Ask For the Napkins 7-19-21

Restaurant Waiter Clip Art

Jacky's is our favorite restaurant. They always serve chips and salsa as an appetizer. Because the salsa is so good, I try to get as much of it on my chips as possible without dripping. In the challenge to reach my goal, I often fail. In other words, I end up dripping on the table or myself before that delight reaches my mouth.

That means that I usually need more than the one napkin that is provided. As great as this restaurant is (remember it is our favorite) they do not provide extra napkins at the table. I could complain and murmur about it and leave a mess all over the table. Instead I simply ask for extra napkins when we get there. The result is that the waiter brings plenty of extras and there are more than enough to meet my needs.

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that we had eaten there a number of times before I figured out the best way to deal with this problem. I would drip and then complain to my wife that I only had one napkin, which I wanted to save to use during our main course.

She would smile and shake her head and say that if I were more careful, then I would not make such a mess. Her clean side of the table was proof that such an approach was entirely possible. We would then have a friendly banter back and forth about how good the chips tasted with the extra salsa on them.

The problem was exacerbated by the wonderful service from the waiter. If he noticed our salsa bowl was empty, he would often bring us another one. Realizing they aimed to please, I finally figured out that all I had to do was ask and we had what we wanted.

Still that does not mean that the waiter would give me whatever I asked for. For example, if I had requested 2 dozen roses with our meal, I doubt we would have gotten them.

Our napkin experience makes me think of James 4:2- “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.” (NASB) James is writing about conflict and selfishness, and he points out that often there is conflict because people do not even bother to ask.

Imagine if I complained about our favorite restaurant and told people not to go there because they did not have enough napkins. The reality is that they have plenty of napkins and all I have to do is ask for them.

We should not be so selfish as to expect that everyone will give us all we ask for, but often there are people in our lives who would be more than willing to make small adjustments in their life to make other's lives more pleasant. These are the sort of people who love Jesus and obey his command to love their neighbor as themselves. We should make it a point to never complain about others not giving us what we want if we have not even asked them. At the same time, we should make sure our requests to one another are not unreasonable.  

Roses Through Broken Glass 7-5-21

Red Rose Clip Art

I had a new windshield installed in the pickup. Glass Doctor did a great job and was priced reasonable. They said it should be less than 2 hours so I just waited while they fixed it.

We live almost a half hour from their store. I figured by the time I had my wife come and pick me up, and then bring me back, I would only have about an hour at home. That would also use up an hour of her time. It made more sense to just wait there.

I was actually late to my appointment that day and apologized the the service tech who had to wait for me. He was very polite and assured me that he was able to get some other things done as he waited. The reason I was late was because there had been an accident on I-229 and I got caught in stop and go traffic. Although slowing down and waiting on the interstate was incontinent, it was much better than being in the accident.

Once I got to the waiting room I was able to enjoy my time there. I am reminded as the Mac Davis song says, “There's a whole lot more to life than work and worry. The sweetest things in life are free, and there right before your eyes.”

The waiting room was comfortable and quiet. I actually fell asleep until an old guy came in. He was all upset over how long he would have to wait. He only had a stone chip and they told him it would be 20 minutes. He was upset when he heard I had been there a whole hour. I told him how nice it was that I got some time off to relax in a comfortable chair in a cool quiet place. He kind of hurumphed. I tried to visit with him, but he seemed too upset about how long he had to wait to talk much.

I viewed the time I had to relax as a gift. It had been a busy week and , just sitting and doing nothing was a real treat. I'm guessing the man who was complaining had been stuck sitting around all day every day and it was not so much fun anymore. At his stage in life, he would have likely found joy in again having the strength to put in a hard days work with little rest.

The point is that we can all find things to rejoice in if we just stop to smell the roses along the way. One of the best things to rejoice in is the fact that the sweetest things in life really are free. That includes the free gift of salvation from God. 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)

The gift of being saved from our sins came when Jesus died for our sins. All we have to do to receive that free gift is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. "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.” (John 3:16 NASB)

If you have been too busy to slow down and see God's free gift, it is time for you to stop and smell the best rose of all. The best thing in life is a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ and it is free. 

The Light of God's Glory 6-21-21

It has been hot lately. Years ago I figured out a trick to help deal with the extreme heat. Once the temperature gets into the 90's and the sun is out, our bodies actually stay cooler if we wear a light colored long sleeved shirt. A large wide brimmed hat that shades our head and shoulders is also helpful. The sun is so powerful that we need to be shielded from it.

The bright sun has the power to burn our skin, but it also has the power to burn our eyes. We cannot look directly into it without doing severe damage to our sight. The light of the sun is powerful, but so is the light of God. Jesus told us in John 9:5, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (NKJV).

Jesus is God. He is the creator. In fact, he invented light. “Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3 NKJV) If he had not set aside so much of his glory when he became a man, he would have blinded us with his magnificence. Three of the disciples were able to see a bit more of Christ's glory at the Mount of Transfiguration. “And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” (Matthew 17:2 NASB)

This amazing event of transfiguration gave them a sample of how much more glorious our Lord was before leaving much of his glory behind in heaven. Philippians chapter 2 explains how Jesus emptied himself of so much of that glory before coming to earth. Verses 6-7 tell us, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (NASB) Instead of grasping his full glory and holding on to it, Jesus Christ let go of so much of it as he came to this earth as a man. Had he not done so, no man could have stood before his full glory and lived.

Moses was warned: “But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" Then the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.” (Exodus 33:20-22 NASB)

Moses got to see more of God's glory than we could imagine, but God protected him from the full force of that glory. Had Moses seen all of God's glory he could not have lived through the experience. Jesus is God and it was merciful of him to decide not to grasp all that glory before he came to earth as a man.

Still there was something that Jesus did hold on to when he came into this world from heaven. Although he emptied himself of so much, he stayed filled with grace and truth. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NASB) Not only did he still have grace and truth, but he stayed full of grace and truth. Although he emptied himself of much of his glory so that mankind would not die in his presence, he stayed full of grace and truth.

That grace led him to die for our sins. The truth is that the benefits of that grace are only for those who believe on him. "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.” John 3:16. 

Left Out and Lonely 6-10-21

Everyone-the-same-all-unique Clip Art

Have you ever felt lonely in a crowded room? I got some great insight into loneliness when I asked the kids during children's church about the subject. One young boy said that loneliness was “feeling left out.” As I began to reflect on what he said, I thought that his description was the most accurate that I had ever heard.

I remember when I was single and lived alone. I had a lot of friends, but really enjoyed my “alone time.” I did not feel lonely. Part of the reason was that I did not feel left out. I could be around other people any time that I chose to.

I also remember my first day of college. I grew up in a small rural school where I knew almost everyone. When I walked into college I had to go to classes where I knew no one. Until I got to know new people, I felt very left out. It was very lonely.

I recently preached through the last chapter of II Timothy. Paul wrote this letter from prison. In such a place we can understand why he would feel alone. As we read what he wrote, however, we realize that he had reason to feel left out as well. In verse 16 of ch 4, he says, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.” (NASB) When no one supports us and deserts us, we can feel very left out.

I have been to numerous burials with family members this spring. As we gathered together and hugged, I did not feel left out at all. Friends and family were a comfort to overcome the loneliness of losing a loved one. But as we left the cemetery, the bodies and ashes of loved ones were left behind. Once family is gone, a cemetery can be a very lonely place.

After Mom's graveside service, we knew her body would be placed in the ground next to the body of Dad. If her future were limited to that casket within a concrete vault next to Dad's concrete vault, then her future would truly be lonely. She has been left out of the rest of our lives.

In many ways, she already felt some of that even before she died. Last year with Covid restrictions she was already left out of so much that the rest of us were able to do. We tried to help her loneliness by calling her and visiting her outside her windows and patio door. Now she is left out of our lives in a more dramatic way.

Although she is left out of our lives, she is not alone. She is not left out of God's presence. Because of her trust in Christ, she could look forward to the promise of II Corinthians 5:8 that says, “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) When we trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior, he does not leave us out, so we do not have to worry about eternal loneliness. He promises, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37 NASB) 

I Will Weep- I Have Joy 5-24-21

My mom recently passed away. I have been experiencing a variety of emotions that I am not even able to understand. I found great joy as I looked through old photographs of Mom and had wonderful memories flood into my mind. Then I would have sadness as I realized I could not call my mom on the phone or just randomly stop in to see her. I would smile as I saw pictures of her smile, but than I would feel sad as I realized I could no longer see that smile in real life. I would typically spend a great deal of time trying to come up with ideas for a Christmas gift that Mom would enjoy. Suddenly I realized that we will not be spending Christmas with Mom this year. Then I would remember all those wonderful times when we were together and there would be joy mixed with sadness.

I have to admit, that I have not really focused on “dealing” with my emotions. Instead I have just let them come. I understand that they are natural and as long as they are not incapacitating me or interfering with my relationship with others, then there is nothing wrong with having emotion. Even Jesus wept. It is significant to note that his weeping occurred after his friend Lazarus had passed away and he saw his friend's sister and others grieving over that death. Jesus cares about our grief and understands what it is like to lose someone we care about.

A Bible verse that keeps passing through my mind is I Thessalonians 4:13. It says, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” (NKJV) That verse does not say that those with hope do not sorrow. It does however show that our sorrow is different than that of those without hope.

I serve the Lord Jesus Christ- the same one who cared about Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. My mom served him as well. Jesus not only came to comfort Mary and Martha, but he actually rose Lazarus from the dead. He has promised to do the same thing for my mom some day because she believed on him. 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.” 1Thessalonians 4:16 promises, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:”

I am grieving the loss of my mom, but I am not grieving without hope. I know the promises of God. I know that just as Lazarus rose from the dead- and so did Jesus Christ- my mom and all others who believe on Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior will live again some day.

I have grief because I miss my mom, but I also have joy because I know she no longer suffers. Further I do not fear that she will have eternal suffering. Instead she has the promise of eternal life. Therefore I can have joy mixed with my sorrow.

Digging For Great Treasure 5-9-21

Pirate Treasure Chest With Coins Clip Art

As I looked across the vacant lot across the road from our home, I saw someone digging in the grass with a small garden spade. Since it is spring time, I thought she might be planting something. As I approached she told me she was digging for metal. She had recently purchased a metal detector. The vacant lot was near the the location where a church used to stand, so there was potential for coins or old keys to found in that location.

Soon my boys came over and they were excited about the potential of buried treasure. I was more interested in the metal detector's ability to locate our water shut off valve. Finding that would be worth more to me than old coins. The lady told me she would see if she could find it.

I left but when I came back my wife was talking to our new friend, and our boys had a bunch of holes dug in our yard. The valve had not been located, but our boys were as excited as if they had eaten a whole bag full of candy. The potential of finding something valuable had stimulated their interest.

Of course different people find value in different things. Finding the water valve would have gotten me excited. Fortunately we have not had to use it, but it would be nice to know where it is in case it was ever needed. The boys were excited about finding some old tools buried in our yard. Others would be happy finding jewelry or coins.

Some of the best gems are not buried in the ground. They are found by opening the Word of God. Psalm 119:162 says, “I rejoice at Thy word, As one who finds great spoil.” (NASB) Those who love to read have realized the treasures that can be found within the pages of a good book. The Bible is a book that was given to us by the creator of the universe. He guided the human authors so they could tell us what He wanted us to know. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17 NASB)

It was exciting for my boys to find the old tools in the yard, but the rusty drill bit and chisel were of little financial value. God's word however is profitable- not for financial worth, but for equipping us to do what is good.

One of the highlights for our family is the Monday night Bible study. We gather at the church with others and dig into God's word. As we do so, we find many treasures of truth that both encourage us and help us to better serve our Lord and savior. Don't just read God's word, dig into it and find great spoils of treasure. “Therefore I love Thy commandments Above gold, yes, above fine gold.”

(Psalm 119:127 NASB) 

God Gave Much For Peace 4-25-21

                                                  Thug Clip Art

When I was a kid my dad advised me to fight back against a bully. I was not afraid of the bully, but I did not want to hurt him, so I did not want to fight back. I just wanted peace. I tried to ignore him. I tried to appease him. Finally there was a small physical altercation and then there was peace. We actually became friends after that.

I am glad that I first gave peace a chance. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (NASB) In other words, if there is a lack of peace make sure it is not your fault. Psalm 120 is a song about wanting peace but the opponent wanting war. Such a situation can be very frustrating.

Psalm 120:1 (A Song of Ascents.) In my trouble I cried to the LORD, And He answered me.

2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, From a deceitful tongue.

3 What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, You deceitful tongue?

4 Sharp arrows of the warrior, With the burning coals of the broom tree.

5 Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech, For I dwell among the tents of Kedar!

6 Too long has my soul had its dwelling With those who hate peace.

7 I am for peace, but when I speak, They are for war. (NASB)

The Psalmist makes it clear that he wants peace, but they want war. He has tried for peace but they do not want peace. Instead they keep lying. Finally in vs 3, he asks what can be given to them and what more can he do? That is a question we should all ask when seeking peace. Romans 12:18 makes it clear that a lack of peace should not be our fault. We should do what we can for peace without compromising Biblical truth. Finally he realizes that the sharp arrows and burning coals are all that can be given. There are times that justice demands a firm response.

Though we should not be hasty in our use of self defense, there are times when it is necessary. But before we jump to defending ourselves, we should look at the example of Jesus Christ.

All of humanity had lost peace with God through sin, yet Christ humbled himself and left heaven to be born as a man. That was a great gesture of peace. He then went even further. He actually gave His life for those who were not at peace with Him as he died on the cross. He then rose from the dead showing His amazing power, but also extending an offer of peace. “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.

Still, many still rejected that offer of peace and continued to lie about Christ. He has done so much to reach out to them and to appease them, but if they do not accept His peace offer, they will have to face worse than sharp arrows and burning coals. They will have to face fire for eternity. Revelation 20:15 warns, “And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (NASB)

The good news is that we can all have peace with God. He has done all He can to make peace with us- including sending His son to die for our sins to satisfy His justice. If we have the faith to believe in Him as our Lord and Savior, then we have peace. “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1 NASB). If there is a lack of peace between God and us, it is not His fault. Do all you can to make peace with Him, by placing your faith in Jesus Christ. 

Be Gentle With That Calf 2-11-21

When I was a kid, I played with a Chinese finger trap. The finger trap also reminds me of the calf who got its head stuck in the fence. The harder it pulled, the more frustrated it got. Since it got its head in the fence there should be a way to get it out, but simply rushing in and pushing would not accomplish that task. It would only make things worse.

Whether we are dealing with a calf stuck in a fence or any animal stuck in a trap, if we want to free them, things will go much better if the animal becomes calm and is able to trust us. In order for that to happen, we must remain calm and gentle.

The Apostle Paul wrote multiple letters to a young pastor named Timothy. In those letters, Paul made it clear that Timothy would have to confront both false doctrine and sinful behavior. Timothy would need boldness for this task, but he would also need gentleness. Paul writes in 2Timothy 2:24-26, “And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (NASB)

Calves get their heads stuck in fences, but people get their lives trapped in sin. As servants of God, we should want to help them get free. Often as we see them trapped in sin, it will be tempting to ask why they were stupid enough to put their head in the fence. We may even think we should run up to the fence and yell at them to get their head out of there. If we do that to the calf, it won't work out very well. Should we expect any different from a person.

Part of the problem is that when people are caught up in the devil's trap, they need to come to their senses. They are like the frustrated calf who doesn't realize that all he has to do is turn his head to the side and back away from the fence and be free.

Consider again the words to Timothy, “ with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil.” Timothy needed to be able to teach, but he needed to teach with patience. He also needed to give them the truth. The truth is they had been deceived by the devil, but that truth had to come in a gentle way.

We live in a culture where the lies of the devil are entrapping so many people. As Christians, we should care about those people and we should want them to follow Christ and be free from the lies of sin. As we guide them to the truth of Christ, we should not back down from what is true, but we should do it in a gentle and patient way. We need to give God time to work in their lives and to grant them repentance. We need to give time for the truth to sink in.

This does not mean that we tell them that the sin is okay. It does however mean that we make sure they understand we are there to help them and so is God. “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. 

How Much Power Do You Have? 3-29-21

Finish Flags Clip Art

My neighbor, Dave, loved power. I'm talking about horsepower. He loved displacement. Displacement is a technical term that describes how much volume all the engine cylinders displace.

Dave had a car with a lot of displacement. His 66 Chevelle Super Sport had a 396 cubic inch engine under the hood. It could easily smoke the tires.

He had other ways to get more power though. I found out about turning up the pump on a diesel engine was when I heard him talking about turning up his tractor. This too gave it more power.

He still wanted more. He eventually put a V8 engine in his old Farmall. I learned a lot about engines and power from my friend Dave. He however would have been awed by the worlds largest internal combustion engine. It is a diesel that weighs 2300 tons and produces over 100,000 horsepower.

All that power is nothing compared to the power of God. Not only did God create the whole world and everything in it, He rose from the dead, healed the sick, fed thousands, parted the sea, and parted a river that was at flood stage. A 100,000 hp engine could move a lot of freight on a barge, but it still could not move a mountain all at once. And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it shall happen.” (Matthew 21:21 NASB)

Who needs displacement if you have God's power? Faith is not just believing that God can do it, but also having an assurance that it is really God's will to do it. If we have an economy car with limited displacement, we may want the mountain out of our way so we do not have to drive uphill to get over it, but God may want that mountain there for a reason. We do not always understand God's reasoning and how He plans to use His power.

We are however given a glimpse into His purpose and promises of power as we look at the words of Jesus after His resurrection- just before He ascended into heaven. In Acts 1:8, He said, “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (NASB)

The power Jesus promised was power to be witnesses about Him. That power however did not always look powerful. As the Apostle Paul used that power he was actually arrested. Still, God is so powerful that the arrest allowed Paul to witness about Christ to his guards, to the sailors on the ship that transported him to prison, and to the leader of an island where they were shipwrecked. After they were rescued from the island, Paul was taken to jail in Rome and he was even able to be a witness to members of Caesar's household.

God is so powerful that even an arrest could not stop His promises, purposes, or His power. Paul suffered, but God's purposes were accomplished. Once we recognize that our powerful God is in charge of the perfect plans, we can trust His promises and His power to accomplish what needs to be done. He is so powerful that He can use us in our weakness.

We might be like the engine without a lot of displacement, but with God's power behind us, we can be witnesses of the the wonderful good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. God is powerful enough to help us over the mountain so we don't need to move it. Don't be afraid to share the good news of Christ, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7) Let us not forget that the power Jesus promised was the power to be a witness about Him.

God's Power Over Fear 3-12-21

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When I was 12 years old, I had to give my first public speech. I was very nervous as I stood in front of my 6th grade class. I was so anxious, that I got the giggles. I was not even able to finish the assignment that day.

My challenge was not over though. I was forced to reface my fears another day as I again stood before my class and was prompted to complete the task. As if that were not enough, I had to give another speech before a different teacher about a year later.

I was a year older and was hopeful that I could be a bit braver. I was still fearful and it showed on my face. Two of my best friends were sitting in the back row and one looked at the other and said, “lets make Jerry laugh.” When I looked at the friends I trusted most for comfort, I discovered that they were not invested in my success. The goofy expressions on their faces prompted a repeat of the previous years embarrassment.

Soon I was laughing again. I struggled to regain my composure and almost held my breath as I spoke in order to stop the nervous laughter. By this time I think the other students, including my best friends, were feeling a bit sorry for me and most were sitting quite respectfully even though it was difficult for them not to laugh too. But then the teacher could not contain himself any longer and he too started to laugh. He quickly apologized and assured me that I would not be penalized for the day and would get another chance to speak.

That other chance meant I would once again have to face my fears. Numerous times throughout high school I would have to give speeches and it got easier, but the fear was still there. I never expected that I would have a job where I had to speak publicly multiple times a week.

I have often said that it is a miracle that God was able to use me as a pastor. In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he writes about the gift of God that Timothy has that came after Paul laid his hands on him. We are not told all the details of that gift, but we are immediately told in verse 7 of the first chapter that “God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.”

As I think about God giving us power rather than fear, I cannot help but think what Jesus said after his resurrection, right before he ascended into heaven. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NASB)

God's Holy Spirit gives us the power to be witnesses. Therefore, it should not surprise me that I am able to speak about God in front of people. I can do that because Jesus promised to empower us to do that. That is why it is so common for other Christians to lay their hands on people who are sent out to proclaim the truth of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection and that we can be right with God is we believe on Him.

We should all realize that we can overcome our fear to speak about God. He has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power. Use the power of God, to tell others about God sending his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Wisdom of the Wise 2-26-21

What is the difference between smarts and wisdom? Smarts is knowing the exact temperature at which your skin will burn and then blister. Wisdom is knowing not to touch anything that is that hot.

Here is the actual dictionary definition of wisdom: the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. I decided to restate that definition by saying, “Doing what is a good idea to do, based on what you have learned makes sense.”

At the most basic level, wisdom is pragmatic. You can be wise and not even know what pragmatic means. Pragmatism is doing something because it works. It is pragmatic to not touch a hot stove because you do not want to burn your hand.

The scripture says, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” (James 3:13 NASB) This is a reminder that wisdom is much more than knowledge. It is putting knowledge into action. Godly wisdom also includes good behavior. The next verse warns against bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, arrogance, and dishonesty. Notice what the scripture says about such behavior, “ This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.” (James 3:15 NASB).

Being selfish and arrogant can help us get ahead. From a pragmatic standpoint it makes sense. In other words, it works. The problem is that this approach is not godly. It does not come from above. Instead it is evil- even demonic. It is the way that the Devil gets ahead, not the way that God wants his people to get ahead. It goes against the most basic commands to love God and to love our neighbor. Notice the contrast we see in this passage, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” (James 3:16-17 NASB).

Godly wisdom understands that there is something way more important than just getting the best short term results. Godly wisdom understands that God's rules are the best for all members of society. That is why a child who understands and applies the difference between right and wrong is wiser than a powerful business executive who doesn't care about anyone but himself.

Some think it is wise to just ignore God and to do their own thing. Such an approach is the opposite of wisdom. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:21-23 NASB)

It is not wise to make other things more important than God. Instead we need to realize God is perfect in His wisdom and then follow Him. We need to trust Him as we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and live for Him. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10 NASB)  

Don't Covet the Antiques 2-12-21

Antique Decorative Outdoor Electric Lamp Clip Art

My wife and I love antiques. I do not like to buy them because then we would have to find a place to put them. Instead we like to visit antique shops and enjoy them for free while others pay to store them. Of course, the problem is that unlike a museum where the items stay there, the antique shops sell them. That is actually a benefit for us, because if we go back a year later, we get to see a new set of goodies on display.

Our antique shop experience is a great lesson on the difference between admiration and covetousness. We admire the antiques that we see, but we do not feel like we have to possess them. The 10th commandment says, “'Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbor's.” (Deuteronomy 5:21)

Notice that in the previous verse, both the word desire and covet are used. In the Hebrew, they are two separate words, but both have the idea to long after or to lust after. Consider the neighbor's house. A few years ago my wife and I went on a tour of homes around Sioux Falls. We saw some beautiful houses. We were able to appreciate the planning and talent that went into creating them. There is nothing wrong with appreciation or even deciding to buy a new home. The problem comes when obsession turns into a willingness to compromise what is right to get what you want.

Once a person begins to obsess over something, that something becomes the object of their affection. If the obsession were the neighbor's wife, it would soon lead to adultery of the heart even if the physical act never occurred. Jesus Christ warned in Matthew 5:28, “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.” (NASB)

It is easy to see how wrong adultery is. That is also one of the 10 commandments. Discontentment is not so easy to see though. Hebrews 13:5 ties discontentment in with the issue of covetousness when it says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (NKJV)

We did purchase a few items from the antique stores and that was not wrong. It would have been wrong if we had wanted them so badly that we were willing to sin in order to get them. Further it would have been wrong if we were not willing to be content without them.

Knowing that Christ will never leave us or forsake us, we need to find our ultimate contentment with Him. Covetousness is really a sinful symptom of dissatisfaction with our circumstances and a willingness to go against God to change those circumstances. God loved us so much that he sent his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. There is nothing in this world that is as valuable as the love of God. Return that love as you trust Christ and then find true fulfillment, peace, and contentment with God and with life.  

Sin, Snow, Snirt, & Savior 1-31-21

Black Truck Clip Art

Growing up on a farm near a small town, there was not a lot for kids to do on the weekends, but snowstorms provided for special entertainment. After snowstorms, and before the plows had taken care of all the side roads- it became a tradition for the farm kids to gather in town with their 4wd pickups. They would go out to the side roads and see how much snow they could drive through. Even if the plows had already cleared the township roads, there were always a few minimum maintenance roads that never got plowed. Of coarse we also had the option of driving in our dad's farm fields or pastures.

Recently I drove through some snow with my family and it brought back memories of the good old days. It also brought back the memory that a little fun can bring some consequences. Eventually we would find a big enough drift that we would get stuck. Getting stuck could result in hours of work with an aluminum scoop shovel in order to get out. I also remember a time when so much snow was packed in front of a radiator that the air flow was restricted and the truck started to get hot in spite of the cold. Thankfully the problem was quickly rectified.

One of the things we learned was that soft snow had a lot fewer consequences than the hard snow. The snow that had settled for weeks on the minimum maintenance roads, or the snow that had been piled in hard drifts by the wind, was more of a challenge than the soft fluffy white stuff that had just fallen from the sky. Snirt- or snow mixed with dirt was especially challenging.

With all the wind, snirt was not uncommon in our area. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

When God takes care of our sin through the Lord Jesus Christ, He does not turn our lives into snirt, he makes them as clean as fresh white snow.

When I would scoop through the snow drifts that were mixed with dirt, I might find a layer of clean snow between a few layers of snirt. As my truck drove through the drift, however, all those layers got mixed up until I found myself stuck in a mess. Although I could work to get myself out of the immediate predicament, all my shoveling could not make the pile of snow and snirt I left behind clean snow again.

Our lives are kind of like that. We might be able to get ourselves out of an immediate predicament caused by our sin, but the dirtiness of sin is still there. In fact, our lives started out with dirty snow. That is why we need the payment of Christ to make us clean. Just as God sends fresh clean snow to fall from the heavens, He sent His son to come down from heaven to forgive our sins. In order to receive that forgiveness, we must simply believe on 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) 

Thankful For Daily Bread 1-17-20

Loaf Of Bread Clip Art

Our boys love watching “Modern Marvels” from the History Channel. They love seeing how things work and how these innovations have affected the world as we know it. Recently we have taken a step back and began to look at what life was like before some of these modern innovations.

During Bible times, people did not have refrigerators, freezers, mass canning, or industrial packaging capabilities. In fact, even 150 years ago, food preservation was more similar to Bible times, then to modern methods.

This spring we got chickens and it has been good for our boys to see where eggs actually come from. Even with a refrigerator, these eggs should be used fairly soon. When we started looking at past history, we discovered that before refrigeration, eggs were kept for over a year by immersing them in a water/lime solution.

We then began to look at meat preservation. I have always liked the taste of smoked meat, but knew little about how to do it. We realized that other methods were also available. Salt was used to make brine and meat could be preserved for up to ten years. I'm not sure I would be comfortable eating meat after that long and we also found out the salty taste was not all that pleasant.

We did find out however that pressure canned meat tastes amazing. Meat that was cooked and preserved in lard could last for months if it was kept cool. Reports say that it also tasted great. Our oldest son began to experiment with making jerky, but we have not tried the other methods. We do plan to try some meat canning though

All this study of food preservation reminded me of how easy it is to take food for granted. I think of the Lord's prayer where he tells us to ask God for our daily bread. Even if our cupboards were bare, the grocery store has always had food. When some things were in short supply due to Covid disruptions, there was still other food available.

