The Gift of God

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The Gift of God

Earlier this year, a young man by the name of Mamoudou Gassama, an immigrant from Mali living in Paris, went with a group of friends to watch a football match at a little restaurant. Suddenly they noticed a commotion across the street. People were yelling and cars were honking. Looking up, Mamoudou noticed a four-year old boy dangling from the railing of a fifth-story balcony. He was hanging on for dear life nearly fifty feet above the street below. Without a moment's hesitation, Mamoudou ran across the street and began pulling himself up the exterior of the apartment complex from balcony to balcony. Finally reaching the boy, he pulled him to safety while everyone cheered. As a result of his heroic actions, he was given a medal and certificate of heroism from the French president, was granted French residency and a fast track to becoming a French citizen, and was given an internship as a firefighter. Last month he became a citizen of France.

You know, each one of us could be represented by that little four-year-old boy. We wander outside where we don't belong and clamber over the guard rails that have been set up to protect us. As we dangle there, we realize that the only thing our actions have earned us is death. But just in time, Jesus comes rushing over to rescue us. He lifts us up with his big strong arm and hauls us to safety. Paul tells us that, "the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). We've all climbed over that railing. We all have earned death. But Jesus is there to rescue us. Isn't that wonderful news!

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When Did Fairs Begin?

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When Did Fairs Begin?

Last week it seemed all of Lawrence County came to a standstill to enjoy the Middle Tennessee District Fair. The Lawrenceburg church had a booth there, so Chelsea and I spent quite a bit of time organizing that and making sure it was covered for most evenings at least. There's just nothing quite like a good, old fashioned county fair. The deep fried foods, especially funnel cake and deep fried Oreos; the art and handcraft projects; the produce and livestock; and of course, the carnival rides; all these together make it a unique and unforgettable week each fall. For one week the entire community has one thing on their mind. It brings us together and wears us out. But no matter how exhausted we are by the end of it, we're already looking forward to next year.

This last week got me thinking. When did fairs start? What is their origin? The website for the International Association of Fairs and Expositions has a history of fairs and that's where I learned that fairs originated back in the time of the Bible. Nearly 600 years before Christ, Ezekiel records a lamentation about the destruction of the city of Tyre. Over and over he talks about the different countries that would come and sell at the fairs the city would hold. Finally he says, "Thy riches, and thy fairs, thy merchandise, thy mariners, and thy pilots, thy calkers, and the occupiers of thy merchandise, and all thy men of war, that are in thee, and in all thy company which is in the midst of thee, shall fall into the midst of the seas in the day of thy ruin" (Ezekiel 27:27). Fairs have long been a place where people gathered and sold their wares. Slowly the fair evolved in Europe from simply a marketplace to a venue for competition and entertainment as well. During the 19th century fairs became increasingly popular in the United States, something that lasts until today. No matter how fun these events are, however, we need to remember that one day, as it did in Tyre, all these things will be gone. The only thing that will be left is our relationship with God and those who we have invited to join us in heaven. Always remember that this world is not our home, we're just a passing through. We should enjoy our time here, but let's not get too attached. And let's use every opportunity possible to invite others home with us.

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Love Stories

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Love Stories

Love stories fascinate us as humans. We are obsessed with the pursuit of the "happily ever after." The intrigue and mystery of a budding romance captivates us. They are the plot lines of every major motion picture and every story worth writing down. I have to admit that I'm not any different. I love the idea of love and especially enjoy it when it happens to someone I care about. This week I was privileged to be there as my brother, Seth, asked his girlfriend to marry him. As he got down on one knee and Agnes said yes, I have to admit that there were a few tears welling up and spilling over. It's such an exciting moment and while I know that love is hard work and marriage isn't easy, I know that, with God's help, their marriage will be amazing.

Maybe we love love stories because we are all caught up in the greatest love story ever known: the love story between God and His people. There's a beautiful passage in Isaiah where God says, "You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; For the Lord delights in you, And your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, So shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:4, 5). As with any relationship, love is hard work and a relationship with God isn't easy. But the good news is that God is there to help us every step of the way and very soon we will enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb. I can't wait for that day!

