Tonic Immobility

 When hiking in our country you have to take precautions to avoid confrontations with the grizzly bears that roam our national forest and wilderness and the Fish, Wildlife and Parks continue to transplant more each year. Should you encounter an angry bear that ends up attacking, and you don’t have bear spray or a firearm, they recommend that you curl up and “play dead.” (Want to come and hike with us this summer?!)  

     If you live along the ocean, such as on the south shore of Maui, you have other predators to watch out for, namely sharks.  So what do you do in case of a shark attack? Well, have you heard of shark “tonic”? It isn’t a serum that prevents shark attacks or a medicine to give them to make them more docile. The whole term is “tonic immobility,” which is described as “a natural state of paralysis which animals enter, often called “animal hypnosis.” Sharks can be placed in a tonic immobility state by turning them upside down. The state lasts for an average of 15 minutes before it recovers. Imagine, a dangerous shark can be made vulnerable simply by turning it upside down. The state of tonic immobility makes the shark incapable of movement. So, if you are attacked by a shark, just physically invert it and you’ll have 15 minutes to escape!  (Warning: It doesn’t seem to work on all types of sharks!).  
     Some animals can also “play dead” when threatened by a predator. This is called “thantosis.” The hog-nose snake, for example, rolls on its back and appears dead when attacked, its body even emitting an odor that indicates it is dead. But the animal most famous for pretending to be dead when threatened is the Virginia opossum, thus the term “playing possum.”
     Sheep have an interesting thing that can happen to them. They are built in such a way that if they fall over on their side and then flip onto their back, it is very difficult for them to get up again. They flail their legs in the air, bleating and crying. Like the shark, they are in a state of “tonic immobility.” After a few hours in this position, referred to as being “cast” or “cast down,” gas begins to collect in their stomach, which hardens, cutting off the air passage and the sheep will eventually suffocate and die if the shepherd doesn’t get to it in time. The Psalmist David, who spent thousands of hours tending sheep, wrote in the beloved Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd…He restores my soul” (vv. 1,3).  When a shepherd “restores” a cast down sheep, he massages its legs to restore circulation, gently turns the sheep over, lifts it up and holds it until it regains its equilibrium.
     A sheep is most vulnerable to being cast down when its wool is long and matted with manure and burrs, and thus weighted down. When it lies down close to a little dip in the ground, the sheep may, because of the extra weight, roll over onto its back in the dip.  What a picture of how we as Christians often get weighted down with sin and are susceptible to being cast down and like the shark and the sheep, put into a state of “tonic immobility” by the power and consequences of sin. That’s why the author of Hebrews challenges us to “Lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1,2). If we are to run the race of the Christian life effectively, we must deal with sin before it immobilizes us. 
     We can also become cast down because of adversity in our life and the resulting discouragement, despair and depression. We find ourselves either figuratively or literally (or both) flat on our back, immobilized and unable to carry on. David experienced that condition, both from his own doing as well as the actions of others. He wrote on one occasion, “Why are you in despair (cast down) , O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (Psa. 42:5a).  But David had also experienced the gentle hands of the Good Shepherd restoring him. He went on to write in Psalm 42: “…Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence…The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life” ( vv. 5b,8).
     If you’ve been cast down for any reason, God, the “Good Shepherd,” is the only One who can help you get on your feet again. He will restore your confidence, your joy  your strength, and your effectiveness for Him. Like David, you can again praise Him for His help and His presence and lovingkindness. He will put a new song in your heart (cf Psa. 40:3).
 
                        Forever His,
                            Pastor Dave
 
P.S. If you haven’t read the classic, A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23, by Phil Keller, you would really enjoy it.  
    
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The Providence and Sovereignty of God

  We visited at Three Lakes Bible Church yesterday. We miss seeing the folks where we pastored for 37 years so try to drop in occasionally to touch base with them and to worship together. The interim pastor, Dave Simmons,  is part of a group of pastors that provides pulpit supply while churches look for a new pastor. He receives newsletters from the organization with prayer requests and praises from the other interim pastors. He shared an amazing story of a couple who was moving from an apartment into a house. They were quite a bit annoyed when, just as they were moving their belongings out of the high-rise apartment, the elevator quit working. They had to use the stairs which comes out in an alley. As they were carrying a mattress down the alley, they noticed some toys on the ground and looked up to see a child dangling from a cord hung outside a window high above them. They rushed over with their mattress just as the child fell and caught him on their mattress!  Now that was a “wow moment,” revealing to them why their elevator didn’t work, and why they chose that time to move their things.  The sovereignty of God is so amazing. We don’t always recognize His hand at work, but He is always there, carrying out His sovereign purposes, and nothing can thwart Him. God, in speaking to and through Isaiah the prophet, said: “…for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning…saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish My good pleasure…Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it’” (Isa. 46:9-11).