Even beyond the grocery store, we must also think of the farm fields. A few years ago there was too much rain for many of them to be planted. Now many fields are extremely dry. If God does not send proper proportions of rain, sunshine, and heat units, then the fields will not yield well. Further, if frost comes too soon, the growing season could be cut short before the crop is ready to harvest. All these things remind us of how dependent we are on God for our food.

Just as our chickens remind us that eggs do not grow in cartons, these mild food disruptions should remind us that all our food ultimately comes from God. He allows the plants to grow and the animals to reproduce. Then He gives us the food to harvest, preserve, and use. Even with challenging growing conditions and increasing world population, God has still blessed us with food. We should thank Him for that.

Let us remember that not only has God provided salvation from sin through Jesus Christ, but He also provides our daily bread through the food we grow. We truly have a gracious God and we should not take His grace for granted. 

 Friends at The Gas Station 1-3-21

Gas Station Sign Clip Art

There are not that many businesses in our little small town, so we are thankful that we have a gas station with a small convenience store. This summer our boys did some lawn mowing and a few other small odd jobs. That meant that they had a little bit of spending money. Our gas station has candy. Soon they became regulars at the store.

Just as they were becoming regular customers, the gas station had a change of ownership. The new owner is very involved in the day to day operations of the business, and often runs the store by himself. It did not take long for the boys to think of him as a friend. Soon the boys were stopping in just to say hi- even if they were not planning to buy anything.

Both the store owner and the boys had learned the reality of a wonderful biblical truth that says, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24a). I realized one of the benefits of the friendship when I walked into the gas station and saw pictures that the boys had made hanging on the wall behind the counter. The owner got to enjoy a gift, and the boys got to see their work displayed.

I do not want to suggest that there is never conflict in a small town, but those pictures on the wall are a great reminder that our little dot on the map is a wonderful place to see the love for our neighbors on display.

Still it is not unusual to walk into the gas station and see a complete stranger and then realize that they live right here in Worthing. Nevertheless, it is nice to have that little store on the corner so that we can have those contact points. In little ways we can reach out to those around us so that they are no longer strangers. We don't have to draw them pictures to hang on their walls, but we can smile and say hi.

For example, I stopped into the gas station one evening and decided to try their cinnamon popcorn. There was a grandmotherly lady standing at the counter and she smiled and said a few words to me as I made my purchase. I had talked to her before, but did not know here well. Soon the lady behind the counter, this other customer, and I, were all sampling the popcorn together (I carefully poured it out of the new bag without touching it to respect Covid considerations). Although I do not know these ladies well, like the gas station owner, they have become my friends.

When we love our neighbors as ourselves, not only do we get to fulfill the biblical command to love, but we also get the added benefit of more friends. Having friends is fun.

As fun as it is to talk to the friends around town, it is even more fun to know that God can be our friend. James 2:23 speaks of Abraham being the friend of God. The problem is that sins makes us God's enemies. The only way around that is to trust Jesus Christ as our savior as we trust His payment for our sins. He died on the cross to forgive our sins and then rose again and is now alive. God loved us enough to send His son and whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Believe on Him and realize that making friends with God is even easier than making friends at the gas station.  

2021: A Year To Live For 12-20-20

Cell Phone Clip Art

When I called my cousin it was good to hear his voice. I had texted him before I called to see if he was up to talking. He quickly texted me back and said that he was. Once I called, I was relieved to hear that his voice sounded strong. He has been battling cancer for several years and now he was just getting over Covid.

He is several years older than I am and has always been there for me when I have needed him. When I first went deer hunting, he took me under his wing and watched out for me, making sure I hunted safely. Just recently I was considering a financial purchase and I went to him for advice before making my decision. His advice was good.

He is a reminder of how easy it is to take the ones we love for granted. I am happy that he is doing well, but I also realize that any of our loved ones could be gone so quickly. In Philippians 1:3 the apostle Paul says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (NASB). That is how I feel about my cousin.

As we talked he said that we should go out for supper. Since he and his wife and myself and my wife have all had Covid, he feels safer going out and about now. I do not want to take for granted the time I have to spend with family and friends.

I also talked with my aunt the same day. Her husband was an uncle to myself and the cousin who is fighting cancer. We had thought he was the healthiest of all the uncles, yet several years ago he suddenly died before he even turned 70.

Hebrews 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” (NASB). Although I hope my cousin lives for many more years, I realize that his time is limited. In fact, all our time is limited. He may beat the cancer and outlive me. None of us know for sure how long we have.

With all the uncertainty that 2020 brought us, we know that very little is certain for 2021. Regardless of what the next year brings, we can take comfort in the certainty of God's promises. Although judgment comes after death, Jesus promised, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37 NASB) The meaning of that promise is further clarified by what Jesus said in John 3:16, "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.” (NASB)

Although we can all expect death, God has shown us His love through Jesus Christ, so that if we believe in Him, we can have eternal life. That gives us hope for the future. Still our focus should be on living not on dying. We were put here to glorify God as we show our love for Him. We should also live to show our love for others. The apostle Paul stated, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Within just a few verses he then clarified, “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:23-23 NASB)

Regardless of how much time we have, let us use our time in the year ahead, and beyond, for God's glory. 

Your Life as a Gift 12-6-20

Open Box Clip Art

During a recent Children's Church presentation I brought out a box. It was about 8” high, 2 feet long, and about a foot wide. Since Christmas is coming soon, I asked the kids for ideas of what could be placed in the box as a gift for their grandmothers. Ideas ranged from a notebook and pens to candy. Someone suggested a Bible and I mentioned an apple pie.

As the children were brainstorming, one of them suggested a card with something nice written on it. That child had actually ventured where I was hoping to take the conversation. I then put the box behind my back and asked the kids what they could give their grandma that would not have to be put in a box. Suddenly we had ideas like hugs, kisses, and songs. We talked about how we could do some chores for her instead of giving her a wrapped up gift.

Many grandma's already have a lot of “stuff” so doing things for them is often better than giving things to them. We should not just do special things for others at Christmas though. We should show our love all year round. Showing grandmas that they have our love is one of the best gifts of all.

If that is true of grandma, is there also a lesson we can learn about giving to God? God made the whole world, so He does not need more stuff. Psalm 50:10-14 says, "For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. "I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine. "If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all it contains. "Shall I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of male goats? "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the Most High;” (NASB)

Instead of giving God stuff we should give Him our thankfulness. One of the ways to show our thankfulness is to give God ourselves. Although it would be fun to wrap one of our boys up in a big box and have grandma unwrap it before she gets her hug, that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about how we as Christians should all be living sacrifices for Christ. That means that we live our lives for Him instead of for ourselves.

Romans 12:1 challenges us, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (NASB) As the chapter of Romans 12 unfolds we see that Christians are encouraged to figure out what God wants them to do and then to do it. We also further understand that doing God's will involves loving Him with our all and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

If we really want to show God how thankful we are, then we should be making sacrifices in our life for Him and for others. In other words, a great gift for God is to put aside selfishness and put God and others ahead of ourselves.

As the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas come together, realize that giving is often the natural result of a sacrificial life of thankfulness. Let us also remember that one of the best ways to give to God is to give to others. "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'” (Matthew 25:37-40 NASB) 

Parts From the Creator 11-20-20

I could hear a clanging sound coming from the front of my pickup. I did not notice it as I drove down the road, but I could hear it echoing off the walls as I drove by buildings. It was especially noticeable as I went though a drive through.

I thought it was coming from the front driver's wheel, so I drove home and jacked it up. As I turned that wheel, the front drive shaft for the 4wd also turned. I could tell right away where the problem was. The rear U-joint on the 4wd drive shaft was worn out. Because the needle bearings in the U-joint were gone, there was excess movement in the parts and thus a clanging sound. It was past time for an immediate repair.

I am definitely not a professional mechanic, but I do try to do a lot of my own repairs and I have replaced many U-joints. I figured this would be a typical repair. I stopped at a local auto parts store and picked up the new pieces. I decided to replace all the joints on the shaft and most of them slipped right into place. The rear one, however would not fit. No matter how I tried to place it within the yoke, it was too big to fall into place. I came from many different angles but it just would not go in.

I felt like I was playing with one of those mind puzzles and I was unwilling to give up. Finally I had to admit defeat. It was not going to work. I concluded that I must have gotten the wrong part. I went back to the store where they looked it up and told me they had given the right part. I decided to try a different store. After trying multiple brands of the same part, I could still not make any fit.

I was quite frustrated. I did not want to lose the use of my 4wd, simply because there was no apparent solution to my problem. I called a friend who is a professional mechanic. He suggested that I go to the Dodge dealership and see if the part from the original manufacturer would fit. Sure enough, the Dodge part slipped right into place without any problem. Sadly the cost was $100 higher than the generic part, but I realized that my solution had to come from the creator of the truck.

Our vehicles are not the only things that get messed up though. Our lives are messed up by sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. God is our creator and He is the one we have to go to for our sin problem. Unlike Dodge, He does not charge us a huge markup. Instead He gives us His solution to our problem for free. In order to have our sins taken care of, all we have to do is exercise faith as we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

If you are as frustrated over your sin as I was over the U-joint, realize that the creator has the solution. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9  

Reach Out to Those Alone  11-8-20
Desperate Man Clip Art
A year ago I had not heard of Covid-19. Today it has become a part of our lives. Even the experts cannot agree about how dangerous it is, but they all agree that it has cost lives. I was recently with two men who began to calmly discuss Covid-19. Although they had different views about it, they respected each other. I stated that it should remind us of the reality of death and that we should make sure that we have trusted Christ so that we know where we would go when this life is over.
Covid is not the only thing that should cross our minds as we think of the reality of mortality. My father died of cancer when he was only 57 years old. In the United States over 600,000 people die of cancer each year. This is a far greater number than the deaths from Covid-19 so far this year.
Later that same day, I had a conversation with my wife and another woman about Covid. They pointed out that they did not know anyone personally who had died of Covid but they knew of 3 people who had committed suicide because of the added challenges in their life related to Covid-19.
Suddenly it dawned on me that I needed to encourage people to trust Christ, not just for the next life, but for help in getting through this life.
Part of the reason I do not spend too much time worrying about cancer is because I know that if I get it, I will not have to go through it alone. I find comfort in the words of Hebrews 13:5 where we are reminded that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us.
Still, I take care to live a healthy lifestyle. I eat healthy, drink plenty of water, get exercise and plenty of sleep, avoid too much unhealthy food, get sunshine, and do not intentionally put poison in my body. These steps should help all of us whether the danger is cancer, Covid, or any other ailment. Nevertheless, they do not guarantee that we will remain healthy.
Further, Covid has reminded us that trials come whether we get sick or not. We are not supposed to go through trials alone. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
When we had Covid, so many came and helped us, but what about so many who never caught the virus, but are struggling with the trials of isolation? What about those who we do not even know about? Don't be afraid to reach out to those who are isolated while still respecting their choice to protect themselves. Further we should remind people that even if we are isolated from others we never have to be isolated from Christ. Jesus promised, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37 NASB) 

Basketball and Perfection 10-25-20

Basketball Net Clip Art

My 10 year old is tall and lanky. He looks like a basketball player, but he has not learned very much about the game. Recently our teenage neighbor began to teach him a little bit about basketball shooting techniques. Soon he was having much greater success at making baskets.

His new coach is actually pretty good at it, but he is definitely not a professional player. As we watched them we saw that all of the boys made some baskets and all of the boys missed some. That was not a surprise. Even the professional players do not make every basket.

When I was younger, I watched the Harlem Globe Trotters. Their ability with a basketball was nothing short of amazing. Still they were not perfect. No matter how much the boys practice, they cannot expect to make a basket every time. All it takes is a brief game of HORSE to show that there are some positions where the basket is more difficult to hit than others.

Sometimes people approach Christianity like basketball. They expect that once they come to Christ, then they will be able to deal with sin like the Globe Trotters deal with basketball. No doubt sin should have less of a pull, once we follow Christ, but that does not mean that we will suddenly lose our struggle with sin. The Apostle Paul expressed his own struggle in this area as he wrote Romans 7:19. Notice what he says, “For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.” (NASB)

What Paul is saying is that he sins even when he does not want to sin. We must not forget what he also wrote to the Corinthians. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13 NASB) There is a way to avoid sin. The problem is that we come short of the glory of God and do not always see the way until after we have fallen into the evil behavior.

Sometimes we just react without thinking through what we are doing. Hebrews 12:1 gives this encouragement. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1 NASB). The sin so easily entangles us, but we should strive to set it aside. As we strive we will come short, just like the kids came short of the basketball hoop so many times. When we do, our only hope is Jesus Christ. He died for our sins because we were not able to meet God's requirements on our own. Romans 5:20 tells us, “And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” (NASB) In the next chapter the question is asked, “should we sin that grace may abound?” The answer comes back, “God forbid.”

We need to look for the way to escape sin and set aside the sin that so easily entangles us. Still we must realize we will not be perfect. That is why God so loved the world and sent His son. That is why we need to follow Him. When we do come short, we can take comfort in these words, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NASB)  

Good Old Doc Cassle 10-11-20

Living near Sioux Falls, it is easy to take state of the art medical care for granted. I have not always lived close to such large hospitals though. Years ago while living on a farm in Southwest Minnesota I needed stitches after cutting my finger.

I quickly realized I would be treated by a country doctor when the nurse said they had contacted him but it would be a bit before he got there since he was finishing up with his farm chores. I wasn't too worried since I knew who he was and that he lived fairly close by. There were no concerns about traffic on his way to the hospital either. Further, although I needed care, it was not a pressing emergency. In the meantime, the bleeding had stopped and my finger was soaked in an antibiotic solution.

Once the doctor arrived, he began to fumble through his tool chest, looking for the supplies he needed. He said he needed to find his grill igniter. I knew things were kind of casual at this small town hospital, but I said that I was there for stitches, not a barbecue.

Once the grill igniter was located, he then asked for a paper clip. I was really confused now. He still needed one more item. It had a technical name that I did not recognize, but once the item was located I reached into the pouch on my belt, pulled out my pliers and said, “if that is all you needed, I could have let you use this.”

The doctor then proceeded to hold the paper clip in his fancy pliers and heat it up with the grill igniter. I needed stitches through my fingernail, so he simply melted holes with the paper clip so he could sew it up like lacing a shoe. I was thankful for the Novocaine.

It did not take long for the finger to heal. I do, however, still have a small scar. Though the hospital was small, the doctor was quite competent and I got the help that I needed.

I needed stitches because of an accident while cutting a piece of wood. I am confident that my doctor had enough down home ingenuity, to stitch the two pieces of board together as efficiently as he stitched my finger. Once he walked away, however, the wood would not heal like my finger did. The wood was not alive. My finger was.

Not only has God breathed life into us, but He has given us the ability to heal. I am reminded of Psalm 139:14, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”

As amazing as it is that my finger healed, it is even more amazing that Jesus came to life again by the power of God. Further, even after I die like the tree that turned into that piece of wood, I will live again if I have trusted 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)

It is comforting to know that the God who is powerful enough to create us and to heal our wounds is also powerful enough to raise the dead. It is even more comforting to know that such a powerful God loves us.

A Rider Mower for My Son 9-25-20

My boys have been doing odd jobs around town to earn some extra money. They did not make a lot, but it doesn't take much for an 11 year old to feel rich. My son decided how he wanted to spend his money. He wanted a riding lawn mower. They use a push mower for mowing lawns around town, but he wanted a rider without a deck just to ride around.

He has asthma and when a riding bike with his brothers he has to stop more often to catch his breath. He figured if he had a riding mower, he could go along with them on longer rides without them having to wait for him to rest.

He kept watching auctions and garage sales, but did not find anything in his budget. One evening as my wife and I were diving home after visiting a neighbor, we drove by another neighbor's house and saw a lawn mower sitting in the middle of the driveway. The hood looked lopsided, it had no deck on it, and the seat was missing. I knew the neighbor, so I stopped to ask him about it. He said it ran but the carb needed some work. When he heard that it was for our son, he sold it to us for 20 bucks.

My son was so excited. He dug into his savings and immediately pulled out $20 so that he would be the official owner. He then counted his money and found that he had enough to buy a new battery for it. His brother fixed the hood and I helped him get it running. He was thrilled.

I had multiple boxes of spray paint in the garage that we had picked up at an auction and he asked if he could use some of it. It was cheap, so I said to go ahead. Soon his little Yardman tractor had a new John Deere green and yellow paint job.

The carb is still acting up a bit and does not run as smooth as a new one, but it runs fine at full throttle. It has a hydrostatic transmission so it is easy to drive. By being patient and putting a little effort into his ride, he has something far nicer than he had even planned.

He learned a valuable lesson about both patience and contentment. He was satisfied with a fixer upper and had the foresight to see it's potential. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (NKJV)

Not only was he satisfied with what he got, but he was patient to wait to spend his money on what he could afford. “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4 NKJV)

Although he is enjoying his new purchase, I have no doubt that a day will come when it will not run. Such is typical for anything that has a motor. I pray that his patience and contentment will sustain him on such a day. I hope he remembers the promise of the Lord when he said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I hope then, he is still thankful for his little tractor and remembers that Christ is with him during those times of challenge. In fact, that is what the context of contentment in James 1:4 was all about. It says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4 NKJV) 

God's Love & Feral Cats 9-13-20

Kitten Clip Art

It was a warm sunny day. We were at the edge of a bean field bordered by grassland and trees. It was a pretty setting with a steep hill dropping to some flat ground to the south. A breeze rustled in the trees and the grass sounded like a straw broom on a wooden floor.

Suddenly there was a sound that did not seem to belong. It was not a bird. It had the sound of the meow of a lonely kitten. Soon we realized where the sound was coming from. The creature making it was in fact a lonely kitten. It was not even wild. It immediately began to follow my son. It seemed to hope for the slightest bit of attention. There was no sign of other cats or humans around. We had a little a jerky in the truck so we fed this fragile beast. We also fashioned a makeshift dish and poured it some water.

We returned a week later and sure enough our little friend emerged from the bean field. It seemed more interested in our attention than in our food. The kitten had taken a risk in approaching us. What if we had been a predator? What if we had disliked cats and harmed the little animal? Still the kitten took a chance and was rewarded as it received our grace. We again gave it food and water.

Some people approach God as naturally as the kitten approached us. There was no hesitation. Other people are like the feral tom cat I once attempted to coax from hiding. He did not trust me. He watched me closely and was quite eager to be on his way. That feral cat was hardened by battle scars and did not want to get hurt. Not everyone likes feral cats. They eat pheasants so they have a reputation of being evil enemies of the innocent bird. Like Sylvester from the old cartoon, the tom cat was not unwise in his caution.

Even if we have never tried to eat a tweety bird, we have all done more evil than that old tom cat. Romans 3:23 reminds us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Adam and Eve did not hide in a bean field after sinning, but they did cover themselves in leaves. They were fearful to approach God.

Today, some people are still afraid, but they do not need to be. Jesus died for our sins and He is now alive again so that He can defend us before the Father if we first repent. Because God loved us so much, He sent his son so we could have eternal life if we believe on Him. That means that in spite of our sin, we can have both peace with God and access to Him once we have faith to come to Him. “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.” (Romans 5:1-2 NKJV)

Knowing you are a sinner, it can be scary to come to God in faith, but notice what we are told just a few verses later in Romans 5: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 5:8-9 NKJV)

God loved us even though He knows about our sin. We can come as confidently as that little kitten did. Consider the promise that Jesus made when He said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37 NKJV) 

Ice Cream & a Good Deal  8-30-20

Ice Cream Cone (4 Scoop) Clip Art

I love ice cream. It was a hot day and I was thinking of stopping at the gas station and getting a cup of ice cream. I hesitated because a couple of scoops would cost over $2. I walked into the grocery store and I saw a gallon and a quarter for $5. A package of plastic spoons cost 89 cents. I did not have to be a math genius to know that it was a better deal to buy a large quantity.

Of course I understood that during the half hour drive home, the ice cream would start to melt. I had a plan though. I would eat around the edges as it melted and still have a cold center to place in the freezer once I got home. Everything went according to plan except for one thing. Instead of eating 2 scoops if ice cream I ate at least twice that amount. I was not complaining though. Further I had most of the container left for many more treats in the future. I also had a bunch of extra plastic spoons.

It is great to find something good and then to find out that it turned out even better than you had planned. When we find God we find a God who is good. 1Chronicles 16:34 tells us of God's goodness, “O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”(NASB)

 In Exodus 34:6 God proclaims His own goodness, “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;” (NASB)

Knowing God is good should be a great encouragement to all of us. If you had never tasted ice cream you would not know why I was so happy to dig in with my plastic spoon. If you do not like ice cream you will not fully grasp my pleasure either. Some do not understand why I get so excited about God either. Psalm 34:8 challenges us, “O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (NASB) The ice cream was a blessing on a hot day, but God is a blessing everyday. Some days we will be challenged by heat. Other days it will be cold. Other days the trials of life will have nothing to do with the weather. Regardless we have a good God that we can turn to.

As good as God is, He is even better than we could have expected. He loved us so much that He sent His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. That is a really good deal, but it gets even better. “But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." (I Corinthians 2:9 NKJV)

God is good and He is much more than the best deal we could ever find. He is our only hope for eternity. He is not just a refuge for the troubles we face now, He is our refuge for the next life as well. Trust Him and realize that you get more than just a couple of scoop fulls of ice cream- you get a good God that is there for you for forever into the future. 

Saddle Pass & A Narrow Gate-8-16-20

Mountain - Rpg Map Elements 3 Clip Art

We have four boys and they love to climb and hike, so when we found Saddle Pass Trail we were excited. The trail is located in the Badlands of South Dakota near the town of Interior. The modern road that most tourists take goes past a parking area that is just below the pass.

We saw the beautiful scenery and decided to stop, not knowing that the trail headed up this pass. As we set out on the trail, we saw a sign that explained the history of the pass. Before the modern roads were built, this trail was used as a shortcut to get to the town of interior. The early settlers would have to dismount and lead their horses down this steep path.

As we climbed we questioned whether just any horse could navigate this trail. Although it was only moderately difficult for our two legs, we often had to use our arms as well. Once at the top, we felt a sense of accomplishment. We had reached our destination without falling and without meeting any rattle snakes. We had proceeded with caution after seeing a warning sign about the danger of the snakes.

We were not the only ones to take our chances though. Others had set out on this trail as well. We met a number of people as we hiked and a friendly family had even taken a picture for us so we could have a photo of our whole family from the astounding heights we had conquered.

As we sat on our perch above the town of Interior, we could see our vehicle far below us. It was a reminder that our journey was not yet complete. We still had to get back.

The descent was nearly as difficult as the climb. Even on the smooth parts we had to be careful not to go too fast or we would gain too much momentum and would fall. At other times we had to carefully navigate slight drop offs.

We were thankful to get back to our vehicle with its air conditioning and comfortable seats. We were soon driving down a paved two lane road in comfort. There was definitely a contrast between our trip and that of the earlier settlers.

As I think of that narrow trail I think of the words of Jesus Christ where he says, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 NASB)

Saddle pass is such a small trail that had it not been for the parking lot and the signs, we would have missed it. It was not really that difficult to navigate though. We just had to know the way. The same is true about the path to eternity with our Lord. Jesus said the gate is narrow, but He also told us the way. He 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 gate of Jesus is small, but anyone can go through if they believe on Him. He promised, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”  (John 6:37 NASB) 

The difficult part is not that you have to crawl through a small gate. The difficult part is that you have to trust Jesus and His authority over your life enough to follow Him through that gate. Still, He is the only way. Follow Him.  

There is a Lot of Good News  8-3-20

Newsboy Illustration Clip Art

I looked over the headlines on a past issue of our local paper. One of the headlines read, “Experts Express Optimism On Future of Small Towns During Virtual Town Hall Discussion.” Another stated, “Canton Helping Canton, We Are In This Together.” The front page had an article about a new business that was opening in Canton.” The back page had pictures of locals enjoying an open air market. It was encouraging to look at the Sioux Valley News because it was filled with good news.

This small town paper stood out because good news is so rare lately. I looked at some online news sources and I had to look hard to find good news. Bad news was easy to find.

When we are discouraged it is good to have a paper like the Sioux Valley News around. It is also good to have my Bible near by. I love reading through the pages of scripture and seeing the happy endings in spite of the tragedy. Joseph is sold into slavery by his own brothers, but then rises to a high position and is able to rescue those same brothers and their families from a famine. Job loses nearly everything but in the end has more than he started with. Jesus dies for our sins, but then comes to life again.

No doubt there is some bad news in the Bible. Romans 6:23 warns us that the wages of sin is death. That is only part of the story though. The rest of the verse tells us that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

At the beginning of the book of Romans, we are told that the letter of Romans is about the gospel. The Greek word translated “gospel” literally means the good message or the good news. Often when people hear the word, “gospel,” they think of truth or even the plan of salvation from God. Although God's salvation through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is good news for the sinner, there is even more good news in the scriptures. The good news includes the truth that God loves us so much that He sent His son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). The good news includes the fact that God is not just our all powerful creator, but He also knows the very hairs of our head and is loving, patient, and merciful.

The scriptures are full of good news and that good news leads people who are far from God to God. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (NASB) The good news (gospel) is the power of God to bring people to salvation as they believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior.

As Christians we have a lot of good news about God. Let us share that good news with others so that they might have hope. As others become assured of the good news about God then faith is developed. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (NASB) In order to develop faith with conviction we need to grasp the good news of God. For others to have that faith they must hear the good news about God. Our God is good and that is good news. There is a lot of good news about God. Let us share that good news as we let our lights shine. 

Let That Cat Cross My Path  7-16-20

Cartoon Cat 3 Clip Art

As I sat visiting with my aunt and her husband, my son played with their cat. It was a friendly cat and it was black. It was a hot day, but the cat did not seem to mind the sun. Instead it rolled on its back and waited to be pet.

As we got up to leave there was a light hearted comment about making sure that the cat did not cross our path. I kind of chuckled as someone made a comment about not believing in such superstitions. I assured them that I did not believe that the black cat crossing my path would be problem. I then went on to say that even if it were true I was not worried.

As a believer in the sovereignty of God, I am not a promoter of luck. I did however relay how what some may regard as bad luck had recently turned out good.

A few years ago I was driving down the interstate pulling a trailer with my mini-excavator. Working as a pastor is not my only job. As I looked in the mirror I could see a cloud of oil vapor. I quickly pulled to an off ramp and realized that an o-ring on the pickup was leaking oil. Thankfully I had stopped before the oil level had dropped below the safe level. That was good, not bad. Further, I was close to home and my wife was able to bring the part and we fixed it right there.

If that were the end of the story we could still say that things worked out in the end, but the story gets even better. A farmer who lived near by stopped to see if we needed help. He saw the excavator and realized that I did farm drainage work. He got my number and ended up calling me to do some work for him. A year later he had me do more work. Next year he wants me to do even more. In addition his hired man and his neighbor also want me to do some work for them.

Now not only do I have new customers, I have new friends. The profit I made from the jobs I have done so far is far greater than the repair expense and time lost on my pickup. The perceived “bad luck” of the pickup breakdown turned out to be good.

I recently wrote about having flat tires and meeting a new friend. I told my aunt that I was not worried about the black cat because it seems like even when bad things happen to me it ends up working out eventually. Romans 5:3-5 says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (NASB)

It is fun when we can look back on our trials and see how God was actually pouring his love on us even though we did not see it at the time.

