Cryptids – A Big Risk

Dogman

Every once in a while, we have to take a risk, a gamble in life, or we don’t make any real progress. This is one of mine. I’m going to spend some time in this space telling you some pretty weird stuff. Things that many people would choose to be quiet about. I’m not going to do it all at once, but along with more traditional stuff like my usual Bible related stories, and things like gardening and money management, I’m going to tell you about UFO’s, ghosts, dogmen, bigfoot, and more.

I know it sounds crazy, but I’m doing it because more and more people are having encounters. I hear them. And folk are scared and confused. They are often disbelieved and made fun of. I want to change all that. In fact, I want to change your mind about these things too. I’m going to tell you about several of the adventures my family has had with the unknown. I know these encounters are real. As you’ll see, most of them happened to me or my parents. I won’t try and convince you. I’m just going to tell you what happened and what I think it means. You are totally free to call me a crazy nut, but most of you know me well enough to know that I’m not lying to you.

I hear podcasts and see the folk on YouTube and I know people are scared and scarred. I want to tell you, I believe you. And I believe that what you have experienced seems so odd to you because what you have experienced is a supernatural or transdimentional event. Because of it’s nature it won’t make sense on many levels. Back when I was in High School, which wasn’t yesterday, I coined the phrase, ‘a demonic practical joke’ to explain my own interpretation of these events.

UFO encounters, hauntings, attacks by cryptid creatures, are all designed to frighten us and cause us to question truth and reality. To take our eyes off of God. And I believe that as we get closer to Christ’s return, these events will increase as part of ‘a great delusion’ that’s going to draw a great many people away from Him.

Anyway, I hope you’ll stick around and read some of my posts. I’m giving you fair warning today. I know that mixing words like Jesus, Bible, and Faith with UFO, Ghost, and Bigfoot will seem weird and contradictory, but when all is said and done, I think you’ll get it.  What I’m hoping is that those of you who have followed my podcast and preaching ministry won’t panic or worry about my orthodoxy with some of these stories. And I’m hoping that some of you who are comfortable with talk about Dogman or UFOs won’t write me off because of my faith. Stay tuned. You rock.

 

Nic At Night

Episode 45

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Once again, John tells us Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  From this we can infer that he is a well respected member of the community.

Why at night? – Down through the centuries, scholars, lay people and skeptics alike have debated why Nicodemus came to see Jesus under the cover of darkness. Many have speculated that this was because Nic was unwilling to risk being seen openly praising Jesus because of the risk to his status and reputation. While this interpretation cannot be discounted, I tend to reject it because in chapters 7 and 19, Nicodemus is overt in his support of Jesus. In my opinion, it may very well be nothing more than the Pharisee wanting some private conversation which was unlikely to happen during the daytime.

Jesus being obscure….again. – After Nicodemus pays Jesus a nice compliment, Jesus takes over the conversation.  He goes right into, ‘unless a man is born again…’  There are a few times in the Gospels where Jesus comes across like one of the old Shao Lin masters in 1970s Kung Fu movies. He makes these obscure declarations that blow up the conversation and take it in a direction He wants it to go.

In this case He says, Unless a man is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God, which naturally confuses Nicodemus. This idea of Rebirth is new. It’s not an extension of the Mosaic covenant.

Jesus clarification is just as cloudy, even 21 centuries later. He reply, Unless a man is born of the water and spirit, he cannot ender the Kingdom of God.

Jesus words born of water and Spirit…. Have thrown generations into bewilderment. Several, though not all, scholars have tried to make born of water refer to physical birth , as in the amniotic fluid that accompanies a baby during birth, while Spirit refers to rebirth.  For the life of me, I cannot see it that way. Both contextually and grammatically, both water and spirit refer to the second  or rebirth. I read this passage in multiple translations and even went back to the Greek and translated it myself.  Admittedly, my Greek skills have atrophied over the years, but fortunately, verse 5 is in rather simple Greek so it wasn’t difficult. It is clear that a natural reading suggests water and spirit and are a phrase in themselves.  There are no definite articles separating the nouns, or any other differentiators. Also,  the human birth experience called born of water does not exist in Greek literature. This is an invention of the Church to try and explain a very difficult and obscure declaration.