     Even though our circumstances aren’t always ones we would choose, God is always there, using everything to conform us to the image of Christ and to manifest His glory. He doesn’t waste anything!  The  Psalmist wrote: “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa. 135:6). Our Sovereign God knows about every detail of our lives and is orchestrating them to accomplish His purpose in and through us. In His “Sermon on the Mount” He told His followers, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ …for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt. 7: 31-33).
     As I heard Pastor Simmons share of the providence of God in sparing the life of the child, I was reminded of the testimony I saw on YouTube by American Airlines’ pilot, Peter Sheibner. Peter flew P-3′s in the Navy and then joined American Airlines in 1991. He flew Boeing 757′s and 767′s.  On Sept. 10, 2011, his wife dropped him off at the Georgetown, Maine library to check the computer to see if there were any open flights for the next day. He noticed that Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles was available. He signed up for the flight and went home to pack his bag in preparation for the flight the next morning. His wife ironed his shirt and he waited for the phone to ring confirming his assignment. If no one with seniority bumped him within half an hour after he signed up for the flight, the flight was his.
     Well, Tom McGuinness, who did have seniority, had logged in just after Peter, saw his name and decided to bump him. So, American Airlines erased Peter’s name and put Tom’s in, but failed to notify Peter. Since he didn’t get a call, he assumed he had been bumped and made other plans to do some work for the Navy the next day, Sept. 11, 2011.  He was there when the story broke on television that the World Trade center had been attacked and he watched the horrific scene as the second airplane crashed into one of the twin towers. He even heard that it was American Airlines Flight 11, but it didn’t click with him right away that it was the very plane he had signed up to pilot that day. His phone started ringing and it finally sunk in what had transpired.  God, in His sovereign providence had chosen to spare his life at that time. Peter struggled some with guilt, knowing that someone else had literally “died in his place.”  But he also realized that God had left him here for a reason. Twenty years before, Peter, who had come to know Christ as his Savior, wrote out his life objective which was “…to seek and glorify and trust God… and to walk humbly as His servant…” that one day he might hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Peter realized the privilege he had been given. Someone died in his place, not once, but twice. Tom McGuinness sat in the seat he should have been in, but some 2,000 years earlier, Jesus Christ took his place on the Cross, paying the price for his sins, shedding His blood and giving His life so that Peter could have eternal life.
     Tom McGuinness was qualified to take Peter’s seat to pilot the fateful Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2011 because he had a little seniority over Peter. Jesus was qualified to take Peter’s place (and yours and mine) on the cross because He was the “spotless Lamb of God” who came to “take away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). Jesus, being eternal God, and living a sinless life here on earth, was qualified to take our place and to die for the sins of the world.  “He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus, God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21).  Both Tom McGuinness and Jesus died in Peter Sheibner’s place, but only Jesus could die for his (and our) sins. 
     The amazing providence of God that spared Peter’s life on Sept. 11, 2011 caused him to live his life with a sense of urgency, realizing how each day could be his last here on earth. He renewed the goal he had made twenty years earlier to walk worthy of His calling as a child of God. The same is true for each of us. None of us knows how many years or months or days we have left on this earth, so should live our lives with a sense of urgency, “seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
 
                                                                                            Forever His,
                                                                                                    Pastor Dave
 
P.S.  Check out Peter Sheibner’s story, “In My Seat” on YouTube or get a copy of his book by that title.
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Turning Points

  In 1996, Robert Allen (“R. A.”) Dickey was the heralded No. 1 draft choice of the Texas Rangers, but after a routine physical, his $810,000 signing bonus—and his lifelong dream—were ripped away when an MRI revealed that his right elbow was missing its ulnar collateral ligament (UCL—the one repaired in “Tommy-John surgery”). After a long fight to make his way back to the big leagues, Dickey got his shot—and set an ignominious record in his start for Texas. He gave up six homeruns in three innings! Consigned to baseball’s scrap heap, he battled back again, and today he has emerged as one of the top pitchers in MLB, having pitched for the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and is currently with the Toronto Blue Jays.   Because of spending so many years in the minor leagues, he lost some of the speed on his fast ball and resorted to learning to pitch a knuckleball which took him several years to master, getting help from such great knuckleball pitchers as Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, and Tim Wakefield.

