read of the first non Jewish convert to Christianity and he is a Centurion named Cornelius.  Later as the Apostle Paul is facing persecution for his Christian faith, he appeals to a Centurion for defense.
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Even before the cross, during Christ’s ministry in Capernaum, we find another Centurion.  It appears that this man had financial means in addition to his military authority, since we find out that he had built a synagogue in Capernaum for the Jewish people to worship God (Luke 7:5).  It was likely that this was the very same synagogue where Jesus had earlier cast our a demon (Luke 4:35).  
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This Centurion also has a servant and this servant is sick.  He cares about the servant and the servant is about to die, so he sends a message to Christ asking for help  (Luke 7:2-3).  As the Centurion communicates with Jesus Christ through his messengers, he explains that he understands what it is like to have authority over others and to be able to tell people what to do and to expect that it will get done.  Remember this Centurion is a Roman military officer who has soldiers at his disposal to make sure that his commands are obeyed.  
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Jesus had no visible military here on earth, yet this Centurion recognized that Christ had even more power and authority than he had.  He also understands that Jesus even has the power over the sickness of the servant.  "Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  "For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." (Luke 7:7-8 NKJV).
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The Centurion recognizes that others are under his authority, but he also sees that there are those who also have authority over him.  He understands that not only does the Roman emperor have authority over him, but so does Jesus Christ.  
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Jesus commends him for his faith and heals his servant, but I also want us to notice that in understanding Jesus’ authority, the Centurion- who would often be able to demand what he wanted from others- asks Jesus for help rather than demanding it.
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As we go to Jesus for help, let us follow the Centurion’s example of believing Jesus can do whatever we ask, but still praying that God’s will be done, rather than demanding that our will be done.  We must recognize that God has the authority, not us.  Just as the Centurion would not tell Caesar what to do, we should not tell God what to do.



Applying the Golden Rule         2-7-15

We try to teach our little boys to share, but sometimes the demand to share can turn into a selfish demand that negates the whole principle of sharing.  For example, if one of the boys wants a favorite toy, should he always get it simply by telling his brothers that they have to share?  The  issue of sharing can end up being just as complicated for adults- even for Christians.
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Consider Luke 6:29-30:  "Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.” (NASB)
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Does this mean that if I steal your coat from you, that you are to give me your shirt too?  Does this mean that if I ask you for your car, that you should give me your wife’s car as well?  Does this mean that if I steal you wallet, that you should just let me keep it if you know that I did it?
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Of course stealing is wrong.  “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28 NKJV)
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So how do we reconcile these two passages.  First let us look at the parallel passage to Luke 6:29 found in Matthew 5:40:  "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.”  (NKJV)  There is a big difference between giving something away because it is has been stolen, and having to give something away because a court of law says that you owe it to another individual as restitution.  
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Let us remember that Jesus was ministering to a mostly Hebrew people who were living under Roman law.  Regardless of what the Roman law said should happen in a lawsuit, the Hebrew law calls for more than just equal restitution.  "If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” (Exodus 22:1 NASB).  Not only did the Hebrew law prohibit stealing, but it required that more be paid back that what was stolen.  
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The point Jesus was making in Luke 6, was that if you had wronged someone, then you should make restitution over and above what the person had lost.  No wonder He next said,  "And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way.” (Luke 6:31 NASB)
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The statement about allowing your face to be hit again makes much more sense in this context as well.  This does not mean that if some random person assaults you, that you are not to defend yourself, rather it is the idea that if you have insulted a person to the extent that they are justified in in slapping you across the cheek, that you ought to show your remorse for the insult to such an extent that you let them hit you again.
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Just as there needs to be restitution in a lawsuit, Luke 6:29 allows the person you insulted to have restitution as well.  At the same time, we are to treat others like we would like to be treated.  I would hope that if I insulted someone, that they would not hit me at all, therefore I will not demand to slap either cheek.  Realize as well that our culture and our laws do not allow slapping for insults, while other cultures do.
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Let us follow Christ’s example of humility and follow the golden rule that treats others like we would like to be treated.

The Most Creative One of All   1-24-15

We have four little boys.  Our oldest is 7 and our youngest is 3.  They all love building things out of Legos.  One of the older boys showed me a dump trailer that he had built and it really did dump.  The youngest one doesn’t always know what he is building, but he plays with his Legos even more than the bigger boys do.  He also has a Duplo set with Thomas the Train characters that he is constantly modifying.
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The oldest also loves duct tape.  He will ask me for scrap pieces of board that he will tape together.  He just came into my office with a short chunk of 2x4 taped to a couple of other small boards and a metal clothes hanger bent into a strange shape.  I was told that it was his rabbit trap.  Animal lovers need not fear, I am confident that the rabbits that come near this trap will be quite safe- at least until he gets older and figures out a trap that will actually work.
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Our second son turns 6 this week.  He also likes to build stuff and if you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he will tell you that he wants to be an engineer.  He is the one that will crawl under stuff to look and see how it is built.  He wants to be an engineer so that he can build things that no one has ever built before.  One of his ideas is to build a ladder that will catch you when you fall.   
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Our boys are quite creative.  That is not unusual.  Some people are creative mechanically- others musically, and some are skilled at drawing.  There are even people that are creative with writing.  I believe that creativity is part of the image of God found in human beings.
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As creative as we humans are, imagine the creativity of God.  Our son wants to make things that no one has ever made before, but he wants to do it by putting together things that have already been made.  God, however did not even have the earth when He started.  “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”  (Genesis 1:1).
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The fact that God was powerful enough to create the whole world should astound us, but He was also able to do it all by Himself.  “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone,” (Isaiah 44:24 NASB).
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As we consider that God made the world all by Himself, let us not forget that the Bible is clear that Jesus is the creator.  “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created by Him and for Him.”  (Colossians 1:16 NASB)  This shows us that Jesus is both creative and that He is God.
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Let us consider that even after the earth was created by God, it still needed to be shaped and molded into something even more creative.  “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”  (Genesis 1:2)
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Though God has finished creating the elements that make up the earth and those in it, He has not given up His creative process of changing the landscapes with beauty.  Consider the formation of a canyon as water flows, or just look at the beauty of the snow drifts after a winter storm, or look at a brilliant sunset as God puts the clouds in just the right spot to catch just the right light.  Our God is not only the great creator of the universe, He is the most magnificent artist of all time.




  Racism, Bias, & Christianity    1-9-2015

On August 9th of 2014 in Ferguson, MO, a young man named Michael Brown was shot by another young man- a police officer named Darren Wilson.  Michael died as a result of the encounter.   This incident was more than just a passing news story though.  Another component was involved.  The two young men, Michael and Darren, were of different ethnic backgrounds.  Soon racial tensions across the United States were heightened even more than they had been before.
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The incident at Ferguson and the surrounding controversies were not the beginnings of racial tension in our country, they were just further evidence of its existence.
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Racism is not a new problem.  As we read the New Testament, we see much racial tension.  Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is the encounter of a Jewish man with a Samaritan woman.  As we look at the encounter we find that much of the tension has more to do with ideology than it has to do with race.  She says, "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." (John 4:20 NASB).
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The “you people” comment is often used by racist people today as well.  One of the difficulties with the whole discussion is that racism is not limited to one particular ethnic or ideological group.   
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Racism can come in so many forms.  Often there is a cultural, ideological, religious, or even political component.  It is not uncommon for people to excuse racism as long as the racist has similar religious or political views.  This brings in another component- bias.  Bias is an unfair preference or dislike for something.  It is very similar to racism.
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Racism is basically bias directed at ethnic heritage.  Such bias is wrong whether it comes from the majority or minority of the population.  
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Even when dealing with the leaders in the church, Paul warned Timothy, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.”  (I Timothy 5:21 NASB)  
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James also deals with the issue when he talks about wisdom from God.  “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)  In the verses right before this statement, James warns about the wisdom that does not come from God and the damaging results.  “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:14-16)
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Much of today’s racism is rooted in bitterness, envy and strife.  All races ought to judge others by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.  Christians need to remember that we are all created in the image of God no matter what race we are; therefore, there should be no racial preferences.  Consider Colossians 3:9-11 NASB) “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him --a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

What are Your Plans For 2015?  12-27-14

Christmas is ended and we look forward to a new year.  We have no idea what this new year will bring.  It may bring pleasure or it may bring heartache.  
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I think back to the end of 2005.  I was still single then, and my friend Katie was telling me that I would marry her best friend who I had never even met.  I did not take her seriously because people had been trying to set me up with their friends for years and nothing ever worked out.  But when Katie’s friend Crystal came home from a year in Peru, I started to wonder if perhaps I should pay a little more attention to her.
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Sure enough, Crystal and I fell in love, got married, and now have 4 little boys.  We had not even met in 2005, but were married by the end of 2006.  Neither of us were expecting this to happen.  It seems that Katie was the only one who did.  Of course God was not taken by surprise either.  He knew all along what would happen.  “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” (Isaiah 46:10)
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Often when a new year starts, people make resolutions, but those resolutions are frequently broken before February.  Sometimes they are broken because of a lack of will power, but often they are broken because events occur that are out of our control.
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In the Bible, the book of James tells about some people who had resolved to do business in a city over the next the year and make some profit.  It was not a bad goal or even a foolish business venture.  The problem was that they figured that they could have their next year all planned out and that it would work out just like they expected it to.  Further, as they were planning out their year, they were focusing on what they could make for themselves, rather than remembering God.
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Consider what James wrote:  “Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit."  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that."  But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16 NASB)
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As we come to the next year, let us remember that things may not work out like we had planned.  They might be better than we expected or they might be worse.  Perhaps the next year will be boring and uneventful.  Regardless of what happens in our lives, let us remember that it will not take God by surprise.
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Our conduct does have an effect on our lives, but we must realize that we are not the gods of our own destinies.  When I was a farmer, I quickly realized that the one variable that had the most effect on yield was the weather.  It reminded me that although I had a responsibility to engage in good farming practices and that the better job I did, the better my yields would be, that ultimately, whether I had a huge crop or a failure, depended on the grace of God and what kind of weather He sent.
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Regardless of your plans and goals for the next year, remember that God is in control, not us
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Jesus Proved He is Good      12/12/14

Our little boys watched soccer on TV for the first time. They had already watched football and one of them wanted to know if the team with the horses on their helmets was playing because he wanted to watch the Broncos. I explained that they did not wear helmets in this game and then proceeded to explain the rules.
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After explaining that the players could not use their hands unless they were the goalie, my five year old quickly stated that he wanted to be the goalie so that he could use his hands. His brother also agreed. Ironically, neither of them has ever even played soccer.
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In order to be pro soccer players, my sons would have to prove that they were good enough. In order to play the position of the goalie, they would really have to be good. Imagine however that years from now, one of my sons showed up for tryouts for a goalie on a soccer team. Imagine then that he was so quick and so coordinated that no one was ever able to score a goal. Then the coach was so impressed with his performance that he called in the best soccer player in the world to try to make a goal and that player was still not able to score against him.
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Such a performance would prove that this young man should be on the team. It would prove that he is a worthy player. It would prove that he has what it takes.
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However, imagine that instead of a new soccer recruit, the world was looking for a new king. Not only were they looking for a king, but they were looking for a savior to rescue them from the curse of sin. In order to provide a rescue, this savior/king would have to perfect. He would have to sinless. He would have to be totally righteous. He would have to be so in touch with the will of God that His behavior would prove He is God.
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When Jesus was temped by the devil, He was able to prove all of this. Just as a great soccer goalie is able to prove his skills by showing up on the soccer field, Jesus was able to show His goodness by going to a place of temptation. We must be careful not to think that we should follow His example in this. Our very sinfulness proves that we have already given into temptation many times.
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As we consider the temptations Jesus faced, His goodness is contrasted with the sinfulness of all mankind. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”
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The first temptation in Luke 4 was to turn the stone into bread. Why would that be sinful- especially considering that Jesus later used a miracle to feed thousands? It would be sinful because He would have been giving into the will of Satan rather than the will of God. Because Jesus as the son of God is God, He understood God's will perfectly. You and I do not always know every last detail of God's will and this is further proof of how far we come from God's glory and why we need a savior.
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The next temptation involved the kingdoms of this world. As we look at the corruption of world leaders both then and now, we are again reminded of the sinfulness of mankind and of our need for a sinless savior and king. Jesus proved that He is that kind of a king as He resisted temptation.
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Finally Satan tempted Jesus by quoting Psalm 91:11 which speaks of the angles protecting Jesus. When the devil quoted that verse, he left off the words “in all they ways.” In other words whatever Jesus does, he will be protected, but we have to remember that whatever Jesus did was the will of God. Satan was trying to get Him to follow another will, but Jesus proved that He would always do what was right and never come short of the glory of God. By passing the test, Jesus proved that He is worthy to pay for our sins.



