Law Versus Grace

     One of the blessings we as pastors experience, and one that helps us to be steadfast, and not throw in the towel when discouragement comes—and it always does—is humble servants in the local assembly who are faithful, dedicated, cheerful encouragers.  I was privileged to have several during my 37 years pastoring Three Lakes Community Bible Church near Troy, Montana.  One of them, Hazel Dare, just recently died at age 91 and I officiated at a memorial service for her this past Friday. She had been at Three Lakes from its beginning so was there during my entire ministry and always prepared the elements for our monthly communion services, took care of the plants, helped with the cleaning and often brought beautiful flowers from her garden to share with the assembly. I used to call her during the week before communion to remind her, but quit doing so because she was so dependable.
     Hazel and I shared a love for gardening, and she would often bring us—and many others—new plants or flowers to try out. I’m sure that all throughout the Bull River and Kootenai River valleys, there are lots of things growing that got their start in Hazel’s garden.  I was always amazed at how hard Hazel worked.  She was small in stature but was one “tough” gal!  And what an encouragement she was to me. Whenever she came around she always had a cheery smile.
     When Kathy and I met with the family last Tuesday evening I asked them to think for a moment and to give me some one-word descriptions of Hazel. Here is the list we came up with: strong, gentle,—(what a great combination)—dependable, busy, dedicated, faithful, peaceful, non-judgmental, cheerful, thrifty, servant, humble.   Hazel had come to know Christ early on in life and continued to grow in grace and knowledge. She had little sticky notes all over the house with Bible verses on them. By her kitchen sink, for example was Jas. 1:2-4: “Consider it all joy, my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
     Hazel’s grandson, Chaz, said the passage of Scripture that reminded him of his grandma is I Cor. 13:4-7. As I quote it, think about the one-word descriptions of Hazel. “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous, love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly, it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The agape love that had been “poured out within (Hazel’s heart) through the Holy Spirit” who was given to her at the time of salvation (Ro. 5:5) was definitely manifested in and through her life. 
     During our memorial service, Hazel’s son, Casey, shared a very moving testimony that was such a beautiful life application of “Law versus Grace.”  Hazel’s husband, Casey’s dad (who died 15 months ago) had been a very demanding, harsh father. His only appearances at church were for special occasions. He was definitely uncomfortable talking about spiritual matters.  To Casey, his dad represented the “Law” which makes great demands—as in perfection—but doesn’t enable us to keep it. Casey rebelled and started smoking, drinking, and carousing. On one occasion he stayed out all night and was afraid to return home, for fear of what his dad might do. So, he waited until his dad was at work and came walking down their driveway, tired, hungry and dirty—and full of guilt and shame. His mother was working in the garden when he arrived. She came up to him, looked him lovingly in the eye and said very compassionately, “You must be hungry!”  Casey replied “I am.” She invited him in to clean up while she fixed a meal.  To Casey, Hazel represented “Grace” and its unconditional love.  It really melted his heart, and it wasn’t long before he committed his life to Christ and has been living for Him ever since, actively involved in church. 
     Casey had written out his story and was going to have someone else read it, but he decided to try it and though he struggled a few times with his emotions and had to pause, he managed to make it through. It was so powerful and such an amazing picture of the difference between Law and Grace.   In Romans, Paul writes: “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh (i.e. our old sinful nature), God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Ro. 8:3-4). As someone has described it, GRACE is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” God gave us that law to show us our sinfulness, our rebellion and then sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sin so we can become new creations in Christ when we trust in His death, burial and resurrection for us. Because Casey had experienced God’s grace through her mom, it brought him to a place where he was able to receive God’s grace through Jesus Christ.  He realized there was no way he could ever do and be all that his father required of him but discovered that the heavenly Father’s Son, Jesus Christ, had fulfilled the Law for us so that we can be justified (“just as if I hadn’t sinned”) through faith in Him. “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works (trying to keep the Law), that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).
     Are people around you and me drawn to the Grace of God because of our unconditional love for them?  Something to think about.
                    Forever his,
                            Pastor Dave
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What Any Coach Would Love to Hear

We just spent a week in Oregon where we got to take in one granddaughter’s volleyball match, a grandson’s soccer match and baseball game, another granddaughter’s soccer match and two of our son’s high school volleyball team’s matches.  One of those matches was near Salem, Oregon at “Crosshill Christian School.” If you’ve driven past Salem on I-5, you have probably seen the huge white cross on a hill near the freeway. That is the location of the campus of Crosshill (previously known as “Willamette Valley Christian School”). We traveled with Grant’s North Clackamas Christian School volleyball team on a school bus (about an hour drive) to the match—quite an experience with a bus load of high school girls and  the boys’ soccer team that came along to be the cheerleaders!  Several adults traveled with us as well.  Crosshilll has a very good team and won in three sets, but NCCS came close in an exciting third set.