It is my conclusion that Jesus is foreshadowing conversion, which would not be fully understood until Pentecost.  The conversion experience, called here a birth, refers to our human response to the Gospel which is summed up in our obedience in Baptism while Spirit refers to what is unseen, the hard part, as it were, that can only be performed by the Holy Spirit. In Romans 6, Paul also uses baptism as the picture of the human response to the Gospel and describes it as death, burial and resurrection. Here Jesus is foreshadowing conversion by comparing baptism as birth rather than death.  In light of the Book of Acts, the understanding is simplified.

Jesus explanation of New Birth does not clear up Nicodemus’ confusion. The Pharisee asks, How can this be?  At first, Jesus reprimands him for his lack of understanding, then He shifts gears and makes simplifies the subject by going way back to basics. He spends the verses 11-21 by saying, it’s all about me, Nicodemus. Just like Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:9), so the Son of Man will be lifted up.  Again, this is a foreshadowing of His crucifixion, that Nicodemus would simply not understand at this time.

But He makes it a bit easier by saying He came as an expression of God’s love rather than His Judgement. He has come to bring light to the world, but in our attraction to sin, and it’s associated darkness, many will reject him. But there will be others, and revelation tells us it’s a multitude that cannot be numbered, will literally come to the light.

And with that, the story ends. Abruptly, and to some degree incomplete.

That’s because at this point in the Gospel, the whole story is not yet known. It’s not until after the resurrection that the story is complete and the pieces of the puzzle can be fit together.

We have the benefit of the Bible. We can figure these things out. Salvation requires a conversion, a new birth than can only be achieved by coming to Christ, the light of the world. He came to offer light and light in place of darkness and judgement.

You don’t have to understand all of it to get started. You can simply start with John 3:16-18

Joh 3:16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Joh 3:17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Joh 3:18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God

Probably most of you listening, have already accepted that promise and followed him, but there might be a few who are sitting on the fence. My challenge to you today is JUMP. Take Jesus at His word and ‘Believe in Him.’

I’m going to pray for you right now.

If you took that first step into Jesus arms, well done. I’m so excited. Please let your Pastor know right away so he can guide you into your next steps. If you don’t have a good Church, email, tweet me or  use the comments feature on the website with the show notes and I’ll get back to you right away with some material and with the name of a good Church in your area.

Next week, we’re going behind the curtain of one of Jesus most remarkable miracles and what it means in a lesson called, ‘Fish Sandwiches all round, no coupon required. No limit.’

Until then, be blessed and be a blessing.

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Herding Gluttons

GluttonEpisode 32

Titus

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I’m in the studio on Monday. Yay, I love being back on schedule.

I need a favor. Prayer Network for Scotland. If you believe in Prayer. If you believe in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, If you are Scottish, If you love Scotland, If you are a friend of this show I would really appreciate it, if you would join our network of prayer partners. There is no catch. There is no gimmick. We are simply seeking to gather a circle of Christian Scots and Albafiles together to pray for Scotland; her Believers, her Churches, her Leaders and her needs, both physical and spiritual. Here’s how to get started. 1. Go to Points North Scotland on facebook and like the page. 2. Send me a PM, an email or comment on the show notes page and let me know you want to Pray for Scotland. Please include your email address.  I will soon announce a private Facebook group and send you a personal invitation to join.  Thanks. Also, send me any questions. I’m delighted to answer.

Ok, commercial over, let’s move on to our topic.

Titus

Titus is a little known, but obviously important protoge of Paul, much like Timothy. When I say, little known, I truly mean it. He is only mentioned 13 times in the New Testament and 8 of those are in 2 Corinthians.

We know absolutely nothing about his background. He is never mentioned by Luke in Acts. His name is a gentile one, and we have that confirmed in Galatians 2:1, which is the first time he is ever mentioned.

In that chapter, Paul mentions that Titus traveled with Paul to the council in Jerusalem that is recorded in Acts 15. I find it interesting that Luke, another Gentile companion of Paul, makes no mention of Titus in his account of the council. It’s not a big deal, but I do find it curious.

Since the first mention of Titus is in the letter to the Galatians, it indicates the Churches are familiar. Also, since the visit to Galatia is the beginning of the end of the first Journey and the beginning of the second journey, and that Titus travels to Jerusalem with Paul, I’m going to suggest, that like Timothy, he is from one of the Galatian cities.

It is very interesting to me that the trip to Jerusalem as all about stopping the Judaiser attempts to force Gentile converts to obey the law, which is the primary theme of Galatians where Titus is first called by name. Then as we read through the letter to Titus, we will discover the same topic is a major theme it Paul’s letter to his young disciple.