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It Will Stand Forever

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It Will Stand Forever

I was listening to the radio the other night and a song came on that mentioned somebody getting their phone turned on. And suddenly it hit me that people used to have to get their phone turned on, much like they do their electricity. Now, if you're laughing at me, just realize that I have never had a home phone. My parents did when I was growing up, but I have never needed one since leaving home. It's amazing how things have changed and how many things are different than they used to be. Even spending money has changed drastically. It's becoming more and more common to be able to pay with Apple Pay from my watch or phone so I don't even have to pull my wallet out of my pocket. But if someone only takes cash, I better want it bad enough that I will drive to an ATM, withdraw money (in multiples of 20), and then go to wherever I'm spending that money. If I don't want it that bad, I'll find somewhere else to purchase it.

As I think about how things are changing, it makes me all the more thankful for something that doesn't change. In the book of Isaiah we have a beautiful promise: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8). Yes, the format of His word has changed. We no longer read it in Hebrew on parchment scrolls. Today it has been translated numerous times into English and we can read it in a bound book or on our iPads or iPhones or even listen to it being read or dramatized. But even though the medium has changed, His word has remained the same. And no matter how crazy life gets or how many other things change around us, God's word will stand forever.

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For a Common Goal

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For a Common Goal

Thinking of a group of people from different backgrounds, with different experiences, coming together and being in one place at one time is very fascinating to me. I think of this as I sit in a restaurant or on a bus. I look around and wonder about the story each person has. One of the most dramatic instances of a group of forty people from many different backgrounds coming together was on United Flight 93. This morning I was sitting in my chair, tears streaming down my cheeks as I read an article published a month and a half after September 11, Flight 93: Forty Lives, One Destiny. It tells the stories of the forty passengers and crew who banded together on that fateful day, to create such a commotion that the terrorists had to crash their aircraft into a field in Pennsylvania rather than accomplishing their goal of crashing into the Capital. And today, a memorial is standing in that field, commemorating the dedication and selflessness of forty people who chose to unite when it mattered most.

The church is also a place where people from different backgrounds, with different experiences, are supposed to come together in one place, at one time, to accomplish the impossible. We are facing a much more dangerous enemy than Al-Qaeda, but Jesus promises that Satan cannot overcome us. In fact, in the book of Matthew He says, "I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it" (Matthew 16:18). It's easy to get distracted by people's faults or the ways that they annoy us, but if we would just remember the common enemy and unite with our brothers and sisters, we too can thwart Satan's ultimate plans. May we pray for the dedication and selflessness it will take to unite together when it matters most. And may God be honored and glorified through His church.

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Soar Above

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Soar Above

History was made on Sunday. For the third time in a week the Airbus Perlan Mission II Glider flew in the stratosphere above Patagonia and for the third time in a week, it broke its own world record. This time it flew higher than the famous U2 - the Air Force's reconnaissance aircraft that climbed to 73,737 feet in 1989. With only rare stratospheric air currents to power it, this glider soared to a remarkable 76,124 feet. Of course, it has yet to break the record created by the SR-71 Blackbird at 85,069 feet, but since the glider is designed to fly up to 90,000 feet, it's simply a matter of time.

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It's baffling to me how an aircraft weighing only 1,500 pounds and lacking an engine can meet and surpass the records held by much larger aircraft with powerful engines. Yet the engineers and pilots at Airbus have managed to harness the wind, a force that can be deadly and wreak terrible destruction, and are using it to cause the glider to soar higher than any glider before it. Isn't it the same in our lives? There are those around us who seem to have it all together. They are equipped with the latest and greatest and have the thrust behind them to catapult them to great heights. And then there's the wind. Our lives aren't easy and it sometimes feels like we are battling a hurricane. But as a child of God, we can look at the storms around us and smile into the wind because we know that God can turn the things that could kill us into something He can harness. We believe the promise found in the book of Isaiah, "But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31). Allow God to harness the wind in your life and cause you to soar higher than anything has ever soared before.