      After stopping for supper after the match, we were waiting for everyone to board the bus when one of Grant’s players came up and sat by him to discuss her role on the team. Though just a sophomore, she is one of the better, more consistent players on the team. The conversation was pretty amazing and had to be very encouraging for our son. She said that she is not satisfied with how she is playing and wants to do everything she can to improve and help the team succeed. She wondered what she could do to become a better player and asked Grant to push her to improve. Wow! What coach wouldn’t love to hear that from his players!
     I couldn’t help but wonder how often God hears that from any of His “team”?  Have you ever said to God, “I want to serve you more effectively. What can I do to grow in my faith? I want You to push me to become a more faithful, effective servant.”  Just as any coach would love to hear one of his players ask to be pushed to improve, I’m sure God loves to hear from any of His children that they want to become all that He wants them to be and are willing to “be pushed” in whatever way it takes.
     I remember reading about a Christian football coach who told God that he was available to be used in whatever way He wished. Even though he was having a positive influence on his high school football team, he just wanted God to know that he was willing for God to do whatever it took in his life for him to be most effective for Him. It wasn’t long after that that the coach was in an accident which left him paralyzed from the neck down. As he was recovering in a large hospital where there were a number of others who were also dealing with physical problems similar to his, a pastor came in to share with them, and to try to encourage them. After he left, he could hear some of the others whispering, “What’s he know!”  They knew that the pastor really couldn’t identify with their trauma and fears and physical needs.  Then God spoke to the football coach saying, “But you know, don’t you.” One by one he helped lead each of the others to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. God had answered his prayer, though not quite in the way he had probably expected.
     Are you willing to say to your “Coach” (Jesus Christ), “I want to improve as a player and be more effective in helping my ‘team.’  I want You to push me. I want You to use me in whatever way You wish to advance Your kingdom. Jesus, I want You to mold me and make me according to Your purpose for my life.”  Paul admonished the believers at Rome with these words: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Ro. 12:1,2).  That’s God’s desire for us too. If we are going to be effective as His ambassadors ( II Cor. 5:20), we need to be “FAT” Christians (Faithful, Available, and Teachable).
Maybe you need to have a chat with your “Coach” today.
              Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave


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Job Satisfaction

Since today is “Labor Day” which was established to honor those who contribute to society through their work, I was reflecting on my “working” career. Since the first years of my life were spent on a little farm near Polson, Montana, I observed and became part of the work that went on to maintain the farm and to provide income from its produce. I helped to weed our garden (got 25 cents an hour!), picked cherries from our orchard (ate many of them!), and dug and sold angle worms to fishermen (took over the business from my older sister!).  When we moved to Libby for my middle school and senior high school years, I got a job working at the Coast-to-Coast hardware store.  Then during my college years at Montana State University, I spent my summers working for my brother-in-law, Dick Kutz, who was a building contractor. I mainly did labor work, but also learned a bit about carpentry which has come in very handy as my wife and I ended up building our own home and I helped build our church at Three Lakes as well as, Elohim Bible Camp, which our church started. It comes in handy too, in helping neighbors with their building projects.  I also learned how to split cedar shakes and split many squares for our house, and a couple others, the church, and the Bible camp.
     I graduated from MSU with a degree in Industrial and Management Engineering and spent 5 years working for Hyster Company in Portland, Oregon.  At that time, as a result of the work God was doing in my life, I was “recycled,” and we moved back to Montana as missionaries with Rocky Mountain Bible Mission, teaching Bible studies and youth groups throughout northwest Montana. One of the Bible studies grew into a church, Three Lakes Community Bible Church, where I ended up as pastor for 37 years.  Along the way I also became tennis coach for our local high school, and still continue to help out there as well as to give lessons in the summer, and string racquets for players. And, oh, yes, my wife and I, for the past quite a few years, split and bundle cedar kindling and firewood to sell at a local grocery store.  We also have a four-acre place, including lots of lawn and a big garden which require lots of hours of attention.
     Although some jobs have been difficult and trying at times, I have always enjoyed working, but when I became a Christian, I realized that it was because that is how God made us. We are made in His image (Gen. 1:26,27), and God is a “worker.” He worked in creating the heavens and the earth (Gen.1:1) and He works in sustaining them (Col. 1:17). In the creation account in Gen. 1,2, we see that God was satisfied with all that He had made. He observed it and “saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:25). After he made Adam and Eve, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). God, if you will, had great “job satisfaction.” And, since He made us to be workers, placing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to care for it (Gen. 2:15) and to be stewards of the earth (Gen. 1:28), we also experience a sense of accomplishment (“job satisfaction”) when we work hard and complete the tasks before us.