The letter is very similar to 1 Timothy, albeit a much shorter. After studying the book this last week, I now believe Titus was probably written about the same time as I Timothy and possibly right before. The primary reason I say that is it appears from I Timothy 1, Paul seems to be on his way FROM Macedonia and is planning to meet Timothy in Ephesus. In Titus 3, he asks Titus to come to him in Nicopolis, which is a town in Macedonia. In episode 30, I suggested Timothy was written first. Now I think Titus may be a few months earlier than I Timothy. Still, the similarity in their content is so similar that they were very likely written near the same time.

Crete is an island south and slightly east of Greece, and virtually due west of Cyprus. In today’s vernacular, the insult, “Cretan” is a derisive term with historical roots in the decadent, immoral past of Crete’s cultural. Here in Titus, Paul mentions that one of the poets of ancient Crete, called the inhabitants of the island, ‘Liars and lazy gluttons.’

If you do a little digging, you’ll discover that the poet mentioned was also a philosopher named, ‘Epimenedes’. He lived in 600 B.C.

As an aside, he is also the indirect source of the altar ‘to the unknown God’ in Athens that Paul describes in Acts 17.

By the first century A.D. Crete is home to a large Jewish population. Acts Chapter 2, says there were Jews from Crete in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and were among those who heard the Apostles speaking in tongues and were exposed to Peter’s Gospel Sermon that day. Seeing that it was not unusual for celebrants at Pentecost to have been residing in the city since Passover, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that many of them were witnesses to the Passion and Resurrection events of that earlier holiday.

It would be my educated guess that some of them were among the 3,000 baptized on Pentecost and that they became the nucleus of the first Christian congregation when they returned home. That would make the Church on Crete one of the oldest congregations in the Roman Empire.

The only time Luke records that Paul visited there was on his journey to Rome. According to Acts chapter 27, the ship was first on one part of the island, where ‘we spent a long time’ and then left for a safe harbor along the coast to winter in. It was while sailing up the coast of Crete they encountered the storm that blew them out to sea and after two weeks hit a sand bar and shipwrecked off the coast of Malta.

I guess this would be a good time to fill in some of the blanks related to Paul’s history and imprisonments. The book of Acts ends with Paul in Prison in Rome. Most conservative scholars call this his ‘first’ imprisonment. In piecing together the timeline of his letters, it appears that Paul was released briefly and made some short trips, including the visit to Macedonia mentioned here and in I Timothy. Some ancient legends say he even traveled as far as Britain in between imprisonments. I think that would be cool, but I just don’t believe there was enough time in between for such a long journey. Anyway, sometime after AD 64 he is arrested and was executed between 65 and 67. II Timothy was written during this second imprisonment.

If you have any thoughts or questions about that, by all means email them or use the comments section of the show notes.

Based on Chapter 1 here in Titus, Paul apparently went to Crete another time, or he left Titus there during his voyage to Rome and Titus was there a VERY long time. The former idea is more likely.

Again, from chapter 1, it looks like there were several congregations on the island. Titus is going to ‘set things in order’ and appoint elders to oversee the congregations. It looks like from that, and the doctrinal challenges, in all likelihood the churches were rather loose and disorganized. Titus was tasked with fixing that. I bet that was fun….not!

Paul goes on to give the same instruction to Titus about the characteristics of Elders that he gives to Timothy. He does not, however, include anything about deacons here.

Verse 10 in chapter 1 sets the major tone for the rest of the letter. He finishes the chapter with this subject then returns to it in verse 9 of chapter 3.

Chapter two is focused on relationships with other people; older and younger, just like Paul writes in I Timothy, but then that shouldn’t be too surprising if he wrote them about the same time.

Let’s go back to chapter 1, verse 10 and look at the problems the Cretan churches were facing. Paul says the Churches are dealing with all kinds of false doctrines and money hungry preachers. The thing these rogues have in common is they all have a Jewish heritage.

One of the banes of Paul’s ministry was that group called the Judaizers who followed the Apostle from town to town, stirring up trouble trying to coerce Believers to follow the law of Moses in addition to the Gospel. Paul devotes large portions of his letters to Galatia and Philippi to them; and even alludes to them in both Ephesians and Colossians.

It appears that because of the large Jewish Population in the island and the loosely organized nature of the Churches that these false teacher are pretty much running amok. Poor Titus has the unenviable task of shutting them down.