     While with the New York Mets, Dickey became the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award (in 2012). He set a franchise record of 44 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. He ended up the year with 20 wins, 5 complete games, 3 shutouts, 233 2/3 innings pitched, 230 strikeouts, and a 2.73 ERA. (Not bad for someone with no UCL to stabilize his elbow!)

     R.A. is married and has two daughters and two sons. He helps operate the Ocala, Florida-based “Honoring the Father Ministries” which provides medical supplies, powdered milk and baseball equipment to the impoverished in Latin America. In 2012 he was not only the Cy Young winner but also, along with two other baseball players, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for “Bombay Teen Challenge” that ministers to victims of human trafficking in India. They raised more than $100,000.

     Dickey grew up in a very dysfunctional family. His mother was an alcoholic and his parents ended up divorced. He was also sexually abused by a 13-year old baby sitter and later by a teenage boy. He kept all this secret for years and really struggled with who he was. Fortunately he was befriended by a Christian family who introduced Him to Christ as Savior. But, he continued to struggle with his deep dark secrets until he finally spilled it all out to his wife who had great difficulty forgiving him and they ended up going through a heart-rending separation. His self-esteem was at an all-time low and he felt he’d turned his life into a hopeless tangle of problems. He started thinking of ways to take his life, but the Holy Spirit kept speaking to his heart reminding him that he is no quitter and had too much to live for, that, though he’d made horrible mistakes and hurt people he had the Lord in His heart and was loved. The more he thought of leaving his children fatherless, the more abhorrent the thoughts of suicide became. In his torment, he chose hope.

     He looked up a Christian counselor, Stephen James, who had been recommended to him by a friend. After many visits with Stephen, R.A. finally opened up and told his story. The healing process began, but there would soon be a major turning point in his life, not only in his walk with the Lord, and in his relationship to his wife and children, but in his baseball career. He was pitching in the minor league and staying in the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was June 9, 2007, and he was looking out the window at the Missouri River far below., observing that “It is big and brown, probably 250 yards across, with a swift current and sludgy texture.” The first time he had seen the Missouri from a similar viewpoint was in 2002 from a hotel in Omaha. His first thought when he saw the mighty Missouri was: “Boy, would it be cool to swim across that. One day I’m going to do it.”

     Well, it was now five years later, and he decided it was the day to do it, even though they had a game that evening. His team- mates, who thought he was totally out of his mind, couldn’t dissuade him, so instead wagered as to whether or not he would make it. Though he was a strong swimmer, the Missouri proved to be swifter and wider than he had anticipated and he found himself exhausted and sinking to the bottom. He was sure that was the end. He had quite a conversation with God. His life had finally “bottomed out”—literally! But God wasn’t finished with him yet (after all, he had to pitch that night and had a book to write!). He managed to gain enough strength to push off the bottom back toward shore where a teammate was able to grab onto him and get him up on the river bank. The amazing thing is, he entered the Missouri with a 3-4 record and a 5.87 ERA and came out to establish a 10-2 record and a 2.42 ERA the rest of the season.   The experience became the turning point, not only in his baseball career, but also in his walk with the Lord, and his relationship with his family. He had finally accepted God’s forgiveness and was completely free to be the person God wanted him to be. Of that day in June, 2007, R.A. said: “The Missouri may not be holy water and people may not go there to be baptized and seek absolution of their sins, but nobody can tell me that God didn’t use it to humble me and help me and recharge my faith and reset my focus. I jumped in to prove my worth and failed spectacularly, but wound up with one of the greatest gifts of my life. What a deal. What a day—the day God’s grace showed me how to stop clinging…and start living.”

     I am reminded of similar accounts in the Bible where individuals had their “baptisms in the Missouri.” Jacob (heel catcher; trickster), whose very name reflected his lifestyle of trickery and deceit ended up in a wrestling match (agonizing in prayer) one night with the pre-incarnate Christ. Jacob ended up with a limp as a reminder of that encounter and God changed his name to Israel which means “he wrestles or persists with God—in prevailing prayer”. It was the turning point in Jacob’s life. He was never the same (Gen. 32:22-32).

     Of course, we also have the familiar story of Jonah and his experience in the belly of the great fish that God sent to save him from drowning. Jonah too, agonized in prayer and ended up going where God had initially sent him, to Nineveh to warn of coming judgment if they didn’t repent. Unfortunately, though Jonah obeyed this time, he didn’t change his attitude toward the Ninevites.