Let  Us Always Be Thankful   11-28-14

I love leftover turkey.  You can make it into sandwiches, hot dishes, eat it cold, or warm it up.  You can cut it into little pieces and put in a salad.  You can chop it up and add it to a soup.  I love leftover turkey.
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I hope you can see that I am thankful for leftovers.  The Thanksgiving holiday is a wonderful time to be thankful, but our thankfulness should not be reserved for just once a year.  Now that “Thanksgiving” is over for the year, our giving of thanks should still continue.
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The holiday season is a time when we are able to gather with friends and family.  I am very thankful for them.  The Apostle Paul was thankful for the people in his life too, but I really like how he expresses his thankfulness in Philippians 1:3:  “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,”.  Notice that he was thankful to God.  
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We teach our little boys to say, “thank you,” to the people around them, but ultimately we all need to remember to be thankful to God.  Without Him we would not have an earth to live on or a sunset to admire.  “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)  Even the creation itself is to praise God.  “Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.  Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.” (Psalm 148:4-5)
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God reminds us that not only did He create the heavens and earth, but He created us.  “I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.” (Isaiah 45:12)  We should thank God for our very existence.
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Remembering that God created the whole world and everything in it, I thank God for turkey leftovers.  I also thank Him for the water that I drink and the place where I live.  Knowing that I should be thankful to Him, I also want to have the right relationship with Him, but I realize that as a sinner I come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  
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That reminds me of another reason to be thankful.  I am thankful for His grace and mercy.  “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (James 4:6)   God extends His grace upon us through the Lord Jesus Christ as we believe on Him.  1 Corinthians 15:57 says,  “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
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I am therefore thankful that Jesus paid for my sins.  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 2:23).  I realize that I have a lifetime of reason to give thanks to God.  
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Thanksgiving is not just for November.  Thanksgiving is not even just for this lifetime.  It is for forever.  Because I have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ- trusting Him as my savior-, I look forward to thanking God for eternity.  “And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."  And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." (Revelation 5:11-13 NASB)



Why Did God Order Killing?   11-14-14

Our little four year old is very determined to try to keep with his bigger brothers.  That often means that he will push himself to run and climb beyond his level of strength and coordination, thus he will often fall and hurt himself.  He then comes running to me saying, “Daddy, I have an auwee!”
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When I hear that one of our children has been hurt, my heart aches.  My desire is to protect them and to keep them safe.  I worry about them falling and getting seriously hurt.  I worry about them crossing the street and getting hit by a car.  I worry about bad people hurting them.
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As much as we have to worry about here in South Dakota, I am thankful that we do not have the worries that people in other parts of the world face.  For example, in the Middle East, fathers have to worry about ISIS capturing their children, torturing, and killing them.  I cringe to even write this, but children are actually being decapitated.
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The news reports of the atrocities of the Mexican drug cartels are just as brutal as those of ISIS.  I do not bring up these issues to sensationalize violence, but rather to point out the presence of evil in our world.
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Imagine that you were a father or a mother living in the middle east and you had witnessed the terrible deeds of ISIS in your area.  Imagine that you were fearful that your family would be the next news report.  Now imagine if some soldiers who were opposed to ISIS came on the scene and destroyed the whole ISIS army along with their wives and children.  You would likely be quite relieved.
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You could argue that the wives and children should be spared, but imagine that they were fighting right along side the grown men.  Image that they were supportive of everything that the men were doing.  Imagine that their destruction just saved your family from being the next victim of their slaughter.
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In an ideal world, the women and children would not have to be killed along with the fighting men.  In an ideal world, no one would have to be killed in order to stop a murderous rampage.
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We live in a sin cursed world not an ideal world.  Many non-Christians have been critical of God because He ordered the absolute destruction of the Amalekites.  Deuteronomy 25:17-19 explains why, "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt,  "how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.  "Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.” (NKJV)
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The Amalekites were murderers of innocents much like ISIS.  As the Israelites were fleeing slavery in Egypt (as Moses was leading them through the wilderness) the Amalekites came and attacked the weakest of the people.  God then gave them years to repent, but they continued to be an evil people.  God understood that the children would grow up to be just as evil as their parents were, so He ordered them all to be destroyed.  This is not an evidence of an evil unloving God, this is evidence of a God of justice who wants to protect the innocent.
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Years later, God actually sent the prophet Jonah (the man swallowed the whale) to the city of Nineveh where many evil people lived, to give them a chance to repent so that God did not have to destroy them.  They did repent and were saved.  Jonah was actually upset because he thought they should be destroyed.  God does not throw around His justice for no reason and even when justice is deserved, He shows mercy.


Why Have Sin and Suffering?   10-31-14

The days are getting shorter- well actually the days are still 24 hours long, but the amount of time that we have daylight during those 24 hours is getting to be less and less. As it gets dark earlier I have learned to appreciate the light. Because of electricity it is easy to take light for granted. Today all we have to do touch a switch and the light comes on. Not too many generations ago, a lamp or candle had to be lit to pierce through the darkness of night. In places without lights, the morning sunrise still brings an amazing transformation of brilliant light to a dark landscape.
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As we look at scripture, the analogy of light and darkness helps us to understand the contrast between evil and righteousness. When Jesus Christ walked on this earth, His sinlessness and holiness shined like a bright light in contrast to this dark sin cursed world.
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Just before Jesus was born, the father of John the Baptist spoke of how his own son, John, would tell about the savior of the world. He said, “To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:77-79 NASB)
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Notice how he talks of Jesus Christ coming to shine upon those who sit in darkness and how He is called the “Sunrise from on high.”  This is a beautiful picture of Jesus coming into the world to shine forth His holiness and righteousness just like the sunrise shines forth its light.
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Many have asked why God even allowed sin and sickness into this world. I believe God allowed sin for the same reason He allowed darkness. If God had created a world where darkness does not exist and where we never had to turn on a light, we would not appreciate the light. If God had made a world without sin, we would not be able to fully appreciate His holiness and righteousness.  Without suffering, we could not fully appreciate deliverance.
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Notice how the Psalmist uses the analogy of light and darkness to describe how God brings light to life.  “For You will save the humble people, But will bring down haughty looks. For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28 NKJV)
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Long before Christ was born in Bethlehem, the prophet Isaiah wrote:  “The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2 NKJV) 
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More than 700 years later, Matthew’s Gospel connects the prophecy of Isaiah directly to Jesus Christ and His ministry.  “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned." (Matthew 4:16 NKJV)
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Isaiah also records the words of the Lord when He says, “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.'‘ (Isaiah 45:7NKJV)  When we understand that God’s light shines through the darkness to show how good He really is, we can better understand why God would create calamity.



I Ruined My Garage Door     10-3-14

I had to replace our garage door because of an unplanned accident.  I was hoping to install a garage door opener soon, but had still not invested in one, so I simply had a rope hanging from the bottom of the door to pull it shut.  I had backed the pickup into the garage and was leaving one morning when the rope caught on something that I had in back of the truck.  I did not realize what had happened until I heard a crash and looked behind me to see that I had pulled the whole garage door off the track and out of the garage.  At least I had not pulled the whole garage down.
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My wife had heard the crash as well and came from the house to see what had happened.  She offered to help me get everything loose and see how much could be salvaged.  I simply reached in my pocket, took out my knife, cut the rope, and told her we could worry about it later.  
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Actually I said, “let’s deal with this when I am more calm.”  My wife said that I sounded fairly calm as I said that, but inside I was feeling a mixture of shame, discouragement, uncertainty, and despair.  
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I left the garage door lay in its crumpled mess, jumped in the truck, and proceeded to my destination.  The drive gave me time to put things into perspective.  First, no one was hurt.  That was reason to rejoice.  Further, the pickup had not been damaged.  That was good.  Further the rest of the garage was fine.  That was a positive as well.  
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Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things.” (NKJV)
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The short drive gave me time to pray and to think of many things that I could praise God for even though a discouraging event had just taken place.  As I drove I thanked God that things were not worse.
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I also had time to realize that in the big scope of things, this accident really wasn’t that big of a deal.  Sure, it would take an extra day of my life to order, pick up, and install a new door. Furthermore, the new garage door would be an added expense that we were not planning at this time, but those were really just minor distractions.  How many times hadn’t a cold or the flue taken a day of my time?  How many times hadn’t God provided for us financially in ways we had not even expected?  The answers to these questions brought comfort as I thought on those things that are good and I remembered that I had much reason to be praising God.
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After I got back home I was anxious to figure out how much of the old door could be salvaged.  I quickly found out that very little of it was worth saving.  That was okay, though, because I was now looking at the whole situation with thankfulness, rather than despair.  I priced new panels and hardware and quickly realized that it would be cheaper to just buy a whole new door.  Then I found out that the new doors were on sale and were 20% off regular price.  I was then able to praise God for the timing of this small disaster.  
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As I look back, I am much calmer now and I actually laugh as I think about the pickup pulling the garage door behind it.  I actually wish that someone had caught the event on video camera.  I am confident that it would have become a Youtube sensation.  Even as I laugh, I am reminded that there are many reasons to praise God, even when our lives are disrupted by unplanned events.  I pray that this lesson will be far more valuable than the cost of the garage door and that it will remind me to have the right attitude when the next trial comes along.

Submitting To Each Other      9-18-14

Nearly 8 years ago, I married a wonderful woman and we lived happily ever after.  Well, actually, there have been a few moments- though rare- that have not been as happy as we would like. In real life, couples marry hoping for the happily ever after, only to find out that they do not always agree when a decision must be made.
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Ephesians chapter 5 is one of the passages that explains that wives should submit to their husbands and that husbands should love their wives.  Many books have been written on these subjects, but not all of them look at the whole counsel of God on these matters.  Many of those books miss Ephesians 5:21 where it says, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”
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For example an author named Debbie Pearl has become quite popular for writing to women about submitting to their husbands, but she has taken her ideas to a level that actually goes against the teaching of scripture.  Her book suggests that a wife should submit to her husband even if he wants her to do something that would be wrong.  Further, her teaching encourages the wife to enable the husband to continue sinful behavior rather than to confront it.  This was not at all what God had in mind when he told wives to submit to their husbands.
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Colossians 3:18 provides some further clarity on this matter when it says, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (NASB).  It is not fitting in the Lord to disobey the scriptures in our submission.
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The next verse then says, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.” (Colossians 3:19 NASB)
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A wife is to submit to her husband, but she is not to disobey God as she does so.  The husband is to love his wife and not to be bitter against her.  Imagine a newly married couple trying to make a decision and they each get one vote and they are not in agreement.  Soon a fight starts.  
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Imagine instead that the wife just always submitted to whatever the husband decided.  Soon she would not even vote and would likely become sad and discouraged.  
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A much better option would be if each got a vote and the husband then cast the tie breaking vote.  He must cast that vote in love without being bitter against his wife.  It would make it much easier for her to submit to his decision if she knew that he had at least considered her thoughts on the matter.  Because of his love, sometimes his tie breaking vote should even be in her favor.  Sometimes he would even realize that his ideas were wrong after hearing his wife’s reasons for her position.  Other times he would weigh the matter and lovingly disagree with his wife, and go forward with his original plans.  This allows them both to submit to each other, while still letting the husband provide loving leadership.
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Because the husband gets the tie breaking vote, he also must take the responsibility for the decision, even if he voted in her favor instead of his own.  If the decision does not work out as planned, he should not be bitter against his wife for voting as she did, but instead should take the responsibility for having made the final decision.  This also takes a lot of pressure off of the wife, because she is able to share her ideas while not having to worry about getting the blame if things do not work out.
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The marriage relationship is not always perfect, but if we properly apply the principles of love and submission it will be much smoother.