I do not know what trial will challenge us next, but I hope I can approach it with faith, knowing that I will not be alone. I pray that it will help me persevere and build my character realizing that I have hope (the idea of full assurance) that God will not forget His love for me. I know that even when I am disappointed with my circumstances, I should not be disappointed with God or His love for me.

I do not have to worry about black cats or bad stuff happening to me. I understand that bad things will happen, but that is okay. I can just pet the cat as I pray.  


Power In the Clouds  7-3-20

Weather Symbols Clip Art

When I was a little kid, I thought it would be fun to sit on a cloud. I could enjoy the soft perch and look down on the beautiful scenery below. Of course I would have to be careful not to fall off. As I got older, not only did my respect for heights put a damper on that fantasy, but I also learned that fog was simply a cloud on the ground and that the cloud would not hold me.

Looking back at my early childhood I have to wonder how much my 4 year old mind had been influenced by cartoons. In these make believe worlds, people would come in contact with angles upon clouds and may even meet a godlike figure. As I got older I realized that when God became a man he did actually walk on water. We do not have a record of Jesus ever walking on a cloud but we do have a record of God in a cloud. Exodus 13:21 tells us, “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way.” In Exodus 16:10 we are told that the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

Then in Exodus 34 we actually see God coming in the cloud and standing before Moses. “And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;” (Exodus 34:5-6 NASB)

Although God's love and kindness is expressed in the verse, he also warns of the consequences of sin later in the same passage This should not surprise us because right after the world wide flood that was a global consequence for sin, God sent a symbol of mercy in the clouds as He gave us the rainbow- a promise that a flood would never again cover the whole earth.

Sadly the cartoon versions of God on the clouds have too easily distracted us from the true relationship of God with the clouds. Notice that the verses in Exodus show God's power in the clouds. After witnessing some powerful thunderstorms, I can understand the connection between clouds and power. Psalm 104:3 tells us that God makes the clouds His chariot. Rather than the cartoon version of the cloud being a fluffy couch, the scriptures show that the cloud is a powerful vehicle for God's power.

As I hear the thunder and watch the lightning, it is easy for me to tremble. If I look to the clouds and see their power and then the weather radio gives out a warning I tremble even more. The clouds are a reminder that we should tremble before the power of God. The clouds remind me of something else though. God is merciful. He sent a rainbow and in the Old Testament we read that the cloud where He dwelt was above the mercy seat. That reminds me that God is a God of mercy.

Finally, clouds remind us of His future judgment and mercy as Christ returns. "And then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:27-28 NASB)

As we see the storms this summer, let the clouds remind us of God's power. Rather than resisting His power, look to Him for mercy.

A Slow Drive To Blessings  6-19-20

Tractor Powe2 Clip Art

I love the interstate. At South Dakota speeds we can travel 20 miles in 15 minutes. There are no stop signs to slow us down. It is a quick and efficient way to get from point “A” to point “B”. There are times however that it is nice to slow down a bit.

Recently my son and I took a drive with a farm tractor. Twenty miles took about an hour. It was a much slower pace. We were able to watch a farmer digging a waterway by hand. We didn't just see him out in the field, we had time to watch what he was doing. On one such drive we watched a raccoon run across a field but also had the vantage point and time to see that it crawled into a culvert as we came closer.

Our slower pace allowed us to see so much that we otherwise would have missed. Sometimes it is good to slow down and enjoy the beauty of God's creation. Sometimes we are forced to slow down even more. As we drove, the trailer we were pulling had 2 flat tires. We were going so slow we did not even notice. We did however notice another farmer working on a sprayer in the farmyard we were approaching. He noticed our flat tires. We smiled and waved as we went by- oblivious to problem following us.

Rather than returning our smile and wave, his hand made a quick pointing motion as he observed our problem. Once I looked back I realized what had happened and quickly pulled to the side of the road. He allowed us to park in the farmyard until we could get the tires fixed.

It was the next day before we were able to return with replacement wheels and tires. An hour drive had turned into a whole day delay. Our plans had been changed. The day before we were not expecting to be replacing tires on that day. I had planned my schedule for that week, but the schedule had been altered. I cannot help but think of James 4:13-14, “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.” (NASB)

No matter how slow we drive, our lives go by quickly. The next verse says, “Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.'" (James 4:15 NASB) Sometimes God has other plans for us.

That week His plans included flat tires. They also included a farmer who was fixing his sprayer. As we replaced the tires he came over and talked with us. I found out that we were close to the same age and that we were both Christians. Although we had grown up hours from each other, we had both taken the same Bible Instruction Course as kids. Not only did we share a common faith, but we were now able to share a new friendship.

Through the years I have learned that friends are more valuable than tires or time. If God's plans slow us down to bring new friends into our lives, we should view that as a great blessing.

Praying For Our Enemies  6-7-20

Praying Girl Clip Art

My 12 year old son said, "I realize I really need God's help to pray for that police officer." As upset as he was at that man, he still wanted to pray for him, but needed God's help to do it. What a reminder of how much we need God's mercy and His help to be merciful ourselves.

About a week earlier this son had been asking me a lot of questions about prayer. He had been spending a lot of time praying, and was explaining how he came up with subjects to pray about. He even talked about singing songs in prayer. We talked about how many of the Psalms are prayer songs. I felt like I was learning as much as he was as I listened to him.

Then he told me about praying for the officer. I could understand how hard it would be to pray that prayer. I have had to pray similar prayers throughout my life.

When I was in high school, there was another student in the school that was a real jerk- actually there were a number of them, but one in particular that I had trouble getting along with. He had trouble getting along with others as well.

After he graduated, I do not remember seeing him again, but I heard that he had gotten involved with drugs. I have to admit that I do not remember any pleasant memories of this person, but he does come to my mind from time to time. As he does, I usually pray for him. At first, it was not easy. As time has gone by however, it has become a habit. I pray that after all these years he has become a changed person and has blessed many lives.

As I think of the drug use, I cannot help but wonder if he was struggling with things that the rest of us had no idea about. Was his bullying because of his own insecurities? Was he an abuse victim himself? Decades later I find myself having compassion for him even though I would never condone his behavior and his hateful actions toward others.

We do not have to excuse evil in order to pray for others. Jesus told us, "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,” (Matthew 5:44 NKJV)

There is another passage that applies even more specifically to my son's prayer. The police officer did what he did while exercising his authority. Accountability must come with authority and I pray justice is served, but we are also reminded to pray for those in authority. “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:1-4 NKJV)

As hard as it is to pray for some people, I am reminded that Jesus did not just pray for His enemies, He died for them. 

     Like a Frustrated Horse 5-22-20

Running Horse 2 Clip Art

When I was a teenager, I rode a beautiful dun mare along the edge of the road. She had never bucked, but was still not a seasoned riding horse. Not only was she just getting used to having a saddle and a person on her back, she was getting used to being ridden in unfamiliar surroundings. Looking back, it must have been both exciting and a bit stressful for her to go on these adventures.

On one such day, as we rode along the edge of the road, she would turn her head and twitch her ears as a car would go past. She had seen cars before, but these were new surroundings. Soon a motorcycle was coming down the road. She raised her head and picked up her step as this two wheeled machine came towards her with a rider on its back. Just as it came even with her, the rider shifted down and laid into the throttle. The machine made a threatening noise that caused the horse to shudder from top to bottom.

I could tell that she wanted to run, but I held her back. She did not run or buck, but I could feel the tension inside her as I sat upon her back. The feeling came though the saddle and up each of the reins. She was feeling panic and wanted to do what her instincts told her to do. She wanted to run. There was a problem though. I had come between her and her instincts and would not allow her to do what she wanted to do in order to relive her stress.

We continued on the same direction at a slow pace until we met another car. The tension was still there. Before the motorcycle incident, she had noticed the cars but was not panicked by them. That had changed. Her stress had not been relieved and she exploded. Suddenly I was not able to keep her under control. Soon I was on the ground and she was headed back to the barn.

If I had simply taken her out in the field and let her run after the motorcycle incident, she could have burned off her tension. She would have known that I would allow her to get away from danger. As time passed I could have then trained her that she does not have to run every time a noise happens. She was not ready for that yet. She and I both had a lot to learn.

As a pastor, I sometimes notice something similar happening in the pews. Instead of trying to wrangle a young horse, parents are trying to corral their toddlers. Like the horse, toddlers quickly feel the pent up frustration as they feel restricted. They are much less likely to explode if they are given a little room to run. I noticed that when we had wider aisles between the rows of chairs. The littlest kids seemed so much calmer. They were able to walk around in the isle in front of their parents and even get down on the ground and move.

I told an older pastor about this and he went on to inform me that in the 1700's (he is not quite that old, but he had heard about it) some of the churches had the pews facing each other and then had a door on the end. This allowed the children to essentially have a supervised play pen within the pews.

Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.” (NASB) I learned how easy it was to exasperate a young horse and how doing so actually caused me to lose control of the situation. As I learn from the Christians from 300 years ago, I understand as well that exasperating our children and expecting them to sit perfectly still at all times can also backfire. Let us expect that our kids eventually learn to sit still, but let us not cause unnecessary frustration for them until they are old enough to understand and and have the maturity to follow through. Usually that doesn't happen until they are about 5 years old. 

Signals that Shape Virtue 5-8-20

Grass Hockey Clip Art

When I was a child I had a very talented phy ed teacher. He came up with a lot of really neat games. One of my favorite games was “steal the bacon.” Hockey sticks were used as “bacon” and were placed in a marked off area under the basket ball hoops on each end of the court. Once the half court line was crossed you were on the opposing team's side and if you were tagged you had to go to jail. The jail was the out of bounds line behind the “bacon.” You could get out of jail if a teammate tagged you without getting tagged themselves. The object of the game was to steal all the other team's “bacon” before they stole yours.

As these games were developed by our teacher, he would often tweak the rules as he went. Since our teacher was the one making the game, he had the right to make the rules.

We did not always like his rules and sometimes we even resented them. Still those rules brought stability and were much better than the games at recess that were largely unsupervised. During those times it was not unusual for one of the children to want to change the rules. The problem was that others did not agree with those rule changes. Further the rule changes were often for selfish reasons.

I am no longer a child playing during recess, but as I interact with other adults on social media, I sometimes feel a sense of deja vu. Rather than trying to change the rules about stealing the bacon, it seems that some want to make their own rules about what is right and what is wrong. In fact the term “virtue signaling” has developed as way to share frustration with this phenomena.

As a Christian, I am all in favor of reminding people to live lives of virtue. 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)

The problem is not in reminding people of the importance of virtue. The problem is that we as a society are not able to agree about what positions are virtuous and which ones are not. I feel like we need the teacher to step in and to tell us which rules to follow.

Fortunately we have such a teacher. He cares about us even more than any teacher we have ever had. He cares about us so much that he went to the cross and died for our sins. That teacher is Jesus Christ. As God, he has the authority to set the rules and to tell us what they are. Some do not want to accept his authority or his rules, but if we reject his rules, why should we accept theirs?

An ordered society needs to have someone setting some basic rules. I want that somebody to be God. If someone other than God makes all the rules, it will be too easy for the rules to be made for selfish purposes.

Jesus warned about getting our rules from man rather than God. “'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.' "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." (Mark 7:7-8 NASB)

For years we have warned about legalism from within the church, but we are also seeing legalism from outside the church. Although we should have rules and virtue within an ordered society, let us make sure that those standards are coming from God and not from some condescending signals apart from God. 

Donuts With Dad's Truck  4-25-20

Tacho Meter Clip Art

It will be a few years before my son is old enough to drive on South Dakota roads, but I want him to have some driving experience before that time comes. While working in the field, I had him move the pickup. I looked up from my work to see the pickup driving much too fast in a tight circle with dirt flying up from the wheels. I quickly grabbed my walkie talkie and and said, “knock it off or you won't be driving that truck again.”

It was a beautiful spring day. The wind was blowing, the sun was out, and the temperature was in the low 70's. I was glad to be outside. As a bi-vocational pastor, I get to work on drainage challenges in farm fields. My son came out to help me. I joked with my wife that I thought he was auditioning to take over the business since he was being so helpful. That was before he started doing donuts.

Then I saw the 4wd pickup flying through the field and I needed to use the radio to reign him in. As soon I gave my rebuke, the truck slowed down and he drove like he was supposed to drive. Once he parked the truck he got out and stood beside it with a sheepish look on his face.

I informed him that his wild driving was unacceptable behavior and he was not to do it again. I warned of the dangers to his safety as well as the unneeded abuse to the truck. No punishment was given. None was needed. I needed to give him the warning not to do it again, but I realized I had not told him he was not allowed to do what he had done.

In other words, he had not disobeyed me. In fact, as soon as he heard my warning over his walkie talkie, he instantly did obey. That deserved a commendation rather than a punishment. Fortunately this time I recognized that. I do not always see those things however.

There have been times when I have not been so reasonable with my children. The next day my older son was helping me. I rebuked him for going and sitting in the vehicle when he was supposed to be helping me. I laid into him pretty hard. He was crushed and explained that he went to the vehicle because usually the next step in the process of the job we were doing was to move the trailer with that truck and he did not want me to have to wait for him. He was correct and I had to apologize.

Parenting is not always easy. Ephesians 6:4 warns, “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (NASB) I want my boys to understand my expectations for them, but more importantly I want them to understand and obey God's expectations for them.

I have not been a perfect father and they have not been perfect sons. I had to apologize to my oldest son and I am thankful that he forgave me. I have also had to forgive them when they have done wrong. We have all had to apply Ephesians 4:32, “Eph 4:32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (NASB)

When I consider how much grace God as shown us as we sort out his expectations for our lives, I realize how much grace we must show to one another. I also realize that God does have expectations for our lives and that He makes them clear in His word. Just like I do not want my boys to ignore me, we should not ignore God either. God has not told us not to do donuts out in the field, but we should not neglect what He has told us either. 

The Restaurant of Love 4-10-20

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We found a new restaurant last week. It was literally in our back yard- literally. Our 9 year old son, decided it would be a good idea to grill some pork chops. His brothers, ages 8-12, had joined in the effort. One of the boys came into my office and said that they were ready for their mother and I to come to the back yard, but we had to come out at the same time.

I realized that something was afoot since he seemed to have a bit of a twinkle in his eye. We looked out our back window. We could see the boys hovered around a card table that they had set up near the grill. Farther away in the back yard, they had set up a couple of saw horses with a sheet of wood over the top held in place by a C clamp. Two chairs were available for seating at the saw horse table.

As we stepped onto the back step, we were greeted into our backyard and escorted to our special table. Although the seating arrangement was a bit primitive, it was just the two of us. That was quite special. Still, we could see that much was abuzz on the other side of the backyard fence where the grill was set up.

Our oldest son approached us with a clipboard and two handmade menus. A list of available food options with pictures drawn were listed. We could have pork chops, carrots, onions, and either a sweet potato or regular potato. We each selected everything offered other than I chose the potato and Crystal chose the sweet potato.

We could see our 9 year old manning the grill as the 8 and 11 year old boys delivered the food to our table. We had each been provided a glass of water as well. I had put on a coat since it was a bit cool out. One of our servers noticed that my wife was a bit cold and quickly retrieved a blanket for her.

As we enjoyed our wonderful date, we realized that the food was actually magnificent. They had done an excellent job. They had gotten pointers on grilling from our next door neighbor across the other fence. It was one of the best dates we have had In a long time.

Not every day has gone that smoothly at the Miller household though. The boys have sometimes gotten frustrated at being cooped up and not being able to see many of their friends. Crystal and I have as well. Still our boys taught us a valuable lesson during these challenging times. Sometimes we need to take the focus off our ourselves and instead look to serving others.

Philippians 2:4 says, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” NASB) Our boys did that. The Philippians passage however continues. It gives an example of someone who did put others ahead of himself. His name is Jesus Christ. Consider the next verses,

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV)

Even though Jesus is God, he put our interests ahead of his own and humbled himself. He set a wonderful example and died for us. He is not dead though. He is alive and I want to serve Him.

As we put others ahead of ourselves, lest us make sure we put Christ first

   The Gifted Blessings  3-27-20

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Our phone rang. We were told there was a box of candy on our deck. As my wife went to retrieve it the people on the other end of the phone line were sitting in their vehicle at the end of our driveway waving at us. Earlier another couple had dropped an ice cream pail with soup in it on our driveway and waved as our boys went out to retrieve it. Soon a pie and more soup were dropped off. We also received ice cream, pop, and groceries- including some homemade applesauce. We already had plenty of toilet paper.

Our family had been sick and we decided to self quarantine. Our family and friends quickly learned about it and poured their love upon us. 1 John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (NASB)

We got to witness the love of others and it helped us out a lot. For years I have heard people say things like, “if you need anything just let us know.” Of course that is the polite thing to say and usually saying such things holds little risk since many of the people around here don’t often ask for help. Many of our friends however stepped up before we even asked them. Those who we did ask actually went over and above what we asked for.

Years before I became a pastor I was spending a lot of time volunteering at church. I was single at the time, so I could afford to do it, but for a time, I was putting in as much time there as if it were a full time job. I wanted to give and felt it was a blessing to do it. One day a man met me outside of church and wanted to hand me some money for the time I had put in. I refused it. I did not need it. He looked sad as I did so. Another friend saw what was happening and told me that I was depriving our friend of a blessing by not accepting his gift. I realized I had been wrong in not taking it.

Much of my refusal to take the gift had been rooted not just in my lack of need, but also in my pride. Even if I did not need it I could graciously take the gift and then pass it on to someone else. A doctor named Luke wrote the book of Acts. He reminds us in, Ac 20:35 "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (NASB)

Knowing that it is more blessed to give than to receive, I can understand all the smiles we saw from the vehicles in our driveway. Their joy was an uplift to us, but we could tell that their joy was not fake. They really were feeling blessed.

It is fun watching people open packages at Christmas time, but the people in our driveway looked way more excited and happy about helping us than what most people do as they unwrap their gifts.

In the days ahead I expect a number of us will be facing new challenges. I understand that there are some who are always taking advantage of others, and many fear becoming like them. Let us be careful that we not overcompensate in the other direction and not take the help that many really desire to give. Not everyone has lost their jobs. Many will have the ability to share and will want to do so. Let us not be too proud to let others have a blessing by graciously accepting their help.

We are so thankful for God’s provision to us through these wonderful people. We are also thankful for the joy they got in helping us. 

It’s Not Over Yet  3-13-20

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As I drove into my hometown on a beautiful March morning I could see a fire truck sitting on the side of the road with it’s flashers on. Before long, every intersection along that road would be blocked by fire trucks from across multiple counties.

As I drove by my old High School, I saw a large firefighting ladder truck with the ladder extended over main street. From that ladder hung a huge American Flag with the stars and stripes blowing in the wind. Any car that traveled on that street had to pass under that flag.

We crossed main street and proceeded to our destination- a church that was much too small to hold all the people that would be arriving. As we looked up the hill from the church, we could see firetrucks taking up multiple lanes. The church was filled with firefighters in uniform, but they were not wearing their firefighting gear. There was no fire to fight. Instead there were tears.

There was another truck parked outside the church as well. A white semi that had been driven by a man that so many in the community were remembering.

The man was more than someone who had driven a white truck and had worn a fireman’s uniform. He was someone who had spent time with people. He was part of a community. He had not yet reached 50 years of age when his life ended, but in that short time he had touched many lives. He was more than a volunteer fireman, he was a volunteer at heart. He was willing to help others,

Matthew 22:37-40 has these words, “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.' "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

During the eulogy we heard of his love for others. During the message we heard of his salvation through Christ. What really matters in a life are not the firetrucks and flags, but the love for God and others and a trust in Christ.

The man we were remembering had been to the doctor, but so have so many of us. It was hard knowing that he had eventually taken his last breath.

As we left the church we joined a procession of firetrucks and vehicles filled with mourners. The highway that went past the cemetery had been shut down just for this occasion. As we proceeded to the graveside a different firetruck had been placed at each intersection reminding us of over 2 decades of service as a volunteer fireman by a man who would be missed.

Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold.” The man who was remembered that sad March day, was not perfect. But the testimony of his community showed that he left this world with something precious- a good name that will not be forgotten.

It is even more important that we not forget that we must not leave this world without the salvation of the one who is perfect. He loved us so much that He gave His life for the whole world. Let us love Christ and others as we trust His loving payment for our sins. Then we can know that if we do trust Christ it will not be all over at the end of a magnificent funeral processional. Eternal life with the Lord will await us. “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 

Light in Grandma's Afghan  2-29-2020

My Grandma Miller spent a lot of time with her yarn and crochet hook. She made my folks a beautiful afghan that they draped over their couch. After a few years, they got a new couch. It was the 1970's and the flower pattern of the new couch was no longer complimented by the the striped afghan the way the plain brown couch had been.

Soon the afghan was packed away and I forgot that my folks even had it. Grandma had made another afghan a few years later. That one did not match any of our couches, but it was just the right size for us kids while we were small. It soon became a favorite to cover up with on a cool day as we watched TV. That afghan was well used and well worn. It had been washed and stretched so often that it barely resembled its original condition. Still it somehow survived decades of use and storage.

Recently Mom took the two afghans and another 2 quilts of of storage and divided them up between myself and my 3 siblings. I ended up with the afghan that was like new. I was thrilled. My sister wanted one of the quilts. One of my brothers was happy to get the other quilt. My youngest brother requested the worn out afghan.

I understood why he wanted that stretched out jumble of yarn. Not only had it been made by the loving hands of our grandmother, but it held countless hours of memories. I remember Dad sitting in the recliner covered with that afghan that his own mother had made. I remember finding comfort in being covered by that familiar blanket as I was suffering from a childhood flu. I remember outgrowing the afghan and wishing it was long enough to cover me like it had been when I was smaller and hooking my big toe in one of the loose loops while stretching the rest around my shoulders. My brother had many of those same wonderful memories and now he has the afghan as well.

My afghan is still in pristine condition. It is tempting to store it away in some trunk so that it is not abused like the other afghan was. The sad truth, however is that my afghan has few memories. It is not nearly as precious as the one my brother has. We decided not to pack it away and to instead let it be used and let it make new memories for our family. Grandma would have liked that.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (NKJV)

In Luke 8:16 Jesus says, "No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.” (NKJV) He repeats the same message in Luke 11:33.

I want that old afghan to make new memories for our family as we remember my grandmother. I do not want it hidden away where it is forgotten. Further I want to make sure that my memories and realities of how Christ is working in my life are not hid away either. He is my light and I want Him to shine all around me rather than being hidden away. I pray that when future generations have memories of my life they will not just remember the things that I have made, but the Lord that I serve and how I interact with Him throughout my days. 

Hope For the Scrap Lumber  2-16-20

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My wife asked me to build her a shelf. She did not want anything fancy and she even had a scrap piece of wood that she suggested I use. I informed her that I had some even nicer scrap wood. The piece of wood I chose did not look all that nice at first glance. It had some dings and scratches and was stained with dust and dirt. At first glance her piece of scrap looked much nicer than mine.

Her board was a re purposed portion of chip board that had been painted. Mine was an unused cedar board that had been in storage far too long. An extra coat of paint would have made her board look even nicer. I took a different approach with mine. Rather than covering up the blemishes, I decided to literally remove them. I ran it through my surface planer-removing a small layer of wood along with the blemishes and stains.

After I resurfaced the wood, I built the shelf. My wife was very happy with the results.

I got to thinking that sometimes the best approach is to cover a blemish and other times the best approach is to remove it. There are however some blemishes that cannot be hidden or removed. Even with the added layers of paint, the defects of the chip board would still show through. Running it through the planer would only reveal more layers of defection. Some of my boards have knots that go all the way through them. Some of those knots are lose and planing would cause an ever greater defect to be revealed. Some boards just have to be thrown away or are not fit for anything nice.

Sometimes we can end up feeling like a scrap piece of wood that no one would ever want. Our lives are so marred by sin that we cannot cover it up and there is no way to remove the scars left behind. Who would ever want something so worthless?

I recently watched an artist take a chunk of wood that I would have only used for a campfire and he made an amazing bowl out of it. He saw the beauty in God's creation and used the knotted up portion to create an artistic accomplishment that could not be duplicated.

Let us not forget, that we are all part of God's creation. Some of us are like the tree that has been twisted in the wind and then grows that way. Just because we have been twisted in the wind does not mean God does not have a purpose for us.

Our Lord is like that artist who sees the defect but loves us enough to work with us in spite of that. In fact, He loves us so much that He gave His life to redeem us from the curse of sin. “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).

Christ did not just paint over our sin. He did not plane it off of us. Instead He covered our sin with His blood and washed it away. Like the the board with the deep knot, the scars of the sin still remain, but when we trust Christ He is still able to use us. Often He uses us for a special purpose that the “typical board” wouldn't be suited for.

Because of the love of Christ, we are able to be like the twisted up branch that is made into the special bowl. We should never glory in our sin, but we should also realize that once we die to self and live for God, we can be like the knurled tree that gave up its life to be used in a special way. 

Boxes of Cordial Cherries 2-2-20

From time to time, Menards has an unadvertised clearance sale. Recently they had a sale on Queen Anne cordial cherries. I am not certain what the regular price was, but they were selling them for a dollar a box. With 10 chocolate covered cherries in sweet sauce, that meant that each once only cost a dime plus tax. I bought a whole stack of them.

As I savored the taste of milk chocolate with a fruity center, I quickly realized that they would not last nearly as long as I had hoped. The box was quite large, but upon opening it I was reminded that most of the container was filled with extravagant plastic packaging and little was filled with the dainties I so desired. Still, upon eating my treat, I was not disappointed.

Sadly the pleasure did not last long and soon the joy had left my mouth and had settled within my stomach leaving me with but a fleeting memory of the goodness. Fortunately there were still 9 more left in the box. The first 5 were quickly eaten before I instituted a measure of restraint.

I quickly realized that if I wanted the enjoyment from these treats to last longer, I would need to limit myself to 1 or 2 per day. Of course, even with that, they would soon be gone.

I had another option available. Since I had purchased so many of them, I could eat to my hearts desire and have a lot of immediate pleasure. The thought of placing another cordial cherry in my mouth just as the last was entering my stomach was exhilarating. After eating 5 of them, however, my stomach was feeling a sensation that had not been present after the first one. I understood the importance of self control and restrained myself.

The scripture actually speaks about a temptation similar to mine. Proverbs 25:16 warns, “Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, Lest you be filled with it and vomit.” (NKJV) I remember my Dad talking about liking sweet corn so much as a kid that he ate it until he was so sick of it that he couldn't eat it for years. I did not want that to happen with my chocolate covered cherries.

I also realized that it would not be a bad idea to share them with others. Of course my wife and children got to enjoy some as well. I also decided to give a box to my aunt when we went to visit her. Upon receiving them she went on and on about how much she loved them. Of course I got a big hug from her that day as well.

Suddenly it occurred to me that the joy on my aunt's face was just as sweet as the chocolate on my lips. Further the memory of her joy was much sweeter than the memory of eating the treat. "And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive."  ( Acts 20:35 NKJV) Further by giving to others, I was able to show love for God and to fulfill a high purpose of fulfilling the royal law of God. James 2:8 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well;” (NKJV)

Eating cordial cherries is definitely fulfilling, but living out the high purpose of loving God and others has a much more lasting joy. 

Ice Cream and Bad Drivers  1-20-20

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I love ice cream. My boys love ice cream. My mom loves ice cream. We were recently able to get together for ice cream. As we went up to the counter we were given a variety of selections and the server patiently waited for us to make our choice. She was very nice as she dished up our treat.