     King David, too, had a major turning point in his life when God sent the prophet Nathaniel (just as God put Stephen James in R.A. Dickey’s life) to confront him regarding his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the death of her husband, Uriah. David wrote in Psa. 32:3,4,1,2: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘ I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit is not deceit!” David also recorded his prayer to God for forgiveness in Psa. 51, saying: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness; according to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only I have sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight…Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in my a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation…” (vv. 1-12).

     I have also heard or read numerous testimonies of believers who had major turning points in their lives, usually through a very difficult time when they came to the end of themselves (bottomed out) and gave the Lord full control. It is a matter of being “broken” in order to start relying on the Lord rather than our own strength. For some it may come at the time of their conversion to Christ, but for many it comes later in their Christian life when some difficult circumstances (often of their own doing) bring them to a place of complete surrender where they stop clinging to self and cast themselves totally in dependence upon their Savior.

     How about you? Have you had such a “Turning Point” in your life? Who or what are you depending on? Jesus came not only to bring eternal life, but to bring abundant life (Jn. 10:10) but we must let go of trying to live the Christian life on our own strength and live moment by moment in dependence upon Him to experience that “abundant life.”

 

                                                Forever His,

                                                            Pastor Dave

 

P.S. I highly recommend you get a copy of “Wherever I wind Up” by R.A. Dickey and read the rest of his amazing story.

 

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To All the Saints

This date has traditionally been associated with the annual “feast of St. Patrick,” observed especially in Ireland, where the missionary Patrick was largely instrumental in converting that nation from paganism (the Druid religion in particular) to Christianity back in the fifth century A.D. Although his remaining writings indicate that his preaching and the churches he founded were largely evangelical, and although he was never officially canonized as a “saint” by the Roman church, his “day” has been commonly known as “St. Patrick’s Day” for more than a thousand years.

     If you ask people who Saint Patrick was, you’re likely to hear that he was an Irishman who chased the snakes out of Ireland. In reality, the real Patrick was not actually Irish. He was born in Britain in A.D. 390. As a teenager, marauding Irish raiders attacked his home and Patrick was captured, taken to Ireland, and sold to an Irish king, who put him to work as a shepherd. “The work of such slave-shepherds was bitterly isolated, months at a time spent alone in the hills” (How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill). Although Patrick had been raised in a Christian home, he didn’t really believe in God. But now–hungry, lonely, frightened, and bitterly cold–he began seeking out a relationship with God. As he wrote in his Confession, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours and the love of God surrounded me more and more.”
     Six years after his capture, Patrick walked nearly two hundred miles to the Irish coast, boarded a waiting ship and made it back to Britain and his family. But–by the grace of God–his life had changed. He trained for the ministry and thirty years later God called him back to the Emerald Isle as a missionary. The Irish of the fifth century were a pagan, violent, and barbaric people. Human sacrifice was commonplace. Patrick understood the danger and wrote: “I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved–whatever may come my way.”  Through Patrick, God brought thousands of the Irish to Himself and a warrior people “Lay down the swords of battle, flung away the knives of sacrifice, and cast away the chains of slavery”  (Cahill).
     As it is with so many Christian holidays, Saint Patrick’s Day has lost much of its original meaning. Instead of settling for parades, cardboard leprechauns, and “the wearing of the green,” we ought to recover our Christian heritage, celebrate the great evangelist, and teach our children about this Christian hero who didn’t chase snakes out of Ireland, but who was used by God to bring into Ireland a solid faith in the one true God–and to forever transform the Irish people.
     So, was Patrick really a “saint?” Do we have “saints” today? Are you a saint?  Well, as we always need to do, let’s go to God’s Word for the answer.  The word “saint” or “saints” is used 101 times in the Bible–38 in the Old Testament and 63 in the New Testament. The Hebrew word used in the OT is qodesh (ko’-desh) and means “a sacred place or thing; consecrated, dedicated, hallowed,” holy (Eg, Dt. 33:2,3; I Sam. 2:9; II Chr. 6:41; Psa. 16:3; 30:4; 31:23…). The Greek word used in the NT is hagios (hag’-ee-os) and again means “consecrated” or “dedicated,” or “set apart.” When we put our trust in Christ for salvation through His death, burial and resurrection (the Gospel…I Cor. 15:1-4), we are “delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). We are “set apart” (consecrated, dedicated) for God, i.e., we are “sanctified,” “made holy,” or “made saints.”  The same Greek word hagios is translated either “holy” or “saint,” and a similar word, hagiazo (hag-ee-ad’-zo), meaning “to make holy, consecrated, set apart” is translated “sanctified.”
     In Acts 9:13 and Ro. 15:26 we see Luke and Paul addressing “the saints in Jerusalem.”  In Acts 9:32, we see Peter traveling to visit “the saints who lived at Lydda.” Paul writes to the Roman believers, saying, “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints…” (Ro. 1:7). Then, in his first letter to Christians at Corinth, he writes: “to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling…” (I Cor. 1:2). In his second letter, Paul refers to “all the saints who are throughout Achai” (southern Greece, including Athens and Corinth). To the church at Ephesus Paul writes: “to the saints who are at Ephesus who are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1).  Paul addresses the church at Philippi saying, “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (Phil. 1:1). And to the church at Colossae he writes, “To the saints and faithful brethren who are at Colossae” (Col. 1:1). 
     I guess you get the picture–all who are “in Christ Jesus,” through faith in Him, are “saints,” “sanctified,” “holy brethren.”  (“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling…” Heb. 3:1). If you have trusted Christ for eternal life, you have been “set apart.” You have been “born again” (Jn. 3:3), you have “passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24), you have become a “child of God” (I Jn. 3:1,2).  You are a “saint.” You have been “sanctified.” You are “holy.”  These terms refer to our new position “in Christ Jesus.”  Now the goal is to “walk worthy of the calling (as saints) with which we have been called”  (Eph. 4:1)–that is to live like who we are in Christ– saints, holy, set apart for His use. 
    