You Can’t Manipulate God      9-5-14

Working from a home office has some advantages, but it also has some challenges.  For example, the other day as I was preparing mailings to send out, my boys came in with their Legos asking me to build them an airplane.  Occasionally I will take the time to do that, but there were 3 little boys standing there- each expecting me to build them something- and I had a lot of work to get done so I had to tell them, “not today.”
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What would have happened if the boys had whined and cried until I built them their airplanes?  If you know me, you would understand that would not work.  We decided that as soon as they were old enough to communicate without crying that we would not reward such behavior.
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Some children, however, have conditioned their parents to give them whatever they want, simply by throwing a tantrum.  We are trying to teach our children that when they ask for something we will decide whether or not to give it to them based on what is best at the time.  Sometimes we will give them what they ask for, other times we will tell them no, and sometimes we will tell them to wait.
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What about when we ask God for something?  Do we expect to get what we want by figuring out how to push the right buttons with Him, or do we simply trust His wisdom to either tell us yes, no, or wait?
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When Jesus ministered here on earth, He was asked how we should pray.  Consider this portion of the Lord‘s Prayer-  “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  As we pray, we must trust God enough to say, “’Thy’ will be done, rather than ‘my’ will be done.”
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As we bring our petitions to God, we must consider the role of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 8:27 says,  “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (NKJV)  Notice that this passage says that the Holy Spirit makes intercession in our prayers according to God, not according to what we want.  It is a great comfort for me to know that I cannot manipulate God with my prayers.  As I go to prayer I can always trust Him.  
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Imagine if I wanted the rain to stay away because I did not want to have to mow my grass, but the Christian farmer was praying for rain for his crops.  God does not answer our prayers based on who can cry the loudest, throw the biggest temper tantrum, or give Him the most money.  God cannot be bought off or manipulated.  Instead He answers according to His will.  That is also a comfort to me even as I pray for the sick.  For example a year ago I was praying for a friend.  My desire was that she get well and stay alive, but instead God healed her by letting her die so she could be with Him (she was and is a believer).  As we grow closer to God, His desires should become our desires.
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I fear that too many Christians have the view that being filled with the Holy Spirit involves being able to get the Spirit to do what you want Him to do.  Instead we should learn that being filled with the Holy Spirit means that we are ready to do and accept whatever He wants rather than what we want.  I believe that explains 1 John 5:14, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (NKJV)
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As Christians, instead of trying to get God to do what we want Him to do, let us strive to do what He wants us to do.



Christ’s Yoke & Light Burden  8-22-14

In Jesus' day, the Pharisees were notorious for adding to God’s law while refusing to obey it themselves.  I remember hearing that they were so concerned about following the rules of not working on the Sabbath that they came up with rules about how far they could walk on that day.  Because some of them wanted to travel farther, they ended up implementing a rule that said they had to stay within a certain distance of the dirt of their home.  In order to get around that rule, some of them would then carry a bag a dirt with them and then drop that dirt on the ground allowing them to increase their distance of travel.
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The bag of dirt story shows us how easy it is for man to think that he can ignore God as long as he working hard to do something to please God.  That is not how the Christian life is to be lived.  Jesus said, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30 NKJV)
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Even though Christ’s burden is light, He still tells us to take His yoke.  In other words, God’s expectations are much easier to bear than man’s are, but God does have expectations for us.  Consider Colossians 3:5-10 NKJV, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.  But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,.”
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Though Christ’s burden is easy, it still must be carried.  In other words we need to be concerned about living for God’s glory and sometimes that can be a challenge.  The end of the above passage (verse 10 of Colossians 3) tells us to put on the new man.  In other words, once we are Christians we should be different than we were before.  We should be changing to be more like Christ.  The reality is that even as faithful Christians we sometimes struggle to live like we are supposed to live.  It is sobering to realize that the letter that says not to lie anymore was addressed to the faithful Christians in Colosse (Colossians 1:2).
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So how is a faithful Christian to live the Christian life without having it become a heavy burden?  Part of the answer is in verse 10 of Colossians 3.  Notice it says to be renewed in knowledge according to the image of Jesus Christ our creator. (See Colossians 1:16).  We are renewed in knowledge as we study God’s word.  We are renewed in knowledge as we pray.  We are renewed in knowledge as we think about God’s word.  There is however a very important way that we are renewed in knowledge that is found right in the book of Colossians.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16 NKJV)
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Christians are renewed in knowledge as they come together and hear the teaching and warning of God’s word and as they sing songs that teach Biblical truth.  This is one of the reasons why we should go to church.  Currently there are no churches meeting regularly on Sunday mornings in Worthing, SD.  We hope to soon start a church here in Worthing, so that Christians have a place to go so they can be taught and encouraged to follow Jesus Christ and to take on his yoke in a way that is not overwhelming. 


Legalism and Lawlessness     8-8-14

We have been picking green beans- actually they are purple beans this year.  My wife decided to plant a variety that that is purple instead of green.  I like them because they are easier to see when we pick the reward of our labors.  
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I have learned that some rewards are given for hard work and other rewards are given for just showing up.  For example, the reward of our purple green beans comes from the hard work of gardening.  On the other hand, our little boys often get the reward of Gummy Bears for simply showing up at Grandma’s house.
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Whether the reward was earned or just given because “Grandma loves you,” imagine how you would feel if someone tried to keep you from getting a reward that was meant for you.  
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In the book of Colossians, we read of a wonderful reward that is given to Christians.  That reward is the realization that we are complete in Christ.  Colossians 2:10 says, “and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (NKJV).  Because we as believers are complete in Christ, we are no longer under the Old Testament law.  “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14 NKJV)
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Sadly some were trying to deprive the Christian Colossians of their reward of salvation and completeness in Christ.  They were distracting them from Christ by putting their focus on angels instead.  Furthermore, they were not only trying to make them think that they needed to obey the Old Testament ordinances, but they were also adding other man made ordinances as well.  Consider vs. 16, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,” (NKJV)  The scripture is even more blunt in vs. 20-22, “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations-- ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men?” (NKJV)
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If we continue to read into chapter 3 of Colossians, we find that God does have expectations for Christians.  “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5 NKJV)  Further we read, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,” (Colossians 3:8-9 NKJV)
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I fear that the reward of the faithful Christian life is often robbed in a couple of ways.  The first way is to put a heavy yoke upon Christ’s followers that he never intended for them to carry.  This yoke is added by telling people that they have to do things that God does not require of them.  Adding the earthly requirements of man as if they had come from God is a dangerous form of worldliness. (see Colossians 2:20-22 above).  This worldly distortion of Biblical doctrine is often referred to as legalism.
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As damaging as legalism is, chapter 3 of Colossians shows us that lawlessness can be just as damaging.  The Christian must study the Bible to understand what God expects and to know the difference between man’s demands and God’s.  Without such diligent study, the believer is left to the whim of teachers who may either heap unneeded rules upon the backs of their followers, or encourage them to do things that are clearly forbidden in scripture.
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Because Christians must sort out the difference between legalism and lawlessness, it is important for them to study God’s word, but it is also important for them to find a church that preaches through the scripture verse by verse and explains what God wrote and why. 



Treat Your Children Well      7-25-14

My family and I recently spent two weeks at a Bible camp.  We were able to minister to kids from a variety of backgrounds.  Some of the kids were homesick, others did not want to go back home.  Our boys were among those who were not real anxious to go home.  They had a lot of fun playing on the playground, swimming in the lake, and watching the older kids play games.  Many of the kids who wanted to say longer had similar reasons, but for some the reasons were not as pleasant.
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Anyone who has worked with large groups of children quickly realizes that not every child has a happy family life.  It is heartbreaking to see tears in a child’s eyes because their parents are constantly fighting.  Some children have learned that alcohol is more important to a parent than they are.  Others have actually become the victims of physical and sexual abuse.
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As an adult, I would not want the stress of having to live in such an environment, yet many children have no choice in the matter.  The scriptures have a lot to say about children obeying their parents- in fact the command to honor them is the first command with a promise (Ephesians 6:2), but they also have a lot to say about treating children with respect.  
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Ephesians 6:4 says, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (NKJV)  Colossians 3:21 warns, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (NKJV)  
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Some parents simply view their children as an inconvenience to be tolerated.  Jesus was very clear that children were important to Him.  “Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.  But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:13-14 NKJV)
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Bible says that children are to obey their parents, but what happens when a parent uses that scripture to manipulate a child into sinning?  They are ignoring that even Peter and the disciples said that they ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  Those who use scripture to manipulate children to sin should heed the warning of Matthew 18:6, "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (NKJV)
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Though children should never be abused, they should be corrected.  Such correction shows that the parents do care about them.  “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12 NKJV)  
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Parenting is not always easy, but it is important.  To do it right we have to set aside selfishness.  The two greatest commands of scripture- to love God and to love others- involve putting aside our own selfishness for someone else.  This is especially true in parenting.  We must invest time in our children to be consistent in training and loving them.  Proverbs 29:17 says, “Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul.” (NKJV).  But we must also make sure that we not become brutal in our correction so that it becomes abuse.  “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”  (Colossians 3:21 NKJV)



The False Self Love Gospel   7-12-14 

I recently met a man who told me that the way to heaven is to love yourself.  I told him that Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 NKJV)  He then went on to say that he gets his teaching directly from angels rather than from the Bible.  I reminded him that there are both good and bad angels- that demons are the bad angels. 
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Sadly this man considered himself a reverend and said he was trying to help people with the messages he was receiving from these dark angels.  You may ask how I know that they were not good angels.  The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (NKJV)
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The message of loving yourself in order to get to heaven is a false gospel.  “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;  which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7 NASB)
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The gospel is summarized quite well in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Further clarity is given in I Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, (NKJV).
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Notice that Jesus died for sins.  That means that we are sinners who need our sins forgiven (see Romans 3:23).  Notice that not only did Jesus die, but He rose again.  That means He is alive and that we believe in a risen savior.  Believing in Jesus means we believe we need to have our sins forgiven and that He died and rose again in order to forgive them.  But John 3:16 makes it clear that we must believe in Him in order to have eternal life.  Consider John 3:18, "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (NKJV)

The most important command for the believer is to love God and the next most important is to love your neighbor as yourself (see Matthew 22:37-40).  As important as love is, loving yourself is not part of the gospel message.  In fact, selfishness causes us to love ourselves more than God or others and we need to set aside that selfishness to put God first. 
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2 Timothy 3:1-5 warns of those who love themselves, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (NKJV)
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Turn away from false gospels and false preachers, and turn to Christ.  God loves you even though you do not deserve it.  Having the love of the all powerful creator and sustainer of the universe is far more valuable than having a love for yourself.


Thankful After The Storm       6-28-14

Our basement is drying out and there is no longer a small lake in our front yard.  Monday June 16th 2014 was definitely an eventful- as well as discouraging- day as water ran into buildings and blocked or washed out roads.  Twenty two years earlier when I lived in Murray county in southwest Minnesota, that same day was also discouraging.  Many farms as well as the towns of Chandler and Lake Wilson were hit by numerous tornados on June 16th, 1992.  Therefore, as I look back a couple of weeks and a couple of decades on the date of June 16th, I cannot help but think of disaster.
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During times of disaster it is easy to complain.  Why didn’t the people who built our houses put more tile and larger sump pumps in the basement?  Why don’t the stores stock an extra 10,000 sump pumps?  Why can’t the county workers fix the road I want to drive on even though there are many other roads that are washed out as well, and the road I want to go on is still 3 feet under water?
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Instead of complaining we should actually be thankful.  Our area experienced terrible flooding, but people in Nebraska had their homes leveled by powerful tornados.  In other words, it could be worse.  
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What about those county and city workers who did not seem to care about my road or the water in my neighborhood?  Did we remember to thank them for the long hours that they were putting as they fought a losing battle to keep ahead of the water?  The evidence is clear that they lost that battle, but it was a battle that no one could have won.  We had some terrible flooding here in Worthing, but I was amazed how much better things looked the next day after the rain had stopped and I am thankful for the city workers and firemen who quickly pumped water away so things could dry up and get back to normal.
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I once heard that thankful people tend to be much more successful than complainers.  Though thankfulness can help with success, there is an even more important reason to be thankful- God told us to.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV says, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  It is hard to give thanks when your home is flooded or destroyed by a tornado.  That is why it is important to let the peace of God rule in our hearts, realizing we can trust Him even when we do not understand why these things are happening.  “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  (Colossians 3:15-17 NKJV)
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Regardless of our circumstances and regardless of what we are doing, we should be thankful toward God and we should be encouraging each other with our examples of thankfulness.  “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV).
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The next time you are tempted to complain, be thankful instead.  Remember to pray and thank God and then remember to thank those around for what they have done.