As I sat down to eat my delicious bowl of cold goodness, I glanced back up at the counter. The server did not look quite as friendly as she had before. In fact, there was no smile on her face. Suddenly someone approached the counter. As she interacted with them, she again was quite pleasant.

I began to pay more attention to the surroundings. I noticed that a knee cart was parked behind the counter near where she was working. Although I did not get all the details, I found out that she was recovering from a physical condition. That explained why the knee cart was there.

I did not press her for any personal information, but the thought crossed my mind that she could have easily been in pain. That could have explained the strained expression on her face.

That same day I read a meme about a person who was following a car that had a sign in the back window that said, “please be patent with me, I'm learning to drive a stick.” The author went on to explain that the person in the car ahead of them seemed to be doing quite well for someone who was just learning to drive a manual transmission. He also shared that had he not seen the sign, he would have easily become upset by the erratic driving. The meme went on to challenge us to remember that we do not know what others are going through.

Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (NASB)

As I observed the ice cream server, I was not trying to be nosy, but my observation made it much easier to understand that her interests were much more serious than ice cream. It reminded me that we need to get out of our own bubble of life and realize that the people around us are also facing challenges. We are commanded by God to love others, but often we do not pay enough attention to their struggles- their interests- to even know how to act in a loving way.

It is also a reminder that sometimes it is okay to let others know what we are going through so that they can display the love that they desire to display. I love how the person put the sign in their car window. It allowed other drivers to give a thumbs up rather than a scowl.

I am not suggesting that we should be scowling at other drivers, but often we have no idea what is really going on around us. As Christians, let us be humble enough to not think the worst of other people, but let us also be humble enough to share our struggles so that others can share their love.

The Philippians passage continues with these words: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (NASB)

Let us follow God's example of love, humility, and care for others.  

Don't Face the Fog Alone  1-6-20

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We spent Christmas Eve with my in-laws. They only live about 3 hours away, but we had to drive through the fog to get there. The trip over was not that bad. It was daylight and there were a few breaks in the haze. On the way back, the blanket had descended much more thickly and we did not have the daylight to cut through it.

Fortunately it was not as thick as it has been at other times, but we still drove with caution. We realized that even on a familiar road, we could easily miss our turnoff. The landmarks we were used to seeing could not be identified. It gave me a bit of a feeling of helplessness and a huge feeling of uncertainty.

I am thankful that we were on a familiar road. Imagine how troubling it would have been to have to take a detour on a road we had never driven on in a thick fog. Imagine if we missed a turn because we could not see the signs.

Sometimes life is like that. We end up facing situations that we never had to face before. We have no idea what lies ahead and we cannot see the next turn coming. Even if your life is fairly predictable and is like driving on a familiar road on a cloudless day, there are the times of fog and detour that come upon us.

Must of us are able to handle the bumps along the road without too much trouble. Even a detour or a bit of fog is not that big of a deal. But from time to time there are circumstances in life where the fog detours and bumpy roads all come at the same time. Imagine being on such a road and you are already behind schedule. Driving fast is too dangerous, but being late will also mess up your life. There is no good option, but slowing down and being safe and considering the safety of others is the best option.

In life we often have to chose the best option by asking what would best show my love for God and others and then realize that we cannot go through the fog alone.

As I was driving on Christmas Eve, I was thankful that my wife was there to help me watch for our exit from the interstate. As I go through life I am thankful for those who I can look to for guidance. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”

One of the huge advantages of a church family is the ability to get together with other people who love God and get their advice as we travel through the fog. Still there are times when none of us can see where to go. That is when we must all call out to God in prayer. We plan out our route, but God puts us where He wants us and is there to guide us along even when we cannot see the way. “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 NASB)

As we face the new year, we have no idea what fog or detour lies ahead. Let's not face it alone. Face it with Christ and other Christians. 

A King is Born and He Reigns  12-23-19

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Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Although he was laid in a manger, he was born into a royal family. Both his mother Mary and his step father Joseph were descendants of royalty. They were both from the lineage of King David. In fact, that was the reason that Joseph went back to Bethlehem before Jesus was born. Luke 2:4 tells us, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)”

Things had changed though. The kingdom had been lost. The royal family no longer had power, but there was hope that an heir would ascend to the throne and bring justice back to the nation. In fact such had been prophesied. Zechariah 9:9 foretold, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (NASB)

The baby in the manger would grow up, to ride the donkey into the capital city as their king and savior, but he was not just king of the Jews. He was something more. As the son of Mary and the stepson of Joseph, he had a special place in the royal family, but as the son of God, he had an even higher position.

In the Jewish tradition, a young man would start an apprenticeship after his 12th birthday. Joseph was a carpenter, and Jesus would be involved in that occupation as well, but he followed in his heavenly father's footsteps. Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. On their way home, they realized he was not with them. Notice where they found him. “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)

Rather than just working on carpentry, he took his apprenticeship working on spiritual matters. He was working on his heavenly father's business, not his step father's business. “And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:49 NKJV)

Jesus is God in the flesh and heir to all the authority of God. As we celebrate his birth, let us not forget that he is King and Lord. Further he is the Savior who brought justice and paid for our sins. We must believe on him and follow him for who he is. Let us recognize not just his birth, but his authority as king and Lord this Christmas.  He is not just the king of the Jews, but king of all creation. The king was born and the king is God.  

Saving Gum For a Month  12-5-19

I became a bit concerned as I listened to my boys talking. My 10 year old was saying that he had the same gum for over a month. His brother asked how he had it for so long and he replied that he just saved it. I was imagining him sticking it on his bed frame at night and then retrieving it the next morning. I was just getting ready to give him a lecture about hygiene and sanitation and the problem of germs, when I suddenly realized that I might be jumping to the wrong conclusion.

I asked him if he was talking about gum that had already been chewed or if he meant that he had been saving gum that was new in the package. He gave me the wrinkled up face “oh gross” look and said that he had been saving it new in the package.

His face made it clear that there was no need for any lecture. He could have given a more passionate lecture on that subject than I could have. It was a reminder that I need to be careful not to create unnecessary conflict by jumping to conclusions. The scripture reminds us in James 1:19, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” (NASB) We as Christians ought to be careful how we act and that includes being quick to hear and slow to speak.

The gum incident and the words from the book of James remind me to listen before jumping to conclusions. The book of Proverbs actually gives the example of a person who took hasty action and ended up with egg on their face. Proverbs 25:8 says, “Do not go out hastily to argue your case; Otherwise, what will you do in the end, When your neighbor puts you to shame?” (NASB) The next verses tell us that instead we are to go and talk to our neighbor directly. “Argue your case with your neighbor, And do not reveal the secret of another, Lest he who hears it reproach you, And the evil report about you not pass away.” (Proverbs 25:9-10 NASB)

If you jump to a wrong conclusion and you act accordingly and start to spread wrong information, you will end up hurting your own reputation. Talking to your neighbor and listening can resolve a lot of misunderstanding. Imagine how silly I would have looked if I started to tell others how gross my son was for saving his gum. Once the truth came out and everyone could see how disciplined he was in not just using up the gum, I would have been the one who looked ridiculous, not him.

Often when we jump to conclusions the damage is much more serious than looking silly over gum. We run the danger of hurting the reputations of others and of ourselves. Further we might end up causing strife between others when it could have been avoided by simply listening after sharing our concerns.

I shared my concern about gum with my son and then listened. His response cleared up the matter immediately. A lot of tension between people could be avoided if we applied this principle on a regular basis. 

 Thankful For God's Provision  11-22-19

Wheel 4 Clip Art

I like getting a good deal at auctions. Recently a pickup came up for sale on an online auction and it was not too far away. It was newer than any of our current vehicles, but it had a dent in the drivers door and a few other minor issues. I noticed that the bidding was not going very high so my wife and I talked about it and decided that if it went cheap enough that it would be a good investment. Of course it would have to be a really good deal for us to make that investment.

Once the final auction day arrived, the pickup was still priced within our budget, but I realized that all it would take is one other bidder for the price to be beyond our reach. I also knew that God has a way of supplying for our needs. I do not demand that God give me what I want, but I do bring my cares before Him knowing of His love and unlimited power.

I prayed about the truck and asked for wisdom about how high of a bid I should make. I settled on a price that would make it easy for me to be outbid if God did not want us to have the pickup. I put in my maximum bid a few minutes before the auction was to expire and waited. If another bidder upped their bid, the auction would go into overtime. With 40 seconds left, we were still the high bidder. My boys were excited as they sat next to me waiting for the result. Another bidder upped their bid, but it was not over our high bid.

Finally the auction expired and and we got the truck for about $455 less than my top bid. We ended up getting the truck for about half of what other comparable trucks were selling for. My boys were very excited. We would be getting a newer truck and they did not have to worry about paying for it. I was excited as well. I was also thankful and shared my thankfulness in prayer, but I was the one who had to write the check.

I began to worry a bit. Although God had provided for us in an amazing way- a way that was so reasonable that we actually had the cash on hand to pay for it- that meant that our emergency fund was nearly depleted.

The next day I began to read Matthew ch 6 because I was interested in the first part of the chapter, but then I came to last few verses where it said,

"Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' "For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31-34 NASB)

Not only had God provided an inexpensive vehicle, but He had also provided the reassurance that I needed from His word. He reminded me not to worry about tomorrows unknown emergencies and instead trust in His provision.

These reassurances are not an excuse to be careless with our finances, but we had made a very conservative financial decision where God had provided in an amazing way. There was no need to worry. It is encouraging to know that God cares for us and is concerned with our daily needs of food and clothing. He even cares about our vehicle needs. Best of all, He knows what we need for daily encouragement from His word. We have much to thank God for. 

Thankfully Jingling the Bells   11-7-19

Christmas Bells Clip Art

      We are entering the holiday season. Soon we will celebrate Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and finally the new year. Recently one of our boys wanted to sing Away in the Manger and his older brother said that since it was almost Thanksgiving, we could start to sing Christmas songs. Another friend chimed in and said that she had been listening to Christmas songs since July.

      My oldest son who has become somewhat of a walking encyclopedia, then went on to explain that although “Jingle Bells” is often thought of as a Christmas song, it was actually written in reference to Thanksgiving.

      “Jingle Bells” does not reference God or religion, but the song is about rejoicing as it glorifies the fun of riding and singing. Rejoicing in prayer and thanksgiving is really what the November holiday should be all about.

      The song about the one horse open sleigh reminds us that singing and giving of thanks should go hand in hand. The Bible reminds us of that as well.

      In the Old Testament, the ark of the covenant reminded the people of God's covenant. It also reminded them of His presence with them. Since the ark was covered with the mercy seat, it also reminded them of God's mercy. Inside the ark was Aaron's rod and manna from heaven, which reminded them of God's deliverance and provision. The ark of the covenant was a reminder that they had a lot to be thankful for.

      God called King David “a man after mine own heart.” As the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem David gave the nation's choir leader a song to sing for that special occasion. It begins with these words: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad.” (I Chronicles 16:8-10 NASB)

      The context of that song was the ark of the covenant coming to Jerusalem. The ark was a reminder of God's promises, presence, mercy, deliverance, and provision. It was also a reminder of God's power. It reminds us that there is so much to thank God for and that the thankfulness should lead to rejoicing. That rejoicing took place as Asaph, the choir director, used the song we find in I Chronicles so that he could lead the people in singing a song of praise.

      As I heard about our friend who has been listening to Christmas songs since July, I thought about the reason we as Christians celebrate Christmas. It is about God coming to earth as a baby to bring His promises, presence, mercy, deliverance, provision, and power to the world as He showed His love by dying on the cross for our sins. We get to rejoice with thanksgiving because our God is not dead, He is alive. He rose again and lives and reigns with power and mercy. We have a lot to be thankful for.

God is Greater than Determination  10-27-19

Little Boy Clip Art

     Our boys are getting taller. My wife informed me that our 9 year old is wearing size 10 jeans but they are about 8 inches too short for him. Our 11 year old told me the other day that he keeps bumping his head. He is growing so fast that places he used to walk under are now too low for him.

     They like getting taller and look forward to being taller than their mom. They might even end up being taller than I am. I have no idea which one of my boys will end up being the tallest. Although good nutrition may help them gain some stature, pure determination will not. I am thankful for that, because my sons are very determined and I cannot imagine how tall they would end up being if they waged a contest over who would be the tallest.

     There are certain things that we can accomplish by sheer determination. I have watched my sons build some amazing forts. Still those forts pale in comparison to some of the amazing cathedrals around the world.

     In Genesis 11, we read about how after the world wide flood, the people of the world got together to build a huge city and tower. “And they said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth." (Genesis 11:4 NASB)

     God saw what they were doing and realized that man's determination would cause him to set even higher goals and that they would achieve those goals. God wanted to slow things down, so He made different languages and thus the tower was called The Tower of Babel. It is a reminder that as determined as man is, he is not more powerful than God.

     Some determined men have build great structures. The pyramids in Egypt and the Great Wall in China are examples. Legends tell of other's determination leading them to search for the fountain of youth. Advances in medicine have allowed us to feel more youthful for a time. Hip and knee replacements are examples. Stints and surgery can even extend the effectiveness of the heart. Still there are limits. Hebrews 9:27 tells us, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” (NASB)

     Although we have not found the fountain of youth or even a medical technique or exercise program to stop all aging, there is a way to find eternal life. It is not found through determination though. It is found by recognizing that God is greater than we are and that He is our only hope for eternal life. 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)

     Eternal life is a gift from God when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what John 3:16 is about. It is not something we get through achievement or determination. Rather it is something we get when we realize we cannot get it on our own and that we need God. As we realize He is all powerful and believe on Him and His payment on the cross, we are given a wonderful gift. It is not about determination. It is all about a loving merciful God.

     “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


What Does it Mean to Believe?  10-11-19

American Football Clip Art

I am not a big sports fan, but because I am a Christian I have heard of Tim Tebow. I am just familiar enough with him to realize that like so many other athletes, there are continued debates about his talents. Some believe in him others do not.

The same could be said about Tom Brady. Although his talents are not as debated as Tebow's the controversy over his support among football fans is even greater. Many avid Patriot fans believe in Brady, others hate him.

When I talk about belief in these athletes, I am not talking about a belief in their existence. All we have to do is watch replays of their games to know they are real. When I speak of belief in Brady or Tebow, I am talking about belief in their abilities and their worthiness to be on the field playing the game.

Belief also has the idea of an alliance. If you believe in the New England Patriots, that means you are on their side- rooting for them to win. Throughout history people have taken sides and it was often more serious than wearing the colors of their favorite sports team. Often it meant taking sides in a military conflict or even choosing which king to form an alliance with.

For example after the famous king Solomon passed away, his son Rehaboam dealt harshly with his people. That caused many of them to no longer want to follow him. When they found someone else that they could believe in, many of them followed a man named Jeroboam instead. Soon the kingdom was divided with some people believing in Rehaboam and following him while others believed in Jeroboam, making him a king and following him instead.

I am not a sports fan, so I have not found an athlete to follow and believe in. I have however found a king. The king I have found is a king worth believing in. Not only does he have the abilities and the right to be my king, he is the sort of king that I want to be faithful to. He is concerned about justice and cannot be bribed. He cares about those under his care. In fact he cared so much that he gave his life for his people.

Some may be disappointed to learn that such a great king has died. I too would be disappointed if it were not for the fact that he is now alive again. The Apostle Paul wrote of the good news about my king: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (I Corinthians 15:3-4 NASB)

My king is alive and 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) A Christian belief in Jesus is more than a belief that He exists. It is an alliance with a king. I am following my Lord and savior as His humble servant. He as my King and master. I believe in Jesus Christ. 

Family History of the Heart  9-27-19

Black Heartabeat Clip Art

Grandpa Miller died when I was 6 years old. I remember coming home with Mom and seeing Dad's John Deere tractor with its front wheels up on the silage pile. The plow was still hooked to the back of the tractor. Grandpa Miller had been plowing with that tractor earlier in the day.

We found out that Grandpa had a heart attack and had died in the tractor trying to make it back from the field. He was only 68 years old. Years later, my dad had a heart attack in his 50's. His brothers also had heart problems. I had a cousin on the Miller side, who died in his 30's after multiple heart attacks.

When my dad went to the doctor for his heart attack they told him that his heart was already damaged from an earlier attack. Friends have warned through the years not to ignore symptoms and that something as simple as a feeling of heartburn might actually be the heart, not the stomach.

I recently had some strange symptoms. I had a heartburn type feeling that radiated into the jaw. I also had some chest tightness along with it. It soon passed. Days later, I went to move some sandbags and I lost my breath much quicker than I normally do. This was followed by pain between and behind the shoulder blades. I decided to go to the Avera Heart Hospital.

They hooked me to a bunch of wires and did an EKG. The EKG was normal, so was the blood test. Because of the symptoms and the family history, they decided to do a stress test- especially since the chest pain was continuing. They did another EKG while I ran on a treadmill. They also did 2 different nuclear die tests- one before and one after the treadmill. The tests were inconclusive, so they followed up with an angiogram. That test showed that there were no blockages, but if there had been they would have fixed them with a stint while they were there.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (NASB) Although this passage is not talking about the physical aspect of the heart, I thought of this verse. The symptoms can be deceptive and the tests inconclusive, but the staff at Avera was doing all they could to know the heart. They even did an ultrasound to see if there was inflammation.

I was both surprised and relieved to discover that I did not have any blockages in my heart. The EKG was good and the blood test showed there had been no damage. They told me to take medication for heartburn and to follow up with a general practitioner.

I am glad I did not ignore the symptoms. I wonder what would have happened if Grandpa had responded to his symptoms earlier or if he had even had a cell phone to call for help.

I hope that others do not ignore their hearts. I also pray that we all respond to the spiritual aspect of the heart. Christ warns in Mark 7:21-23 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." (NASB)

All of us have a family history of the heart problem of sin. That is why we need Jesus Christ. Our sin has separated us from God, but Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. He died there, but then rose again. If we believe on Him as our Lord and savior, He heals our sin problem and makes us right with God. He is able to deal with the parts of the heart the hospital does even test for.

I'm Not In the Hurricane  9-13-19

Traffic Light Clip Art

One of the advantages to living in Worthing is that we do not have to fight traffic. The other day I found myself on Cliff Avenue in Sioux Falls between 5 and 5:30. It took way longer to get from Avera to 229 than it did to get from 229 to Worthing. We found ourselves in stop and go traffic. Further the air conditioning was not working.

Because the air was not working I had to roll down the windows- well actually I had to push a button so that an electric motor would roll down the windows. It was such an inconvenience. I had to spend some extra time sitting on a cushioned seat as I listened to the radio while waiting for the traffic to progress.

Of course you can see how trivial my concerns were. While I sat in comfort, many had recently lost their homes to a hurricane. Others had recently lost their lives. Still I am not used to so much traffic, so it was hard for me to find the contentment that I needed. It reminds me of I Timothy 6:6-9 which says, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.” (NASB)

By historical standards we in the USA are quite rich. Even some of the worst cars on the road today would be luxury compared to transportation in Bible times. Notice verse 9 again. “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.”

After the Bahamas were hit by Hurricane Dorian, it was understandable that people would be concerned about having food and clothing. But the more we have, the more we want and the more trivial our concerns become. The evidence of how prosperous we have become is that instead of worrying about if we will have enough to eat we are worried about if our car gets a scratch on it.

I am not suggesting that we be careless with our possessions nor that we should not respect what belongs to other people. Still it is so easy to let the trivial things of life cause needless conflict.

If you are a parent or grandparent you have likely had a couch cushion damaged by a child. If the child was naughty or careless, then that issue must be addressed, but often these things happen without sin or malice of any sort.

Throughout history and even throughout the world today, most people did not have fancy enough furniture to even worry about stains. So many of the things we worry about are quite trivial.

Instead of worrying about getting a nicer couch or car, let us focus on being more godly. If we can learn to be content with what we have, then we will be able to see that godliness is much more important to gain than any riches. “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.” (I Timothy 6:6)

As followers of Christ, it may be tempting to just live on the streets and be content to get free clothes and food at the shelters. But as we are content with what we have and as we grow in godliness, we should want to help others. That is why we should have jobs if we are able. Ephesians 4:28 challenges, “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.”

Our godliness and contentment should be evidenced as we show love for God and others. 

We Found the Old Mill 8-30-19

Bulk Aggregate Clip Art

Our boys like hiking trails. On a recent visit to a state park, I decided to look at a map and ignore the trails. The map showed a trail leading to the site of a long abandoned grain mill that had been built along a river in the early 1800's. All that was left was a number of rocks that made up the original foundation. Still, once we reached it, we were able to see the remnants of the mill.

Reaching it was not as easy as we expected though. We looked at the map and the trail that led to the mill seemed to take a longer route than necessary. We concluded that if we took a shortcut and left the trail and headed west instead of south, we would soon reach the river and then we could follow the river to the mill and save a lot of time.

We crested a small hill as we took our shortcut and found that the ground abruptly turned downward in steep grade that led to the river. It was too steep to even walk down. We followed this embankment to point where a ravine diverted runoff into the river. The 25 foot descent was much gentler at this point. As we neared the river, the drop became much steeper. We could see the river flowing at a brisk rate below and watched the rapids spew water giving evidence of dangerous currents. As we approached, we saw that it would be very difficult to walk along the edge of the river, since the banks of the river were extremely steep. There were so many trees that in order to get close enough to follow the river we would have to cling to the trees themselves so that we did not fall in.

After assessing the situation we decided that it was too dangerous to take our shortcut and that it would actually take much longer than the trail that was shown on the map. In order to get back to the trail we took yet another route back up the hill. The climb was so steep we had to hold onto trees to make the trek. Once we reached the top, we found ourselves on a narrow ridge with another steep drop off on the other side. We were able to follow that ridge back to safer ground and soon found the trail.

The trail was marked well and had signs to show us where to go. Soon we found the mill site. We read a sign that said the mill likely failed because it was so difficult to get to. We agreed. The well marked trail we followed was steep and narrow. The way we attempted without the trail was quite wide in the sense that as we headed out, we had not limited ourselves other than heading west and staying on our side of the river. Had we fallen into the river, our way could have easily led to destruction.

The way to God is narrow as well. We cannot just choose our own path. We need to go the way He tells us to go. "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-4 NASB)

The path to God must go through Jesus Christ as we trust Him as our Lord and savior. “Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6 NASB)

I am glad we finally found the site of the old mill. I am even more glad that I found God. 

A Good God Allowed Evil? 8-16-19

As I neared my driveway I saw my son riding his bike through the ditch, pedaling hard in my direction. I watched him veer slightly as his front tire lined up with the culvert that went under the driveway. Quickly his body continued forward as the bike came to a complete stop. I wondered what I would find as I got there. I found a smiling son rubbing his arm and simply stating, “that hurt.” He was fine and I was relieved.

He learned something through that experience. He learned that riding a bike and taking risks can be both fun and dangerous. He learned the reality of life. Life in general can be both fun and dangerous. It has both pleasures and regrets. It has times of joy and times of sorrow.

Not only did my son gain some excitement, he gained some knowledge. His ancestors have gained knowledge and experience through the generations as well. Those experiences began with Adam and Eve. The first people were created by God and so was the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God told them not to eat of that tree, but He also allowed them to do it and the world has been plagued by evil ever since. Many have asked why God even allowed such a thing to happen. Why did He even create the tree? Why didn't He destroy it or put a wall around it so that Adam and Eve could not reach it?

As I allow my children to ride their bikes, I tell them to be careful. I give them warnings about what not to do. Still I know that they will do a lot of stupid things and that they will learn from those events. For example a few years ago another one of my sons rode a tricycle off the deck and onto a ramp and broke his arm. No matter how many warnings I give about not doing things like that, I also realize that such events are part of growing up and learning.

When God allowed Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, He also allowed them to learn. He allowed a very significant event to take place that gave humanity much more knowledge than what mankind had possessed previously. Although Adam and Eve were innocent before eating the forbidden fruit, they were also much less knowledgeable.

Genesis 2:9 & 17 calls the tree with the forbidden fruit, the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Although eating of the tree led to sin, it also led to more understanding. Before eating of that tree, they did not even know or care that they were naked.

Sin has brought a lot of trouble into the world, but it also gives mankind much more understanding. Without sin and evil- without pain and suffering- we would not be able to understand love and mercy the way we now do. God could have created a world where everyone's needs were always met and where no one ever hurt anyone else. In such a world, there would then be no need to help others because without any troubles, no one would ever need help. Without a need for help, there would be no way to show love by giving up ones own comfort. In such a world there would be comfort no matter what happened.

Instead God gave us a world where we understand the difference between good and evil and where we also get to understand the difference between love and hate. We get to show love for one another. We also get to understand what it means to love God and for Him to love us. Because of a sin cursed world we get to understand 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.” Although I do not want to glory in the fact that we are sinners, I am thankful for the knowledge of good and evil, because with that understanding, comes the knowledge of God's love.

Fury and Forgiveness  8-6-19

We once visited the zoo and saw a warning sign by the wolf pen. It warned that the wolf was territorial and that visitors should not put their hands in the cages. Rather than wanting to be pet, the wolf could become very angry that his territory had been invaded. We felt quite safe on our side of the fence, but I would not want to run into a wolf in the wild and I would definitely not want to do anything to make it angry.

Angry wolves can be so dangerous that the scriptures even use them to illustrate the dangers of the enemies of God. I am glad that my God is not like the wolf. Still, God does get angry and does defend His commands. Remember that He created the whole universe so everything belongs to Him.

God does not bite simply because we put our hand through a fence, but He does hold us accountable for sin and unbelief. John 3:36 warns, "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." (NASB)

During the time of Danial, the nation of Israel was taken into captivity by the nation of Babylon. This was a result of their sin. It was during that time that Daniel was thrown into the lion's den. Lions are a lot like wolves, yet God protected Daniel. Incidentally, Daniel was thrown in with the lions, not because of his sin, but because of his faithfulness to God. Although Daniel was in Babylon because God was chastening the people for their sin, God was still showing mercy to those who were faithful to Him.

God showed grace and mercy to many others during that time as well. For example, Daniel had three friends who survived being thrown into a fiery furnace by the power of our almighty God. Years later, God showed mercy on the whole nation of Israel by allowing them to return home after more than a generation of captivity. Psalm 85 is actually a song about how God's anger over their sin did not last forever and neither did their captivity in Babylon. Psalm 85:2-3 says, “Thou didst forgive the iniquity of Thy people; Thou didst cover all their sin. Selah. Thou didst withdraw all Thy fury; Thou didst turn away from Thy burning anger.” (NASB)

God does get angry over sin. Jesus demonstrated that when He overthrew the tables of those who were cheating people in the temple. His anger at sin was also shown in the world wide flood, but then His grace and mercy was shown as He gave us the rainbow promising never to send such a flood again.

God does get angry over sin and there are consequences for our actions, but God also forgives. We see that clearly in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NASB) As John 3:36 above explained, eternal life comes through Jesus Christ, but the wrath of God abides on us without Him. That is why we must humble ourselves before God as we believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. Then we must recognize that our risen savior has authority over our lives.

Both God's wrath over sin and God's forgiveness help us to understand His goodness. Sin is bad, so God has to deal with it, but God forgives, and His wrath does not have to continue. He is not like a wolf that will not back off from the attack. 1 John 1:9 explains, “ If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (NASB) Confess your sins before God. He does not stay mad, but instead forgives.

Don't Brag When Doing Right  7-19-19

I have a neighbor who has a very good reputation around town. When I first met him, I found him to be a very friendly man. During that first conversation we had, I talked about Christ and this neighbor assured me that he too was a Christian. His behavior since that time has supported his testimony. In fact, others who know him have also said that he is the real deal when it comes to his faith. He reminds me of what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” (NASB)

I understand that my neighbor is not perfect, but it is encouraging to have someone who sets a good example for others to follow.