Having been in the position of confronting false teachers myself, it’s a scary, nerve wracking, and exhausting experience. And dealing with families who have been influenced and victimized by false teaching (and just like with Crete, it always goes back to money), there can be a lot of work and healing to do.

Here in chapter 1, Paul calls it rebellious, deceitful nonsense. He also says it’s shameful and that they must be silenced.

Over in Chapter 3 he calls it, Stupid, worthless and useless.

Pay very close attention to verse 10 in chapter 3

Tit 3:10 Give at least two warnings to those who cause divisions, and then have nothing more to do with them

here in the 21st century, in our culture of ‘tolerance’, we’re not supposed to ‘judge’. Paul has no such compunction. If the teaching is false, he says, shut it down. Peter and John are going to make similar statements in their letters. Stay tuned; no spoilers today.

Doctrine is important. Eternity is at stake. There are many things that are open for discussion, but some things like the Deity of Christ, His death and resurrection, salvation by Grace through faith rather than by obedience to the Law of Moses are not among the debatable. And those who try and spread false doctrine are to be silenced, not tolerated.

In our day, it’s a risky position to take, but we absolutely must. There is a lot of goofy stuff being taught out there and not all of it is harmless. This is why it is mission critical to have strong, capable, knowledgeable, faithful leaders, who can defend the truth and train the next generation so that God’s Church is full of GRACE and TRUTH. We need both if we’re going to be a light in dark places as we await Jesus return.

And that’s all I got. Go back and read Titus as soon as you can. This tiny letter was not merely written to a young preacher 2k years ago. It’s written to you…and me.

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Peeking At Pastor’s Mail

Episode 30

I Timothy

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We’re shifting gears a bit in our Survey as we transition from Paul’s letters to Churches to his 4 letters to individuals. Those are the two letters to Timothy, the one to Titus and one to Philemon of the Church in Colossae.  Together, they are known in Theological Circles as the ‘Pastoral Epistles’. That’s because here, Paul is writing as an older Pastor to his younger protégés.

From a 60k foot level the books, especially those to Timothy and Titus deal with how to lead a ministry and how to develop future leaders.

If you could sneak a peek at your Pastor’s mail or e-mail, would you? In a sense, that’s what these ‘Pastoral Epistles’ are. They are very personal glimpses into the lives and ministries of Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Paul. And they are quite insightful.

Frankly, they can be a bit difficult for 21st century minds because there are several topics that run counter to modern cultural understanding and can frustrate those who are new believers or aren’t yet deeply committed to the authority of scripture. For that reason, I don’t recommend Timothy and Titus as letters to read early in your plan. In fact, in future editions of my reading plan, I think I’m going to move Timothy and Titus to right before Romans, Jude and Revelation. That’s not because there is anything wrong with or in those letters, but they are written specifically to mature leaders and contain some material that requires extra discernment.

I hope that makes sense, but if not, email me your questions, or use the comments section of the show notes and I’ll be glad to try and clear things up for you.

The letters to Timothy and Titus are among the last that Paul wrote before his execution at the hands of Nero.  It looks like the precise order of these letters may be Philemon, 1 Timothy, Titus, 2nd Timothy.  They are grouped roughly according to length in the New Testament.

So, let’s move from an overview of this section and look a little closer at First Timothy.

From as early as I can remember, Timothy was my New Testament hero. Sure, I loved Peter, John and Paul, but Timothy was the guy I most related to. Primarily, that was because of his youth.  I would guess young pastors everywhere have a special soft spot for Timothy.

Timothy is from the Galatian City of Lystra. His mother is a Jew, his Dad is a gentile. His mother and grandmother are believers, but Dad does not appear to be. Sound familiar?

We read about Timothy joining Paul and Silas in chapter 16 of Acts. Timothy stands in stark contrast to Mark, who went with Paul and Barnabas on their travels, but got homesick and went back. Timothy, however, stays the course and becomes one of Paul’s greatest understudies.

Don’t let the obvious contrast between Timothy and Mark lead you to hasty conclusions, as we’ll see next week, both stories have happy endings. One merely got off to a better start than the other.

Every Timothy needs a Paul.  Someone older and experienced to help keep him grounded and focused. It’s easy to chafe against it, because we want to run off and slay dragons, but we are wise if we follow Timothy’s example and find a mentor.