Are Christians Hypocrites?    6-13-14

Are Christians a bunch of hypocrites?  When Jesus was on earth, He accused the Pharisees of being hypocrites.  These religious individual claimed to have high standards, yet their lives were actually characterized by sin and Jesus rebuked them for that.  Would He do the same to many Christians today?
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We know that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  We also know that our sin is forgiven when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior.  “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14 NKJV)
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I Corinthians 6 speaks of some sins that Christians had been involved in and then in verse 11 it says, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”  So does that mean that once we are Christians, that the actions that we do are no longer sinful because they have been forgiven?  Some would suggest that since Christians have been sanctified by trusting Christ, that then we no longer have to worry about sinful actions since everything is now under the blood.  This is a very dangerous error.  The Apostle Paul warned, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1 NKJV)
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I John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  The parallel passage from the Old Testament is Proverbs 28:13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”  Sin is forgiven when it is confessed, but it should also be forsaken.  
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Often professing Christians are looked at as hypocrites because they don’t even seem to be concerned about the sin in their own lives.  It is true that we are saved by the grace of God without works (Ephesians 2:8-9), but as Christians we are created to do what is good and right (Ephesians 2:10).  
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Though we are not saved by our works, there are still a number of passages that command us to do what is right as Christians, so we must be careful not to emphasize grace to such an extreme that we are not concerned with how we behave and live our lives.  
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Some false teachers have suggested that since Christians are forgiven that they are automatically blameless before God no matter what we do and thus we do not have to worry about our actions.  Hebrews 10:10 makes it clear that we are sanctified through Christ’s offering on the cross.  That offering is what allows us to have eternal life with God in spite of our sins and purifies us before God, but that does not mean that every action we do is now blameless.  Hebrews 12:4-11 speaks of God disciplining Christians for sinful behavior.  If we were so blameless that our actions no longer mattered, why would God discipline the Christian?
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Consider II Peter 3:14,  “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” The scripture actually challenges us to put effort into living in a way that we ought to live so we are blameless in our behavior.  Consider: Colossians 1:10 and 2:6; I Thessalonians 2:12 and 4:1; Philippians 1:27; and Ephesians 4:1.  If we consistently obeyed these scriptures, we would not have be accused of being hypocrites because we would be living the way God expected us to live.



What if You Died Today?        5-30-14

My wife’s sister recently got married and our little boys had questions about her honeymoon.  Our six year old was quick to share his opinion that a honeymoon should only last one day.  His mother told him that his wife would probably like to have it last a little longer.  He was not convinced, so she told him that when he got married she would help him plan his honeymoon.  
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Our little six year old, then proceeded to tell his mom that she would not be able to help him with his plans because she would probably be dead by then.  As if a ‘one day honeymoon’ were not enough to show his lack of understanding of the female gender, he then told her that she would probably be dead because she was getting old.  To make matters worse, he then proceeded to tell her that he would have daddy help him.  Of course I thought it was hilarious since I am quite a bit older than she is.
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Fortunately my wife saw the humor in it as well.  Even though she is still quite young and statistically speaking, she should be able to expect to be alive when her sons get married, we really do not know how long any of us will live.
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This week we received some very sad news.  A friend of ours was killed in a head on collision on I-35 south of Albert Lea.  He was only 28 years old and engaged to be married next month.  As tragic as that event was, it does have a happy ending.  Our friend James was a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and had trusted Him as his Lord and Savior.  2 Corinthians 5:6-8 says, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord--  for we walk by faith, not by sight-- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” (NASB)
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James death is sad for those of us who love and miss him, but we realize that he is home with the Lord.  That is the happy ending.
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We take comfort in eternal life with the Lord, but let me make this discussion a bit more personal.  If you were to be the one who died in a head on collision, do you know for sure where you would go when this life ended?  
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The only way to know for sure is to trust Jesus Christ alone as your Lord and Savior.  He told us in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  He also told us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6).  
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These verses make it clear that our hope for the next life is based on our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Still, the question remains, can we really know for sure?  First of all, let me remind you that Jesus Christ is God and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).  If He promises us eternal life through believing in Him, then we can trust that promise.  Further let us not forget another promise that He made in John 6:37, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (NASB)  He gives a warning as well, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 6:36)
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As a Christian I desire to stay on this earth as long as God wants me here so that I can serve Him, but I also realize that when my life is over and my time here is done, that I get to be with Him because I have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.



I’m Struggling With Pride     5-12-14

We have small children so that means that they have a fairly small vocabulary.  Before having our family Bible study, I realized that we were going to be reading a passage that dealt with pride and humility.   One of the statements said, "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."  (James 4:6b NKJV).  I realized that my sons did not know what pride and humility actually were .  I explained to them how when we are proud we think we are more important than others, but that when we are humble we care about what others want instead of always thinking we have to have our own way.
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That conversation reminded me of how easy it is to be proud- to think that I am the most important person in the world.  I remember a friend who used to say that he looked out for himself because no one else would.  I found that strange because I really did care about him and was even willing to get the shorter end of the stick to help him.  Sadly he ended up alienating a number of people by living out his attitude of pride.
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It is a lot easier for me to see pride in my friend than it is to see it in myself.  Why?  Because my own pride blinds my assessment of myself.  Jeremiah 17:9 reminds me, “ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
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It is bad enough that someone might think that they are more important than their fellow human being, but what happens when we end up thinking we are more important than God?  Even though I know that God is more important than I am, I have caught myself living as if I believed the opposite.
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For example I have taken pride in living as a Christian ought to live.  Why should I be proud of doing what is my duty to do?  (Luke 17:10)  Yes, we should obey God, but we must remember that even when we do all the right things, we still fall far short of His glory, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  As Christians we are supposed to be like Christ, but when I take pride in being like Christ I become more like the devil who said, “I will be like the most High.” (Isaiah 14:14)
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The same pride that gets me in trouble for thinking I am more holy than I really am, can also get me into trouble by convincing me that I am important enough to do whatever I want to do.  Let’s face it, sin can be fun for a short time.  When I start to think that I am so important that my pleasures are a greater priority than obeying God, then my pride has again pushed me farther from God.  I cannot help but quote Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
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The answer is Jesus Christ.  His payment on the cross has once and for all atoned for our sins.  That payment is applied to us when we believe on Him.  At that time we must humble ourselves before Him realizing He will draw near to us.  I realize that when I take my eyes off Christ and put them on myself I end up either being proud of my spirituality or I end up thinking I am important enough that my obedience doesn’t matter.  When I remember that Jesus Christ is God and that He is the most important one, then I realize that I must obey Him without taking pride in doing what I am supposed to do.




Are There Donkeys in Heaven?   5-1-14

As we were driving to church, I listened to our little boys having a conversation.  Our 6 year old said that Jesus knew about donkeys because He rode on one.  I reminded him that Jesus knew about donkeys because He created them.  John 1:3 tells us, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  Once I mentioned about Jesus making everything, our little boy replied, “I knew that dad.”
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Actually what had led to this conversation was our boys discussing whether or not there were donkeys in heaven.  Soon our 5 year old said, “Yes, there are!  I know it.”  When his answer did not seem to satisfy everyone he then said, “I know it because the Bible says so.”  I raised my eyebrows because he had just turned 5 a few months ago and cannot even read yet.  
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I was tempted to chuckle; however, I realized that this was a serious matter that needed to be addressed.  I told him that there was actually not a specific statement in the Bible about donkeys in heaven and that we should not say something is in the Bible if it is not there.
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Sadly both Christians and non-Christians alike end up believing that the Bible teaches things that it does not teach simply because they have heard wrong information.  That is why it is so important to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV)
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It is understandable that a 5 year old might make a mistake about what is actually in the Bible, but sadly some adult religious leaders make mistakes or intentionally deceive others about what is in the Bible.  Sometimes they even say something is not in the Bible when it is actually there.  
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The average Christian sometimes struggles to know what the Bible really teaches.  For example some may wonder if the phrase, “a penny saved is a penny earned” is in the Bible.  Help for such answers can be found by looking up words in Strong’s Concordance, which is a large book that lists all the words in the Bible and where they are found.  A simpler option would be to do a computer search by visiting a site like Blueletterbible.org.
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Though such tools are helpful they do have their limits.  Consider the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Though that exact phrase is not in the Bible, the idea is.  Matthew 7:12 says, "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (NASB)
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Such examples remind us why it is so important to read and study the Bible.  They also show why it is important to find a church where the Bible is read and studied.  Though our 5 year old cannot read yet, we do read the Bible to him.  His confusion should remind all of us to pay attention when the Bible is read or preached so that we not get confused.  It is also a good idea to take your Bible along with you to church so you can read along as it is being taught.
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I do not know if there will be donkeys in heaven.  I tend to think they will be there, but I want to make sure that I not claim that something is in the Bible when it is not.



What if They Don’t Forgive?     4-17-14 

Romans 3:23 tells us, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”  Sin affects our relationship with God, but it also affects our relationships with one another.  Fortunately God’s word tells us what to do when sin messes up our relationships.  For example, Matthew 18:15-17 explains:  "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'  "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (NKJV)

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If a brother sins against you and they realize they are wrong and ask for forgiveness, then the relationship can be restored.  We see in Matthew 18:17 that if they do not listen then the relationship is not restored, but at least the attempt was made.  But what happens if a person is confronted and realizes they have sinned, but the one they have sinned against refuses to accept their apology?  Later in Matthew 18, Peter askes, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Verse 21).  In verse 22, Jesus answers, “ I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”  In other words, instead of keeping track of how often you have forgiven your brother, just forgive him.
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But what happens when you realize that you have sinned against someone else and you ask for forgiveness but they are not willing to forgive you?  Jesus was very firm in His answer concerning this when He said in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:  But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  The context of this passage as well as the parallel passage in Mark is prayer.  Though unforgiveness does not cause us to lose our salvation, it does keep us from close fellowship with God.
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We must also realize that when someone else refuses to forgive us, that cannot keep us out of heaven nor can it keep us from having the right relationship with God.  It does however, keep us from being close to them.  If we have confessed our sin to them and asked for forgiveness and they refuse to give it, then they are the ones in the wrong, not us.  I know it hurts when someone refuses to forgive, but we must understand that even if a person refuses to forgive us, God will not withhold forgiveness.  I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Even if the people around us refuse to forgive, God still forgives when we humble ourselves before Him and admit our sin.  Let us remember that He is the one that really matters when it comes to forgiveness of sin.
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We still must humble ourselves before our fellow man and ask forgiveness when we have sinned, but realize that some people are too sinful themselves to forgive us.  As sad as that is, we must take comfort in the realization that even if people will not forgive us, God will.  I am so thankful that even though we have a just God who must punish sin, He is also a loving merciful God who will forgive sin.  In fact, He sent His son to die on the cross to make the payment that we could not pay so that our sin could be paid for once for all.  As we remember Christ’s resurrection, let us also remember God’s forgiveness if we believe on Jesus as our Lord and Savior.


Faith & The Science Method       4-4-14

What is science?  When I was in school we were taught the scientific method.  It was essentially a 4 step process of coming up with an idea and then doing experiments to either lend support to the idea or to suggest that the idea was wrong.  It would break down something like this:  1) Make observations  2) Come up with a hypothesis (theory)  3) Test the hypothesis by doing an experiment  3)Analyze your data and come to a conclusion.
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We were taught that as we did experiments, we had to be very careful to have a proper control group because we could easily come to the wrong conclusions.  For example, if we left a piece of bread lay in the refrigerator and watched it turn moldy we might conclude that refrigerators caused mold.  A better experiment would be to have 2 refrigerators side by side with the exact same humidity in each one but with different temperatures.  Then have another experiment with the exact same temperatures but different levels of humidity.  Soon you would realize that there are other factors involved in mold growth on bread.  Mold growth was not caused by the refrigerator.
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In our bread mold/refrigerator example we quickly see that although the scientific method is helpful and important, there are many factors that can easily be missed by the person doing the experiment.  That should sound a loud warning that we must be careful about putting too much security in the conclusions one draws from the experiment.  At the same time we must also realize that valuable data is being gathered.
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So what happens when data is gathered and conclusions are too hastily presented as facts?  Fortunately the scientific community is not publishing articles telling us to get rid of refrigerators because they cause mold, but some in the scientific community are suggesting that we reject the Bible because of the conclusions that they have come to based on their observations.  Others have looked at the same data and suggested that it actually supports the Bible just as some would look at the bread experiment and suggest that it actually shows us how important refrigerators really are.
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The field of science is made up of people- and people have biases.  I know I do.  With all the data available to us, we still have not settled the old debate about what is better, Ford or Chevy.  Sure, you may have settled it in your mind, but your neighbor still has his bias.
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Imagine if this were 80 years ago and you sold ice.  Your bias against refrigerators may have tainted your conclusions.  At the same time imagine if you sold refrigerators.  Your bias may cause you to overlook some conclusions.
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As a Christian, I understand that I have a bias in favor of the Bible.  The reason I have such a bias is not because of greed to be able to sell a refrigerator, but rather because of my faith in my God.  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” 
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In every experiment there are things going on that we cannot see.  Even if we watched the mold grow with a microscope, there are still things going on with our bread experiment that we could not observe.  Because I have trusted Christ, I realize that my faith is a part of my evidence.  But I also realize that those who do not believe the Bible bring their bias into the experiment; therefore, it is not valid for them to reject my conclusions simply because of my faith.
Obey God Rather Than Men  3-25-14