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Pride Goes Before a Fall

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Pride Goes Before a Fall

One of Chelsea's favorite TV shows is Masterchef. Now, when I first heard of this show, I thought it sounded like one of the most boring ideas ever. A bunch of people cook and bake a bunch of things and get eliminated based on how they do, finally leaving only one "Masterchef." Well, I'll have to admit, it's not as boring as it sounds. Somehow cooking food competitively is rather exciting! But what tends to be even more interesting is the interaction of the contestants and how they individually deal with stress. It's also interesting to see the personalities of the different "home cooks." One of the girls on this season was honestly really good. She was an incredible baker and could easily have won the entire thing. The problem was that she knew it. She was constantly talking about how she would come out on top of a challenge and how her stuff would always be the best. And every time, she did. I began to wonder if she would actually get away with it or if her pride would catch up with her. Well, in one of the recent episodes, she chose to go head-to-head with one of the other contestants on baking a cake. She was trying to send the other girl home, but through a fluke lapse in judgment, she made a mistake that ended up sending her home instead.

In the book of Proverbs we read, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). It's ok to be confident. It's ok to be good at something. But when we let it go to our head, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Remember that every talent you have, every ability you acquire, is a resource you are managing for God. He's the one who has supplied you with these things so you can bring honor and glory to Him. If we forget that and start thinking that we are doing everything in our own strength and for our own glory, we are one step away from disaster. It may look like we're doing well, but in the end, pride always goes before a fall.

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Failure is Sometimes Best

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Failure is Sometimes Best

Looking at successful people and companies, it's sometimes easy to get discouraged. It's easy to think that some people are just lucky and that we could never achieve what they have. What we don't see is the hard work and failure that most of these people and companies have endured. Kentucky Fried Chicken and Colonel Sanders are synonymous for their fried chicken recipe, but it wasn't until the Colonel was 62 that he was able to sell the recipe that made him a success. In fact, it was the 1,010th prospective buyer that actually bought it. Had Sanders given up after even a thousand no's, he would have never achieved success. Similar stories are the ones of the game company Rovio who made the highly successful game Angry Birds. It was their 52nd game and they were on the verge of bankruptcy when they had their break. Or Walt Disney who was fired from a Missouri newspaper for not being creative enough and went bankrupt within two years of founding his first animation studio. Or even Steve Jobs and Apple who both experienced failure before making the biggest come back in history. But it was Jobs who said years later: "I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me."

You know, it's easy to look at other Christians or giants of faith in the past or present and see only their successes as well. We think about how strong their connection with God is and that they are so blessed to have such perfect lives. But what we don't see is the pain, the struggle, the failures, the doubt that these people deal with. And then there are plenty of people who just pretend that everything's alright. Maybe they know that they can't achieve any of this on their own so they fake it, hoping no one will notice. Jesus told the story of such a person. It was a religious leader who acted as if everything was good and was proud of his religion. But there was another character in the story - a known sinner who had reached rock bottom. Someone who knew he couldn't do it but embraced failure as an opportunity to allow God to do something different in him. Jesus ended the story by saying, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14). Everyone fails. Everyone makes mistakes. Don't try to hide it and pretend everything's alright. Admit your failure, humble yourself, and see the failure as an opportunity for God to transform you.

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Are You a Body Double?

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Are You a Body Double?

I was scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day when I stumbled upon a video of the actress Reese Witherspoon introducing her long-time body double, Marilee Lessley. A body double is someone who stands in for an actor when the actor is not specifically needed, such as shots from behind or over the shoulder with someone else talking. They also stand in when an actor is playing two separate people and they both need to appear in the same scene. Basically it means that Marilee has appeared in many of the films Reese Witherspoon has yet you would have never known it had you not read the credits very carefully. Her life and career is caught up in being invisible, living someone else's life.