I was no exception. I am, by nature, extremely independent and strong willed. It’s a wonderful trait and a dangerous one. I was fortunate to have a number of Paul’s in my young days as a Pastor in ministry.

Dad taught me how to be a man, Wayne Smith taught me how to love preaching and live with integrity, Woody Phillips taught me how to be a missionary rather than an American abroad, Alex Barr taught me how to be a Pastor rather than a clergyman, Dale McCann taught me how to preach with the end in mind rather than merely being an orator and how to love the Church in hard times as well as good.  There were others, but, like Timothy and Paul and Silas, there is wisdom in multiplying teachers.

Now that I am older, I am eager to be Paul and Silas to young Timothies, but we’ll talk more about that next week.

Back to the letter. The first chapter of first Timothy is dedicated to Paul encouraging Timothy to remain strong doctrinally and morally in the face of widespread hypocrisy and false teaching.  Our standing, like our salvation, is not based on our talent or training, but by grace.

Paul begins Chapter 2 by reminding Timothy to be a man of prayer, regardless of political views. This is a hard and mission critical teaching.  It’s well worth an episode all its own, and one day we’ll do that, but for now let’s just remember that God doesn’t take sides in Political debate. God looks on the heart.

From there, he gives some instructions on gender behavior and gender roles. This is one of those places that grates on a 21st century view of gender distinctions.  When we are able to spend a few weeks studying this letter we’ll dive more deeply, for now, it’s important to note that Paul does not hate women and he does not downplay the role of women in the Church. In fact, there are many places he commends brave, strong women for their efforts in the kingdom. He does, however, say that just like all humans carry a burden from the fall of Adam and Eve, women have a specific role and secondary leadership place in the church, but a primary one in the home via ‘childbirth’.

Chapter 3 details what are called the qualifications for Elders and deacons. These guidelines are primarily a reminder that we shouldn’t advance or promote just any one into leadership, because leadership in a local Church is a serious responsibility. This again, deserves at least one episode of its very own because it is misinterpreted by many congregations on many levels.  For now, let’s leave it with the fact that leaders need to take their walk with Christ and their relationships within and without the Church seriously. The world is watching and our behavior is our witness.

Chapter 4 is interesting because Paul zeroes in on what happens if we don’t choose our leaders wisely.  We will have all kinds of false teachers. Some will be crazy legalistic, while others will be extremely immoral, while others will just make up doctrines. Timothy is advised to stay strong morally and doctrinally despite the fact that some will reject him because of his youth.

In Chapter 5, Paul gives Timothy some exceptional advice on how to deal with other people, both men and women.  The easy part is treating younger men as brothers.  When it comes to younger women, Paul not only tells Timothy to treat them as sisters, but adds, with all purity.

He also gives some specifics on older men and widows. It’s really interesting and again, deserves it’s own episode. The widow part is particularly insightful. There is no hint that the state should look after the elderly. It is first the responsibility of the family, then the responsibility of the Church. I am convinced that this, and other scriptures show the error of modern teachings on Social Justice.  I want to stay here a while, but we can’t. Let me just say that here in 1 Timothy, Paul teaches personal responsibility and gracious mercy.

Paul finishes this first letter with wise counsel regarding ministry and money. How many Pastors, heck, how many people, have allowed the desire for money to get in the way of effective living and ministry.

Interestingly, the Bible has more to say about money than almost any other topic, including heaven and hell. Hmmm…

He warns about the pitfalls of great wealth as well as the temptation of craving great wealth. The key verse in all this is ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’

We often hear criticism of certain famous preachers and their riches. Sometimes those are well deserved, while they are often exaggerated.  Most preachers are NOT overpaid and often struggle to make ends meet. Especially young ones. The temptation to crumble under the weight of that pressure is intense. Paul offers very sound advice to Timothy…and to us.

The letter ends rather abruptly at this point, which suggests to me that Paul always intended to write another one.  We’ll look at that one next time.

For now, that’s all I got.

 

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Why I’m Looking Forward To ‘The Jesus Centered Bible’. Say What?

Jesus Centered Bible
Jesus Centered Bible

Are you a podcast lover? I sure am. Some people listen to podcasts during their daily commutes to work. I listen to them while I’m doing farm chores in the morning. There is nothing like listening to something uplifting and inspiring while carrying buckets of water or hay bales to start your day.