                                                                                Forever His,
                                                                                        Pastor Dave
    
    
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Uncompromising

 
 
     We recently had a very cold, wintry storm that dumped about a foot of snow. Then within a couple days the temperatures rose and it began raining. As a result, we have water everywhere,  including in a lot of people’s basements!  The streams too are very high and muddy. One of our favorite walks takes us up over the Kootenai River across a bridge that used to be the route for logging trucks coming into the mill. Upstream about half a mile from the bridge, Libby Creek, which is high and muddy right now, dumps into the Kootenai. Up to the entrance of Libby Creek, the waters of the Kootenai are clear and clean.  For several hundred yards past the place where Libby Creek enters, one side of the Kootenai is clear and the other– the contribution of Libby Creek–is muddy, creating a very distinct line. But then, the muddy waters start to co-mingle with the clear waters and by the time the Kootenai reaches the town of Libby, another half-mile downstream from the haul bridge, the whole river is muddy.
     As I watched the two bodies of water join together and the Kootenai becoming dirty with the waters from Libby Creek, I couldn’t help but compare that to our Christian lives and how we too get muddied up with the dirty waters of the world system . That has been the tendency of believers from the entrance of sin into the world.  I think of how Lot, when he separated from Abraham, his godly uncle, chose to settle in the lush valley of the Jordan, “pitching his tents as far Sodom” (Gen. 13:10-12). The narrative then makes comment about Sodom, saying, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD” (v. 13).  
     So, did Lot, the believer, have a positive influence on the wicked city of Sodom and its neighboring city, Gomorrah? Not so much!  When two angels and the pre-incarnate Christ came to visit Abraham to tell of the coming judgment against those cities because of their wickedness, Abraham interceded for them, knowing Lot lived there; but not even ten righteous could be found in Sodom, so the city had to be destroyed (Gen. 18:32).  When the two angels came to Sodom, they found Lot sitting in the gate of the city which was the center of public activity and indicates that Lot was now a judge in the city (19:1).  He had gone from pitching his tent toward Sodom to being an official in town–yet there weren’t even ten righteous people in the community.  Quite obviously, the city had been the influence, not Lot. He had compromised his convictions to become part of the system.
     When Israel entered the Promised Land, they were to destroy the pagans who dwelled there lest they end up worshiping their false gods. Well, they didn’t do a complete job, and ended up doing just what they had been warned against–being influenced to worship false gods and having constant conflicts with groups such as the Philistines.  They were to be the display nation to show others the true Jehovah God of Israel, but instead, they ended up worshiping idols and false gods.
     The kings of Israel were told not to “multiply wives,” or take foreign wives and end up compromising and serving the gods of other nations. Yet Solomon, took some 300 wives (plus 700 concubines) and it destroyed his walk with God. Compromise always takes us down the wrong path; it “muddies” the waters of our walk with the Lord and it ruins our testimony for Christ. 
     In the New Testament, Paul gave a warning to the Corinthian believers (and to us), saying, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial (Satan), or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean’” (II Cor. 6:14-17).  When it comes to our Christian beliefs and corresponding values and principles, we are to be uncompromising. As has been said, we are to be “in the world, but not of the world.” We are not to be isolated from the world but are to be insulated from the world.
     Yesterday at church we heard a powerful example of this principle of being “uncompromising.”  We had missionaries, Don and Janie Nellis,  who have served with both Wycliffe and United Indian Mission in Mexico. They related the story of a young man, Geraldo,  in a small Mexican village, who had been born with a club foot.The foot became infected and the missionaries offered to take Geraldo to Mexico City where his foot had to be amputated. While in the hospital, Geraldo read the New Testament that the missionaries had given him. As a result he gave his heart to the Lord. When he went back home to his village he became a translator for the Nellises. One day as they were working on the book of II Corinthians, Geraldo told Don that he couldn’t translate II Cor. 6:14-17. He understood what it meant, and he was currently dating an unsaved girl, and wouldn’t translate a passage he knew he was disobeying. So, he said he would have to quit. Well, he came back a few days later, and said, “Okay, I’m ready to translate that passage.” He had broken off his relationship with the girl. He and the Nellises prayed for a Christian mate for him. At that time there were no Christian women in their little community.  But one day, a lady and her beautiful daughter moved to their village and soon got saved. He ended up marrying the daughter and today the couple is working with United Indian Mission!  God honored Geraldo’s willingness to obey His Word, even if it meant to remain single.
     It is so easy to allow the values and morals of the world to become ours. Rather than to stand up for our convictions, though it may involve sacrifice, or mean persecution to some degree, we tend to cave in and end up losing the joy of the Lord, and ruining our testimony for Him. We are to be the influence, not to let the world influence us. Compromise never lifts the fallen but lowers the upright. Dare to be like Daniel and his three Hebrew friends who did not compromise their convictions and risked their lives in doing so, as they lived in the very pagan Babylonian culture under King Nebuchadnezzar.   
 
