Monday, April 30, 2012

In God's Country

This weekend my family took a short vacation to the mountains of Tennessee.  I grew up going to the Smokey Mountains, visiting the North Carolina side at least a couple of times every year.  I developed a great love for those mountains and have always felt most at home there.  However, over the years I spent less and less time in the area, with my last real foray into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park back in 1998 on my honeymoon.

So this weekend was my first trip in almost 14 years.  I didn't realize how much I had missed the mountains until we starting driving up that winding road out of Gatlinburg.  What made this even more special was the difference in me this time.

You see, I'm a lot closer to God now than I was back then.  When my wife and I were married I had been a born-again Christian for less than a year and was still growing in my walk with the Lord.  This time I'm more mature in my faith and have recently been growing closer to God.  This time I looked at my visit through Christian eyes.

It was amazing to me to see such beauty and majesty.  From the grand glory of the mountain silhouettes to the small wrinkles on leaves and the lichen on the rocks, I could see God's hand in all of it.  Looking at His creation I found it even harder to believe that such things happen randomly and without a guiding hand.  I had so much more appreciation for that land than I ever had before.  God is so amazing and wonderful and He has blessed me so much.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Praising Him

Do we thank and praise God enough?  I seriously doubt that.  We spend a lot of time praying to Him and asking various things, but do we thank Him?  God does want us to come to Him with requests and needs, but he also wants a personal, one-on-one relationship with us.  Such a relationship requires giving as well as taking.

Lately God has really been blessing me personally. He has helped me with my struggles with depression.  He has improved my faith and my attitude.  He has helped us unexpectedly with some financial issues.  He has given me a wonderful wife and great kids.  He has really spent time with me because I'm wanting to spend time with Him.

What did you thank Him for today?  Find something and do so right now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Staying In The Fire

I believe in Satan and demons.  Anyone who believes the Bible must also acknowledge the existence of evil and the servants of such.  However, I don't think of the Devil as the stereotypical red-skinned, cloven-hooved, pitchfork-wielding character you see in cartoons.  That image came out of the Medieval times and doesn't match with what the Bible says abut him.

Satan is beautiful.  He is subtle.  He is manipulative.  He works on your fears and desires.  He's not the Faustian character who gets you to sign away your soul on a piece of paper.  Rather, he lies and tricks you into doing things that will result in your soul going to him anyway, and makes you think it's fun and your idea all along.  Most people are prepared to resist the greater evils, but aren't as cautious about the smaller ones.  Think of things like lying and lustful thoughts as the "gateway drug" of sin.  Just like drugs such as marijuana can lead to harder drugs such as crack, "minor" sins can lead to comfort in this area and eventually to serious sins.

As part of my ministry with Fans For Christ I attend sci-fi/fantasy/comic conventions, talk about Jesus there and hold church services.  There are plenty of things at these events that are fine for Christians to like and be around.  I'm a big fan of these genres myself, and an active comic-book geek as well as a role-player.  But there are also some very anti-Christian and even demonic forces at these events.  It takes discernment to tell the difference, and it's not always a clear choice.  Satan wants it to be this way, with you thinking that you're really not doing anything wrong, thus leading you down a dangerous path.  If you reject God your soul is his...and you don't even have to sign on the dotted line in blood.

So how do we resist these influences?  Pretty simple, actually.  You read the Bible, pray, and surround yourself with Christians.  We are all bombarded by influences every moment of the day.  The media and advertising vie for our attention, trying to convince us of their point of view.  We have work and family issues that try to sway our thoughts in one direction or another.  If you have a certain type of thought or influence around you all of the time, it's human nature for your mind and attitude to gravitate in that direction.  Surrounding yourself with things of God helps deflect the negative influences.  And it's critically important.