Thankfully, Marilee's life doesn't simply revolve around being a body double. She's an entrepreneur and someone who has a life of her own, but I began to wonder how many of us are actually living our lives as body doubles. Everyone around us seems to be telling us what life we need to live. Commercials show us what we can't live without, social media is filled with our friends' and influencers' highlight reel, and even our own minds tell us we need to talk and act a certain way to fit in. But is the life that we live really the one that God is calling us to live? The Psalmist says, speaking to God, "You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed" (Psalm 139:16, NLT). God has a plan for your life. Are you following it? Or are you to busy being somebody else's body double?

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Slow Down!

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Slow Down!

One of the things I love about traveling is the ability it gives to step into someone else's culture and get a snapshot of how other people live. There's a quote attributed to St. Augustine which goes like this: “The world is a book, and those who don't travel only read one page.” This summer when Chelsea and I were in Europe, the thing that struck me most was the pace of life over there. Each country is different and obviously differences arise within countries, but overall the pace of Switzerland and Italy was far slower than it is in the United States. Even Rome, which I thought would be hectic and rushed, was laid back and relaxed. I realize that Lawrenceburg has a slow pace when compared to the rest of the US but even our quiet town seems to be balancing on a treadmill compared to the places we visited. Of course, expecting to spend a minimum of two hours whenever we went to eat was something that at first was frustrating, but by the time we left, I was getting used to spending a little more time and actually enjoying life.

As I think about the pace of life we are accustomed to in the United States, I can't help but think about how different it is from God's ideal. I don't believe He ever intended us to run around, cramming our schedules and destroying every bit of margin we may have. In the book of Genesis we read that God came down and spent the evenings with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3 tells us what happened that first night after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. "And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Genesis 3:8). After they had sinned, they didn't want to spend time with their Creator anymore. But before that, they looked forward to this time of fellowship and relaxation. Walking with their maker in the cool of the day was the highlight of their lives. Even though we can't physically walk and talk with God anymore, He still longs to spend time with us. Only when we slow down, however, can we hear the voice of God calling for us. Won't you create the space needed to spend time with Him today?

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People Need the Lord

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People Need the Lord

One of my all time favorite songs is a song made popular by Steve Green in the mid eighties: People Need the Lord. The verse begins so melancholy, yet so real. "Every day they pass me by // I can see it in their eyes // Empty people filled with care // Headed who knows where // On they go through private pain // Living fear to fear // Laughter hides their silent cries // Only Jesus hears." Isn't that what we see, day in and day out? Isn't that what people all around us are experiencing? Maybe you're experiencing this yourself. The pain is so relatable, so real, yet we mask it by laughter so no one will know. But the chorus gives the ultimate remedy. "People need the Lord // People need the Lord // At the end of broken dreams // He’s the open door // People need the Lord // People need the Lord // When will we realize // People need the Lord."

I don't know what you're going through. I don't know what you're broken dreams are. But Jesus is the open door at the end of those dreams! He is promising you just as He promised the Apostle Paul so many years ago, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). When you look at the world around you, when you look at yourself in the mirror, and all you see is empty eyes and broken dreams, remember that His grace is sufficient. You may not feel useful, you may not feel worthy, but you don't have to be because Jesus is. And with His strength inside of you, He will accomplish extraordinary things! Yes, all people, including you and me, need the Lord.

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The Message to Give

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The Message to Give

This last week I was listening to the latest episode of the Building a Storybrand Podcastand one of the guests was an artist named Lisa Shirk. She had recently been through an interesting experience. She had spent five weeks as the resident artist in St. Gertrude's Monastery, a nunnery in Idaho. The lessons she learned from this experience were fascinating. She talked about how it took her about a week to adjust to the pace of life and absence of technology and influences from the outside world. Even though she participated in the meditation, worship, and meal times with the nuns, she still had most of the day to just work in her studio. At first, she was anxious because she wasn't sure if she would be able to create anything amazing while she was there but the nuns reminded her that this experience was about her and letting it transform her. Anything she created would be an outflow of what was occurring inside. Eventually she began work on a project encapsulating the seven days of creation which I think are absolutely breathtaking.