     Unfortunately, because of the Fall in the Garden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, work became much more difficult and can become a drudgery and burdensome, seemingly meaningless toil. When you read the book of Ecclesiastes, you read of Solomon’s disillusionments with man’s work: “Vanity of vanities..All is vanity. What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?….I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (Eccl. 1:3; 22:11).   The problem was, Solomon had left God out of the equation. He was looking at work merely from a human viewpoint and when we perform work solely to please others or ourselves, our work will never ultimately satisfy us. As long as our goals are “under the sun” (worldly), there will be “vanity” (emptiness) no matter what our current social or economic status may be. We may say things like, “Some days the best thing about my office job is that the chair spins!” and “Thank God it’s Friday!” 
     But, as new creations in Christ (II Cor. 5:17), we, as believers, have a new motivation for our work. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve “ (Col. 3:23,24).  All of our work (no separation between secular and spiritual), when done as service to the Lord, has significance. All Christians—no matter what work they do—work for the same employer! So, “Whether, then, you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). Work isn’t just a platform to do ministry for God—work is ministry for God. Work becomes worship when done for the Lord. Even Solomon, in all his frustration with work because of his worldly viewpoint, made this observation: “There is nothing better…for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime, moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God” (Eccl. 2:24-26; 3:12,13).
     Because we live in a world under the curse of sin, perfect “profit-for-labor” equity can never be achieved and there will be a lack of consistent relationship between the diligence of hard work and the reward received for that labor. Some men may work hard all their lives, yet live in poverty while others may inherit great wealth and live a luxuriant lifestyle just off the interest of their money. When Paul wrote about a believer’s responsibilities regarding working as unto the Lord, he was primarily speaking to slaves, who had no hope of ever improving their “lifestyle.” Yet they were to work hard, keeping in mind that ultimately they were serving God and He would be the One to reward them—in eternity, not necessarily while they were here on earth. Our work on earth may not receive much recognition by man but how rewarding it will be to enter heaven and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord” (Mt. 25:21).  A missionary couple had returned by ship to the United States after many years of difficult, faithful service on a foreign field. Disembarking from the ship with them was a dignitary who was greeted by a crowd with a band playing in his honor. There was no one there to greet and welcome the missionary couple. The husband spoke of his disappointment, but his wife reminded him that “we are not home yet!”  
     No matter what recognition and reward you may have received, are receiving or will receive for your work on earth, remember, do your work as unto the Lord. He will reward you. We are not home yet!  Real “job satisfaction” comes from doing everything with all our heart in loving service to the Lord.
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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Pre-Evacuation Notices

The past couple weeks have been quite interesting here in northwest Montana (and in other locations of the West), as we have been surrounded by forest fires and have faced extremely smoky conditions and the possibility of having to evacuate should the fires get too close.  Last Friday, high winds which swept through Oregon and Washington were expected to hit our area.  So, the folks living on the West side of the highway out our way were given pre-evacuation notices because the fire in the Cabinet Wilderness just a few miles to the West of us could conceivably have crowned and headed our way. Those who lived closest to the mountains actually were told to evacuate. Others living along the Bull Lake Highway 56 were also told to be ready to evacuate (some, including one family from our church had already evacuated).  Well, praise the Lord, the winds weren’t as bad as expected and they brought rain and lowering air temperatures and the fires actually subsided for the time being. 
     If you were given an “evacuation notice,” what items would you quickly gather up to take with you? It is interesting here to see what the first things are that people gather up to save—their guns!  We live in an area where a great percentage of the people hunt and many of them depend on wild meat for a big portion of their diet.  So, their guns are not only valuable from a cost stand point, but from practicality as well. Of course most would try to save some special jewelry, photo albums, etc. I would surely want to save my study Bibles with all my recorded notes!  I guess the computer hard drive would be a priority too. 
     I couldn’t help thinking about the “Pre-evacuation Notices” we are given in Scripture, and the purpose isn’t so we can gather up the things we want to take with us when we leave, but rather so that our lives will be ready for when it happens.  The New Testament speaks of an event that we might call “Operation Evacuation,” or “The Great Snatch.”  We usually refer to it as the “Rapture,” which is a word that doesn’t actually appear in the English translations of the Bible, but does in the Latin in I Thes. 4:16,17, which in the NASB translations says: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” The Apostle Paul, writing to comfort believers who had lost loved ones through death as to whether or not they would ever see them again, spoke of being “caught up with them.” The term “rapture” comes from the Latin for “caught up.” It speaks here of believers, both those who have died and those who are alive, being caught up together to meet the Lord and then being taken to heaven.