We just finished with our taxes.  The tax rules are so confusing that I hired an accountant to help us.  For many Christians, God’s rules are just as confusing or even more confusing than the tax code, but they shouldn’t be.  I recently read that it takes 73,954 pages to explain the US tax code.  The Bible is closer to 2,000 pages and much of that is history, poetry and prophecy.  It is not all commands.
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We all have rules to abide by that have no connection to morality.  For example, an employee at a prestigious law firm may be required to meet a very stringent dress code that includes an expensive suit and tie.  Even some minimum wage jobs require wearing a specific uniform.  These are requirements placed upon man apart from the requirements of God.  Still they do have a connection because Christians are taught to obey their masters as long as doing so would not cause them to disobey the Lord.  We are even taught to pay taxes as we “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
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Further there are rules of society.  For example it is considered rude to burp loudly in public even though there is nothing in scripture that specifically forbids such behavior.  In fact, in some cultures it is considered a compliment to burp after a meal.  Still as a Christian in this culture, I want to avoid such behavior because of my love for my neighbor realizing that that the sound may make them uncomfortable. 
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With all the different rules that affect us- expectations of our government, our boss, our teacher, our parents, and society in general, it can be difficult to sort out what God really expects of us and what sort of things are simply the expectations of man. 
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Sometimes because of the churches involvement in expectations the line can get even more clouded.  For example during lent, some may avoid meat on Fridays in order to focus more on God.  Giving up anything for a time to give more attention to God is wonderful and ought to be encouraged, however; we must understand that we cannot find a specific directive in scripture to observe lent by avoiding meat.  Another example would be the expectation that men wear suits and ties to church on Sunday.  Although there is nothing wrong with someone dressing up for a special time of worship- especially if they are doing it to honor God- it is not a specific requirement of scripture.  In fact, scripture condemns those who look down on others for not being dressed as well.
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All these expectations can end up leaving a Christian confused about what God really expects.  For example, I have met Christians who did not even know that sex outside of marriage was wrong even though I Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” (NKJV) 
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The Bible book of Colossians addresses this challenge of balancing the rules of man with following God.  Colossians 2:20-22 NKJV says, “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations--  "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men?”  Then in the next chapter we are told,  “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2 NKJV).
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Really what it comes down to is that we need to be more concerned about following what God has commanded us to do than what man has commanded us to do.  In order to know the difference we must know the Word of God.  “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV)
Are Your Children Unruly?     3-7-2014

I sat in the adult Sunday school class with my 2 year old son on my lap.  Occasionally he would wiggle, but he had learned to sit still- for the most part- as I held him.  After class the lady across the table told me how impressed she was about how good he was.  I responded that he was not always that good.  She then said that she was also impressed with how well his 2 older brothers had sat in the same class a few weeks earlier.
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At that time I admitted to her that our 3 and 4 year had been in class with us because they had not wanted to go to their own class even though we had told them they should.  I then explained that we had been on the road a lot recently, preaching in other churches, and that the boys were often in unfamiliar settings and had gotten a bit scared and wanted to be close to Mom and Dad.
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This brings up an important question:  Were my children being disobedient and unruly in a way that would disqualify me from being a pastor because they were too scared to go to their class and insisted on staying with us?
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Consider 1 Timothy 3:4-5, “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)”  Consider as well Titus 1:6, “If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.”
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Let me be honest.  This is not the only issue my children have.  They do not always sit quietly- especially if they have to sit for more than an hour.  Further, they fight with each other over toys, they have taken candy without permission, and they have tracked mud across the floor.  Even though we remind them to take their shoes off, they sometimes forget or are just in too much of a hurry to obey.  Is this what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he used the word “unruly” in Titus 1:6?
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Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible defines the underlying Greek word for unruly as:  “unsubdued, i.e. insubordinate (in fact or temper):- disobedient, that is not put under, unruly.”  The Geneva Bible Notes (commentary from the year 1599) gives some further light to the subject when it states, “This word is used of horses and oxen, who will not tolerate the yoke.” 
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In 1599, it was much more common to have horses and oxen in a yoke than it is today, yet the usage of the word should help our understanding.  Though a horse may tolerate a yoke, that does not mean it will never throw its head or even stomp its hooves.  Further the driver of the yoke may have to pull the reigns to steer the animal back on course from time to time. 
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The same is true of children.  They are not robots that we can just program for an automatic outcome.  We have attempted to program them to never walk across the house with muddy shoes and they are improving, yet they are not perfect.  Even a well trained horse may have to be reigned in now and then.
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Still, children should not be allowed to run wild.  A pastor, just like any parent should be concerned about the behavior of his children.  A pastor who has no restraints on his children should be disqualified from ministry, but this does not mean that his children have to be sinless.
Avoid The Kool-Aid Men       2-21-14

As a child, I remember watching commercials for Kool-Aid with the Kool-Aid man.  He was basically a big juice pitcher with hands, feet, and a smiley face who offered Kool-Aid to kids after breaking through a wall.  As he walked away he would turn to the kids and exclaim, “Oh yah,” as he saw that their thirst was quenched.
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In the innocence of my childhood, I was encouraged by the Kool-Aid man to drink Kool-Aid, but when I became older, I often heard the warning, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”  So why would people warn against drinking Kool-Aid when the commercials of my childhood showed it to be such an effective thirst quencher?
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In 1978, a preacher by the name of Jim Jones convinced his followers to drink Kool-Aid that had poison in it.  Over 900 people were so loyal to Jones that they ended up dying after drinking the poison Kool-Aid.  After that event, the phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” became a warning not to blindly follow any human leader.
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Jesus gave warnings about false teachers long before Kool-Aid ever hit the market.  He said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 NKJV)  "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” (Matthew 24:11 NKJV)  
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The Apostle Paul gave similar warnings when he said, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30).  He also sent this warning to a young pastor named Timothy, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1-5 NKJV)
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Around the same time that Jim Jones was feeding his followers Kool-Aid, another false teacher name Bill Gothard was gathering followers.  Instead of bringing them to a commune like Jones did, he sent them back to their local churches.  Many of those churches became divided as people had to decide whether to follow Gothard or the Bible.  Many pastors quickly recognized Gothard as a false teacher as he began to impose dietary restrictions and discouraged marriage.  Still he gained loyal followers.
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Today Bill Gothard is an old man and does not travel around to seminars like he used to do.  Still he has much influence through the ATI home school curriculum that he distributes.  In the 1980’s he briefly stepped down due to a scandal involving young ladies who where volunteering at his ministry.  A short time later, he returned to lead the ministry after replacing those who would have held him accountable.  Sadly however many of his followers have continued to defend him no matter how much false doctrine has been exposed or how much evidence of ungodly behavior has been presented (34 different women have come forward).  
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The examples of Jim Jones and Bill Gothard should remind us as Christians that we must be followers of Christ, not of men.  It should remind us as well to study the scripture and really find out if what we have been taught is correct and then reject false teachers, even if it means we have to swallow some pride and admit we were wrong for following them. 

Conditioning is not Repentance  2-7-14

All of our boys love playing in water.  The problem is, that apart from the bathtub, their earliest experiences playing with water involved another bathroom fixture. We quickly set forth to condition them that playing in the toilet was unacceptable behavior.  Eventually they learned that it was easier to leave the toilet alone than it was to suffer the consequences.
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As they grew older, we began to notice that there was a difference between their conditioning to avoid certain behaviors and a genuine concern over doing what was wrong.  We could train them to do what we expected of them, but that did not mean that their hearts had actually been changed.  In other words, they really did not understand that there was anything wrong with playing in the toilet, they just knew that they would be scolded if they did it.  
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We could explain all the details about germs and messes, but our 2 year old simply was not able to understand.  On the other hand, it was encouraging when our 4 year old realized he had really hurt his brothers feelings and went and told him he was sorry with genuine concern in his voice.  
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Although having concern for our fellow man is a good thing, when we sin we should have an even higher concern.  We should be concerned that our sin has offended a holy God.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23 NASB).
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Sadly, too many people are more concerned about the consequences of their transgression than they are about sinning against God.  The Apostle Paul had to write a letter to the Corinthians to confront their sin (the book of I Corinthians in the Bible).  After being confronted, the Christians there were really sorry for what they had done.  Paul then writes another letter to them where he says, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.   For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 NASB).
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As we include God in the picture, we understand that the issue is more than just having sadness over our actions or avoiding the consequences of our sins.  The issue is understanding that our sin is wrong in God’s eyes and thus turning from our sins to instead obey God.  That is what repentance is all about.
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Let me ask this question:  If you could steal a large sum of money and never get caught and no one would know about it, would you do it?  For many the answer would be “yes” because they are only concerned with the possibility of punishment or the stigma of being called a thief.  Godly sorrow, however motivates us to understand that our sin is wrong regardless of whether or not we are caught.  Remember God knows about all our sins.  A truly repentant person wants to avoid sin because he wants to serve God.  
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God will ultimately hold us accountable for our sins, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a)  But He loved us enough to pay for our sins by sending His Son to die on the cross,  “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)
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That is why it is so important that we repent and believe, not just condition our lives to avoid sin.
I Want to Eat All the Candy    1-24-14

Our little boys love candy.  If we were to leave candy sitting on the table I have no doubt that it would quickly be eaten.  We could tell them that it is not a good idea to eat too much candy, but in spite of our warnings about excess sugar and the dangers of obesity, I am confident that they would still continue to indulge in candy.
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As they grow older, I hope that they will develop some restraint.  We seldom buy pop, but on a recent trip to the grocery store, my 4 year old suggested that I get pop.  He did not argue with me when I said no, but instead said that when he is big like me he would get pop when he went to the store.  That was a reminder that not all adults control their desires.
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Though eating too much candy and drinking too much pop can affect our bodies, there is nothing sinful about pop or candy.  On the other hand, there are activities that are sinful and should be avoided- even if we realize we would get pleasure from participating in them.  
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For example, I too like candy.  In fact, I would really enjoy a Snickers bar right now.  Imagine however if I were in the grocery and I had no way to pay for the candy bar, so I just stole it because I really wanted it.  Of course that would be wrong.  Exodus 20:15 tells us, “Thou shalt not steal.” (8th of the 10 commandments).  Ephesians 2:28 admonishes us with the words, “let him that stole, steal no more.”  
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Obviously stealing would be wrong, even if having and eating that candy bar would make me happy.  What about other sins?  Stealing the candy bar would obviously affect another individual and deprive them of their rightful possession, but what about a sin that does not affect another so directly?
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An example of such a sin would be the viewing of pornography in the privacy of ones own home.  Just because a person has the desire to do such a thing does not make it right.  Jesus was very clear when He said, “but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28 NASB).  Let us not forget that the 7th commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
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What if a man lusts after other men instead of women?  First of all, let us understand that we do not all struggle with the same temptations.  Some do not have to struggle with stealing Snickers bars, but they do struggle with the temptation of pornography.  Others may not struggle with lying, but they do struggle with the temptation of homosexuality.  Rather than debating the reasons for such temptation, let us look to the scriptures and determine what God says about the behaviors.  
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The scriptures are clear that stealing, lusting after women, lying, and homosexual acts are sinful.  The scripture is also clear that many other things are sinful as well. Rather than condemning each other for the temptations we face, let us instead encourage each other to obey God and exercise self control regardless of our temptations.  With that in mind, never make an excuse for the actual sin, but also be careful about being judgmental toward someone who is resisting a sin that you never had to struggle with.
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Further if you are a Christian and are struggling with temptation toward a sin that the scripture clearly condemns, do not sin that grace may abound- even if others in society tell you that it is okay.  As Christians, we need to let God decide what is a sin.  That means we ought to avoid sin, even if it goes against our desires.  Even if we want to eat all the candy in the candy store, that does not mean we should do it.
 For further questions or comments, please contact southtownbc@yahoo.com or visit southtownchurch.com

 

God’s Will for a New Year     1-10-14

I have a Miller family history book on my bookshelf.  It was written by my dad’s cousin.  On page 51 is a picture of my great-great grandfather’s house in Lennox, SD.  That is where he lived just before he died.  We drove by that house on the evening of New Year’s Day and it is still there even though my great-great grandfather died about 105 years ago.  
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Much has changed in the past 100 years so I was not sure if the house would even still be there, but sure enough there it was. Though that house remains, my great-great grandfather, my great grandfather, my grandpa, and my dad have all passed away.
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About 100 years ago, my great grandfather moved from Worthing where my grandpa was born to a farm north of Lake Wilson, MN.  Most of my family still live in that area.  As I grew up in Southwest Minnesota, I had no idea that I would one day end up moving back to the area of my forefathers.  In fact, I did not even remember that they were from this area until after we were already planning to move here.
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Though I had now idea where my life would lead, God knew all along.  I think of Isaiah 46:9-10, “Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, 'My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,'” (NKJV).  
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As I remember the past, I am reminded that God already has the future all planned out.  My moving to Worthing may have surprised me, but it did not surprise God.  It is reassuring to know that I serve an all knowing, all powerful God.  
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Notice as well that verse 10 of Isaiah 46 says that God’s counsel (His purpose)- shall stand.  It also says that He will do all He pleases.  I take comfort in praying to an all powerful God who knows the beginning from the end.  I also take comfort in knowing that He will do as He pleases.  
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Some may wonder why I find comfort in praying to a God who does whatever He pleases instead of praying to a god that  I can get to do whatever I want him to do.  If I were powerful enough to get God to give me whatever I wanted, then my God would not be all powerful and if I could get what I wanted, so could others.  What if I wanted rain and someone else wanted sunshine?  
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The God I pray to is all knowing and does as He pleases, so He knows what is best.  Further I take comfort in knowing that He is good and that He loves us so much that He sent His son to die for our sins.  Thus I can face the new year ahead- and all the years He allows me to have- with complete trust in Him and His will no matter what trials or blessings may come my way.