As I thought about her experience, I realized that I often have the same problem. I may not be an artist per se, but as a pastor I'm expected to "create" new content on a constant basis. Sometimes I get anxious, wondering if I'll come up with something to say. But I need the reminder that anything I say should be an outflow of the relationship I have with God. It really is just about the experience and letting God transform me. In the book of Habakkuk we read about the differences between idols and the God of heaven. To summarize the passage it says, “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20). You may not be a pastor or artist but you have a message to share. As you sit in the presence of God, waiting and keeping silence before Him, you will have an experience to share. Let that message be the one you give.

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A Bigger Purpose

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A Bigger Purpose

A small animal suddenly darted in front of the Jeep Patriot, causing Angela to swerve. Next thing she knew, cold, salty water was rising above her knees and her head was throbbing. Touching it, she discovered her head was bleeding profusely. Behind her stood the 250-foot Big Sur cliff that her vehicle had just come careening off of, landing upright on the rocky shore of the Pacific Ocean. But now, her Jeep was filling up with water fast. Finding an emergency tool, she broke the glass and swam to the safety of the cliff. Climbing to a safe ledge, she curled up and slept until daylight. When she awoke, it didn't take long for her to realize that she was alone. The closest she could get to civilization was a high spot on the shore that allowed her to see the cars speeding by along Highway 1, but none of them ever saw her. It wasn't until a week later that a couple of surfers-turned-fishers due to the lack of good waves happened to climb down to the beach, walk an hour north, and come across Angela's vehicle and finally Angela. Help soon arrived and she is currently recovering in a hospital, sharing her miraculous story with friends, family, and the rest of the world. She posted to Facebook that she "can't imagine that there isn't a bigger purpose for (her) in this life."

I don't know if you've had an experience where you know you should have died but you're still alive. I know I've had a few of those. As I was reading the news yesterday and discovered Angela's story, it reminded me just how fragile life is but just how amazing our God is. He takes care of us and loves us despite our sometimes foolish mistakes. When Jesus was on earth He said, "What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it" (Matthew 10:29, NLT). God cares about the smallest creature He has created and He certainly cares about you. I believe that God has a big purpose for each one of our lives. Won't you ask Him His purpose for you is?

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Rescued

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Rescued

Yesterday the entire world breathed a sigh of relief and sent prayers of Thanksgiving heavenward. The twelve members of the Wild Boars Soccer Team and their coach have all been successfully rescued from the Thai cave where they have been trapped for the last three weeks. Due to falling oxygen levels, high water levels, and forecasts of rain, the rescue operation became an urgent race against time. The passage was long and narrow, flooded with water. Some of the kids on the soccer team couldn't even swim, so an hours-long scuba journey seemed nearly impossible. In fact, one of the Thai Navy SEALS died last week when he got caught by a flash flood after delivering oxygen to the team. But through what some have called a miracle, the entire team has been rescued and is safe.

As I thought about this rescue and how the world has rallied to make it possible, I thought of another rescue that each one of us is involved in. When He was on earth, Jesus made this statement: "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:20). Just like that soccer team, we are lost and in danger of suffocating. There seems to be an impassable channel between us and the fresh air and sunlight of God's presence. But don't panic! You may not know how to swim, but that doesn't matter. Jesus is on the biggest rescue mission the universe has ever seen. And He will successfully rescue all those who are willing to be rescued. Won't you grab hold of hope and follow Jesus out of this suffocating entrapment and into the glory of His presence?

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Freedom

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Freedom

On July 4, 1776, the continental congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, stating that the United States was a free and independent nation. Two days earlier the congress voted in favor of independence and John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that July 2 “will be celebrated by succeeding Generations as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” Of course, after congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, America has celebrated that day ever since. John Adams, however, always thought that July 2 should have been the correct day to celebrate and he turned down invitations to speak at 4th of July celebrations. Though Independence Day became a state holiday in many of the states, it wasn't until 1870 that the US Congress made the day a federal holiday. Today, we celebrate with fireworks, barbecues, patriotic music, and get-togethers with family and friends.