I know of another man who talks a lot about Christ, but does not have the same reputation that my neighbor has. Like my neighbor I have heard multiple times how godly this other man is, but there is a difference. Instead of hearing from other people how godly this other man is, I keep hearing it from that man saying it about himself. Proverbs 27:2 warns, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.” (NASB) I remember going to a memorial service and during the eulogy, this man bragged about how much he had helped the deceased .

My godly neighbor does not have to praise himself. Others do it for him. The other man seems to have missed the importance of verses like II Corinthians 10:18 , “For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.” (NASB) "When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2 NASB) "And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5 NASB) "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full” (Matthew 6:16 NASB)

Though Paul encouraged others to follow his example in Philippians 3:17, just before that he stressed how although there was a lot he could brag about, his true boast was in Christ. Philippians 3:9-10 says, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;” (NASB)

As Christians if we are ever asked about what we are most proud of spiritually, our answer should always be that Christ is our savior. Let us brag on Him, not on ourselves. Bragging on ourselves can actually confuse the gospel message of Jesus dying for our sins and raising from the dead and how it is about Him saving us rather than us saving ourselves. Titus 3:5-6 summarizes it very well when it says, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,” (NASB)

We ought to live godly lives. My neighbor is a good example. Christ is an even better example. As we follow good examples, don't brag about it- just do it.

God & the Sinkhole Mystery  7-6-19

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This spring a large sink hole opened up in Rapid city. According to reports, it was nearly 30 feet across and up to 40 feet deep. A road and sidewalk were closed and a large amount of material was hauled in to fill the hole. Officials stated that they expect that the material will not continue to sink, but they still do not know the cause of the sink hole. It remains a mystery.

There is a lot in this world that still remains a mystery. Some of those things- like sinkholes- can become dangerous. With all the unknowns in the world and with all the potential dangers, it is comforting to know that God understands what is happening and that we can trust Him.

Just as we cannot see what is going on under the ground, we cannot see all that God is doing behind the scenes. Events of life and even God's plans for them are some of the greatest mysteries that we face.

A man named Job faced a lot of trials in his life. Some of his friends thought they had solved the mystery about why he was facing so much hardship. They however were wrong. Job himself tried to figure things out and also came to many wrong conclusions.

Job actually had the advantage of hearing from God himself. What he heard, however, was quite humbling. God begins by saying, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2 NASB) In other words, God tell Job that Job does not know what he is talking about. God then asks Job a series of questions beginning with, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it?” (Job 38:4-5 NASB) God is making it clear to Job that man does not know more than his creator and really is not in a place to question the creator's decisions.

God says something very similar in Isiah 45:9, "Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker--An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, 'What are you doing?' Or the thing you are making say, 'He has no hands'?” (NASB)

As God speaks to Job, He talks of so many of the mysteries of creation including the stars, the seas, the clouds, the behavior and strength of animals, wind, rain, thunderbolts, water turning to ice, death, and birth. God set up all these things. He understands them, we do not. God then asks Job another very direct question when He says, "Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it." (Job 40:2NASB) As we read the Psalms we find many of the writers questioning what God is doing and trying to understand the trials they are facing. Of course it is good to go to God with our concerns, but it is quite another thing to accuse God of fault for what He is doing. God is also quite direct with Job in vs 8-9, "Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His?” (Job 40:8 NASB)

After hearing all of this and the rest of what we read in chapters 38-41, Job repents and his answer is quite humble as he says, "I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' "Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." (Job 42:2-3 NASB)

Job is a reminder that even when what God is doing is a mystery that baffles us, we can still trust Him. He is the creator who is powerful enough to do what is right even when it is a mystery to the rest of us.

What Do You Look Like?  6-21-19

As I drove down the road I saw flashing lights and a trailer in the ditch. Once I got closer I saw a man in a uniform. The protective vest, radio, and firearm, in addition to the rest of what he was wearing, quickly identified him as a police officer.

When I walk into Walmart and see someone with a blue vest with yellow on the back of it, I recognize them as a Walmart employee.

In a similar manner if I see someone with a yellow reflective vest and a hardhat, I figure that they are a construction worker.

Although farmers do not have a specific uniform, if I see someone wearing a pliers, a Pioneer seed corn hat, and cowboy boots, I have a pretty good inkling about their profession.

Although appearances can be misleading, we can often get some clues about people simply by how they appear. If that is the case, then what should a Christian look like? If that Christian is a Lincoln County Sheriffs Deputy, then he or she should look just like the officer that I saw the other day. If the Christian works at Walmart, then the answer is obvious.

Of course not all farmers wear pliers and cowboy boots nor do they all plant Pioneer seed. Furthermore, all Christians are not going to wear the same kinds of clothes or even cut their hair the same- nor should they.

Still there are things that we should all be able to see as we look at Christians that should make them stand out just as much as a construction worker with a hardhat. These are the sorts of things that should transcend time and culture.

Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (NASB) These are the sorts of things that should stand out in the lives of Christians so that they will be set apart in any country or any point in history.

Romans 12:2 reminds us that as Christians we are not to be worldly. “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)  Notice that in order to avoid being worldly there is nothing said about a “Christian uniform.” Instead the focus is on the renewing the mind to God's will. As we trust Christ, His Spirit comes to dwell within us and the fruits of our doing His will are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Philippians 2:14-16 says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” (NASB)

Notice that by doing things without complaining and arguing, Christians stand out from the rest of the world and shine as lights. Godly behavior is a far better way to identify a Christian than any outward uniform could ever be. Our behavior is not what rescues us from the wages of sin. Trusting Jesus and His death and resurrection for our sins is what saves us. Still, once we are saved, He will transform us and we should stand out.

Therefore, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NASB) 

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We Don't Have to Fight  6-9-19

We were able to attend the grand opening of Mill's Fleet Farm in Sioux Falls. I had been in their stores in the past, so I had an idea of what to expect. Still I was pleased with the large selection of items in the store.

I already have a friend who prefers Home Depot over Menard's and now we have yet another store in the mix. Now the debate will not just be between Home Depot, Menard's, and Fleet Farm, but also between what is better, Fleet Farm or Walmart.

Knowing human nature, it would not surprise me if the debate became quite heated, but my prayer and request is that no one use this article to begin that debate. Instead let it be a reminder of how easy it is to find something to argue about.

I recently watched an episode of “When Calls the Heart” where two of the students were given an assignment to debate about whether the car or horse was a better mode of transportation. Rather than having calm debate, two girls ended up getting really mad at each other. It ended up being an opportunity for the teacher to give further instruction- not just on debate, but on character.

As I think about those two child actresses playing the part of the contentious debaters, I realize how closely they were portraying what can happen in real life. I remember my dad talking about 2 of my uncles getting into a fight as teenagers about whether or not to use the tractor or the horses to haul manure. I also think of my childhood and the ridiculous fights I had with my own brothers about Fords and Chevys.

As I think about fighting with my brothers about vehicles, what really motivated me was the desire to win the debate. Not everyone fights for such selfish reason, but my pride kept me in the conflict.

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi where two Christians where having a conflict. Both these people had been faithful to the gospel but were not getting along with each other. In chapter 4, Paul encourages the rest of the people in the church to help them to get along.

Before that he had challenged them all to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4 NASB). In other words, they were to apply the second greatest command and love their neighbor like themselves. That is the essence of the golden rule of treating others like you would like to be treated.

We are to set aside our own self interest and be more concerned for others. If we did that each time we had a conflict, then most arguments would end quickly.

God's word then goes on to show the Philippians- and us- that Jesus is the great example of putting others ahead of oneself. Philippians 2:5-8 shows us that He was and is God, yet He became a servant and died on the cross for others. We ought to follow Christ's example and be humble enough to put others ahead of ourselves instead of wanting to always win every argument.

Of course many of us are hoping the one we are arguing with will read an apply this, but remember that Philippians 2:3-4 tells us to think of others. In other words, consider the one you are arguing with as more important than you are and put yourself in their shoes. If that becomes hard to do, then remember what Christ did for you as He humbled Himself and became a man who was a servant who died for your sins. Also remember that He is now alive, so live for His glory, not your own.

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Singing Life's Lessons  5-24-19

Music is all around us. Early in the morning I can hear the birds singing. I walk into stores and can hear music playing in the background. Each of our vehicles has a radio with multiple music stations to choose from.

Much of the music that we hear is quite entertaining. I even enjoy hearing the birds, but music also has value in helping us to learn. For example, if not for the ABC song, I would have struggled much more with my letters. I still find myself singing it in my mind as I go through the alphabet.

As I grew older, music continued to be a great teaching tool. I remember learning about how a bill became a law as I watched “Schoolhouse Rock.” Throughout life music has taught me about history and culture. I became aware of a terrible shipwreck on one of our Great Lakes as I listed to Gordon Lightfoot sing about “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” As I listen to the words of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” I get a glimpse of a culture looking for optimism in the aftermath of the devastation of war.

Even listening to the birds can be instructive. It can tell us morning is coming and can even give us some indications about the weather.

Music can also be very instructive in helping us to learn more about God. The song, “Jesus Loves Me,” teaches an important basic truth that we also find 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.”

The song, “Amazing Grace,” is a somewhat autobiographical song about John Newton. The author, had been a slave trader, but had found Christ and the grace of God that comes with trusting Jesus Christ as savior. The words were originally written as a sermon illustration. In other words, they were a teaching tool. Consider these words from his song;

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
   That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
   Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
   And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
   The hour I first believ'd!

Before trusting Christ, Newton was lost and blind in his sin, but after coming to Christ, he found the grace of God as he believed.

Music as a teaching tool is not new. The Psalms in the Bible were actually songs. Although we only have the words and not the music, they are still instructive. In fact, in verse one of Psalm 78, we are told why this song was written. “(A Maskil of Asaph.) Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” (Psalm 78:1 NASB) Asaph (the song leader) asks that his instruction be listened to. In other words this song will teach something. The song then goes on to speak of the history of the Children of Israel, but more importantly it speaks of their interaction with God. It teaches that God holds people accountable for their sins, but it also teaches that He extends mercy.

Psalm 78 is a great summary of the gospel message that John Newton also wrote about. Psalm 78 teaches that although God must judge sin, His compassion of grace and mercy is still available. This is what John 3:16 is all about. God loved the word so much that He sent His only begotten son to pay the penalty for sin as Jesus died on the cross and then rose again. In order to receive the grace from God we must believe on Jesus Christ as our Lord and risen savior. These songs teach us about God and His love and how we ought to respond to His love. As I read Psalm 78, I learn from a song that was written thousands of years ago, but more important, I am learning from God's word.

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Exciting New Discoveries 5-12-19

I recently helped a homeowner dig down near his house to install some drainage to get the water away from his basement. As we dug we found a large amount of rock about 20 feet from his house. Soon we discovered that they were not just random rocks, but that the rocks had been arranged in a specific order. Further we noticed that there was some white powdery substance between the rocks and that the rocks and powdery substance were arranged in a consistent width. It appeared to be an old foundation of some sort.

I asked him if he knew of anther house that had been on the property before the current house was built. He was not aware of any, but knew that the current house had been built in 1912. There was also a barn on the property that had been built well before that. He knew the date the barn was built based on the fact that it had been carved into the wood on the inside. Combining clues from observation and history we were able to come up with some theories about what we had found as we dug. Still, without further information, we could not come up with any definite conclusions. Was the old rock wall part of a basement of an old house? Was it an old root cellar? Had it been a cistern for holding water?

Without further details, we were simply left guessing. If however we found some historical writing or some real old pictures, then we could come to some further details. Even verbal testimony from someone who had talked to someone who lived back then would help us to fill in the details.

Our little archaeological dig was interesting, but there are many more digs going on across the world. For example I recently watched a PBS program where archaeologists were looking for evidence for an old school that used to be in a town that is no longer in existence. They found the decayed remnants of what looked to be posts in the ground and at first assumed they were part of the foundation. After further investigation they decided that the holes were too round for that era and were probably the remnants of fence posts since the area had long been a farm field.

Since there was such limited written history on the area, they were trying to fill in the gaps with their archaeological discoveries.

There are ,however, regions of the world where there is much more historical writing to aid in archaeological investigation. The Bible provides a written history that focuses a lot on the region of the Middle East. Not only is the nation of Israel at the center of the Biblical account, there is a lot of history about the region of Babylon. For example the city of Mosul in Iraq, is at the same location as the Biblical city of Nineveh where the prophet Jonah ministered.

Digging in that city had been limited until world events changed things. About 5 years ago ISIS forces took control of Mosul. In order to finance their efforts, they wanted to find artifacts that they could sell, so they dug tunnels. A few years later, ISIS was defeated and driven out of Mosul. Within the tunnels they had left were ancient inscriptions with the names of ancient kings. They matched the names of the kings of that region that were listed in the Bible. By combining archaeology with the historical account of the Bible we are able to put the clues together in a way that gives us a lot of information.

It is exciting to see that modern day observation shows us that we can trust what the Bible says. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”(NKJV) 

Our faith is based on solid evidence/proof of what we believe. Faith in Christ and His word is not blind. There is a lot of evidence to support our Bible. 

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When Prayer Disappoints  4-25-19

What if prayer doesn't work? Imagine that you are facing a time of discouragement, so you lie awake at night and pray, but it doesn't help. You still feel discouraged. You may began to wish that you were more like the great spiritual leaders of the past, so that you did not have that problem.

What if I told you that one of the great spiritual leaders in the Bible faced that problem. His name was Asaph and he was the choirmaster in Jerusalem. He was one of the great ministers leading the worship of God in music. Not only did he lead the music but he wrote songs. Some of those songs became part or our Bible. One of them is recorded as Psalm 77.

He starts this Psalm by saying that he cried aloud to God. He is praying out loud, and talks of stretching his hands out at night as he seeks the Lord. Then at the end of verse 2, he makes this revealing statement, “my soul refuses to be comforted.”

Even though he is crying out to God in prayer and even though he acknowledges that God hears him, he is not able to find comfort. Verse 3 is especially revealing, “When I remember God, then I am disturbed; When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.” (NASB)

The word “Selah” is a word that means to pause. It is worth pausing to think about what Asaph was saying. He was saying that he was disturbed and discouraged when he remembered God. That may sound strange coming from a great worship leader who wrote part of the Bible, but it is also a reminder of the reality of our human emotions. It should not surprise us if we end up feeling the same way when we face times of trial.

Verses 5-9 explain why he is discouraged as he thinks about God. Asaph remembers what God has done in the past but recognizes that what he wants to happen is not happening now. He quite bluntly asks in vs 9, “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Selah.” (NASB)

Imagine trying to encourage a farmer who has not yet gotten into his fields because it is so wet out. Talking about the years that everything was planted before the first of May will not likely be a comfort. In a similar way, when you feel like your back is against the wall, reading about the parting of the Red Sea may not bring you comfort, since you are not seeing any way opening before you now.

Asaph knew how that felt, but he also understood God as he was praying to Him. As discouraged as he had become he continued to think about God and the more he thought, the better he understood. Notice what he says, “I will meditate on all Thy work, And muse on Thy deeds. Thy way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? Thou art the God who workest wonders; Thou hast made known Thy strength among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:12-14 NASB)

He even reflects on God opening up the way through the Red Sea as he says, “Thy way was in the sea, And Thy paths in the mighty waters, And Thy footprints may not be known. Thou didst lead Thy people like a flock, By the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (Psalm 77:19-20 NASB)

When praying doesn't seem to help, do not stop reflecting on how great God is. Asaph did not forget that he could trust God, even when he did not “feel” comforted. In our humanity we are not always going to feel like we wished we felt, but we should always remember that our God is not only powerful enough to help, but He loved us enough to die on the cross for our sins and then He showed His power in raising from the dead. We can trust Him. Trust Christ even when you do not feel like it.

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Handle the Worst Stain  4-12-19

With 4 boys in the house we end up with a lot of spills. To be honest, not all the spills are caused by them. I spill too. We are happy that the main living areas of our house (kitchen, dining and living room) do not have carpet. It is much easier to clean up spills on a solid floor.

The church, however does have carpet. Not only do we have spills, but this time of year we also have mud. At church, food and fellowship go hand in hand and like at home, it is not only the kids that spill.

We recently found a refurbished Rug Doctor online that was purchased to be used to keep the church carpet clean. It quickly conquered a couple of stains in the hallway from the foyer to the main meeting room.

The first Sunday we had it, I announced our new purchase and said that spills would be easy to clean up now. Since we have snacks and juice right after the service, there is always a potential for a spill. We were not disappointed. Had the person who spilled not been so young, I would have wondered if it was planned just so we could see the new tool in action.

The Rug Doctor efficiently tackled the juice spill as one of the mothers got to try it out. Although the Rug Doctor did not reverse the incident, it did take care of a big problem -the messy carpet. Stained carpets are a concern, but they are not nearly as serious as stained lives.

Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, all our lives have been stained by sin. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23) A Rug Doctor will not work for every kind of carpet stain, and it definitely can not get rid of the stain of sin.

God however can. He knew that Adam and Eve would sin and He planned how to deal with sin so that we could be washed and cleansed from our sin stains. God said in Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” (NASB)

When we trust Christ as Lord and savior, our sins are washed away just like the juice was washed out of the carpet. There may still be some affects on our lives because of our sin. In our carpet example, there was less juice to drink even though the carpet was clean. In a similar way, our lives are still affected by past sin even when we are forgiven.

The most important consideration, however, is about the next life. If we trust Christ, the stain of sin does not follow us. Instead we are given forgiveness and eternal cleansing along with eternal life. “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)

You may not have had any juice spilled on your lap today, but your life has been stained by sin. The only way to take care of that sin is through Christ. Trust Him and then strive to not spill anymore sin into your life. Realize however that it will still happen. 1John 1:8 reminds us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And then we are told in the next chapter, “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;” (I John 2:1 NASB)

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Flooded With Complaints  3-29-19

We have had some flooding in our immediate area, but my sister lives in Nebraska. Many there have faced very serious challenges. My brother in-law was not even able to make it into Columbus to work for multiple days because some of the main roads were either under water or washed out. They were more fortunate than others. Whole towns were under water. Not only were homes lost but so were businesses. Many who lost homes also lost jobs. Some lost their lives.

Quite a few people had a lot to complain and feel bad about. Many of them were too busy figuring out what to do next to even process all of their feelings. As the flood waters receded they had time to realize the fuller impact of what had happened. For some, discouragement began to set in.

It is easy to feel guilty for being discouraged when you look at others that have it a lot worse. If you have lost your house, but still have a job, you may be thinking of others that have lost both. Perhaps you lost both, but have insurance, while others have nothing. Making such comparisons can remind us that we have much to be thankful for, but they do not negate the reality of our own loss.

As Christians we understand that we can loose all material possessions and even lose our health, but we still have God. We may even reflect on Job and his trials and realize we do not have it as bad as he had it after losing all his children, his wealth, and then becoming sick. Compared to Job, we may feel that we have no right to complain. Still, those thoughts do not always take away the despair.

This brings us to a more pointed question: Should we as Christians ever complain? Consider the introduction to Psalm 102 along with the first verse which reads, “(A Prayer of the Afflicted, when he is faint, and pours out his complaint) (before the LORD.) Hear my prayer, O LORD! And let my cry for help come to Thee.” (NASB)

Notice that the introduction to this Psalm shows us that it was to be a prayer for those in trouble when they are weary and needed to complain. When we are discouraged, the best place to bring our complaints is to God. Notice that the introduction even shows that these complaints were to be brought to HIM.

When we are overwhelmed we should pray and let our cries for help come to God. We should never feel guilty about talking to Him about our heartaches and fears- even if those talks include complaining about our circumstances. Who better to complain to than the one who can actually help in the most hopeless of situations.

“I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, Thou didst know my path. In the way where I walk They have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; No one cares for my soul. I cried out to Thee, O LORD; I said, "Thou art my refuge, My portion in the land of the living.” (Ps 142:2-5 NASB)

David did just that in Psalm 142 as he states that he brings his complaints to God because God is his refuge.

In both these Psalms, the writer is complaining about his circumstances, not about his God. He is complaining to God because he trusts God, not because he hates God.

Realize that God is powerful enough to create the whole world and that He loves us enough to send His son. With that realization, who better to bring our complaints to than God. “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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Should We Bring Bacon?   3-15-19

I like bacon. Bacon is an amazing addition to a cheeseburger. Without bacon a filet mignon is just another chunk of beef. I did not realize how obsessed some people were with bacon until I realized that you could buy bacon scented cologne, sunscreen, pillow cases, and even envelopes. You can even get bacon flavored coffee, soda, jelly beans, toothpaste, chocolate, and lollipops. No doubt, bacon has become a marketing bonanza.

In the Bible, Leviticus 11:1-8, tells what animals may be eaten and it also makes it clear that pigs are not to be eaten. Still most Christians eat pork- including bacon. In fact, ham is one of the most popular meats eaten during Christian fellowship meals. So why are Christians doing this when so many of them claim to be following God and living their lives to please Him?

We often hear statements like Leviticus is Old Testament and we follow the New Testament. The problem is that we should follow the whole Bible and only disregard specific commandments if there is a good reason to do so. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5:18 that the smallest letter or stroke of the law would not pass away until all was accomplished. In order to decide if we are released from the law that Moses gave, we need to find out if all was accomplished.

John 19:30 tells us that when Jesus hung on the cross, He said, “It is finished!” The Apostle Paul helps us better understand what that meant in Romans 7 as he explains how law works. He uses the example of a married couple and how the marriage bond is dissolved when one of them dies and then they are free to marry someone else. He then explains how that relates to the law for the Christian.

“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:4-6 NASB)

Because of Jesus death and resurrection we are now under a new law. Galatians 3:23-25 shows how the law was an instructor to bring us to Christ and how once faith comes, we are no longer under the law since we are no longer under the instructor. Further, Colossians 2:14-17 shows how since the cross, no one should judge us in what we eat.

Christians are able to eat pork because the law that Moses gave was replaced when Jesus died. Some argue that God has always wanted people to avoid unclean animals and that we should still avoid pork. The problem is that when we go back to the Old Testament, we find what God's position actually is. In Genesis 9, God gave specific instructions to Noah right after the ark landed when He says, "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.”  (Genesis 9:3 NASB)

Other religions do still impose dietary restrictions on certain animals. Christians traditionally do not. The reason they do not is because of what the New Testament scriptures have taught and how they explain why we have been released from certain portions of the Old Testament law through Christ. 

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A Reminder From A Faucet  3-1-19

Our 11 year old son wants to be a plumber, so when it was time to replace our kitchen faucet, we asked him to do it. He was happy to take on the challenge. I was happy that I did not have to crawl into the the tight space under the kitchen sink.

He said that the hardest part was taking out the old faucet. Once the new faucet was installed and the valves were turned on, the water began to flow. Our ancestors also had running water, but instead of having their 11 year old's do a minor plumbing job, they had them run to the creek to fetch it.

Water is quite important. It is used for washing, cooking, and drinking. We could not live long without water. As we consider how important water is, it is not surprising that Christ would use water as an object lesson to talk about other important matters. As He spoke with the woman at the well, He said, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." (John 4:10 NASB)

As we consider the historic events recorded in the Bible, it is not surprising that Jesus would make that statement. When the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness is was God who provided water from a rock so they could drink. Jesus is God, so the point He was making is that if the woman at the water well really understood who He was, then she would understand that He could supply all her needs.

All my son had to do was replace a faucet, turn on the correct valves, and we had water. All Jesus has to do is to decide that water can come out of a rock.

Not only did God provide water in the wilderness, but He also provided food. After the fall harvest the Hebrews observe the Feast of Booths. They dwell in tents for a week as they thank God for the harvest and for His provision as the children of Israel left slavery in Egypt and journeyed to the promised land.

It was during this feast, that Jesus again talked about water. John 7:37 tells us that on the last day of the feast Jesus stood up and cried out, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:37-38 NASB)

While the people of Israel were celebrating God's provision- a provision that included water from the rock- Jesus showed that He can supply water from within. The next verse clarifies that He was talking about the Spirit which those who believe in Him would receive.

The next time you turn on a faucet and water comes out, remember that there is something more important than water. Remember that we need Christ Himself and that just as we need water to live, we need Jesus so we can have eternal life. "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) Trust Christ for the living water and eternal life.

Frost Clip Art

Not Too Cold for Christ 2-15-19

A friend of ours recently took a trip to Florida. Their family chose the perfect time to go. While it was below zero here in South Dakota, they enjoyed the warm southern temperatures. Still, it was colder than usual there as well. She noticed that the “tourists” from the north were in shorts and T shirts while those from the south were in heavy coats and hats.

I have often thought that the idea of cold was quite relative. When I have worked outside on a 95 degree summer day and then come into a 70 degree building, I feel cold. Still that is nothing like the negative 40 degree temperatures I heard about in Alaska.

I recently attended an outdoor farm auction on a 10 degree day. I was dressed in 8 layers of clothing: T shirt, insulated shirt, sweat shirt, 2 flannel shirts, hooded Carhart, bib coveralls, and parka. Had the wind not been blowing, I could have stayed warm, but I got very cold and so did many others who were there. After I got home the temp had dropped even more and my son came in from outside and said, “It's too cold out there to play, I already tried.”

As I reflected on the cold, I looked up Psalm 147:17 where it says, “He casts forth His ice as fragments; Who can stand before His cold?” (NASB). A few weeks ago we had below zero temps with dangerous wind chills. Warnings were issued and I remember one that said that a person could only last for about 4 minutes out in the open in those conditions. I assumed that they meant that they could only last that long if they were not dressed in multiple layers. Still it was a reminder of the reality of the question, “who can stand before His cold?”

When I think of the fear of God, I often think of hell and the lake of fire and all the heat that is there. But on these cold days, I start to think of how scary it would be if hell really did freeze over. If it were that cold, no one could stand before that cold.

As frightening as the cold can be, the next verse of Psalm 147 gives us some wonderful encouragement. “He sends forth His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow.” (Psalm 147:18 NASB) The same God who sends the cold is the same God who sends the blessings of thawing temperatures. This should help to remind us that the same God who sends punishment for sin is the same God who sends deliverance from the wages of sin. Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NASB) That free gift was provided as Jesus went to the cross. In order to accept that gift, you must believe on Him as your lord and savior. "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.” (John 3:13 NASB)

The night before Jesus died on the cross, He was arrested. It was also cold on that night. “Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. The high priest therefore questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. (John 18:18-19 NASB)

As you stand before the cold, remember God's power and judgment, but then also remember that on a cold night, Jesus was getting ready to go to the cross to pay for your sins.

Defending My Brothers  2-2-19

As a kid I used to joke that I was the only one who was allowed to fight with my brothers. What I meant by that statement was that in spite of the fact that my brothers and I would have an occasional conflict, we still had each others backs. After all these years, we still do. Because of my love for my brothers, I will quickly come to their defense. I am reminded of Proverbs 10:12 which says, “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.” (NASB)

When we don't like someone, it is not natural to come to their defense- even if they have done nothing wrong. Hate stirs up strife. When we love someone- like I do my brothers- it is easy to overlook something they did wrong and come to their defense even when we should not.

How we feel about others can affect how much slack we give them. Not only are we more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to those we love, but we are often too ready to condemn those we hate. Often our reaction to an offense is based more on who committed the offense than on what the offense actually was.