                                                                                                       Forever His,
                                                                                                                Pastor Dave
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They’re Everywhere

Last fall when we went to Oregon to help our son and family move into another house, we got to meet two young men, professional movers, whom they had hired for a day to help (and boy, were they a great help!).  We suspected within a few minutes that they were both believers and when we had a chance to stop and chat with them, discovered that one was a youth pastor and the other a worship leader. Their faith definitely showed. We had some sweet fellowship with them as we worked.

     A couple weeks ago we were in Seaside, Oregon for our grandson Luke’s basketball tournament. Our son’s in-laws had a time share condominium where we got to stay right on the beach. It had a big outdoor pool and hot tubs. It was quite an experience as it was quite cool and the wind was blowing anywhere from 30-45 mph. It is the first time I have seen whitecaps in a swimming pool! It was warm as long as you swam under water!  In the hot tub, we engaged a middle-aged couple in conversation and again, sensed that common bond in Christ. Sure enough, he is an associate pastor in McMinnville, Oregon and we had a great visit with them too.
     We try to go for a walk each day, but since it was very cold and windy this past week, we went to walk at the elementary school which opens its halls to walkers for a couple hours after school. We have done this a number of times this winter and had noticed one of the janitors who was always very friendly and joyous. We suspected that he too was a brother in Christ. This last week we got a chance to stop and talk with him and indeed, he is a growing Christian. He had been raised in a church but had dropped out since they live 45 miles out of town. But one of the local churches started up services at the fire station near where he lives. His wife started going and tried to get him to attend. He finally did, but with the intent to prove that the preacher was a phony as he felt most are.  Well, he enjoyed his first experience and was impressed with how the pastor taught right out of the Bible, so he went back again, and again…and then met with the pastor, who was able to take him to Scripture and answer his questions about Christianity. God “got him.” Now he too is a brother in Christ, and it really shows!
     It seems wherever you go you run into Christians. “They’re everywhere!”  And the neat thing is, providing you are walking with the Lord at the time, you definitely sense the bond you share in Christ and enjoy the fellowship of talking with them about the Lord. 
     There are times when we feel we are all alone; that there is no one else around who is following the Lord. Ever feel that way? I’m sure you have. I know we have. But when that happens, God usually brings a growing Christian across our path to encourage us and to remind us we are not in this alone. Even though, as Jesus said, “The gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it,” (Mt. 7:14), He always has a remnant of believers. I’m reminded of the story of Elijah the prophet who burst onto the scene and faced King Ahab with this startling proclamation: “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (I Kg. 17:1).  And keep in mind that Israel and its kings had succumbed to apostasy and Baal worship, and Baal was thought to be the “storm god,” who controlled rain and the weather, so Elijah was saying, “Not so, Jehovah, the God of Israel, the true God, is the one who controls the rain.”  Well, we read in James 5:17 that “Elijah …prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months!” Then God told Elijah to flee to the Brook Cherith and hide there where God sent ravens to feed him. He also spent time in the home of the widow of Zarepath who fed him with the oil and flour that miraculously never ran out. 
     At just the right time, God told Elijah: “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth” (I Kg. 18:1).  Following is the familiar story of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, which ended with fire falling from heaven to consume Elijah’s offering and the altar after the prophets of Baal had failed to get a response from their god (I Kgs. 18:37,38).  Then Elijah had the 450 prophets of Baal slain. When Ahab told his wife, Jezebel, what Elijah had done, she “sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time’” (I Kgs. 19:1,2).  When Elijah got the message he ran for a day into the wilderness where he sat under a juniper or broom tree and requested that he might die (v. 4).  But instead, God enabled him to sleep and then sent an angel to provide food and water. He rested again and after eating more, went in the strength of the “angel food” forty days and nights to Horeb (Sinai). 