Freedom and independence are important. As Americans they run through our blood. As Christians, too, freedom and independence are important. Some of the first immigrants to the United States were people looking for religious freedom, a place where they could practice their beliefs according to their own conscience. But true independence is more than just physical freedom. It involves spiritual freedom: freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from eternal death. This freedom can only be granted us from one individual: Jesus Christ. In the dialogue that followed the encounter of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The freedom He offers is so much more than temporary, earthly freedom. It is an eternal freedom that transcends any other kind of freedom. So yes, let's celebrate Independence Day and thank God for the freedom we have in this country, but let's also thank Him for setting us free through the gift of His Son.

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True Entertainment

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True Entertainment

I had an interesting discussion with a fellow pastor a few days ago as we stood inside the Colosseum in Rome. We were talking about the gladiators who had fought there and the conversation shifted to the type of entertainment the Romans were used to and how similar or dissimilar to our entertainment it was. I made the comment that I couldn't imagine sitting there watching people kill each other. It seems so brutal to me and makes me queazy just thinking about it. My fellow pastor reminded me that we still do it all the time today as we sit in our living rooms watching the TV. For some reason, that seems different to me. I know scientifically that our brain doesn't know the difference between reality and television, but the knowledge that I'm seeing actors on the screen rather than people actually killing each other somehow changes the way I think of things. But am I right? Is there really any difference between our entertainment and the entertainment of the ancient Romans? Wherever you stand on this debate, the similarities between our modern culture and the ancient Roman culture are undeniable. We are focused on entertainment and serving our own interests. We are surrounded by every convenience imaginable and yet we are unhappy.

When John copied the message that Jesus gave to the church in Laodicea, I'm sure he couldn't help but see the similarities between that church and nearly everyone in the society around him. And today, as we look around the world, we see the words ring true - not just spiritually in the church but in every facet of society. "You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Just like the ancient Romans, we are so concerned about ourselves and our own comfort that we don't see we really lack everything that's truly valuable. The entertainment that Christ prescribes is not a gladiator match in the Colosseum. Instead, He says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20). Why don't you spend less time pursuing the pleasures of the world and more time inviting Jesus in for supper? You just may find that the entertainment He provides is better than anything this world can offer.

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May I Be as Faithful

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May I Be as Faithful

Yesterday was incredible. We finally visited one of the most famous Waldensian valleys - the Piedmont Valley and Torre Pellice. It was so inspiring to stand inside the College of the Barbs (Uncles), where pastors and missionaries, known as uncles, would be trained. I was so excited to see the stone table, where copies of the Bible were made. And I stood in awe inside one of the caves where they would worship in secret. I could almost hear the rocks reverberate the sound of their voices as we lifted ours to join in their song - “Faith of our fathers, living faith...” What made the biggest impression on me, though, was a stone monument erected in 1932, at the spot where leaders of the reformation met with the Waldenses for six days and they signed a document which stated that the Waldenses would join with the reformers. This was honestly both good and bad. You’ve probably heard that this was when the Waldenses began keeping Sunday, compromising truth in order to join this new movement. This is true. But there’s something else you need to know. You see, many of the Waldenses had already begun to compromise, allowing priests to baptize their babies and attending mass on Sundays. This union with the Protestant reformation actually brought a revival into the hearts and lives of the Waldenses. As part of this unification, they also delivered the first translation of the entire Bible, a French translation, into the hands of the reformers. As a result, we have much to thank the Waldenses for.

As I stand in the alps, gazing out over the beautiful valleys and up at the rocky peaks, I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like to have been here nearly 500 years ago, when the Waldenses realized their darkest days were behind them and that they could join a bigger movement. What would it have been like 700 years ago, fighting a seemingly endless war and taking refuge among the rugged beauties of nature? As I think about these things, my mind goes to the beautiful book of Psalms, many of which were written by a man who himself had to flee into the mountains. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:1-3). When the time comes for my faith to be tested, may I be as faithful as the Waldenses who knew that their help came from the Lord.

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Problems or Distractions?

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Problems or Distractions?