When our love covers transgressions in a way where we are merciful rather than condemning that is a good thing. We should remember the mercy God showed toward us in sending His son to die for us when we deserved the punishment. His love covered the sins of the world. Still love should not cause us to ignore sinful behavior. God did not ignore our sin when He sent His son. He understood that our sin was so serious that it had to be dealt with on the cross. Further God's word challenges us in asking, “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?” (Romans 6:1-2 NASB)

So when we are tempted to give those we love a pass on sinful behavior we should consider the context of 1Peter 4:8 where it says, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (NASB) In the verses leading up to this statement the apostle warns of that an account must be given to God for sinful actions. He then shows that the gospel is given so that we can live in the spirit according to God's will. Love should not be an excuse to sin, but love provides both mercy and accountability when we do sin.

As much as I love my brothers, if they ever do wrong, I need to love them enough to tell them to repent. Further, I am not to just love my brothers, but others as well. Love should not show partiality.

In Luke chapter 10, a lawyer is asking Jesus questions. When they agree that God expects us to love Him and our neighbor, the lawyer asks who our neighbor is. Verse 29 tells us he asked that question in order to justify himself. The implication was that there were some people he did not love as much as others. During that time in history the Jews and the Samaritans did not get along very well. There was not much love between them. Jesus uses this tension to make a point. He gives the parable of the good Samaritan stopping to help a man when others would not. The Jewish lawyer got the point that the one who showed mercy was his neighbor. Even though the Samaritan was not the one who the lawyer would have naturally loved, he needed to get past his bias and judge the actions, not his predetermined feelings.

Often the level of outrage we see towards others is not based so much on what was done, but on who did it. I fear we are too much like the lawyer. We have missed the point if we have forgotten that the Samaritans are also worthy of our love. Let us remember to love God and our neighbor even when it doesn't come naturally.

The Holy 5 Gallon Pail  1-17-19

I love five gallon pails. I have a lot of them in the garage. They are handy for putting things into. I also use them for a work stool to sit on as I tinker in the shed. I have even used one for a short ladder to stand on, although I do not recommend that others try this.

Most of my pails are quite dirty though. Some have had mud in them. Others have been filled with used oil or even garbage. Some were used for paint.

We also have some of these containers in the house. In fact, one of them has a screw on lid that we fill with Cheerios. For the food, we did not use the ones from the garage. Instead we buy new food grade buckets that were clean and not contaminated by dangerous chemicals.

The buckets from the house are not taken to the garage. These food containers are set apart for special use. The ones in the garage are for common use. If we were to use theological terms, we could say the food grade buckets are holy and the garage buckets are profane.

At Southtown, we have been studying the book of Exodus and we have been looking at the furnishings in the Tabernacle. Each of the furnishings had a special use. They were set aside for that use and were not to be used for other things. Thus they were holy. Since their use was religious in nature, it is not surprising that a word like “holy” would be used to describe them.

One of the reasons that “holy” is so connected to religion is that religion sets both its followers and its objects apart from others.

Although Judaism (where Christianity has its roots) set apart objects to be used in the worship of God, their worship was directed toward God, not the objects. Ultimately that meant that God was the one who was truly set apart. No wonder the angel in Isaiah 6:3 called out, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory."

Although there are tools used for ministry within the Christian church today, there are not specific items like they had in Old Testament times. We do not set apart a lamp stand, an altar for sacrifices, or a table for show bread. Still, there is something that every Christian should set apart. They should set apart themselves. 1 Peter 1:15-16 says, “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." (NKJV) This command was a quote from Leviticus 19:2 which states, "Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: 'You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”(NKJV)

This makes it clear that we are to be set apart for a special purpose, but what does that mean? Are we to only carry food and not garbage or used oil? Man has often distorted religion to come up with a lot of strange ways to set people apart. Jesus gave a very direct sermon on the Mount of Olives that showed how we should be different from the rest of the world, but He summed things up in a much shorter statement in Matthew 22:37-39, “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.'” (NKJV)

If we are truly holy, we need to love God and others. Christians are to be set apart as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. That means loving Christ enough to obey Him and loving our neighbors in a way that applies the golden rule. 

Appreciating the Dishwasher 1-6-19

Our dishwasher has been giving us trouble. It is the same problem over and over. The inlet valve keeps failing. It is a fairly easy fix. It only takes about 10 minutes for a do-it-yourselfer to put in the new valve. The valve costs less than $30. The problem is that each valve lasts less than a year. I went online to try to figure out why these valves were failing or if I could find a better valve. I found out that it is common for them to fail if the dishwasher is used every day or if there is a change in water pressure. With 4 boys in the house, we have multiple loads of dishes each day. Further our water pressure changes and is often low.

I have come to accept that unless we get a different dishwasher, this will just become a part of our lives. As I considered another dishwasher, I realized that there is no guarantee that one would not have a valve failure also. It might even have a more expensive repair. Thus I ordered 2 new valves so that I have an extra on hand with the expectation that it will eventually be needed.

I must admit that this has caused some frustration in our family. The boys are responsible for taking turns loading and unloading the dishwasher. Now they have to hand wash a lot more. I wish I could say that this has really made us appreciate our dishwasher, but instead it has caused us to despise it. I even priced a new one.

As I reflect on how silly this is, I remember that my mother-in-law just got her first dishwasher in the last couple of years. She has 11 kids, and they got along fine without one. Further, a large number of people in this world do not even have a set of dishes, let alone a dishwasher. I need to appreciate what we have even though it lets me down now and then.

I do not like comparing God to my dishwasher, because God does not fail. Still, there are times in life where it feels like He has let us down. It may even feel like He has turned his back on us. I think of David's words in Psalm 22 when he says, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.” (Ps 22:1 NASB)

David's words show us how easy it is forget to appreciate God. When it seems like He has let us down we can end up despising Him just like I was despising the dishwasher. At those times we need to remember that God has not failed. We should also use those times to remind us how dependent we are on Him. Another Psalm expresses this. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2 NASB)

Rather than letting our times of trouble turn into times of despising God, let them remind us of how much we appreciate Him. “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 NASB)

As God uses trials to build character in our lives, He is not failing us. He is actually showing His love for us. We should remember to appreciate that.

Exposing the Porch Pirates  12-21-18

This week I learned about “porch pirates.” I had never heard of them before, but after realizing what they were doing, I realized that it was a very appropriate label. A “porch pirate” is a person who sees a package on someone else's doorstep that has been dropped off by the mailman or a delivery service and then simply steals the package. Imagine how many children had fewer gifts under the tree this year because their Amazon order was absconded with. Porch pirate, Scrooge, or Grinch are all terms that come to mind.

I recently watched an online video from one man's surveillance camera where the “pirates” could be seen stealing the package. They did not look like pirates though. They looked like a typical middle class couple out for a stroll with backpacks over their shoulders. The package was taken and placed into the backpack and they went on their way as if no one would ever know. Many people know now since the video is on the world wide web. Even if they had not been caught on surveillance, God would still know. There is another term other than Scrooge, or Grinch that could be used to describe the porch pirate. That term is “sinner.” Psalm 69:5 says, “O God, You know my foolishness; And my sins are not hidden from You.” (NKJV)

The man who caught the people on surveillance, happened to be an engineer. He decided to take things to another level. He built a device that looked like a delivered package. Looks can be deceiving. It had a tracking device and numerous hidden cameras that would be triggered as soon as the package was taken. Not only would the cameras record and store what had happened, but they would send the video to a cloud storage so he could watch it even if he was not able to recover the device. He also rigged it so that as soon as it was opened it would spray glitter all over. Still, that was not enough to satisfy his desire to put the porch pirates in their place. He also wired in a mechanism to spray fart odor every 30 seconds after the package was opened. This engineer got sweet revenge as he recovered his device and posted the videos of the thieves opening it.

As much as I enjoyed the measure of justice he was able to execute, I understand that our God will bring even greater justice to sin. Romans 6:23a tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” A glitter bomb and fart spray are hilarious. The lake of fire for eternity is not. Even if you are not a porch pirate, if you have ever stole anything- ever lied, coveted, or idolized anything other than God- realize that God knows it. Realize that you deserve the penalty for your sin.

That means that we are all guilty because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). The reality is we have all been caught by God's surveillance. That is the bad news for us, but the good news is found in Proverbs 28:13, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (NKJV)

That mercy from God comes when we confess our sins and trust Christ as our savior. Romans 6:23 warned about the wages of sin, but listen to the rest of the verse. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NKJV)

Whether you're a porch pirate or just another sinner, your only hope for redemption is Jesus Christ. God knows all you have done. “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12 NKJV) When we give that account our only hope is to admit we have come short, but that we have trusted Christ and now desire to live for Him. If you have not yet done that, pray and talk to God about it.

Mary Did You Know?  7-7-18

As I work in my office, my 8 eight year old is down the hall listening to Christmas carols on the radio. Not only is he listening, he is singing along at the top of his lungs. I also heard his younger brother say, “Re-doice, Re-doice, e-man you well.” The songs they sing have a common theme- a baby was born and we are celebrating.

My sons are now old enough to sing, but I think back to when they were born. Those too were days of celebration. For months, we had anticipated an arrival and finally I was able to hold my sons in my arms. I also got to to see joy fill my wife's face each time she held her newborn baby boys.

I cannot help but imagine the joy that filled Mary as she held the newborn baby Jesus in her arms. One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Mary Did You Know.” The last line of the first verse has this play on words, “This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.”

As parents age, sometimes the children that they used to care for end up taking care of them. My wife is currently recovering from ankle surgery, and the boys have been helping her a lot, but that is not what the song is singing about as it talks of baby Jesus growing up to deliver Mary. The last line of the second verse says, “When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.”

Baby Jesus was not just another baby who would grow up to help his mom. Jesus was and is and always has been God. The prophet Micah told of His coming and wrote, "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) That scripture not only told that the savior would be born in Bethlehem, but that He would be a ruler and that He has been going forth from eternity. In other words, He has always existed.

No wonder Jesus stated in Revelation 1:8, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:8 NASB) Jesus is no longer a baby. In that same Revelation passage, John describes Him as having white hair. Notice what John describes, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18 NASB).

The baby Jesus grew up to die for our sins, but He is no longer dead. He is alive. He did not grow up just to assist Mary- in fact before He died, he asked John the author of Revelation to take care of his earthly mother (John 19:26-27). Still He provided something far more important for her than earthly care. He provided eternal life for her just like He offered it to the rest of us. "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. (John 3:16 NASB)

In order to receive that eternal life, one must believe. Did Mary know and did she believe? Before Jesus was even born she said, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:47 NASB) She understood that even though she had been blessed by God in such a special way, she too needed a savior. That savior is Christ our Lord. He chose to enter this world through Mary as she gave birth in Bethlehem. We sing songs about that today, but we must remember, Jesus was more than a baby, He was and is God. Trust Him for who He is- the savior of the world.

The Frightening Fires  11-22-18

A friend of mine recently burned a small area that had some tall grass. By burning off the dead grass, he was able to see the topography better to know how to best improve the use of the land. Further, once the old dry grass was removed, the new grass could come in better in the spring. Managed fires can have a positive effect on the environment. He did not burn the whole area, so there was still plenty of old grass for the wildlife over the winter. The earlier thicker new growth would also benefit them in the spring.

Not all fires have the positive impact that my friend's small fire had. For example, the wildfires in California have cost many human lives. Further, homes and businesses have been lost as the landscape was transformed. Even those who were not in the immediate path of the fire were suffering it's effects. Many had to wear breathing masks to protect their lungs from the smoke that hung in the air.

One of the more frightening articles I read, told about what to do if trapped in a vehicle during a forest or brush fire. They recommended staying in the vehicle, but then exiting the vehicle after the fire passed if the vehicle had caught on fire. In other words, don't get out too soon or the forest fire will kill you, but do not say in too long or your burning car will get you.

As frightening as that article was, at least it left hope for survival. In the Bible, Luke chapter 16, we are told of a man who is trapped in the fire of hell with no way of escape. "And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.'” (Luke 16:23-24 NASB)

As I read the article about being trapped in a car during a fire, the writer emphasized the importance of heeding the warning and evacuating before it was too late. For the man in hell, it was too late, but he wanted his family to heed the warnings. "And he said, 'Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers--that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'” (Luke 16:27-28 NASB)

Abraham then tells the man in hell that his brothers have already been warned. He explains that if they will not listen to the warning they were already given, they will not listen to the warning from Lazarus either. Just like some people do not listen to the warning to evacuate as a forest fire is approaching, many people do not listen to the warning to trust Christ. John 3:36 warns, "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." (NASB)

It was too late for the man in hell, but it is not too late for the rest of us. Jesus promised, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37 NASB)

If you were trapped in a wildfire and were told how to escape, I hope you would listen. We have a way to escape an even worse fire. That way is Jesus Christ. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NASB)

Jesus came to save us, but in order to be saved, we have to trust Him. Then just like the new grass and the fresh new tree growth that comes after the fire, we are able to have a new life in Christ. 

Refining the Stuck Combine  11-9-18

There has been a lot of rain this year. It has been really really wet. The area farmers have especially been impacted by the weather. My cousin and his wife recently shared a picture of their stuck combine on facebook. One of the pictures showed the front wheel of the combine about 2/3 of the way below the surface of the mud. Another showed water in the tracks and the back wheel also sunk in the mud.

They had a long list of comments from friends with most of them saying “oh no” or “sorry.” This showed that their friends cared about their struggles, but there was little that they could do to help get 20 tons of green and yellow out of the mud. I understood that an expensive piece of equipment was in a place where it could be easily damaged. I also grasped that while it was there, valuable crops were not being harvested from the fields. My heart aches thinking of the stress my cousin must have been under as he faced this trying challenge.

Fortunately my concern for them did not last long because within a minute of posting the first pictures they also posted a video of a dozer slowly and gently pulling the combine from the mud. It did not look like the dozer even struggled and the driver skillfully eased the large harvester from its pit of doom. The headline above the video had these words, “One of the struggles and obstacles of the 2018 Harvest! All is in one piece and all humans are safe!”

That comment showed that although they were thankful that no serious damage had been done to the machine, they also recognized that it was important that no one got hurt. Although they had faced a gut punching trial, they still understood that there was much to be thankful for.

Their difficulty and their response reminds me of Psalm 66. Consider verses 10 & 11: “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs.” (NKJV) Instead of being trapped in a net, the combine was trapped in the mud. What makes this especially sobering is that God was still in control even as this was happening. Why would He allow or even cause this? The answer is in verse 10. To refine us like you would refine a precious metal.

The very next verse says, “You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” (NKJV Psalm 66:12) The same God who allowed that combine to get stuck in the mud allowed it to easily come up out of the mud and water. He then gave my cousin and his family reason to rejoice as no one was hurt and they were then able to look forward to continuing to reap the rewards of harvest.

As bad as the trial was, the pictures and videos on facebook were a reminder that we can trust God even when things look hopeless. A combine can be replaced and getting stuck can be undone, but what about our sin problem. We cannot undo our past sins, but we can have them forgiven by trusting in Jesus Christ alone. Sin is more hopeless than a stuck combine, but Jesus is more powerful than a big bulldozer. My cousin called on the dozer to solve his combine problem. All of us need to call on Jesus to solve our sin problem. I am thankful that my cousin has both Jesus and a bulldozer to save him.

If we can trust God to refine us through a challenge like a stuck combine, then we can trust God to refine us through the challenges of a sinful past. 1 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.” (NKJV) I am so thankful for both God's refining and His forgiveness in my life.

Hypocrites and Halloween  10-25-18

As a child I never thought of trick or treating as extortion. In fact, I didn't even think about the words. Instead I remember the adults being excited to see how creative we were with our costumes. It was not until I was older that I realized that the words “trick or treat” were actually a threat of a trick if a treat were not given. I didn't consider myself a mafia thug who was extorting protection money and neither did the people whose houses we visited.

As a child I was also unaware of the Satanic connections to Halloween. The origins of the celebration are debated, but even today the connections are real. That does not mean that everyone who exchanges candy or dresses up is promoting the Satanic aspect of this time of year, but we should not be ignorant of the connections either.

As a child I usually dressed up like a cowboy, but as I got older I noticed that some people dressed up like demons or witches. Essentially they were wearing the costumes of the servants of Satan. As a Christian, that seemed strange to me and it still does.

It is concerning that some want to emulate demonic forces. Still, I have an even greater concern. As servants of Christ, how should we as Christians look? I am not talking about dressing up with a halo and angel wings. In fact, that should not be our focus at all. Consider what the scripture says in I Peter 3:3-4, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward--arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel-- rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” (NKJV)

Although the I Peter passage was addressing wives specifically, Jesus gave a similar challenge when He addressed the scribes and Pharisees.

"You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! "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. "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. "Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:24-28 NASB)

Notice that they were called hypocrites. That means that they were pretenders- deceivers- they were being phony. When I was a kid and I put on a hat and my cap gun with the toy holster, it was obvious that I was pretending to be a cowboy. These adults that Jesus was rebuking were using their deception to try to gain power. They were more like the mob than the trick or treaters of today are.

As Christians we need to be careful that we are not just pretending. Are we more concerned with being viewed with halos and angel wings so that we can look good in others eyes, or are we more concerned with being obedient to God and thus filled with the Holy Spirit so that we are seen as true servants of Christ?

Ga 5:19-23 says,

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (NASB)

This time of year, many Halloween celebrations give opportunities to indulge in the works of the flesh. Instead let us focus on living for God as we walk in His Spirit.

I Wanted Sunny and 75   10-12-18

This last week I was disappointed. I wanted every day to be sunny and 75 with no rain. I did not get what I wanted and I became discouraged. The overcast skies and the lack of sun contributed to a bit of a gloomy mood on my part.

As often happens, that darkness within led me to the ultimate source of light as I poured my heart out to God in prayer. I reflected on the Psalms and David's times of discouragement and his trust in almighty God. I was reminded that my source of sunshine for my soul was not behind the clouds, but rather right there with me. I understood that once I believed on Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, God's spirit came to live within me. “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16 NASB)

The challenge is that our circumstances affect our delights. It is easier to be joyful and optimistic when the sun is shining. In fact, some people actually sit under artificial sunlight during the winter months to escape the doldrums. I remind myself that joy is one of the fruits of God's Spirit that lives within me. That means that I can be joyful even when my world seems gloomy.

Because God's Spirit is within us as believers, we are encouraged to avoid the use of our bodies for ungodly purposes. We are also encouraged to glorify God with our bodies. Consider I Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (NASB)

Because I had to be outside quite a bit, not only did I notice the overcast sky, I also had to bear the bone chilling cold. My body did not feel very confortable. I had to remember that no matter what I was doing, my main job was to glorify God. 1Corinthians 10:31 states, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (NASB) That meant that even if I had to dress in layers to stay warm, I still needed to get my joy from living for God's glory.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” (NASB) As I put my focus on God and found my delight in Him, I was able to have joy. I did not get a week of sunny and 75 though. So what happened? It was not that God broke His promise about giving me what I wanted. Instead, God changed what I wanted. Instead of delighting myself in a sunny day, I was delighting myself in God Himself.

I got what I desired as He was right there with me. Jesus promised, 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) Delight yourself in Christ, and you will have Him there with you for eternity. “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) 

The Greed of the Gold Mine  9-14-18

We recently toured an abandoned gold mine on a trip to the Black Hills. The mine was a speculative venture by a couple of demolition experts. They had been working for other miners by blowing holes in the rock to speed the mining prospects. As they did so, they were able to find out where other miners had found gold. This prompted them to purchase a small claim after calculating where to dig to reach the same vein of gold that the neighboring miners had found.

Since they already had a day job of blowing things up, their time in their own mine was somewhat limited. It ended up taking them about 14 years to actually reach the vein that extended into their claim. Once reaching that vein, they found gold. The only problem was that it was only about $20 worth. Not only had they spent a lot of time, but they had invested a lot in tools and equipment to reach this small amount. Still they continued to dig into the rock.

Their claim only allowed them to go so far. They had invested so much with little to show for their years of labor, so they trespassed into government land (underground) in the hopes of finding more gold. After about 35 years of digging, they found more gold (which they stole since it was not even on their land). Ironically it was such a small amount that it did not even cover their expenses.

The tour guide went on to explain that while they were trespassing underground they came dangerously close to another mine. Their actions could have jeopardized the structural integrity of both mine shafts, endangering both their lives and the lives of the other miners.

The tales of greed did not end once we left the mine shaft. We next toured a replica of the gold mill. This was where the ore from the area mines was crushed and the gold extracted. The millers would go through this process for a percentage of the gold.

They would use mercury to separate the gold from the other material. The problem was that the mercury would poison the workers and many either died or went mad due to the mercury's effects on the brain.

Not only did the milling company get a share of the gold, but many of the workers would steal bits of gold as they worked. The problem was so bad that they would use portable toilets and then sift through the dung to find any gold that thieves had swallowed to smuggle away.

The tour was fascinating since it provided an insight into a part of our American history. In fact, the tour guide pointed out how after the discovery of gold, the native Americans had the land taken from them.

There was a lot of evil going on because of the gold. As we stood in the far end of the gold mine, the tour guide lit a couple of candles and shut off the other lights to show us how dark it was as the miners worked. As he turned the lights back on I quoted from John 3:19, "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.” (NASB)

Jesus Christ is the light of the world, but many would rather live in darkness because they are pursing their self interest instead of loving God and their neighbor. As discouraging as it would be to work your whole life in a gold mine and not even recapture your initial investment, it would be even more discouraging to live you whole life apart from Christ and spend eternity in the darkness of hell. Several verses after John 3:19 we are warned: "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) Come to the light of Jesus Christ and have eternal life with Him. 

Sin's Dirty Muddy Mess  9-9-18

Our boys love playing in the mud and with all the rain we have had this summer, their opportunities have been plentiful. The other day, our six year old was playing in a puddle. He was not content to just walk through it and splash. He was not even content to simply jump up and down in the water. Soon he was sitting in the puddle as his older brother proceeded to cover his entire body with mud. From their perspective the filth was fun.
The older brother (a 9 year old) who was assisting in this filthy amusement, had covered himself in mud a few days earlier. After doing so, he came into the house, took a shower, and then proceeded to go back outside and get covered in mud again the same day.
As I watched a video my wife had taken of them on her phone, I could not help but think of the Bible verse that says, “But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire." (II Peter 2:22 NKJV).
No doubt, our boys were acting like pigs in a mud hole, but that is not a serious concern. As long as they don't drag the mud into the house or get dirty just as we are getting ready to leave for someplace where we need to be cleaned up, then I can simply laugh and remember my own childhood.
The II Peter passage, however, is not talking about kids playing in the mud. Instead it is talking about realizing Christ's expectations, following them for a while, and then ignoring God's expectations for righteousness and going back to living a sinful life without caring about it.
It is not uncommon for people to act kind of like my 9 year old. They realize that their lives are dirtied by sin. They then try to clean up their lives and might even have some success at it. Soon however, they go right back to the sinful behavior just like our boys go back to the mud hole.
We all struggle with sin, but there is a big difference between slipping in the mud or getting mud splashed on us and actually diving into the puddle and smearing the mud all over us. In other words, there is a difference between a person who gives into temptation from time to time, but feels filthy about it and wants to avoid it and the person who doesn't even care whether or not they sin.
Romans 5:20 says, “And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” (NASB). By disobeying God we get mud on us, but God's grace is there for those times. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (NASB) In other words, God can get rid of the filth and purify us as He forgives our sins. These verses should not become excuses to head for the mud hole though. Just a few verses after Romans 5:20 where grace is spoken of, we are warned, in Romans 6:1-2, “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)
Let us be thankful that by trusting Christ as savior, we are cleansed of our sin, but let us also be careful that once we have trusted Him that we not intentionally return to the mud hole of sinful behavior.

Losing Your Identity  8-18-18

We recently booked a hotel room on Priceline. We went online, typed in the area where we needed lodging, and waited for offers on hotel rooms. We found a room with 2 queen beds, a free breakfast, and kids stay free. It was just what we needed and the price was right. Further, the hotel had a good rating.
Once I selected the hotel, I had to select a payment method. I was planning to use a credit card, but then I noticed the special offer. If I were to get a new Priceline credit card, then I would get a $100 credit. That would mean that the hotel room would be free. 
Had we not used Priceline before and known it was credible, I would have been very very suspicious. When you see something on the internet that seems too good to be true, it probably is. For example, years ago I got an email about inheriting a diamond mine. I deleted it.
Often these internet scams are ways for the scammer to steal your identity. They make a grand offer, get your information, and soon they have stolen who you are.
Identity theft has become so common that companies like Lifelock have stepped up to help consumers protect themselves. We have a similar service through our local bank as a fringe benefit to having a checking account there. 
We are careful not to willingly give up our identity. Still, there are places that we share our information. Our bank is one of those places since we trust them to not steal what we have shared.
The thought of losing one's identity is unsettling, but what if the offer sounds really really good. What if you really could have that diamond mine and all it cost you was your identity? Of course, I am not encouraging reckless behavior online, but I do want to suggest that there is an amazing offer available and all it will cost you is your identity.
The offer is not diamonds. Instead, it is eternal life. In order to have eternal life in the next life, you have to give your identity to Jesus Christ. "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.” (John 3:16 NASB) We do not just give up our identity when we identify with Christ, we give up our very souls. I Corinthians 6:19-20 describes it like this: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (NASB)
If you have a good credit rating, you may want to protect your identity from scammers, but what if you have a bad credit rating and just want to start over? What if you have a decent rating, but your new identity gives you an even better reputation? What if that new identity helps you to magnify the one who gave you eternal life instead of magnifying yourself? That is what you can expect when you identify with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (II Corinthians 5:17 NASB)

He Ain't Rude, He Can't Hear  7-21-18

I have a friend who is a bit elderly. When I first met Aldie I tried to carry on a conversation with him, but he seemed a bit distant- even aloof. Suddenly that all changed. Not only was he very friendly, but he had a quick sense of humor that he was eager to share. Not only was he friendly to me, but I saw how friendly he was to others. Although he has white hairs on his head, he loves spending time with noisy kids that some his age would be impatient with.

I spent years wondering why I had gotten off to a bad start with him. I didn't say anything to him about it, since I didn't want to make him feel bad. I recently discovered an answer. My family and I were attending a conference with Aldie and his wife. We were gathered in a dining hall for breakfast and as we were sitting around talking, my friend was barely contributing to the conversation. Someone said something to him and he did not respond. His wife then rolled her eyes and said, “He didn't put his hearing aids in.”

We chuckled at her response, but I was smiling for another reason as well. Now I understood how one of the most friendly guys I have ever met could sometimes seem so distant.

Leviticus 19:18 says, “'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.” (NASB) God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. As I have gotten to know Aldie, I have seem him living out that commandment in his life. When he was not wearing his hearing aids, his love for others did not cease, he just couldn't hear what they were saying very well and thus could not participate fully in the conversations. Had I bore a grudge over my misunderstanding, I would have not only missed an opportunity to extend love toward him, but I would have also missed out on a great friendship.

The command from Leviticus 19:18 is so important that Jesus emphasized it during His ministry. “And He said to him, "'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)

Matthew 5:43-44 makes it clear that we are even to love our enemies. Christ set the perfect example of that when He died for us. Romans 5:10 tells us, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (NASB)

Sometimes people look at what God is doing and do not see the big picture and they start to think that He does not love them. God is not hard of hearing like Aldie, but we do not know all that He is doing behind the scenes. As sad it it would have been for me to miss out on a friendship with Aldie because I did not understand his hearing aids, it would be even worse for someone to miss out on following Christ because they did not take time to get to know God and to see His love.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NASB) As loving as my friend Aldie is, God is even more loving. Make friends with Him by following Jesus Christ as your Lord, savior, and friend.