The Bible is a Relevant Book  12-27-13

Have you ever walked in on the middle of a conversation and realized that you must have missed something? For example, someone may have been talking about a friend who had been so embarrassed that “she wanted to die.” Imagine someone overhearing just part of that conversation and thinking that the friend was actually suicidal.

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I fear that sort of thing happens all too often with the scriptures. If we only get part of a passage, we can end up jumping to some really bad conclusions. That is why context is so very important in the study of scripture. Not only should we focus on the context of the surrounding verses, but we need to also focus on the context of the audience that is being spoken to.

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There is a song about the Bible that says, “Every promise in the Book is mine.” That is an invalid statement, because there are promises in the Bible that are not mine because they were given to a different audience. For example in Genesis 17:6, Abraham is promised that he would have descendants that would be kings. That is not a promise that is given to everyone. In that same chapter Abraham is given a promise that his 90 year old wife will have a son. That does not mean that every woman has the promise of bearing a son when she is 90. Clearly the context of the audience makes a difference in our understanding of scripture.

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The context of history is also important. For example, at our Monday night Bible study we just began to look at the book of Nehemiah. In that book we find out that Nehemiah is concerned about the fact that the residents of Jerusalem had not rebuilt the walls around the city. Earlier the prophet Haggai had been concerned that the residents of Jerusalem had not rebuilt the temple. In fact he rebuked them for making their own houses fancy while neglecting God’s house.

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But as we look at the historical context of Nehemiah, we find out that there is more to the story than just the residents of Jerusalem having other priorities rather than rebuilding the wall. First of all, Judah/Israel was not an independent country at this time. They were instead a province of the Persian Empire. Further when we look at Ezra 4:13-23, we find out that the Persian King had ordered them not to rebuild the wall. The historical context that we find in other portions of scripture as well as secular accounts of that time period, help us to better understand the events that unfold within the book of Nehemiah and how God worked in an amazing way in order to allow the wall to be rebuilt in spite of all the roadblocks that kept coming up.

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Not only does context help us to have a more accurate understanding of Scripture. It also makes it more exciting. It helps us to understand how all the pieces of Biblical history and Biblical doctrine fit together in a unified way that not only makes sense, but is really interesting and electrifying.

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Some people think that the Bible is boring. I believe that it only seems boring because many have not yet seen how the pages of scripture unfold to tell a magnificent story. Context helps us to understand the scripture so that we can see it’s true relevance.

 

The Best Christmas Gift   12-13-13

Christmas time is exciting- especially with little kids in the house. We have four little boys and our oldest is almost 6 and our youngest is 2. It is fun to see their excitement as they open their presents. Of course with little boys in our house, we have a lot of toy trucks. We have some friends who only have little girls and they have a lot of dolls.

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Even though our boys love trucks and tools, they have dolls as well. Of course they look like dolls that have been played with by boys. Instead of dressing them up in frilly dresses, our boys have colored them with markers.

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As fun as trucks and dolls are, I hope we understand that they are not what Christmas is really about. Christ-mas is about the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but even as we consider the true meaning of Christmas, we can still end up missing it’s full significance.

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Our oldest son Jared recently reminded us of why Christ’s birth is so important. He approached his mom and told her, "Mom, I need to tell you something. My dolls need Jesus too." From a strictly theological perspective, dolls do not have souls and are not even alive, but our little boy had the right idea in realizing that everyone needs Jesus.

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That is why it was so important that Jesus was born into this world. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In other words we need Jesus in order to have everlasting life. This is clarified later in the same chapter when verse 36 states, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

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The wrath of God sounds a bit scary, and it should, for the wages of sin is death, but the love of God should balance that fear with comfort because the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

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Can you imagine a better gift than eternal life? As much as I would still like a toy truck for Christmas, eternal life is way better than even a brand new real truck and all we have to do to receive it is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

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Christmas is about the birth of Christ, but it should be about so much more than just that. It should also remind us that baby Jesus grew up to be the Savior of the world as He died on the cross for our sins and that He did not stay dead, but rose again 3 days later. If you believe in Him as your Lord and Savior- your only hope for eternal life- then you too can be assured that you have the greatest gift of all. Take comfort in the promise that He made when He said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37) No wonder so many are excited about celebrating His birth.

Don’t Eat Ducks in That Pond 11-29-13

On a cold day this fall, I suddenly heard the honking of geese. They were flying in a southern direction- obviously heading for a warmer place to spend the winter. Earlier I had noticed a group of ducks floating on a body of water. I was not sure if they were local ducks or if they too were just passing through, but the water that they were floating on was a sewage lagoon.

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I must admit that I was a little grossed out, but for someone who did not know what sort of pond it was, the scene could have looked peaceful and even pleasant. There were beautiful trees and lush grass surrounding the pond and the ducks looked quite healthy and happy.

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That scene got me to thinking about how things are not always how they seem. The scripture actually warns us about those who seem good but are actually evil. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 says, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” (NKJV)

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Satan and his ministers do not always look like a murky sewage lagoon. Instead they might look more like a peaceful pond. They might even say a lot of things that sound good on the surface.

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Satan’s messengers try to look like spokesmen for Jesus Christ, and Satan tries to make himself look like an angel of light. Let us not forget that the true light of the world is Jesus Christ. “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12 NKJV)

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Before the apostle Paul warned about the Satan and his ministers in 2 Corinthians 11, he warned, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted--you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4 NKJV)

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Today even some church leaders are saying that there are many ways to God, but Jesus Himself was very clear when He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 NKJV)

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When someone pretends to be a spokesman for Christ and says that there is a different way to God, they are giving a different gospel and are thus ministering for Satan rather than for the truth. They are like the stinky sewage pond that may look good on the outside but is a mess within.

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Jesus is the only way to eternal life. "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12 NKJV). We should not expect the false teachers who give another gospel to have horns and a pointed tail. We should not even expect that they will look ugly and menacing, but we should be able to compare what they say to what the Bible teaches.

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I would not want to eat a duck that had been swimming on the sewage pond, and I would not want to follow a false teacher no matter how good they looked

 

Can You Relate to The Bible? 11-16-13

How high can you count? My three year old surprised me by counting to 5 all by himself. His older brother was not able to count that quickly. For some reason he had trouble figuring out the difference between 3 and 4. He would count one two four and then get stuck, even though he knew six, seven, eight. Finally I came up with a rhyme so that he could remember three. I told him to say, “three is like me.”

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Soon he was counting by saying, “one, two, four is like- three is like me, four, five…” Before long he no longer had to use the rhyme because he had learned the number 3.

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It can be frustrating trying to learn something and getting confused. To those of us who have been counting for a long time, three and four do not sound all that much alike, but to my little boy they were very confusing.

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The same sort of confusion can come when people first start to study the Bible. Theologians are able to quickly distinguish between Noah and Moses, yet some of them have still fallen for the trick question about how many animals Moses brought on the ark (Noah built the ark, not Moses).

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For those reading through the Bible for the first time, all those names and events can look like advanced algebra to someone who has just learned how to count. Once you figure out the difference between Noah and Moses, you then have to figure out the difference between Elijah and Elisha.

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It is kind of like watching a TV series for the first time. When you tune in during the middle of the second season, you do not know all the characters. You do not even know right away who the good guys are and who the villain is, but as you watch you begin to sort things out. Imagine thought that the TV series took place over hundreds and even thousands of years of history and the characters were constantly changing. If the series were really exciting, you would want to go back and watch the first season to find out what led up to the events in the second season. That is what the Bible is like.

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The Bible is not just a bunch of random stories that are not connected. It is a history of a people and of a particular family group and it traces that family group all the way to Jesus Christ.

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Once you realize that the events of the Bible are connected, you can then start to see how exciting the scriptures really are. That is part of the reason why I like to preach through a whole book of the Bible and explain who the people are, the significance of the events, and how we can relate those events to our lives.

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Often when people go to church, they only get a small sample of Bible verses and then the next week they get another random sample from another place in scripture so they do not get to see how the events are connected. It is almost like seeing a bunch of random movie clips without sitting down and ever watching the movie. My goal is to plant a church where God’s word is preached verse by verse so that people can see who the Bible characters are. Then they can also learn about who God is, how He interacts with man, and how He is relevant to our lives today.

Don’t Stay Up All Night           11-1-13

I drove home late the other night and began to get tired. As I stopped to get gas, it changed from night to morning as the clock ticked past midnight. I was still about an hour from home and I wanted to get back to my family and my own bed. I walked around as the fuel pumped. I wanted to feel more awake for the final leg of my journey.

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No doubt about it, the sleep was sweet once I was finally able to lay my head on the pillow, but how important is sleep? Had I continued to drive without getting out and moving around, I would have become a danger to myself and others. Had I continued to drive much later instead of arriving at home it would have also been hazardous.

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Sadly, some suggest that sleep deprivation is a sign of spirituality. No doubt we must take into account the verses that say, “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest; So shall your poverty come like a prowler, And your need like an armed man.” (Proverbs 24:33-34 NKJV) In other words, if you are too lazy to get out of bed and go to work, do not be surprised if you are a victim of poverty.

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Still, there is another side to this issue. With modern lighting, it is much easier to stay up late and avoid sleep. From the Christian perspective this too can be a problem. First of all, let us not forget that God created man to need rest. The Lord said in Mark 2:27, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath day was set apart for man as a day of rest because God understands that we need to rest.

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The Psalms speak of meditating on God’s word day and night and even give special attention to focusing on it at night, but simply depriving ourselves of sleep can end up being an exercise in vanity. Psalms 127:2 tells us, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” Let us not neglect the gift of sleep. Even modern medical science shows us that sleep deprivation is hazardous to our health. As Christians our bodies are God’s temple. We need to take care of our bodies, and that includes getting enough sleep.

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But sometimes laziness can take the form of being poor stewards of our sleep. For example the person who only got 4 hours of sleep because they stayed up half the night watching TV is not less lazy than the person who got 9 hours of sleep after a hard days work. Ecclesiastes 5:12 tells us that the sleep of a labouring man is sweet.

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As Christians we need to be careful not to love sleep so that it leads to poverty (Proverbs 20:13), while still getting the rest that God made us to need. This is one of the many areas of the Christian life where if we only look at a couple of isolated verses, we can end up with wrong conclusions. Biblical balance shows us that we should not be lazy and spend all our time sleeping, but it also shows us that we need rest. Therefore, if you are reading this in bed and it is time to get up, throw off those covers and get to work. If you are falling asleep while reading this after a hard days work, then reward yourself with a good night’s sleep.

 

 God’s Love for Bad Guys  10-18-2013

Our little boy’s favorite TV program is Emergency. It is a series from the 1970’s that features two emergency rescue workers and their adventures helping others. The other day our 3 year old was laying in the back yard pretending that he was hurt and trapped in a hole. The 5 year old was tying the dog cable around him so that the 4 year old could hoist him out. I had to caution them not to hurt their little brother as they pulled while smiling under my stern admonition.

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Another one of their imaginary adventures involved a “bad guy.” I did not hear all of what was happening in their role play, but I listened long enough to hear our 4 year old say, “We should tell the bad guy about Jesus. He needs to know that Jesus loves him.” Some would have expected to hear, “We need to shoot the bad guy,” but instead my little man realized what the bad guy really needed.