On Sunday, my brother Caleb and I went tubing on Deep Creek in western North Carolina. As many of you know, I have been at Southern Adventist University for the last week and a half taking a class for my graduate degree. Since Deep Creek was only a two hour drive away and Caleb wanted to do something on the water, we figured this would be a fun thing to do. Once we rented our inner tubes, we hiked up this mile-long trail along the creek before attempting to float back down to where we were parked. The man who rented the inner tubes to us kindly told us that about one in every two people end up flipping over into the water. Well, guess who the lucky one was. Except I didn't just flip once. I tipped over repeatedly! It seemed I couldn't make it over any kind of rapid without ending up under the water. On my way back up the trail for our second trip, however, I noticed that everyone seemed so relaxed. How could they be relaxed? I was fighting to keep my inner tube upright and it still didn't work! Then a thought hit me. What if they were staying upright successfully because they were relaxed? I figured I'd give it a try. Instead of focusing on the rapids, I simply relaxed, and focused on getting down the river and enjoying the ride. From then on, I never tipped over my inner tube.

Something else dawned on me as I was peacefully floating down the creek. In a movie, the hero will sometimes be fighting against someone who seems to have them matched, strength for strength. There's no way the hero is going to win and he's starting to get tired. Then suddenly, he hears the cry of someone who needs help. Throwing the opponent to the side, the hero rushes to the person's aid as if the opponent never existed and had no more strength than a cardboard cutout. This is the way it was for me on the river. I discovered that, in order to be successful and not get bogged down by things, we need to look at the "rapids" in our lives as distractions, not as problems. If we see them as problems, we focus on them and they become big and powerful. But if we look at them as distractions, then we can brush them aside as we continue towards our goal. The writer of Hebrews had this in mind when he said, "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1, 2). Jesus is our goal. The sins which so easily ensnares us are just distractions. Won't you brush the devil aside and run with endurance the race that is set before you?

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Time for Everything

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Time for Everything

Managing time is tough. In fact, according to the leading experts in the field, we don't manage time at all. Instead, we manage ourselves in time. And managing ourselves is even more difficult. I'm currently at Southern working on another graduate class. The one I'm taking this year is called, "Time and Life Management for Pastors." It has been just as practical and thought provoking as you would expect. I've discovered that, even though time management is one of my passions and I thought I was at least keeping my head above water, I have a lot to do to manage myself in time better. Life is so crazy and hectic that some would argue that it's impossible to live a controlled life in the world today. But as Christians, it's imperative that we learn to manage our time so we can hear God's voice and ultimately bring honor and glory to His name.

Sometimes I wonder if Solomon even understood how crazy life could get when he wrote that there is "time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Did he even attempt to do every purpose found under heaven? But if you keep reading, you'll discover a list of all of these things that each have their time and their season. And suddenly you'l realize that Solomon understood time management! One of the first rules is that you have to create a schedule and realize that different things need to be done at different times. You can't attempt everything at once and expect to succeed at anything! But if you look at your day, your week, your year, and set aside different times for different activities, you'll begin to understand that there truly is time for everything.

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An Eternity of Fellowship

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An Eternity of Fellowship

During the eighteenth century, there was a movement in Scottish Presbyterianism that became dissatisfied with the church hierarchy, poverty, and lack of ministers. Their solution was to hold week-long meetings called Communion Seasons where several parishes would gather in the open air and spend time together feasting, listening to sermons, and celebrating the Lord's Supper. In the nineteenth century, immigrants from Scotland brought this tradition to the United States. On the frontier, neighbors were scarce and churches were scarcer. Ministers from different denominations would announce that they would hold a religious meeting at a certain place and all the people around would gather to hear preaching and singing. These became known as Camp Meetings and they were an integral part of the Second Great Revival that swept the United States during the 1800's. Several churches still keep the tradition going, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

I am on the campus of Highland Academy, just north of Nashville, for the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference Camp Meeting as I type this. I am gathered with all the pastors in our conference as well as many lay people who gather for a whole week to hear preaching and singing and fellowship with one another. Every time I experience something like this, my mind goes to this verse in Isaiah. "'And it shall come to pass That from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me,' says the Lord" (Isaiah 66:23). Camp meetings are a shadow, a small taste of an eternity of fellowship to come. Aren't you so excited for that day?

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