My Speedy Consequences 7-7-18

I got my first speeding ticket when I was about 19 years old. Not long after that, a second speeding ticket followed. The action of speeding had an effect on my auto insurance. I was warned that if I got another ticket, then I would have to go on risk insurance and the cost would be much much higher than it already was.

These consequences had a result. I began to use the cruise control and to carefully watch my speed. I slowed down and became a much safer driver. I was being held accountable for my actions and although I had been a law breaker, I responded to the accountability.

I must admit that back then I did not want to slow down. I liked driving fast and getting where I was going quicker. I would have preferred to just pay the fine and go right back to speeding, but the additional cost of the insurance was my motivator to change.

I was not truly repentant. I was simply being conditioned to change. The problem was that I should have been obeying the law to start with. That is often how sin works. When we justify our behavior and excuse the sin, we are not admitting that we did wrong. At those times, only the consequences will get our attention. The problem with the consequences is that even if they change the behavior they do not necessarily change the heart. Still, if the behavior is changed, then others are protected. Even though my heart attitude about speeding did not change until years later, both other drivers and myself were protected by the fact that my behavior was modified.

What happened when my heart attitude changed? Eventually I decided that I needed to slow down because it was the right thing to do. I became thankful for the police officers who would pull me over if I began to speed because they were there to make sure the roads stayed safe. I now understand that this was a real safety issue. As a teenager I would sometimes drive over 100 mph. I could have hurt myself or others.

Once we realize that our behavior is wrong, we should be thankful for accountability. Rather than simply functioning as behavior modification, consequences can even protect the repentant sinner. Consider what happened to King David after his sin. “Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. "However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die."” (II Samuel 12:13-14 NASB)

One of the concerns was what the enemies of the Lord would do if there were no consequences. Imagine that a man were convicted of embezzlement, and then repented and never stole again. Would it be more merciful to leave his embezzlement in the past and allow him to become the church treasurer or would it be more merciful to implement a consequence and not allow him to be the treasurer?

He has been forgiven and there does not appear to be any more need to change his behavior. Still, because of his past, he would be under suspicion if there were ever an innocent accounting error. Therefore in that case, the consequence is a protection for him from an accusation that he would not deserve. At the same time, if he were not actually repentant, the consequence would be a protection for the rest of the church.

Consequences have multiple benefits. They can protect others and the person who was forgiven. Further, they do not negate forgiveness. The Lord had taken away David's sin, but there were still consequences.

Cover Up Worse than Scandal  6-22-18

     From time to time there is a scandal within the Christian community. This past year has been no exception. In fact, as the “me too” movement has drawn attention to a number of injustices, people in positions of Christian leadership have also been implicated.

     The “me too” movement has shown how widespread these injustices have been, so it should not surprise us that sin has affected Christian ministries as well. As Christians we turn to Christ because we understand that sin is such a huge problem and that Christ is our only solution. First, He provides forgiveness. Next, as we follow Him, we should be motivated to do right and to live as He lived. That does not mean we will be sinless, but it should mean that we will sin less. In other words, even though we do not expect Christians to be perfect, we should expect that there would be less sin among the followers of Christ than there is within a statistical cross section of society.

     Although it is true that even godly men like David in the Bible would have been implicated in a “me too” scandal (he abused his position of power as a king when he pursued Bathsheba and then had her husband killed), we should not use this as a reason to excuse others. God had Nathan confront David about his sin and there were serious consequences (II Samuel 11-12).

     Today some people think that Christians should cover up the sins of their leaders because they are afraid that if people who have not yet trusted Christ find out about it, then they will not want to be Christians. That is a sad approach. First, it is counterproductive because often these scandals come to light anyway and then non Christians are even more upset about the cover up than they are about the sin. This is understandable.

     Furthermore, the scripture tells us that we are not to cover up the sins of our leaders, but that we are to address them so that others may fear and not follow the same path. I Timothy 5:20-21 says, “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. 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.” (NASB)

     The hope is that the sinning Christian leader will repent and turn from their sin, but that does not mean that the warning should not be given. Consider King David. He repented once confronted by Nathan, yet his sin was not hidden. It was recorded in scripture and has been used as a warning for thousands of years.

     Recently we received a letter from a missionary that we had helped several years ago. We were excited about the ministry of this missionary couple, but sadly we found out in the letter that the husband had been embezzling money that had been given to him and had been caught up in immorality. Rather than hiding what had happened, his wife sent out letters to those who had given to them and confessed what had happened. That took great courage. It showed that she takes her faith in Christ so seriously that she is willing to confess the truth even if is embarrassing. It also gives others a opportunity to pray for her husband with the hope that he will admit his sin and repent. Next, it sends a warning to others that would consider doing something similar that they could get caught. Finally, it shows non Christians that Christians are willing to admit that there are scandals in our lives as well, but that we should not excuse them or cover them up, even when it is embarrassing.

     My hope is that others will learn and be encouraged by this missionary wife's example, and that Christians will have the courage to admit that we have scandals too. When we do face scandal, we must turn to Christ and His grace and accept the consequences rather than encouraging the cover up. 

Was the Sphinx in the Flood?  6-9-18

     I love Google Earth. Not only can I use it as a map, I can also measure the length and width of my house while sitting at my desk. I also love the history feature. I can scroll back over several years and see how our yard has changed. We see cars parked in different places and can see what our yard looked like before the garage was built.

     I recently found another online site called They have archives of aerial pictures of farm sites. I found the farm I grew up on in Minnesota as well as relative's farms. These photos were much older than Google Earth.

     I wish that I had pictures of this area back when Lewis and Clark traveled through. So much has changed just during my lifetime. Imagine how much has changed over thousands of years.

     My boys and I watched some documentaries on ancient history this last week. We learned some more about the pyramids in Egypt. We also learned something new about the Sphinx. The Sphinx is a huge carving more than 60 ft tall and about 240 ft long. It has the feet of a lion and the head of a man. Much of the main part of the body seems to have eroded away over time.

     At the beginning of the documentary, a researcher asked a geologist if he could tell the difference between wind and water erosion on rock. The geologist assured him that he could, so he was shown a picture of the body of the Spinx with the head, feet, and tail covered so that it looked like a natural rock formation. Conclusion was that without doubt, the picture showed water erosion.

     The covering was then removed to reveal the head and feet of the Spinx. This was such a surprising revelation because the Spinx is located in a desert area without water around to erode it. Genesis 7:18-19 describes Noah's flood, “And the water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the surface of the water. And the water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered.” (NASB)

     According to the Bible, the area where the Sphinx is located was once covered with water. Although we do not know the exact date of its construction or all the details of the environment around it, a world wide flood would explain the erosion. If the feet had quickly been covered with sediment, they would have been more protected from that erosion. Another theory is that the Sphinx orignally had the head of a lion or some other animal, but that it was so eroded that it was replaced by the face of a Pharaoh. Since no world wide flood happened since that time, the man's face was not eroded by water like the body was.

     Although we cannot go back thousands of years on Google Earth to see the pictures, we can look to the scriptures to find clues about the past to come up with possible explanations for the present. If you would like to see the Sphinx on Google Earth, type in “The Great Sphinx of Giza.”

What Are You Creating?  6-9-18

Our boys love building things. We have a variety of forts that spring up in our back yard as they scrounge around for old blankets, cardboard boxes, pieces of board, plastic totes, and tree branches. Eventually we tell them to clean up their creations so that neighbors do not complain. Fortunately the neighbor kids are able to come over to help build and enjoy the creations as well.
I believe that the fact that humans are so creative is part of the image of God within us. “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NASB) Creative talent can take on many forms: some compose music, others write poems, some construct buildings, others paint pictures. Our boys build forts. That is a good thing.
However, in Isaiah 44, we read about a creative man. He plants a tree. Once the tree grows up, he cuts it down and uses the wood from the tree to cook food. After cooking, he has some wood left over. Our boys would have used that left over wood to build a fort, but notice what he does with it. “But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for thou art my god." (Isaiah 44:17 NASB)


Rather than creating a fort or a piece of art, this person creates an idol- a false god. Not only does he worship it, he begins to ask it to do things for him. Essentially he creates it so it can serve him. Of course a piece of wood cannot answer his prayers or do anything he asks it to do. Still, it is not completely irrational for the creator to expect his creation to serve him.


Let us not forget that the true God, Jesus Christ, is our creator and we are the creation. Unlike the leftover piece of the tree, we have knowledge, intellect, and will. Therefore, Christ can expect us to do what He asks us to do. Unlike the man in Isaiah, though, God does not worship us. Instead he expects us to worship Him.


Today it is not that popular for people to make wooden gods, but they do try to create their own ideas of what God is like. As they do that, they often expect God to serve them, rather than they worshiping Him.


Essentially, man in his creativity, has gotten it backwards. If man can come up with an idea about God in his own mind, then man is the creator and man is in charge. Thus man becomes the god and God becomes the servant. As creative as this idea is, it is wrong. The true God will not be mocked. We must submit to Him.


No wonder God commands us: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:21 NASB) As bad as it is to worship a statue, it is just as bad to worship yourself. Notice what the scripture says about Lucifer: "But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'” (Isaiah 14:13-14 NASB) Lucifer did not get away with it, and neither will anyone else. Verse 15 says, "Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit. (NASB) Romans 6:23 warns us all that the wages of sin is death. Instead let us embrace the gift of God, which is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord as we worship only Him. Remember He is in charge, not us.

Christ and the Root Beer  4-28-18

Most of life's trials are fairly small. In fact, many of the most aggravating trials are practically trivial. For example, I opened a bottle of Root Beer while I was driving and it had been shook up more than I expected. Since my eyes were on the road, I did not notice the problem until just before the bottle reached my lips. Thankfully very little fizz had run out- it had not even reached my hands yet- but it was coming fast and I had to think fast.

I opened my mouth and placed the bottle there and quickly realized that my mouth was not big enough to hold 20 ounces of fizz. More important, I had to keep the vehicle on the road. Fortunately no one was there to encourage me to laugh. That would have likely resulted in a windshield covered with a mixture of carbonated corn syrup.

There were a number of ways to escape this trial. Spraying the foamy Root Beer on the window, would NOT have been the best. A less dramatic option would have been to let the pop spill all over the seat or even down the front of my shirt and onto my lap. That is actually what I expected to happen, but then, just in time, I had an idea. I closed my mouth while holding the bottle to my face and let my lips firmly seal the opening.

TRAGEDY AVERTED, but now a new crisis developed. I was holding a Root Beer bottle that would explode with force if I pulled it away from my face. Still, this gave me some time to plan and to think. I calculated that once the pressure was released, that the pop bottle would once again be safe. After swallowing the fizz that had already entered my mouth, I very carefully allowed a little more to seep in. I repeated the process until all the danger was past.

I Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” (NASB) The word translated “temptation” in this verse, is the idea of a trial. Sometimes the trial may involve the temptation to sin, other times the trial may involve a pop bottle. Notice that the verse does not say that God will always make the problem go away. Instead He gives us a way to get through it as He enables us to bear it.

Too often this verse is taken out of context and is focused on us and our getting what we want, instead of focusing on Christ and how we need to depend on AND obey Him. It really has little to do with my being delivered from a pop mess other than that it reminded me to pray as it was happening.

The context of the promise in I Corinthians 10, helps us to further understand it. The chapter starts out with the children of Israel in the wilderness. It shows that even during the time of Moses, Christ was with them (see vs 4). Still they decided to follow their selfish desires instead of following Christ. Then when they did not get what they wanted, they complained about it. Thus God sent punishment. Finally right before the promise of vs 13, a warning is given in vs 12., “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (NASB)

If we think we can go it alone without Christ, then expect to fall- do not count on the way of escape promised in vs 13. In fact, the very next verse brings an important command, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1Co 10:14 NASB) Idolatry is worshiping something other than the true God. Therefore, if you are putting your own desires above Christ, you need to stop.

As I prayed about the pop bottle, I applied the promise of vs 13, by asking God for help, expressing my trust, asking forgiveness for cursing, and thanking Him. 

Accountable to Christ or Karma?  4-14-18

Living in a house with four boys age 10 and under we get to answer a lot of questions. They are constantly learning, and that leads to even more questions. I have had many more years to ask questions than my sons have had, yet I have not yet exhausted my questions. No doubt, there are a lot of questions I would like to ask God, but for now, I am thankful that I have the Bible to go to in order to find most of the answers I am looking for.

As much as I trust the Bible, it may surprise some of my readers to realize that I do not find all the answers to my questions there. For example, when I needed to fix the car, I go to Youtube for the answer instead of the Bible.

Recently I was able to ask a question about another religion. The Bible is the book for Judaeo/Christian beliefs, but there are many other religions in the world. There are so many spiritual beliefs that it is impossible to keep up with all of them- especially when many people form their own religious beliefs.

Thus, I had the chance to learn something new as I asked a non-Christian about what established her moral boundaries. I already knew she had boundaries because of comments she had made about what anther person had done wrong. She responded that her boundary was to do no harm. She also explained that if she did harm, she could expect karma to come back with three times as much harm done to her.

I appreciated her response, but I was still unclear about what actually constituted harm, so asked if harm only included causing physical pain or if emotional pain would also be included? She said that harm included physical, emotional, and mental harm but did not give any more parameters about what would qualify as harm.

This conversation was very interesting to me, since this woman and another woman had had some conflict over some things that were said. Each felt offended by the other person and I wanted to know how to address the concerns within some sort of moral framework. Since I am a Christian, the Bible was the framework that I go to, but I understood that the person I was talking with did not regard the Bible at all, so I wanted to know if there was anywhere that she would go to discuss right and wrong in order to see why she felt what the other person had done was wrong.

The conversation ended and I still did not have her definition of harm. I was thankful that the Bible has given clear boundaries about right and wrong. I understand that everyone does not accept those boundaries, but for those of us who do, it makes life much easier. Although Christians do not agree on everything, we still have some basic limits of right and wrong that we all recognize. What I love about that is that another Christian cannot just make up their own rules to use against me, nor can I do that to them. We go to the Bible to let God be our arbitrator. I was hoping this woman would see the contrast.

I had one final question for her. Since karma brings harm back, does that mean that humans are actually accountable to karma and that karma has authority over them? I then let her know that the point I wanted to make is that we all understand that we are accountable to some outside force. As a Christian, I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe I am accountable to Him. Although I could not measure up to His expectations for me, He loved me so much that He died for my sins and then rose again. If I am going to be accountable to someone, I want it to be someone like Jesus. He is much more merciful than karma. “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) 

Our King Lives Forever  4-1-18

     Imagine that it were the beginning of July. You go to buy charcoal for the grill and the kids are begging you to buy fireworks. Of course you are preparing for the the 4thof July- Independence Day. We recently celebrated the Resurrection, but the celebration began much earlier. Palm Sunday happened a week earlier. As Jesus rode into the capital city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Israelites were getting ready to celebrate the Passover. That was essentially their independence from Egypt that had happened about 1500 years earlier.

     The Passover was the event where Moses had them put the blood of the lamb on their door frame and then their firstborn would be spared from death. After this event and the death of the firstborn among the Egyptians, Pharaoh finally let the people go. Thus the Passover was a celebration of God's saving from death and His deliverance from slavery as the blood of the lamb was used to mark the doors of God's followers.

     As Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Israelites are now under a new oppressor- Rome. Caesar is the main leader, but he has appointed a puppet king over Israel named Herod. He also has a military governor over the region named Pontius Pilate. Pilate did not stay in Jerusalem, but often went on military campaigns with his soldiers. However, history tells us that he came back to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday because he knew the people were getting ready to celebrate their independence day- the Passover.

     Thus you have the oppressive governor entering Jerusalem from the west and Jesus entering from the east the same day. It seemed impossible to defeat a powerful nation like Rome, but remember Jesus could feed 5000 men plus the women and children with 5 loaves and 2 fish and still have 12 baskets left over. That means he could feed an army. Further he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Imagine if he did that with his soldiers on the battle field. No wonder the people are excited.

     But instead of going straight to Pilate and challenging him, Jesus enters the temple. There He turns over the tables of the money changers who had been using religion to cheat the people. The religious leaders who had already rejected Jesus because they had long ago rejected the ways of God, were upset that He had disrupted their profit margin. Soon they are scheming even more diligently to have Him taken out of the way.

     They try to convince Pilate that Jesus wants to take on Caesar and overthrow Rome. Pilate is so arrogant he doesn't even view Jesus as a serious threat and declares Him innocent. Still he wants to appease the Hebrew people and prevent any sort of uprising, so he lets them chose between Jesus and Barabbas.

     Jesus is killed on the cross. His blood saves all those who believe on Him as their Lord and savior from eternal death, just like the blood of the Passover lamb saved the Israelites. He died on the same day the Passover lamb was to be killed as they celebrated their independence day.

     Then 3 days later, He rose from the dead. He did not go on with a military attack against Pilate, but let us remember that today Caesar, Herod, and Pilate are all dead, but Jesus is alive.

     We have celebrated Resurrection Sunday, but let us not forget what we celebrated. Our King is alive. He will live forever because He is God. Do you believe in that King- King Jesus?

     He is powerful enough to defeat Rome. Rome is no longer an empire. All is under God's control. But so is your very soul. Do not fight the King. Join Him and have eternal life. “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

Hope For Dyslexic Hopelessness  3-16-18

Our son is reading and understanding what he reads. The sentences are simple and he is not yet up to grade level, but we are excited at his progress. Our son has dyslexia. This is more than just getting his d's and b's mixed up. This is a severe challenge that hindered his ability to read no matter how hard he tried.

I remember taking him through the Mcguffey primer hoping to give him the basics of reading. He worked hard and struggled through it. Even though he could sound out words with much effort, he did not comprehend what he read.

I finally told a friend about it and he said that, they had a similar problem with one of his sons. The teachers and special education programs at school had tried to help, but it seemed nothing could be done. Finally they hired a tutor who used a program especially designed for dyslexia. After using the Barton program, he began to read and catch up with the other students.

We are now using that same program and it is giving us hope. The word “hope” means to expect with confidence- to trust. Because of the progress our son has already made, we now have the confidence to expect that his reading will continue to improve.

Not all such stories have a happy ending. My wife was to a dyslexia conference put on by the state of South Dakota last fall. Educators were frustrated that they did not have the knowledge or the resources to help so many students who were facing such struggles. Often it was assumed that the students were not even trying. In reality, some of the students had given up after trying for so long and not being given any hope.

As positive as the word “hope” is, the word “hopeless” is the the opposite. The word “hopeless” has the idea of despair and inadequacy. Our son definitely felt inadequate when his friends could read and he could not. It is exciting to see him now have hope.

The truth is that we all face times of despair and inadequacy in our lives. We are especially inadequate when it comes to righteousness. Romans 3:10 tells us, “as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;” (NASB). A few verses later, Romans 3:23 underscores the point, as it states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (NASB). As hopeless as all of this sounds, it gets even worse because the first part of Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death,” (NASB)

As hopeless as all this sounds, God gives us hope. A hope even better than our son's hope of reading. A hope that lasts into the next life. The whole verse of Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NASB)

The sin problem is hopeless and none of our good works can take care of it (read Ephesians 2:8-9). No matter how hard we work, we cannot overcome sin. The cure for sin is not a tutoring program. Instead is is a great teacher who is God in the flesh. That teacher is Jesus Christ who came to earth and died on the cross. "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.” (John 3:16 NASB)

We may face hopeless situations from time to time, but the big picture does not have to be hopeless. Find your hope in Christ Jesus.

Fear God or Fear Guns?  3-4-18

February 14th is supposed to be a day to celebrate love. Instead it turned into a day when someone went on a murderous rampage killing other people in a school shooting. Not only is our country grieving, but it is looking for answers. Why did this happen? What can be done to make sure it does not happen again?

It has been interesting how people on opposite sides of the political spectrum think that the answer to both these questions has to do with guns. For example those on the left believe that this happened because there are not enough restrictions on guns and that the solution is to implement more restrictions. Their solution is less guns. Those on the right think this happened because there are too many restrictions on guns. They believe that if more people had guns, then the shooter would not have dared do what he did or would have been stopped sooner if others had guns as well. Of course their solution is more guns.

Although there is a lot of controversy over who should have a gun, one of the least controversial suggestions is to have more armed police presence at our schools. This approach actually reminds me of Romans 13:3-4, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” (NASB)

During Roman times the soldiers carried swords instead of guns, but the principle was the same. The fear of the sword in the hands of a government authority was a deterrent to evil. No doubt private individuals in the Roman empire could have swords as well and Jesus even encouraged the purchase of one (Luke 22:36). Still the threat from a trained soldier who could bring additional consequences for a crime was a greater deterrent.

Let me suggest that the best solution to our nations problems does not lie in the fear of guns or swords (either as a deterrent or as an item to be banned), but rather in the fear of someone far more powerful than a Roman soldier. Our nation needs to fear God. "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 NASB)

I want everyone to love and trust Jesus as they come to God, but even if they don't if they still fear Him and the consequences of sin, there will be more restraint on evil. Sadly, even some Christians today are suggesting that we should not fear God. That is wrong and goes contrary to scripture. We are not to dread God, but we must fear Him. If Christians are saying we should not fear God, why are we surprised when the rest of the nation doesn't fear Him either. Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.” (NASB)

A soldier with a gun may deter someone from committing murder, but that soldier cannot be all places at all times. We cannot even depend on having a concealed carry holder around to deter evil at every critical moment, but God is always there. If people fear Him, He is able to deter other social ills in addition to murder. Fear God and avoid immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (list from Galatians 5:19-21).

Are You a Fan of Christ?  2/16/18

I am not a football fan. Normally I would rather watch heavy equipment on a construction site than to watch guys run around with a ball. Thus it was surprising when I recently wanted to watch a football play. I even enjoyed it once I watched it.

So many people were talking about the end of the Vikings vs Saints game that even my wife was telling me about it. I went online to read the news and I saw headlines and articles everywhere about the end of that game. What had happened was so exciting that a lot of people were talking about it. Time was running out and a long pass was made by a Viking, and his teammate caught it and made a touchdown. The only Saint's player that was close enough to tackle the receiver was afraid that if he rushed in too fast he would be fouled. His hesitation allowed the Viking to score.

My description does not do justice to the excitement of that play. Listening to football fans describe it, there was no doubt that this was something special. So many people were excited about what had happened that I wanted to watch it myself.

Many of you are probably not interested in watching big machinery on a construction site. Did you realize that there is a video online of an excavator rescuing a young deer from a mud hole? Imagine someone told you about that video. Imagine that they were really excited about it. Now imagine that almost everyone you ran into was talking about it. The more you heard about it and the more excited people were about it, the more likely you would be to want to see it for yourself.

Now imagine that you heard about an Air force pilot that gave his life to intercept a nuclear weapon and everyone was talking about it. Then imagine that you found out that if he had not intercepted the missile, that it would have hit right on top of where you were at. That would make you even more interested in learning more about him.

So what does football, a deer stuck in the mud, and an imaginary story about a heroic pilot have to do with Christ? As Christians, we understand that we should be witnesses for Christ, yet, many are discouraged because others do not want to hear about Him. Remember, many people are about as interested in Christ as I am in football.

If we want people to be interested in what Christ did, then we need to let them know how passionate we are about Him. What He did is even more exciting than the Viking/Saints game. He did not just rescue a deer, He gave His life for the whole world after He created the whole world.

Most people do not keep talking to me about football once they see I am not that interested. Still, I am not offended if people talk about things I am not interested in. Many are that way about Christ. As Christians we need to be sensitive to wait until people are ready to talk. That does not mean that we should never bring up the subject that we should be the most passionate about.

What Christ did is an exciting message. Some will not be interested in hearing it. Still, if they hear more and more people talking about Him, perhaps they will start to pay attention. That is what happened to me when I finally went and watched a Vikings play.

The more we know about Jesus the more we should love Him and the more good news we will have to share about Him. Let us continue to learn about Christ so we can share the exciting message that eternal life comes only through believing in Him as Lord and Savior. “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)

Not Feeling the Power of Prayer?  2-3-18

      I often see Christian articles promoting the keys to having a powerful prayer life. I do not “feel” like I have a real powerful prayer life. What I mean by that is that I do not get some amazing feeling of power as I go to God in prayer. I do not feel some kind of tingle, touch, or movement within me each time I pray.

      I must admit that there have been times where I have felt deep emotion as I prayed. There have also been other times where I have felt little or no emotion as I prayed. I have come to realize that I need to stop focusing on how I “feel” as I pray and instead just pray. 1Thessalonians 5:17 simply commands us to “pray without ceasing.” The full sentence where that verse is located reads, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  (I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB)

      Notice that the command regarding prayer is that we pray. Further the command regards what we are to do along with our prayer rather than how we are to feel. First we are to rejoice. That means we are to be glad. No doubt there is an element of “feeling” in gladness, but it is more of a choice or call to action than just how we feel. In order to really understand how it can be a choice we should look at the last part of the sentence which tells us to give thanks in everything.

      I find myself praying a lot when I have trouble. I bring my cares to God as I realize He can handle what I cannot handle. Often I am feeling discouraged as I come to Him with my problems. As I come to God, I am able to rejoice knowing that He loves me enough that He became a man and died for my sins. I rejoice knowing that Jesus rose from the dead and that He wants me to call out in prayer. I rejoice knowing that He has the power to deal with the problems that are out of my control. These are all things to be thankful for.

      I have come to realize that I am not thankful for the power of my prayers, but instead I am thankful for the power of my God. Thus it is okay that I do not “feel” like I have a powerful prayer as long I rejoice that I have a powerful God. The point is that my dependence is on my God, not on my prayer. That means that my focus is His power, not mine.

      One of the reasons I go to Him is because I realize how powerless I am. That means it is okay if my prayers are not powerful, because my God is powerful.

      As I look back on the prayers I have prayed over the years, I could share many examples of how seemingly impossible situations have been resolved after prayer. These are not testimonies to how good I pray. As I said, my prayers do not “feel” powerful at all. Instead these answers to prayer are a testimony to the power of my almighty God.

      We are commanded to pray without ceasing. There are some prayers that I continue to pray even as I do not see the results I had hoped for. I pray them with thanksgiving as well. I rejoice knowing that God may have a better plan than what I requested and that I can trust Him no matter what.

      My goal is not to “feel” power as I pray. Further, my goal is not a powerful prayer life in the sense of using the power of prayer to get what I want. My goal is to talk with God constantly throughout the day and to rejoice and to be thankful as I do. My goal is to put His will ahead of my own and trust Him no matter how He answers my prayers.

What Happens When God is Angry?   1-20-18

Imagine if you found out that someone had taken a baseball bat to your car and had let the air out of all the tires. You would likely be angry about it. The scripture warns about the dangers of anger, but it also makes it clear that anger itself is not sinful. Ephesians 4:26 says, “BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (NASB).

Anger is not always wrong. In fact, it would not be wrong to be angry that your car was vandalized. Still, if that anger is not kept in check, it could lead you to react in a sinful manner. Further, the anger should not be carried around for a long time and allowed to ferment.

Because anger can lead to so many sinful actions, we sometimes start to think that the anger itself is wrong rather than our ungodly reactions to our anger. It may even surprise some to realize that God gets angry. Because God is perfect, He is able to control His anger and never sin.

When I was a kid, I watched the Incredible Hulk. I remember David Banner saying, “you won't like me when I'm angry.” When he let his anger get out of control he turned into a super strong green monster. God is much more powerful than the Incredible Hulk, but He keeps His anger under control.

As fearful as it would be to have the Hulk mad at me, it should be even more scary to have God mad at us. Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (NASB) Consider as well the words of Jesus, "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5 NASB)

There is reason to fear a holy God who gets angry at sin. In fact, He is so angry at sin that He makes it clear that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).