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In a child’s mind, a bad guy is someone who steals, hurts, or kills, but according to the scriptures we are all bad guys. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23). Although the following list is by no means exhaustive, it gives some examples of the sort of things that prove we are all “bad guys” in God’s eyes. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-10 NKJV)

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Some may look at that list and say, “Well, I’m not a drunk or a thief, so at least I’m all right.” But notice that even being covetous- wanting what someone else has- makes us unrighteous before God. No wonder Romans 3:10 says, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” As I look at my own life, I realize that I truly have sinned and come short of the glory of God. I also realize that the wages of sin is death. I realize that because of my unrighteousness, I do not deserve to be allowed into the kingdom of God. I realize that because of my sin, I am a bad guy.

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But I also realize the truth that my 4 year old shared. I understand that Jesus loves me. I understand that God loves me even though I am a sinner. “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8 NKJV)

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The consequences for my sin are serious, but because of my trust in Jesus Christ, I do not have to face those consequences. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) God’s gift is eternal life through believing on Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

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Remember that list of sins from I Corinthians 6? The Corinthians that the Apostle Paul was writing to in that letter were bad guys, but they had trusted Christ, therefore he is able to say in the very next verse: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:11) If you have not yet trusted Christ, you can trust Him now and be washed as well.

Our Creator and Savior          10-4-13  

Our boys have a new fort.  Their uncle came to visit and he gathered up 3 old pallets for walls and then covered them with leaves and branches that he cut off of our willow tree.  It looks like a cross between an obstacle course and a duck blind, but our boys love it.  I have to admit that it is a cool fort for 4 little boys.
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The fort sits right between the house and the garage- two structures that took much more planning than the fort did.  Though the house took much more planning than the garage, I must admit that it is a fairly simple structure compared to the Corn Palace.  The Corn Palace might seem impressive until you see Mt. Rushmore.  Still, the work Borglum did on Rushmore is nothing compared to the creation of the whole world. 
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We do not expect that Mt. Rushmore came about by chance.  I do not even look into my backyard and imagine that the wind blew the willow branches and pallets together to make a fort.  So how did the world get here?
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One of the most ancient history books states in it’s opening statement, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)   Then we read later in Isaiah 44:24, “Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself.” 
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There are many other verses in the Bible that refer to God as creator.  One of the passages that I love the most concerning creation is the passage that shows that Jesus is creator, thus showing that He is God.  Colossians 1:16-17 states, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
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The study about what the Bible’s teaches concerning creation shows us many vital truths.  Just in this short article we have already seen that God is the creator and that Jesus Christ is God.  But why should we listen to what the Bible says over other history books?  The Bible claims to be much more than just a history book.  2 Peter 1:21 tells us, “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (NKJV)
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The Bible is not just some history book.  It is not just some myth made up by some clever author.  The Bible is God’s word given to us through the Holy Spirit.  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16 NKJV)
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Look again at Isaiah 44:24, “Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself.”  Notice that not only is the LORD our creator, He is also our redeemer.  Jesus not only made us, but He redeemed us.  That means He paid the price for us as He paid the price for our sins on the cross.  That means He saves us from the penalty for our sins if we believe in Him- not just as our creator, but also as our savior. 
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As we understand that Jesus is our creator and savior, not only should we believe on Him, we should also worship Him as God.  "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created." (Revelation 4:11 NKJV).

Whoever Believes, Will Live      9-20-13

As we enjoy the wonderful fall weather, it is a great time for a picnic. As my wife was preparing for our outing, she mentioned that the cooler was down in the basement. Deciding to be helpful, I went down to get it. The boys were already in bed. It was dark outside, and the house was quiet. She did not realize I had gone down to the basement and as she began to descend the steps, I came around the corner carrying the cooler. Of course, my unexpected presence startled her.

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Many are also startled by the uncertainty of eternity. A prominent religious leader was recently asked if someone who does not believe in God could go to heaven.

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As I heard the question, my thoughts went, not to what certain clergy believe, but to what does the Bible say. In other words, if I had to answer that question, would I be able to give scripture to support an answer?

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One of the first passages that comes to mind is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This passage obviously relates eternal life with belief, but does it exclude unbelievers? In order to answer that question, we must look not just at one isolated verse, but also at the verses around it. 20 verses later, we read, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

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As we look to these scriptures we find that the Bible teaches that we must believe in more than just some generic creator God, but that we must believe in Jesus Christ. Consider as well, John 14:6 NKJV, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” Acts 4:12 NKJV states, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

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Still the question might be asked, “Why would God hold someone accountable to Him when they don’t even believe in Him?” The book of Romans in the Bible helps to answer that question. In chapter 1 vs. 20 we are told that creation is a testimony to God’s existence so that the unbelievers are without excuse. Then in Romans chapter 2, verses 14-15, we see that even those who do not have the word of God, still have a conscience to convict them of their wrongdoing. This leads us to chapter 3, where we are told in vs. 10 that there is none righteous, no not one and vs. 23 were it says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

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So creation shows us that there is a creator God. Our conscience shows us we are sinners. If that were all the farther we went in our discussion, the Bible would be far more frightening than even an intruder in the basement, but look at what it says toward the end of Romans 3, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:24-26 NKJV).

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Even though the consequences of sin and unbelief are serious and scary, God loves us so much that He sent His son to provide forgiveness to those who believe. Take comfort in the words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

 

Be Humble Enough to Laugh     9-5-13

My wife and I had an argument in the middle of the night. We were both dreaming and then we both started to talk in our sleep- actually more like half asleep. She was dreaming about braiding a strap for one of her projects and I was dreaming about laying cement block. Suddenly she said out loud to use the strap. Since I did not think that a strap should be used on the block, I told her so. I then woke up enough to realize she had been talking in her sleep while still not understanding that I had been doing the same myself.

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We both began to drift back to sleep, but then I decided to roll from my back onto my side. Suddenly she warned, “be careful!”. Thinking I may have accidentally pulled her hair I asked what was wrong. The response, “You are going to knock them over.” Realizing she was talking in her sleep again, I chuckled and said that at least they would fall on the bed. She then told me not to be so sarcastic.

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The scripture says in Ephesians 4:26 not to let the sun go down upon your wrath. Well the sun had not even come up yet, so I figure it was okay that I just let her fall back to sleep even though she seemed to be upset with me.

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The next day I asked her if she remembered our conversation from the middle of the night. She did and she also began to laugh. I knew then that there was no worry about her going to bed angry.

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As funny as all this sounds, the tension between Crystal and I was very real during our argument even though we were not fully awake. Other times it has been just as real when we have been awake. Any time two people spend a lot of time together it should not surprise us that disagreements and even anger will result. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

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Sometimes I am the one who sins and causes the tension. Sometimes it is Crystal. Often it is both of us. Sometimes we just misunderstand each other.

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So how do we go to bed at night without being mad after something has caused tension between us? The answer is to set aside pride. If I am the one who sinned, I have to swallow my pride and admit it. If she is the one who sinned, I have to set aside my pride and forgive her. If it was a misunderstanding, then each of us has to be humble enough to admit that we did not grasp what was going on. Proverbs 13:10 affirms, “Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.”

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James 4:1 states, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (NKJV) Why do we fight to get our pleasures? Because we are so proud that we think that what we want is the most important thing. In order to get along with each other, we need to humble ourselves.

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After our middle of the night fight, Crystal and I were both able to look at ourselves and laugh. Essentially we were humble enough to see the humor instead of so arrogant that we were upset with each other. May we all set aside our pride so that we get along with each other.

 

 

 

Will God Tickle Your Feet?  8-23-13

As I stood in my bedroom getting dressed, I could hear our little boys playing outside of the door. They knew I was there as well and soon one of them poked his foot under the door and said, “Daddy, tickle my feet.” I did not go over right away so he repeated his request. After he had asked about three times, I finally went over and tickled his feet. Soon two of his brothers also had the tips of their feet under the door. As I tickled their feet, they squealed with delight.

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In their position on the other side of the door, they could not see Daddy, but they knew I was there. They could hear me in our room, and then they could feel my presence as I touched their feet.

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As I enjoyed that special time with my sons, I also thought about my time with God. Though I can not see Him with my eyes, I know He is there. No, God does not tickle my feet as I pray to Him, but He is concerned about my feet. Notice what Jesus did when He was here on earth. “After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:5 NKJV)

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Though God is no longer here on earth in human form so that we can see Him and have Him wash our feet, He has not forgotten about us. He still cares about us and He is still showing us His very real presence.

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One of the most obvious ways that God reveals Himself is through His creation. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 NKJV) The very presence of the world and the things around us are a testimony to the reality of God. Even though we cannot see Him, we can see what He has done and is doing. Psalm 19:1 has a similar message, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”

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It is one thing for God to reveal His existence, it is another thing for Him to actually show that He cares about us and wants to interact with us. For example, my boys knew I was in the room, but I could have just ignored them when they stuck their toes under the door. Our God does not ignore us. Not only has He given us the Bible to tell us about Himself, He also sent His only begotten son into the world to die for our sins so that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life. Let us not forget that even before He went to the cross He showed His love by washing feet. We really do have a wonderful God who really does care for us.

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My boys called out to me to ask me to tickle their toes. God wants us to call out to Him. We are told to pray without ceasing. In other words, we should be talking to God all the time. Though we cannot see Him, He is there and He wants to interact with us.

Are You Too Sick for Love?       8-9-13

Our family is recovering from the dreaded summer cold. For awhile, we thought that our four year old would escape the misery, but then his nose started to run. Not only did his nose run, but he became very fussy. He was so out of sorts that we finally sent him to bed.

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When a four year old does not feel well, he gets a bit cranky, but so does a forty year old. I must admit that I was not in the best of mood when I had a headache and runny nose.

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Is it okay if I become rude and grumpy simply because I have a cold? Is it okay for us to justify sinful behavior because of our circumstances? Consider the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5. Some of the things that are listed like hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, and envy are the sort of things that I am much more susceptible to when I do not feel well.

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If I give into sin, I end up hurting those around me. By doing that I have violated the most important commandments of all. “Jesus said to him," 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NKJV)

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If we love God, we will want to avoid sin even when we do not feel well. If we love others we will want to treat them like we would want to be treated. I do not want others to act like a sick four year old and I doubt that they want me to do so either.

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Instead we need to let our love abound even when we do not feel like it. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 says, “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” (NKJV).

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In order to resist the temptation to be grumpy with others because of our circumstances, we need to have a love for God and others. In order for that love to really affect our lives, we need to allow it to grow more and more.

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We also need to understand that God sets the perfect example of love. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the appeasement for our sins.” (I John 4:9-10)

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Let us also remember that Jesus did this for us even though the death on the cross was very painful and He understood that it would be. His attitude the night before the crucifixion should be a great lesson to us as He said, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." (Luke 22:42 NKJV)

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We need to do what is right regardless of how uncomfortable we may be. Jesus did what was right as He obeyed the Father and went to the cross. We need to do what is right and act in a loving godly manner regardless of how we feel.

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As I understand how hard that is to do and how often I myself fail, I am so thankful that Jesus did go to the cross so that my sins could be forgiven. Still, I do not want to sin so that grace might abound. Instead I want to love God and others even when I do not feel like it.

 

God, The Perfect Father           7-26-13

I used to hate getting a Charlie horse in my leg. I did not realize that there was anything I could do about it until a friend told me to grab the end of my toes and stretch the muscle in order to bring relief. I was amazed at how quickly it worked.

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Our little boys sometimes get Charlie horses in their legs as well. I realized this when our first child woke up during the night crying. We tried feeding him and changing his diaper but nothing seemed to help. He had no fever or symptoms of teething, so we figured he was just being fussy for no good reason. I must admit that I was running out of sympathy for the little guy because I wanted to go back to bed. Then I saw him pointing at his foot. Suddenly I had an idea- maybe he has a Charlie horse. I carefully pushed on the end of his foot and he pushed back with his little leg and then instantly calmed down.

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We were recently driving home late in the evening. The boys had been playing hard all day and quickly fell asleep. Suddenly our 3 year old woke up crying. We asked him what was wrong and in his sleepy voice he said that he wanted to play. Usually he sits in his car seat without complaint so we thought this was strange- especially considering how tired he was. Crystal tried calming him down, but he continued to fuss. It was almost one of those “Daddy is going to pull the car over” moments, when we figured out that he had a Charlie horse. As soon as she pushed on his foot he settled down and went back to sleep. I figure that he wanted to get out and play so that he could stretch is leg.

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Children should be expected to behave. In fact, Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” At the same time parents also have a responsibility toward their children. Just a few verses later we read, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 NKJV)

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If I had pulled over and disciplined my 3 year old for fussing over a Charlie horse, I would have been provoking him to wrath instead of helping him.

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Imagine if my treatment of my son had ended up shaping his view of God. Imagine if I had disciplined him when he actually needed my help. He might end up thinking that God was like that and that He only wanted to hurt him when he was in trouble instead of helping him.