I have a friend who is in the process of trying to divorce his wife in the year that they would celebrate their 20th anniversary.  He isn't in church, though says he's a Christian.  In the last year he has been in a job that keeps him away from his family.  When he's home he's heavily involved in things that aren't anti-Christian, but still are very worldly and secular.  He has no Christian influence in his life to guide his thoughts in a Christ-like direction.  And I think this is affecting his marriage.  I also fear for where he will end up if he continues down this path.

A story is told of a crotchety old man who stopped going to church.  He developed a bad attitude towards people and his wife was worried about him.  After he started getting meaner and more depressed, she contacted her pastor.  She explained what was going on but said that he wouldn't listen to her about going back to church.  The pastor came over one day and found the old man sitting near the fireplace.  Without a word the pastor sat in a nearby chair and stared at the fire.  The two men sat in silence for several minutes before the pastor got up and used some tongs to take an ember out of the fire.  He placed the glowing coal on the brick in front of the fireplace and then sat down again.  The men watched the glow fade, and then remain dark for several minutes.  The pastor got up again, picked up the cold coal with his bare hand, and threw it back into the fire where it quickly started glowing warm again.  The old man nodded and sighed.  "See you at church this Sunday, pastor."

If we don't keep ourselves in the fire of Christ and surround ourselves with other Christians, the Bible, and prayer, our faith will cool.  That is when Satan will take us and we won't even realize it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection Day

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
1 Corinthians 15:12-17

Christmas is wonderful, and we need to celebrate our Lord's birth. But the true focus of Christian holidays should be on Easter.  The event of the resurrection of Jesus is the single most important event in human history as well as in our faith.  Our entire belief system as Christians rests on this one simple fact:  Jesus died and rose from the dead.  If He didn't actually die, then the Bible and the Disciples were liars and we can't believe anything they say.  If He didn't rise after death, then not only do we believe in liars, but we haven't had cleansing of our sins and we're still just as miserable as always.

So focus on today.  Focus on what happened on Friday and how He suffered.  Remember that Jesus chose to go to the cross and could have stopped it at any time.  He did this because He loves us.

Spread the word!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Life To The Full

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  
John 10:10

Over the last few months I have been struggling a bit with the challenge of keeping joy in my heart and life.  I live a very good life, with a wonderful wife, great kids, and a good job where I'm very well respected and liked.  Yet I still find myself depressed at times and looking for ways to be happy.

Part of this I know is biochemical.  I actually have clinical depression and have to be on medications to help with this problem.  Though it affects my mind and behaviors, it's no different than high blood pressure or diabetes in the physiological origins.

But I know that Satan wants to make it worse.  I'm actively involved in my church, am co-director of Fans For Christ, and am trying to be the spiritual leader for my family.  If I'm unhappy and unable to see the blessings around me, I can't be an effective witness for Christ to the people around me.  Satan wants to kill my spirit and destroy my happiness.  

But Jesus wants me and everyone else to have full (abundant) life.  He came to Earth in mortal form and then died in order that we may have this.  We don't have to be burdened by the devil and have to settle for a half-life.  We can have the entire life that God wanted for us.

Now I'm not saying that by believing in Jesus I'll suddenly win the MegaMillions jackpot.  Tried that last week and I didn't match a single number.  Having full life is about your heart, mind, and soul, not about your finances or possessions.  

I've noticed that some of the strongest and most faithful Christians are those who have little.  These are people living in poverty or in third-world countries.  They have no possessions and live a hard life.  They really have nothing but their relationship with God.  And that's enough for them!  I've seen some of them happier than people in the western world who have multiple TVs, cars, and computers.  How can they be happy and satisfied with so little?  Because they have Jesus, and He came to allow them to have full life.

I can have full, abundant life.  So can you.  It's not a matter of earning enough money or being successful in your job.  Those things can actually bring unhappiness.  A full life revolves around God.  A lack of abundant life is a spiritual battle, as are so many other things.

I'm fighting against Satan.  I want to have Jesus buried deep in my heart so that I can have the life that He wants for me.