     There he found a cave in which to lodge “and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away’”  (I Kg. 19:9,10 cf v. 14).  Notice God’s response: “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat…you shall anoint as prophet in your place. And it shall come about, that one who escapes from the sword…shall be put to death…Yet I leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (vv. 15-18). 
     Elijah was all depressed because he thought he was the only one left who was following Jehovah God and had not bowed a knee to Baal. God said, “Wrong, there are 7,000 others who have stayed true to Me.”  It is easy to get depressed like Elijah thinking we are all alone, but God shows us He is at work all over the world, saving people by His grace. Today He is actively building His church, tearing down the strongholds of Satan and bringing people into His kingdom–all over the world. His people are everywhere!  Have you met some of them lately?  When you do, as in the illustrations I started with, it gives you a little foretaste of what heaven will be like.
 
                                                                                                    Forever His,
                                                                                                            Pastor Dave
    
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Lessons from the Olympics

So, have you stayed up too late lately watching television?  I bet most of you would have to say “yes,” after all the Winter Olympics come only once every four years. (We’re thankful for the DVR so we can only watch what we want and when we want!).  It is always fun to watch the Olympics, especially to root for those from your own country, and to see all the drama that takes place and observe the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” that is inevitable, and the surprise that takes place when someone not expected to win makes it to the podium to receive a medal. 

     The origin of the early games is obscure, but the date of the first festival held at Olympia is traditionally 776 B.C.  Thereafter, the Olympian festival was held quadrennially. The festivities which were closely related with religious rites, included not only athletic contests but competition in oratory, music, poetry, and other art forms. Besides the Olympic games, there were three sports festivals: the Pythian Games, the Nemean Games, and the Isthmian Games (held in Corinth).

     The games were originally only one day long. Competitors reported at daybreak and were administered the Olympic oath, to the effect that they were of pure Hellenic blood, had never committed wrong, had trained faithfully, and would not resort to any underhanded act in competition. Then they were stripped and anointed with oil. Women did not compete and were not even permitted as spectators. The games were increased to a five-day meet at the 77th festival. Prizes awarded to the victors of the events in the Olympic Games were crowns usually made of olive and palm branches. The victors were treated as heroes on their return home; statues were often erected in their behalf and they were given a place of honor at public events.  

     The Apostle Paul drew on the Corinthian’s  knowledge of the Isthmian games (held every two years in Corinth) in his letter to the believers there. As he wrote to challenge them to have self discipline in their Christian walk, he said: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” ( ICor. 9:25-27).  Paul reminds us that Christian service is like the Olympic athlete training and competing for the prize. The Christians at Corinth knew what agonizing pain was required to win the races and Paul used this example to illustrate his single-minded striving for the work of ministry. The Greek word for “competes” (“strives” in KJV) in verse 25 is agonizomai  from which we get our word “agonize.” He also uses the word in Col. 1:28,29: “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”    The Isthmian games survived until the fourth century of the modern era.

     Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) is given credit for reviving the Olympic Games, and out of deference to Greece, the land of the ancient Olympic Games, the first modern games were held in Athens in 1896 with nine countries participating. The Winter Olympics began in 1924 at ChamonixFrance, being held every four years and in-between the summer games.