On Monday, while feeding the rabbits, I was listening to ‘The Church Boys’ and heard an interview with Rick Lawrence of Group Publishing concerning the recent release of a project called, ‘The Jesus Centered Bible’.  I got so excited about the interview that I nearly forgot to feed the cows.

Anyone who ever went through one of my ‘Route 66’ classes will likely remember our Old Testament Survey was called, “Jesus in the Old Testament” and we searched for prophesies and promises concerning Jesus and the gospel in each Old Testament book.

Just a few weeks back, in a ‘(Re)Discovering the Bible‘ class, I shared that the key to reading and understanding the Old Testament was to ‘look for Jesus in every book’.

Looking for Jesus is exactly what the Jesus Centered Bible is all about. In addition to notes and insets with interesting information, The JCB has highlighted in blue more than 600 OT passages that speak of Jesus.

I can’t tell you how excited this project makes me. Ok, to be fair, I’m a little jealous that I didn’t think of it, especially since I’ve been teaching the concept for years and have multiple Bibles in my library, already marked up with prophecies and references to the Messiah, but I’m so happy someone has taken the time to develop this very special study Bible.

Currently, it is only available in The New Living Translation, but that is not a bad thing, as the NLT is a fine, trustworthy, easy to read version. It is not yet available for Kindle or as an app, or even paperback. As far as I can tell, you can get it in hardback or imitation leather.

I can’t give a detailed review or a thumbs up/down, because I haven’t received my copy yet. I ordered a hardback for $19.95 from Amazon. That’s neither a bargain nor is it price gouging. The price seems to be reasonable for all the information advertised.

My copy is scheduled to arrive on Friday of this week. After I’ve had a chance to go through it, I’ll offer a final opinion, but this is a 9 (only misses being a 10 because NLT is not my favorite translation) on my anticipation scale.

It has long been my goal to teach people to love and understand the Old Testament by showing that just like the New Testament; the old covenant was all about Jesus. He is the central figure of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.

If you’re looking for your own copy, check with your local bookstore, search for it on christianbook.com , or do like I did, and order off of Amazon.

Five Surprising Things Farming Has Taught Me About God’s Relationship With Us

old-stone-barnFarming is one of the great joys in my life. I never ceased to be amazed at how much can be done, or how much work there is to do, even on just the few acres we have. Often, it is not the idyllic life I once imagined in my farm fantasies, but I still love it.

For example; vacations are things other people take. It’s very rare that my wife and I can go anywhere exotic or romantic together for more than a day.  Someone has to be there for the garden and animals.

Also, the myth of the rich farmer is just that, a myth. Money is always tight, except when it’s not there at all. Yes, we have many things money can’t ever buy, like beautiful sunsets over our front pastures where Brittan and I can sit side by side in our rocking chairs, sipping iced tea, enjoying the animals romping together in the fading light as the sun slips over the horizon. Those stuck in commuter traffic rarely get to take time for such pleasures. Still, gorgeous views don’t pay the electric bill.

Did you know that it’s possible to get sick of zucchini? Are you aware that a human can only eat fresh chicken or lettuce or green beans so many days in a row before we begin to crave something really unnatural, like Krispy Kreme donuts or Dairy Queen?

When I used to dream about having a farm, and imagine the infinite joy it would bring, I never once considered weeds, or how stubborn and prolific they could be. I only saw rows of corn and bushels of strawberries.

Yes, farming is sometimes just plain hard. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. How could I ever measure the joy of listening to roosters singing their morning songs as I wander out to begin my day? How could I describe how much better it is to watch a flock of geese on their seasonal commutes than to watch the cars and trucks on I-75 in theirs? How could I ever compare sitting on our deck staring agape at the multitude of stars in the Milky Way lighting up the night sky to the street lights and headlamps of city living?

I think, though, that some of the things I love best about farm life are the lessons I’ve learned about God and His incredible relationship with us. There are far too many to count, but with your indulgence, I want to share five of them

  1. It’s Messy. If farming is anything, it’s messy. For one thing, there is poop everywhere. Cows poop.  Chickens poop. Pigs poop. Rabbits, turkeys, quail, goats and donkeys all poop. Everything that hath breath goes number 2. It smells bad and, like Visa, it’s everywhere you want to be.

Where there’s not manure, there’s mud. At certain times of the year mud is a fashion style and a food group. Then, just when you think things are starting to dry out, a water line bursts somewhere and you’re up to your waste in mud again, trying to mend the pipe.

