Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Most Creative One of All

The Most Creative One of All

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



Friday, January 9, 2015

Racism, Bias, & Christianity

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What are Your Plans For 2015?

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Jesus Proved He is Good

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Let Us Always Be Thankful

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Why Did God Order Killing?

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Why Have Sin and Suffering?

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