     Here are some of my observations and lessons learned from watching the Olympic Games, especially the just-concluded 22nd Winter Olympics:

        1)  Success depends on amazing discipline and commitment.        

            — In order to have a chance to stand on the podium and receive a medal, one must put in thousands of hours of disciplined practice, often giving up the normal activities of a young person. Our gold medalists in ice dancing, White and Davis, had been dancing together for 17 years, putting in some 29,000 hours of practice.  Wow, that is commitment to a goal!

         –  The majority of the winners had competed many times before finally achieving the success they had at the Olympics. They had to endure lots of failure, but never gave up. They put in the time at great sacrifice, doing all they could to stay healthy and in top physical condition as they honed their skills

(Just as Paul challenged us to do in I Cor. 9:25-27).

        2)  Success isn’t limited to those who make the podium and receive a medal.

            –  While only three are awarded medals at the Olympic Games, everyone who trains hard, keeps the rules, and competes to the best of his/her ability, is a “winner.” One scene that was very moving in the games in Sochi, Russia took place in cross country when a Russian skier fell and broke a ski. He          attempted to continue, but his ski totally fell apart. He tried to limp on in on one ski, until a coach provided him with a new ski to finish the race, though he had no chance of winning.

            — Some who competed undoubtedly knew they had little if any chance of medaling, but still put in the time and training and competed as hard as they were able. They too are “winners.”

            — The Bible doesn’t say “It is required of a servant they he be successful.” It says, ““…it is required of  stewards that one be found trustworthy (faithful)” I Cor. 4:2).

          3)  Some competitors are at the end of their career, some at the peak, others at the beginning.   

              Mikaela Shiffrin, age 18,  became the youngest person to win gold in the women’s slalom. She had to recover from a near crash to do so. Her career looks very bright. She hopes to compete in more events in the next Olympics.

            –  Bodie Miller, age 36 and probably in his final Olympics, managed to get a bronze in the Super G.

            –  Yevgeny Plushenko, Russian figure skater with a storied career, after a sterling performance in the team competition to help earn a gold medal for Russia, withdrew from the men’s competition with back problems. 

            — Shaun White (snow boarder) and Shani Davis (speed skater) who were favorites because of their past success, failed to medal.

        4)  Not all judging is fair.

            –  One of the things that has been true at every Olympics–summer and winter–is that not everyone is judged fairly in events such as figure skating where there is subjective evaluation of the competitors. Judges are human and biased and cannot judge totally fairly.

            –  We can be very grateful that when we stand before our “Judge,” Jesus Christ, His judgment will be totally fair. He knows every act and thought and even the motives of our hearts. “Therefore do not  go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to  light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then  each man’s praise will come to him from God” (I Cor. 4:5).

        5)  Some nations have specialty areas in which they excel.

            –  It was pretty amazing to watch the domination of several countries in particular events. The Netherlands, for example, had 24 medals, 23 of which were in speed skating (no other nation won more than three!) and the other in short track. The previous record in a single event was 14 by Austria in alpine skiing in 2006. The Netherlands had four podium sweeps.

            –  Norway continued their dominance of cross-country skiing and biathlon, with 17 of their 26 medals coming in those venues.

            –  Twelve of the United States’ 28 medals came from the extreme sports of free style skiing and snowboarding.

            – Canada grabbed all four golds in curling and hockey.

            –  In the Christian life, God has equipped each believer with special abilities (spiritual gifts) to be used to serve the Body of Christ and to glorify Him. We need to find our “niche” and stick with it.

        6)  The Olympics provide a platform of witness for the athletes who are Christians.       

            –  A number of the athletes in the Olympics not only represented their countries, but also represented the Lord Jesus Christ. Their being placed in the view of the world-wide audience gave them a great opportunity to be “salt and light” (Mt. 5:13-16). They were the “city set on a hill” (v. 14).

            –  David Wise won a gold in men’s ski half-pipe for the United States. He used his  “platform” of opportunity to emphasize his values as a Christian. Just before heading down the slope into the half-pipe, he dropped a heart-shaped rock into his pocket–a rock given to him by his daughter Lexi. As he was interviewed he said, “I can go and ski my heart out , but it doesn’t define who I am. Being a good usband and father is more important.” He went on to say that one of his goals is to become a pastor.

   I’m sure God has provided you with some “platform” of influence too. Are you using it to witness for Him?

                                                                  Forever His,

                                                                         Pastor Dave

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