I suspect that’s how God must feel about us, sometimes. We make messes everywhere, all the time. The stink must be awful and He must have one heck of a set of chest waders. Yet His love for us looks past our stench and our stains and He wallows in the sheer joy of fellowship with us.

Each morning, when I head out back to feed the pigs, they surround me. There are four of them. Each one has done their best to out mud the other three. As I pour some soaked feed into their trough, they take turns rubbing their snouts all over my legs. It’s their way of saying good morning. By the time I’ve finished with them, my entire lower body is covered in Georgia clay and snot. But I am still compelled to take time with each pig, scratching behind their ears and along their backs. They wiggle with delight and smile up at me, hog jowls dripping with swill.

I can’t help but think how God delights in our special moments with Him, despite the sheer volume of grime we get on Him.

  1. It’s Emotionally Draining. There is great joy in seeing a pantry filled with freshly canned produce, a freezer filled with meat for the winter, or a garden ripe and ready for harvest. There is also enormous satisfaction in watching a pasture full of baby goats or calves suckling on their mothers or chasing each other around the farm at sunset. Yes, those are pleasure that silence the pain, but I assure you there are many hard days and tearful nights leading up to those happy endings.

It is extremely frustrating to walk out to feed your chickens only to find thirty carcasses scattered around the field, having been tortured and mauled by neighborhood pets, a weasel or some other ambassador of terror. You can almost feel the fear in the survivors, and even emanating from the corpses of the dead.

After waiting anxiously for a doe goat to get through her pregnancy, it is draining to sit with her as she struggles for hours with babies turned wrong or underdeveloped only to have three born dead. Your heart breaks for her, and for the money you will not be getting from the sale of those kids that was going to pay for seed for the garden.

It is almost impossible to describe the anguish of coming home from Church to discover your future milk or beef cow, down in the pasture unable to rise because of some disease or attack.

There is a real sense of shock and awe in stepping out of your house only to discover that in the night, something has gotten into the garden you’ve tended to for months and have devastated it. Seeing the tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans and squash all eaten to the ground can truly create a sense of loss and hopelessness.

Birth and death, disease and health, Joy and heartache, abundance and famine are all a part of the farmer’s life. And it can be exhausting. I just can’t help but think about how emotionally draining we can be for our Heavenly Father. We read in the Bible about God ‘inhabiting’ the praises of His People. In Luke 15 we read all about the joy of lost sheep found, lost coins discovered, and lost sons coming home. The same Bible tells us how human sin caused our loving God to ‘repent’ of ever making the Human race. During the Israeli’s 40 years in the wilderness there were times God told Moses to stand aside so He could wipe out the people. We are an exhausting species.

  1. No Matter How Much He Gives, We’re Never Satisfied. When I go out in the mornings to feed, usually just before 7, the chickens and rabbits are already at the gate awaiting their breakfast. Sometimes they risk life and limb by jumping into the yard to escort me to be barn. We have two collies in the yard that have a real taste for fresh chicken and rabbit, but the thought of food drives all fear from the hearts of my birds. That, and the fact they have brains the size of salted in the shell peanuts.

By the time I’ve gotten to the barn, the pigs are climbing on the gate, and each other, unable to wait 4 more minutes for their grub.  Even the cows will come running straight for me if they catch sight of a bucket in my hands.

When I return an hour or so later to top up their water, all the animals are begging for more food. This is despite the fact that I have never missed a day of feeding them, or that they have an entire farm full of edible pasture available to them 24/7. The simple fact is, they are never satisfied. They always want more.

Aren’t we that way with God? Regardless of how much or how frequently He provides for and blesses me, I always want more. I cry and whine and complain like a hungry boar hog. If he gives me shoes, I want boots. If he gives me a shirt, I complain that I wanted a suit. If He gives me potatoes, I whine that I have no gravy.  I have so very much, but greed drives my appetite, begging for more, more, more. Dear God, have mercy on me.

  1. When We Run To Him, It Gives Him Pleasure. This morning, after giving some hay to the cows and filling their water tank, as I turned to head in for some coffee, two things caught my eye. First, the sun had risen over the house creating a magical scene as its light sparkled in reflection off the dewy pasture. My heart leapt inside my chest. At that very instant, the second sight stopped me in my tracks as Lady, one of our two collies, came flying through the gate running across the field towards me as fast as her legs would carry her. She ran to me, jumped up on me and showered me with kisses before dropping like a stone to the ground so I could rub her belly. Needless to say, I was grinning from ear to ear as I gladly obliged her and fulfilled her wishes.