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I, as a father, do not always know or understand my children’s needs. Before they are able to talk, I do not always know where they hurt or why, but our God knows everything. He, like a good father, disciplines us and holds us accountable for our actions, but He also understands our true needs and loves us so much that He sent His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

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God is not like the dad who just lets his kids get by with anything, but He is not the cruel father who beats his kids or yells at them for every little thing either. He is a God who lovingly holds us accountable and also lovingly cares for us. Further He is a God who forgives us even when we do wrong, mercifully allowing us back into fellowship with Him as we trust Christ’s payment for our sins.

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I realize that I will never be the perfect father, but God is.

 

John Deere & Jesus Christ   7-14-13

My lawnmower quit working.  It was not a total surprise, since it was about 35 years old and I knew the engine was getting weak.  The fact that it lasted that long is a testimony that John Deere has made some decent mowers through the years.  Still, I was discouraged that my day was messed up and the grass was getting longer.  
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It is not unusual for us to face such challenges in life.  Maybe the car won’t start or you have a flat tire.  Perhaps the problem is more serious, such as a job loss or an illness. Learning to trust God with the little things like a broken lawn mower can help us to face the bigger challenges in life.
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Romans 5:1-4 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope“ (NKJV).
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If my trust were in John Deere rather than Jesus Christ, my whole world would have fallen apart when the lawn mower would not run.  Because I have peace with God through Jesus Christ, I realize that His grace is sufficient for the trials of life.
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In fact, as Romans 5:3 says, I can actually glory in tribulations.  In other words I can boast as I rejoice about the problems I face.  I am not talking about being a masochist.  I do not look forward to problems- instead I realize that when they do come, I can trust God and even allow Him to use them in my life.
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As I look at Romans 5:3-4, I understand that God used these trials to help me persevere so that I have the sort of enduring patience that will allow me to better face the larger challenges in life.  “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope“ (Romans 5:3-4 NKJV).
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Not only are patience and character built up through the trials in life, but as we come through them, we realize that there is hope.  When I could not get the lawn mower running, I decided to go to Craigslist and find one that would get me by until I could get the other one fixed.  I thought I had found one, but that led to another trial because when we showed up to look at it, it would not start.  Suddenly, the seller was facing an even greater trial than I was as he shared his embarrassment.
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I did not buy that lawnmower from him, but I found something even better- the stranger trying to sell his lawn mower became my friend.  Friends are far better than lawnmowers.  This is a great reminder that even in trials there is hope.
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The story gets even better.  When I called my brother and told him of my problems, he told me that he had an extra mower that wasn’t in the best of shape but it would probably work for a while.  I went to pick it up, but stopped at a Snapper dealer on the way and found a really nice used mower at an excellent price- such a good price that it was not worth fixing up my old mower.  Not all our trials work out as good as this one did, but it is a reminder that we can trust God and have hope even when things are not going so well. 

Knowing the Rules of the Game 6-28-13

 

We only live a few blocks from the recreation complex in Worthing. It has a picnic shelter, playground equipment, volleyball net, and softball field. The boys love to go there to play. The other day as I was driving home, I noticed a lot of cars there and realized that there was a little league softball game going on.

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I told our three oldest boys about it when I got home, and they were excited to go and watch. They call any shirt that has numbers on it a “ballgame shirt” and any pants with stripes running up the side of the leg “ballgame pants.”

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The oldest is five, so their knowledge of ballgames is quite limited. They saw the catcher and they were wondering why she was wearing all that stuff. I then began to try to explain the most basic rules of the game, understanding that they did not even know what I was talking about when I said “safe” or “out.”

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Most of us take the basics of playing softball for granted, but for my little boys, this is all new to them. It may be easy to take the basics of the Bible for granted as well. We should not be surprised that if someone has not been taught anything about the Bible, that they will not understand it.

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Further, some have been taught the wrong things, so they have come to the wrong conclusions. Imagine if our boys had watched 9 base kickball, and thought that there could be multiple runners on each base and then tried to play softball. Imagine if they tried to use a bat when playing kickball.

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Often people have the same frustration with the things of God. They know about as much about God as my boys knew about softball, but how many adults would have the courage to go to a softball game and ask why sometimes the batter is out after not hitting the ball and sometimes they get to walk to first base. Further, how many people would have the courage to ask why some people get to live with God after they die and others don’t.

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John 3:36 gives the most basic answer, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” That verse taken along with John 3:16 shows us that belief- putting our full confidence in- Jesus Christ is what makes the difference. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life“ (John 3:16).

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Knowing enough truth to get to heaven is one thing, but we should want to learn more. As we walk the Christian walk, we will strike out from time to time, but our walk will be much more effective if we know the rules of the game. That is why we should study the Bible- God’s rule book. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

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God’s rules do not have to be a mystery to us. My desire is to teach people God’s word without assuming that they already understand it. I do not care if they know who Moses is as long as they want to learn. Before they know it, they will be running around the bases of Bible history and Bible application.

 

Stay Out of the Mud Hole                   6-8-13

We have a mud hole in our back yard.  Our little boys love to play in it.  The other day our four year old rode his tricycle into the puddle and got stuck.  His five year old brother found a light log chain, hooked it onto the trike and was trying to pull him out.  Earlier the three year old wore his mom’s cowboy boots into that same hole and got them all dirty.  Of course she was not happy about that.
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Not only did Crystal have to wash her boots, she also had to wash our boys.  We finally had to put limits on playing in the mud puddle.  We told them to just stay away from it because they were making too much of a mess. 
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The problem is that little boys really like mud holes.  Still, their love for mud holes does not make their disobedience okay.  The three year old especially has trouble staying away.  His lack of maturity is reflected in his disobedience. 
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As a father, I get discouraged when my children disobey, but then I am reminded of my heavenly father and my own disobedience.  As Christians we are saved by grace, not our works, yet God still expects us to obey Him.  Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”
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I Corinthians 6:9-10 gives a list of sinful activities that would keep us out of heaven if it were not for God‘s forgiveness, but then look at what verse 11 says, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 
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Just as the boys get all dirty in the mud hole, our lives are dirty with sin.  “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).   “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  The dirtiness of sin has consequences-death.  Still, because of God’s grace, we have the gift of life.  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
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We are all dirty with sin and need to be washed by believing in Jesus Christ as our savior.  Once we are washed we should not continue to sin just so we can get grace, yet that grace is still available to us when we do sin.  Like our little three year old, we should be growing in maturity so that we sin less.  “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:1-2).
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Sadly, too many people return to the mud hole of sin.  “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”  (II Peter 2:22)
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As believers, we should not go back to the mud hole of sin, instead we should recognize that we are washed through the blood of Christ and then stay clean because we love Him and want to obey Him.  “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 

Fear God’s Restraining Power  5-30-13

Our youngest son is finally walking.   Not only is he walking, but he is already trying to keep up with his bigger brothers.  As I write this he giggles as he tries to wrestle with our oldest son.  He has no chance at this point to defeat his big brother, but he keeps going back for more.  His big brother wrestles back but without using his full strength so that he does not hurt the little guy.
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I remember doing the same thing with my little brothers.  They had little fear of me, because as we wrestled I was careful not to hurt them, but because I was so much bigger, they did not worry so much about hurting me.  I finally quit wrestling with them when they became big enough that I could no longer pin them without hurting them.
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As I watch my boys I think of Jacob wrestling with God (I believe Jacob wrestled with Jesus Christ taking on human form in Old Testament times).  “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.  And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.” (Genesis 32:24-25)  
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As we think of Jacob wrestling with God, realize that God could have used His power at any time to subdue him, but that God chose to let the wrestling continue.  Also realize that God never has to worry about a little brother growing up and becoming stronger than Him someday.
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Our one year old son has no idea how much power his wrestling opponents have, and as he wrestles with his brothers, he has no fear of them.  I sometimes wonder how many people approach God in a similar manner.  If my one year old wrestles with me, I have the strength to take his life, but love him enough to protect him rather than harm him.
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God loves us so much that He sent His son to die for us, but He also has the power to take our lives.  Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
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Though we should never forget about God’s love, we must also remember both His strength and His justice.  If I were to wrestle with my sons and one of them continued to kick me as hard as he could, then he would find himself on the receiving end of justice so that he understood that he was not allowed to carelessly hurt others.
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As we remember God’s strength and justice, we must not forget to have a reverent fear of Him as we realize the justice that He can bring to bear.  “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36)  “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:  For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)
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God does love us, and has shown us mercy by holding back the full power of His wrath from us, but we should view Him with awe (fear) as we realize the power He has and the justice we deserve.

Biblical Standards and Love  5-17-13

Because we are sinners living in a sin cursed world, all of us have experienced some measure of heartache in our lives because of sin.  Perhaps someone was rude to you or you were rude to someone else.  It may be tempting to just decide that this is the way things are and there is nothing we can do about it.  We may not be able to change other people, but we should be concerned about our own behavior.  
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As Christians, we understand that the greatest command is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor.  With that in mind it should not surprise us that our love should be growing more and more.  Philippians 1:9-11 says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”
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As our love abounds more and more, the result should be a life that understands what is excellent according to God’s standards, and then that should translate into a life that is lived in a righteous way.
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As we study scripture we find a number of things that should not characterize the Christian life and we also find things that we as Christians should be doing.  All of scripture taken together and applied appropriately should show us how to apply our love for God in a way that conforms to His standards.
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Still, we understand that none of us will measure up to those standards.  “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Still that should not be an excuse to ignore His standards.  “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1).  
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Because of our love of God, we should not make excuses for those who reject God’s standards, but what happens when someone accuses us of rejecting God’s standards as we are trying to apply them?  This can sometimes happen among those who have a zeal for serving God.
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For example we have some friends who have a concern for dressing in a modest way as not to offend God or cause others to stumble.  We share that same concern.  The problem is that our application differs drastically.  They believe that for a woman to be dressed modestly she must not wear pants.  Though I disagree with their conclusion, I admire their desire to do what they think is right, however, when they invited us to go roller skating with them, I insisted that my wife wear pants.  I did this for the same reason that the women in their family wore dresses- modesty.  My wife had not skated in years and I figured that if she fell down and her legs went up that it would be much more modest for her to be in pants than in a dress.
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You see, both families were concerned about high standards, but our conclusions were quite different.  This is a reminder that we need to be careful about not being judgmental toward those who apply a principle a bit differently than we do.  It is also a reminder to let our love for God and our love for others abound more and more as we take care to apply God‘s standards appropriately.

No More Than We Can Handle     5-3-13


I recently talked with a man who had been through some very severe trials over the past year.  His wife had suffered a brain aneurism and could have died.  Even though she survived there was a time when they were not sure whether or not she would even be able to respond to them.  By the grace of God she has now made a remarkable recovery.  
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This story is exciting for a number of reasons.  The doctors had done all they could and were able to offer little hope, but many Christians were still praying when she began to recover.  The answer to prayer and the miracle of God’s love was only part of the story.
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As others were praying, the family of this wonderful lady were posting updates on facebook and as they did so, they were expressing their trust in God.  They were a real life application of the lessons learned from the book of Job.
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As we talked about the events of the past year, this man who had just been through some amazing trials along with his wife and son, told how years ago God had prepared him for what he would face by showing him that before Job faced his terrible trials, God had decided how much Satan would be allowed to inflict Job with.
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At first Satan was not even allowed to affect Job’s health.  “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:12)  Job’s health was later affected but not until God had given the permission for that to happen and even then He made sure that Job would not be killed.  “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.” (Job 2:6)
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For some the events of Job may be frightening as we realize that God did allow Satan to persecute Job, but for others these events are comforting as we understand that Satan was not able to do any more than God allowed.  I do not want to suggest that every tragedy is the direct result of Satan, but I do want to remind us that God is in total control and that although He allows turmoil in our lives, He also makes sure that there are limits on how much turmoil we face.  “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13)
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As the family faced the heartache of a brain aneurism, they knew that as bad as it was, God had not forgotten them and that He was only letting it get as bad as He allowed.  
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As I shared our plans to plant a church in a town that has no church, another friend told me that I should expect to face opposition because Satan would not be happy about what was happening.  I told him that is what I expected, but that I also knew that God was more powerful than the devil and that whatever Satan wanted to do to us, it had to get past God first.
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It is so comforting to know the truth of I John 4:4,  “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”  Because we live in a sin cursed world, we should not be surprised by the trials of life, but should take comfort that the God who loved us enough to send His Son to die for our sins is in total control and that He will only give us what we can handle.  Job thought at times that he had more than he could handle, but in the end he made it through.  So did our friend with the brain aneurism.
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