Knowing that God has power over everything- including our eternal soul- it is a comfort that although the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). No doubt, God gets mad at sin, yet He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).

As we read in Ephesians 4:26, the sun should not go down on our anger. In Psalm 30:5 we read about God's anger and how it does not last long. Psalm 30:5 says, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (NASB)

Knowing how powerful God is, I am glad that His anger does not last long and that He has provided forgiveness for my sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the same time a realization of His anger is sobering, because I know that not everyone has put a trusting belief in Christ. For then the results of God's anger will be eternal judgment. John 3:36 gives comfort to believers but warns those who reject Christ's authority in their lives 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." (NASB)

Putting Up With Each Other  1-7-18

I saw a really cool picture on the internet. A father had built dividers between his children's car seats. Having traveled with kids, I understand why. Putting up with each other in tight confined spaces is not easy. Add the immaturity of childhood to the mix and soon you have someone yelling, “he touched me!”

As we grow into adulthood, that annoyance with others does not instantly go away. In fact, the scriptures tell us to bear with each other. That means we should put up with each other even when it is not easy. Colossians 3:12-15 says,

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (NASB)

Notice the call for compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience as we put up with each other and love each other. Imagine if the kids in the back seat could just do this. Sadly, many grown adults struggle with these basic principles of the Christian life. Notice though that the key is to remember that the Lord Jesus Christ set the example. As we apply these standards to our lives, we must let his peace rule in our hearts. In other words, Christ is the key to putting up with each other.

As we continue to read the passage we find out that this applies to the people that we live the closest to. Colossians 3:18-21 tells us, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.” (NASB)

Verse 18 is a bit controversial because it tells the wives to submit to their husbands. Although this is true, the passage also holds a rebuke for the overbearing husband. First, notice that the wives are to be subject “as is fitting in the Lord.” This means that God sees this as fitting, but it also is a reminder that as Peter said, we ought to obey God rather than men. In other words, wives are not required to submit in areas that would cause them to sin.

Further, husbands are to love their wives. A husband that puts excessive demands on his wife is not being loving. If a husband loves his wife like Christ loves the church, it will be much easier for his wife to let him make some of the important decisions- especially if he loves her enough to consult with her first and gets her perspective.

Along those lines, verse 21 shows that the fathers are not to provoke their children to wrath or exasperate them. This is right after the children are told to obey their parents. Even though there is an order of authority in the household, if we are to put up with each other and live with the peace of Christ as our guide, then the leader in the house must step up and do right. That means that the father/husband, must be humble, compassionate, kind, meek, patient, forgiving, and loving just like Jesus is (see verse 12).

That does not mean that the wife and children do not have to be like Christ, it just means that verse 21 makes a specific point of making sure that the leader of the house understands that he has a special duty in this area.

The point is that if we are to get along and not quarrel like little kids in the back seat, then all of us must focus on being Christlike. As we start this new year, let us all live for Christ by being more like Him.

Scripture and Sexual Harassment


     As I read the headlines lately, the word “scandal” comes to my mind. There have been so many scandals of sexual harassment, that we almost expect a new one daily. At Southtown, we have been preaching through the book of Colossians. As we came to chapter 3, we found out that even though this letter was written almost 2000 years ago, it is still able to address the issue we are having to deal with today.

     Let us look at Colossians 3:5-6, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come,” (NASB)

     The letter to the Colossians is a letter to Christians where they are told to live in a way that they are dead to immorality. Many of the men who have been accused of sexual harassment have used the defense that the relationship was consensual. If they can prove that is was consensual, that may get them off the hook legally, but it does not get them off the hook with God. Sexual immorality is wrong, whether consensual or not. If not consensual, then there is additional sin, but even consensual sex outside of marriage is wrong.

     Notice as well that greed and evil desires are wrong. As we read the headlines we find out that evil men in positions of power used their influence to manipulate women into doing sinful things. Many of the women were fearful of losing their jobs. As Christians, we must realize that we must say no to sin even if it has major financial implications. My brother was faced with a similar situation in a non sexual way. His boss wanted him to lie to customers in order to make more profit. He quit instead and had to take a lower paying job for a while. The point is that he was more concerned about obeying God than he was about his job. Notice that Colossians 3:5 addresses both immorality and greed. Any man who puts a woman in a place where she must chose between immorality and her job must be held accountable (take comfort in the wrath of God in vs 6). At the same time, Christian men and women must trust God enough to say no even if it means losing a job or a promotion.

     The letter to the Colossians continues, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,” (Colossians 3:8-9 NASB)

     The sexual acts are obviously wrong, but notice that the scripture also addresses the issue of abusive speech. Regardless of what the law says or what sort of sexual harassment policy your company has in place, as Christians, we have an even higher standard. We are to set aside our old way of behavior (the way we acted before following Christ) and that includes being careful that our speech is not abusive. That means we should not be rude, but it also means we should not be crude.

     I am thankful that our culture has begun to realize how bad the sexual harassment issue has become, but simply passing laws without changing hearts is not a lasting fix. What is really needed is a recognition of the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and that His standards of right and wrong need to be followed.  My hope is that these scandals will make it clear that people should not be demanding the right to do whatever they feel like doing. I hope they will help us to see that we should be doing what God says we should be doing.

What to Give Jesus For Christmas  12-7-17

At Christmas time we think about giving and receiving gifts. Little kids are easy to shop for, but it can be more of a challenge to find the perfect gift for some adults. What if we were to go Christmas shopping for God? What would you give HIM?

This time of year we remember the greatest gift of all as God gave us Himself as He became a man and was born into this world as a little baby. He then grew up and ministered to many people as He healed the sick, raised the dead, and reached out to sinners. Finally He paid the ultimate price as He gave His life for our sins when He died on the cross.

Knowing all that Jesus has done for us, we should want to give what we can to Him. But what do you give to someone who created the whole world? What do you give to someone who is so powerful that He even made and sustains you? “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 1:16-17 NASB) Knowing that Jesus is the creator and that He existed before all things shows us that He existed before He took on the body of a baby and was born in Bethlehem. It also tells me that He made the gold that was given to Him when He was a baby.

As we think about what Jesus would want, we should not just think about giving it to Him at Christmas time. We should be giving Him what He asks for our whole lives. When Jesus came to this earth as a baby and then grew up, He said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15 NASB)

So we find out that Jesus wants us to obey Him. If we are to obey Him, we should know what the most important commands are. He even told us what the 2 most important commandments where when asked about them in Matthew 22:37-38. “And He said to him, "'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.'” (NASB)

So if we really love Jesus enough that we want to give a gift to Him, then we should do what He says. As we do what He says, we must remember that His most important command is to love Him and to love others. He then goes on to say that all the laws and what the prophets said were based on these 2 commands.

So what do we give to God when He already has everything and needs nothing from us? We give Him our love and obedience.

God gave us Himself as He was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. He became one of us as He entered this world, but His love did not stop there. He wanted to make sure that our sin did not stand between us and Him. He had so much love for us, that He provided a way for us to have a clean slate with Him. He did not stay a baby. He grew up and died on the cross to pay for our sins and then rose from the dead as our victorious King and savior and all He asks of us is that we believe in Him as our authority and love Him with our all as we strive to obey Him.

This Christmas, if you are wondering what to give to Jesus, give Him yourself. Give Him your trust and allegiance. Give Him your love. 

Are You Caught in a Net?  11-24-17

Life is not always easy. Sometimes it is so hard that it feels like we are trapped in a net with no way to escape. David talked about that in Psalm 25:15 when he said, “My eyes are continually toward the LORD, For He will pluck my feet out of the net.” (NASB) Notice that although David felt trapped in the net, he looked to the Lord for help and hope.

Consider the analogy of being trapped in a net. Unless you suffer from claustrophobia, it is not that big of a deal to have your feet trapped in a net for a short period of time. In fact, as kids we would tie each other up by the feet and make a game out of seeing how fast we could get free. Today, people pay money to be locked into an escape room with clues for how to get out.

The anxiety of being trapped is not nearly as severe as the anxiety of worrying about not ever being able to be free. In the examples of the escape room and of our childhood game there was always a certainty of being free eventually. If my brother tied me up good enough that I could not get free, all I had to do was call for Mom's help. I could even just tell my brother that I gave up and he won, so he would untie me or cut the rope.

When we face the trials of life, the trials themselves are often not as severe as wondering where the trials will lead. For example, I think of loved ones who have been caught in the net of a cancer diagnosis but still feel fairly healthy. The challenge comes not from the current situation, but from the fear of what the future will bring.

During those times we should remember to be thankful for our current situation and to be thankful that the net around us has not yet begun to choke us. That is hard to do until we, like David, remember that God is still there regardless of the trials around us. God does not promise to keep our feet out the nets of life. Instead we are told that Christ's godly followers shall suffer persecution. (II Timothy 3:12).

As we face the trials of life, let us not forget the words of Jesus, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33 NASB)

A while back as I was reflecting on the Psalms and trusting God, I wrote this song:

In this moment of time, my world is crashing down.
In this moment of time, hope cannot be found.
In this moment of time, I don't know what to do.
In this moment of time, I simply look to you.

I know that when my moments struggle you are still there.
I know that when my heart is heavy you are the one who cares.

If I could just hold this moment in time, as the world is passing by.
Then I could have a moment without the need to cry.

With your everlasting kindness, your mercy is on me. (Is 54:8)
My God my Redeemer, to you alone I plead.

In this moment of time, the problems are at bay.
What the morrow brings, is what the morrow may. (Matt 6:34)

But in this moment of time, I am still alive
In this moment of time, my God is by my side.

I have another moment in time. One that is new.
In this moment of time, hope shines anew.

As we face the trials of life, let us take them one moment at a time with a realization that we have an all powerful God who cared so much about us that He sent His son to die for our sins. That is something to be thankful for.

Belief for Everlasting Life  11-11-2017

     Writing about politics can be quite risky. The statistics suggest that on a wide range of issues you can end up offending nearly half the population regardless of which position you take. For example about a year ago we had a very close Presidential election and emotions on both sides ran very high. Some people believed in Donald Trump. Others believed in Hilary Clinton. Each side voted accordingly. Others did not believe in either but voted for one of them anyway. Some believed in another candidate and voted accordingly. Some did not believe in any and did not vote at all.

     As I reflect back on that political contest, I realize that the candidates had true believers behind them. They also had supporters behind them, and then they just had people who went through the motions of voting for them.

     I believe that there are also similar responses to Jesus Christ. Some really believe in Him, others give a level of support to Him, and others just go through the motions of following Him.

     Jesus said 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.” What kind of following was Christ talking about when He made that promise to those who believe? In order to answer that question let us consider James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (NASB) Along with this passage realize what Christ said about the demons. "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;” (Matthew 25:41 NASB).

     Rather than everlasting life, the devil and his followers will have everlasting punishment even though they believe in one true God and realize that Jesus Christ is that one true God. Thus, a belief in Christ for eternal life must be more than just a belief in His existence. In fact, it has to be even more than a belief that Jesus is God. Notice what happened when a demon possessed man encounters Jesus: “And seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, 'What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.'" (Luke 8:28 NASB)

     The devil and his followers know exactly who Jesus is. They believe the facts.

     Consider that today Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America. Some people fully support him. Others do not believe that he should be the President nor do they believe that he has the authority to rule. Some even argue that because of the popular vote, Hilary should be the President. Thus we have many shades of belief about the current occupant of the Oval Office.

     In Mark 1:15, Jesus said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (NASB) Notice He said to repent and believe. Repenting is the idea of changing mind and direction. A belief in Jesus for eternal life is a change in direction to follow Jesus as your God and your authority. It is a belief in Him that totally supports Him as your leader.

     Consider the interaction between Martha and Jesus in John 11:26-27, “and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world." (NASB) Martha was a first century Jew. For her, a belief in the Christ was a belief in a savior who came to rule. It was a belief that meant she was a committed follower, not just someone who acknowledged His existence. Is your belief in Jesus Christ a committed following? That is the kind of belief you must have for eternal life.


So Much Death at Halloween  10-27-17

     Summer has passed and fall has arrived. With fall comes harvest and Halloween decorations. Now I like pumpkins- especially pumpkin pie, but I am not a fan of the creepy Halloween decorations that pop up this time of year.

     Much of Halloween centers on the theme of death. Ghosts represent the spirits of the dead. Zombies are essentially animated corpses. Sculls, skeletons, coffins, graveyards, mummies, and murderers, contribute to the Halloween scene. Even witches and wizards have a connection to death. In I Samuel 28 King Saul consults with the witch of Endor in order to try and contact a dead man.

     Satan also has a connection to Halloween. Some people dress up like him. Some even call it his holy day. He even has a special connection to this holiday because of the theme of death.

     There are reasons why the devil would be fascinated with death. First of all, man is put here to glorify God, and once we die, we can no longer glorify Him in life. Further, it seems that God has given Satan a certain amount of power in the area of death. Hebrews 2:14 tells us, “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil;” (NASB)

     This intriguing passage suggests that the devil had some sort of power relating to death. It also shows that by dying, Christ was able to destroy that power. Consider Christ’s words in Revelation 1:18, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”  Although the devil has been given some sort of power relating to death, Christ holds the keys- the real power. 

     So what is Satan's connection to death?. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (Romans 5:12) Death came and impacted all of humanity when Adam, the first man ever created, sinned. The devil had a huge part in that, so you could say that he, Satan, tempted mankind into death. No wonder he loves death so much. But all is not lost. “For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)” (Romans 5:17) 
     When Satan temped Eve and she ate the forbidden fruit and Adam followed her.  Sin and death then entered the world. When Christ died on the cross, payment was made for our sins so we could have eternal life. Satan brings death, Jesus Christ brings eternal life. 
This time of year as we are reminded of death, remember that it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. The only way to escape the judgment after death is to put your full confidence in what Jesus Christ did on the cross. That reverses the consequences of sin and death.

     I do not want to encourage the devil by promoting death at Halloween. Instead, I want to use the themes of death as a way to remind others that life does not have to end with eternal death, but rather with eternal life. That life can only come through Jesus Christ. "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) 

There Is A Lot of Evil Here  10-14-17

     Both local and national headlines have been shocking lately. A mass shooting took place in Las Vegas, NV. A murder suicide took place in Lennox, SD.  Hollywood is filled with scandal.

     As these events were being reported on in the news, I had to preach through a passage in the book of Judges. It was also a shocking event. In Judges 19, a woman is raped and killed. Her husband is upset and divides her dead body into parts and sends them to the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel in order to raise awareness of the terrible crime. Once the awareness is raised, a civil war takes place.

     This is one of the most shocking passages in scripture. It shows how gross sin really is. It may even cause us to ask why such an event is even recorded in scripture when it is the sort of literature we might expect to be censored. It would definitely not get a G rating.

     Part of the explanation comes when we consider the context of the passage. Just 2 chapters earlier in Judges 17:6 we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (NASB)

     Today, more and more people are doing what is right in their own eyes rather than looking to what God says about right and wrong. In fact, many people are literally attacking the idea of looking to God for our moral values. These same people want to force their morality on the rest of us, but hate the idea of having God as the ultimate authority. When men get to decide what is right and wrong instead of looking to God, it is no wonder that we have so much evil running rampant in our world.

     The scriptures describe in detail a society that pushes God aside and this is what it looks like:

“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:25-32 NASB)

     A society without God is a mess. In fact, it is characterized by the works of the flesh that we read of in Galatians 5:19-21:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (NASB)

     When a person really follows God and is reconciled to God through trusting Jesus payment on the cross, God's spirit transforms them and if enough of them are transformed it brings amazing stability to a society. Consider the results of the Spirits transformation: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NASB)

     Let us pray that our society comes back to God as more and more people trust Jesus Christ as their Lord (ultimate authority) and Savior.

Consequences After Repentance 10-7-17

     We have taught our boys that when they are not nice to each other, that they should say that they are sorry. The problem is that the words, “I'm sorry,” can become little more than a ritual that is expected rather than a real sorrow over sin. In fact, the words can even become a way to avoid the consequences of their actions. The scripture addresses this problem in II Corinthians 7:10, “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.” (NASB)

     True repentance should not be about saying that I am sorry that you were offended. True repentance should be about saying that I am sorry that I sinned. Still, even as adults it is so easy to treat repentance like we did when we were kids. Many of us learned that if we said we were sorry, then our parents were less severe with the punishment.

     As Christians, we also learned that we are to forgive one another because God forgave us. Consider Christ's answer to Peter considering a question about forgiveness. “Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22 NASB)

     Some use this verse to teach that as long as someone says that they are sorry, then all consequences should be removed. Notice that the command to forgiven in Matthew 18 says nothing about the offender saying that they are sorry or even about confessing. It simply talks about forgiveness. Therefore, we must be careful not to tie confession and apology to a removal of consequence for sin.

     For example, imagine that a church greeter started punching everyone in the face as they entered the church, but each time he did it he admitted he was wrong and asked for forgiveness. Of course this person should be removed from his position and there should be consequences- in our society there would even have to be criminal charges brought against him because he had broken the law by assaulting innocent people.

     We understand in a practical sense that forgiveness does not negate consequences, yet many Christians become confused on the issue once it becomes much more personal. In fact, Christianity has recently been plagued by scandals of pedophilia because once caught the offender apologized and then was allowed to return to work with children without any warnings to those around. First of all, that is illegal, because of mandatory reporting laws. Further it is unChristlike because it is failing to protect the innocent.

     We must be willing to forgive and we must be gracious because God is gracious. We must also be willing to warn and to hold people accountable for their actions even when there is repentance.

     If a person is really repentant (godly sorrow) then they should welcome the consequence and the warning. True repentance should recognize the two greatest commands of scripture- love God and love your neighbor. Thus the offender should be more concerned about God's glory and about the person they sinned against than they are about their own reputation. The truth about their sin and the warning to others should be viewed as a help for them and for others rather than a lack of forgiveness.

     Consider the pedophile who has served his time and then returns to the church. Forgiveness should be granted but it will help him to have the truth out in the open so that others can help him to not fail in that same area again. Further, having everyone aware of the past and having others watching and helping him to not ever be alone with a child can protect him from false allegations.

     Let us realize that consequences and truth are not a lack of love or a lack of forgiveness. Rather they are loving accountability that helps us all to serve Christ better.

Man Making His Own God  9-15-17

     Have you ever thought of making a statue and having that statue be your god? I believe most of us realize how ridiculous it would be to carve a statue and expect it to function as a god.

Isa 44:14-17 says, “Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak, and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image, and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, "Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire." But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for thou art my god." (NASB)

     Our culture is sophisticated enough to understand that a piece of wood can be used to warm us when burned but that it has no power to help us as a god. Still that process of making a god out of a piece of wood has a certain allure. If you get to make your own god, it can look however you want it to look. Further, if you planted the tree that you make the god out of, then you can claim that the god's very existence is because of you. Essentially you have created a god that you are in total control of.

     If you make a god out of wood and burned the scraps, what is to keep you from burning the statue? You have the power to get rid of the god you made if it ever displeases you. Essentially by making your own god, you are god of the god.

     What if you carved a statue and then named it Jesus Christ? Would that statue actually be Jesus? Of course we understand that it would not. What if you claimed to worship the Jesus Christ of the Bible, but you reshaped and remolded him into something other than who He really is?

     Carving gods out of wood is not very common in our society, but reshaping the true God into whatever we want Him to be has become very popular. Redefining the true God is not only idolatry, it is blasphemy. When man reshapes a piece of wood, that wood has no power to be upset about how it is represented. On the other hand, when man tries to reshape God, man must remember that God created him, not that he created God. Further man is accountable to the true God, not the other way around.

     Whether man is making a statue to worship or redefining the true God, man is trying to be in control rather than letting God be in control.

     We need to study the Bible to find out who our God really is, rather than just deciding how we want to shape our god. We have no right to make our own god. If you are defining Jesus by who you want Him to be rather than by who He declares Himself to be in the Bible, then you have no right to call yourself a Christian. Such a person has formed a new god and is simply calling that god, Jesus. Jesus Christ is the creator God come to earth to pay for our sins. Read the Bible and learn more about who He is instead of trying form Him into who you want Him to be. 

Do you Need to Love God?  9-2-17

     Garth Brooks is coming to Sioux Falls. You can see videos of him performing with screaming fans dancing and extending their arms out to him. It is obvious that they love him and his music. They like what he is doing and are showing their love with enthusiasm. I would even describe the scene as worshipful.

     Although worship should be reserved for the true God, I actually want to address a bit of a different subject. How many people who call themselves Christians actually adore God as much as a Garth Brooks fan adores the country singer?

     Matthew 22:37-38 says, “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.'” (NKJV) This command was listed way back in Deuteronomy 6:5 and is repeated throughout both the Old and New Testaments of scripture.

     We understand that a person becomes a Christian by believing in the Lord 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) For the Christian, belief in Jesus Christ must be much more than just an intellectual agreement with facts. For example, a classical music professor could analyze a Garth Brooks song and agree that he sung the notes correctly and still not be a fan. He could agree that Garth had a level of talent and still not “believe” that he should be selling a lot of records. This music professor would thus not be a follower of Garth Brooks and you would not expect to see him cheering in the front row of a Garth concert unless his best friends who were Garth fans drug him along. Then suddenly the professor pretends to be a fan because of the peer pressure. If he still hated country music, his belief about Garth would not change simply because his behavior had changed.

     What if people are doing the same thing with Jesus?  What if they are simply going through the motions of changed behavior because of pressure from other people? What if that change of behavior has nothing to do with a love for Christ? Can they really say that they believe in all that Christ stands for if they do not have a love for Him?

     Jesus actually rebuked the pharisees for this very thing in Luke 11:42, "But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (NASB)

     I love studying about God. The more I learn about Him the more I love Him. As I read the Old Testament I see many times when people face trials and God comes to their rescue. I see a God of justice, but I also see a God of mercy. If it were not for God's justice and His punishment of sinners, then the innocent would have no hope of God punishing their oppressors. Thus even in His judgment we see His mercy.

     The reason it is so easy to love Him is because He first loved us. Even before we loved Him, He showed His love by dying for us. 1 John 4:10 says, “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)

     Perhaps you intellectually understand what Jesus did when He died on the cross to pay for your sins, but you still do not love God. If that describes you, then ask God to help you to see why you should love Him. If you truly believe in Christ as your savior, the love you have for Him should be far beyond any love that a Garth fan has for the singer because they believe in his music. I believe in my God, Jesus Christ, because I love and believe in all He stands for.

Is Your Temptation Common?  8-19-17

     My brother and his wife have been married for over 20 years. They recently had another anniversary and are still deeply in love. My wife and my sister in law thus began to talk about love songs that they both liked. Crystal found one of her favorites on Youtube, but as she watched it, she realized that the video that went with the song was quite racy.  Actually it was soft porn.

     I do not know how that music video ended because I stopped watching it. I do not intend to see it again. Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “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.” (NASB)

     There are times that temptation will come across our paths and we will have to make a choice to embrace that temptation or to flee from it. It is possible that some men could watch that music video without the temptation to lust after the woman in it. For others the temptation is automatic.

     At first blush, we may think that this is just an issue for heterosexual males to struggle with. But what about a man who watches that same video and may be tempted to lust after the man in the scenes? What about a woman who may see it and is tempted by either the man or the woman?

     Most men do not lust after other men, but that does not mean it is uncommon. Consider I Corinthians 10:13-14, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (NASB)

     It should not be “normal” for a man to commit adultery in his heart, just as it should not be “normal” for a man to lust after another man. Still, sinful temptations are common. I Corinthians 10:13-14 makes it clear that the commonness of temptation does not excuse the exercise of sin. Of course it is expected that a man will lust after the woman in the racy music video- that is why they filmed it that way. Still, that does not make it okay. To give in to the temptation would be giving into idolatry because it would mean your sin is more important to you than God is. Instead we should look for a way to escape sin. Regardless of how strong the temptation is, we can escape sin as we put God first.

     Many do not know what it is like to have a same sex temptation to lust. Although I do not totally grasp that temptation, I do understand other temptations. Even though a small percentage of people struggle with that temptation compared to others, that does not mean it is totally uncommon.

     Does the popularity of a temptation make a sin less serious? The obvious answer is no. Further, Christians must be careful not to shun people that have less common temptations.

     Notice the distinction between the terms “temptation” and “sin.” It is possible to be tempted to lust and stop before it actually turns into sin. It is possible to have a homosexual or a heterosexual temptation and never act on that temptation and thus never sin in that area.

     For the Christian, the issue should not be about how common our temptations are, but instead it should be about how we flee from sin regardless of how we are tempted. Adultery, premarital sex, and sodomy are all sins. Matthew 5:28 shows how is wrong to even fantasize about them. Let us put God first and find our escape from sin in Him.

Who Gets to Break The Tie?  8-4-17

     Last year we got a different van. Buying a different vehicle was one of the bigger decisions that we made during the year. Of course in making such a decision, I wanted to get some advice, so I researched a number of vehicles on the internet. I also talked to real people to get their advice. The first person that I talked to was my wife. As my best friend, I value her input. Further, she would be the one most affected by our decision. Therefore, it made sense that we made the decision together.

     As we began to talk about updating vehicles, she also did some internet research. I was researching gas mileage, reliability, and price. She was looking at safety, room for kids, and storage. Although we initially had different priorities, the insight we were both gaining helped us to narrow down our search to a vehicle that would be best for our family.

     By the time we found the Grand Caravan that we bought, we were in full agreement that it would really work well for us.

Our van story has a happy ending, but we do not always come to an agreement on every subject that comes up. Sometimes a decision has to be made and there is no time to to wait for agreement. Sometimes there are differences of opinion, that no amount of time will change.

     So how do we navigate these challenges? Some would suggest that the man is the head of the household and therefore he should just make the decision without even consulting his wife. I am glad I did not do that, since I would have missed out on many important insights. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed.” (NASB)

     Others would suggest that in order to balance out the patriarchal excesses, the husband should just let his wife make the decisions. That may sound like a compassionate approach, until we realize that there is often a lot of stress and pressure that comes with having to make important decisions. That is why we make these decisions together. Ephesians 5:21 tells us, “and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (NASB)

     Still there are times when a decision must be make and there is not yet agreement. Essentially my wife gets a vote and I get a vote and we are at a stalemate. At this point someone has to cast the tie breaking vote. Right after Ephesians 5:21 comes verse 22. It says, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (NASB). That means I get the tie breaking vote.

     Before I ever cast that vote, I must remember another verse from the same chapter. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;” (Ephesians 5:25 NASB) A loving husband should set aside selfish motives and cast the tie breaking vote in a way that puts God and others ahead of himself. Sometimes that means changing his vote after he hears his wife's reasons for her vote being different than his. He must also guard against his own selfish interests in making his decision. He may even be tempted to vote in her favor for his selfish interests- thinking he will get something in return from her.

     As the husband casts the tie breaking vote, he must do so with care, knowing that the final responsibility for the decision rests on his shoulders. He should do so in a way that takes the stress of the decision off of his wife, thus showing love for her. His love for her should also motive him to carefully consider her position. Once he makes the decision, he cannot blame her for the outcome. This allows for a decision to be made at times of deadlock. It also allows a chance to display love during a time when both husband and wife must be reminded of the importance of submitting to each other. 

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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.”
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.

     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.
     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.
     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.
     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.
     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.
     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.
     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.
     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.

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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?
Finally the door handle cost less than $35 and was an easy fix.
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.
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.
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.
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. 
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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  

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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
The book of Jonah shows God's mercy, thus it should not surprise us that Jesus would die for our sins.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
            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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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).
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.”
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).
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.  
As we reflect on what David did, let us also reflect on Li