Anytime I step into the back pastures where the chickens hang out, they come running to me as fast as their little legs will carry them. They waddle and wiggle all at the same time. I have seen this same sight multiple times a day for 6 years, and it makes me smile every time.

God wants to be in a relationship with us, and when we run, or waddle, towards Him, it makes Him smile. He is no absentee Father, He is among us, enjoying our adoration and our company. We make him Happy. Our fellowship gives Him Joy.

  1. Our Needs Are More Important Than His Pain. Farming is not for the faint of heart or self-centered soul. My wife and I have crawled out of bed with fevers, injuries, colds, flus, headaches that would drop a bull moose in his tracks, and more, for no other reason that there are things that MUST be done.

Last week, I injured my foot and it resulted in the agony of Turf Toe. I could not begin to describe the pain associated with Turf Toe (tearing of the ligaments in the knuckle of the Big Toe.  It feels just like gout and lasts two to three weeks with proper care. There is no proper care in farming. Period. I’ve had fever, body aches and much pain from the injury. I would gladly cut off the toe to stop the pain, but I do the chores regardless, because they need to be done. I’ve known farmers who go to work despite crushed discs, pulled muscles, pneumonia, broken limbs, or even cancer, for no other reason that it needs to be done.

Yesterday, I stepped in a hole, twisting my ankle on the already swollen, aching foot, adding insult to injury. With each step the pain grew in intensity and walking became more and more difficult. I wanted to sit down and have a good cry, then take the rest of the day off. But I didn’t. I am not particularly noble, or brave or strong. The simple reality is, the animals and garden need cared for regardless of my comfort. Their needs are far more important than my pan.

Today, as I grunted and hobbled through throbbing toe and ankle during my chores, it dawned on me that in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, God truly demonstrated that our need for a savior was more important to Him than His own pain. God’s very Son took beatings, endured scorn, carried a cross and bore the agony of the nails all because our need was greater that His pain. By comparison, I have endured nothing.

I love farming. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth whatever I’ve sacrificed. It gives me more back than I ever put in; but more than anything, what I love about farming is how it’s revealed to me just how much the Great God of the Universe loves me. By the way, He loves you, too.

 

Why I No Longer Call Myself A Conservative

Image result for labels imagesLabels; I have never been very fond of them, especially politically charged ones.  I’m not a rebel, but I also don’t like to be pigeon holed.  In our current political atmosphere, labels and stereotypes have become synonyms and they alienate half the country.

The simple truth is, while I have very strong political views, my faith has led me to depoliticize, at least publicly. I am a Christ Follower, and as such, my faith drives my views issue by issue and point by point. On some issues, I fall cleanly in the Conservative camp. In others, I align more with liberals, and in still others, I find myself identifying with a Libertarian position.  There are times, too, that I can’t support any of the traditional viewpoints.

Just as I have renounced the label, ‘Conservative’, politically, I reject it, theologically, also. As far as I can tell from the Bible, which is my source for doctrine and practice, there are not multiple brands, flavors, levels, streams, or camps in Christ’s Kingdom. There is ‘in’ and there is, ‘not in.’

Labels like, Conservative, Liberal, Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Calvinist, Arminian, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical Left, are polarizing and divisive. Besides, I can’t find them in the Bible.

The two driving forces in my life are A. The Pursuit of those far from God (regardless of age, nationality, race, language, or gender) with the hope and love of Jesus, and B. The unity of all Believers in Christ.

Based on Jesus’ prayer in John Chapter 17, the fulfillment of B. will promote A.  “If those who believe in me are united, then the world will know that You sent me (verse 21).”

To the best of my ability, the Bible drives everything I believe.  I interpret my experiences by the Bible, rather than interpreting the Bible in light of my experiences. Sometimes, the Bible makes me appear liberal and other times I look pretty much like a fundamentalist. What I want to look like is, Jesus.

One of my favorite scriptures is Acts 4:13, ‘when they saw the courage of Peter and John and that they were just ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus’.  My heart’s desire is that people would say that of me.

At the end of the day, I want to be known as Christian. It is a perfectly good name. Some have worn the title with honor, some have shamed it.  It is not my religion. I’m not particularly fond of religion. It is my identity.  It’s who I am. It’s Whose I am.  And it’s label enough for me.