     This is the event which Jesus alluded to in the Upper Room as recorded in John’s Gospel: “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:1-3).  Jesus was soon to go to the Cross, and then 40 days after His resurrection would ascend back into heaven, but He promised He would return to take believers to live with Him in heaven. As you put together all the passages in the Bible regarding the Second Coming of Christ, it indicates that He will first come to take believers (referred to as His “Bride” or the “Church”) to heaven and then will carry out a period of judgment on the earth called the “Great Tribulation” or “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble,” during which God will again deal directly with His chosen people, Israel, to bring them to repentance. Then, at the end of that time, Jesus will return to the earth, bringing His “Bride” with Him, to set up the earthly Kingdom that He promised to Israel throughout Scripture (called the “Millennial Reign”).
     As Jesus spoke of the final events that would take place before He comes to set up His earthly kingdom, He warned that people need to be ready, because His coming would be “like a thief in the night” (Mt. 24:43). He said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt. 24:36).  His coming will be sudden, catching many unaware and unprepared. Paul spoke of the suddenness of the Second Coming in his first letter to the Corinthian believers: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (I Cor. 15:51,52).  The Greek word Paul used for “moment” (atoimos) means “an individual particle, “ or “an indivisible particle,” i.e., “an atom of time,” indicating it will be too instantaneous, too small to measure. “the twinkling of an eye,” refers to the time it takes light to pass from the pupil to the retina, which is infinitesimally small.  So, when the evacuation (the “Great Snatch,” or “Rapture”) happens, there will be no time to get ready. It is a matter of “ready or not, here He comes.” He has already given us the “pre-evacuation” notice several times in Scripture, warning us “be prepared.”  And that doesn’t mean to gather up any of our precious belongings to take with us, for as Job observed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21). Solomon also wrote: “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Eccl. 5:15). You don’t ever see a U-haul behind a hearse (unless they are carrying digging tools)!  We prepare for “evacuation” by trusting Christ for eternal life, by acknowledging our sinfulness and that Jesus died for our sin and was resurrected to prove that God was satisfied with His atonement on our behalf.  We also prepare daily by walking with the Lord, living a life pleasing to Him, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33).  John gives us good exhortation: “And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (I Jn. 2:28). It is my desire to live such that I will hear one day—soon—“Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord” (Mt. 25:21).   
     How about you?  Jesus has issued each of us an “pre-evacuation” warning. Are you ready?
                        Forever His,
                            Pastor Dave
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Showers of Blessing

Our valley has been smoke filled for the past week or more from the many wild fires in the Northwest. There are 101 fires in Northwest Montana alone. One family from our church has had to evacuate their property and others have been notified to be ready to leave. Last Thursday and Friday were especially bad with smoke and even visible ash falling. Those with any breathing problems were really struggling and didn’t dare go outside. Then Friday afternoon we had a thunder storm and a little rain which improved things a bit. Fortunately most of the lightning with the storm was cloud-to-cloud so didn’t start new fires. Friday evening it rained hard for a time and dropped the air temperature considerably. Saturday morning we awoke to cloudless, smokeless clear blue skies. What a beautiful sight and what a contrast to the past couple days. Many, ourselves  included, got out and took advantage of the day, going for hikes, working in the yard, and just enjoying being outside and breathing clean air and seeing the mountains around us. The rain had done an amazing job of washing away the smoke and ash from the air. What a blessing the rain showers were. They also gave the fire crews a brief respite, knowing the battle is not over by any means. Many of these fires won’t be out until the snow comes,  but at least for a day and a half, we had clear skies and clean air. The smoke is now back and temperatures this week will be back in the high 80’s and low 90’s with no more possibilities of rain until this coming weekend. 
     I was reminded of the old hymn, There Shall Be Showers of Blessing, based on Ezek. 34:26 which says: “And I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing.”  It is a prophecy concerning the future of Israel when God “will deliver His flock, and they will no longer be a prey…” and He “will set over them one shepherd, His servant David, who will feed them;…and He will be their Shepherd” (vv. 22,23).  It is a reference not to a resurrected King David, but to David’s greatest descendant, the Messiah (cf II Sam. 12:16;  Isa. 55:3; Jer. 23:5), who will come and rule over Israel and the whole earth for a thousand years. Bible scholars refer to it as “the Millennial Reign.” During that time, God will establish a new covenant with His chosen people, Israel, and the blessings will include the taming of nature (Isa. 11:6-9), increased productivity in the land (Isa. 35:1,2), safe occupation of the land of Palestine (Amos 9:14,15), and the knowledge of God and acceptance of Jesus as Messiah (Jer. 31:34 cf Ro. 11:25-26).  When you think of Israel’s situation today, facing the hatred of surrounding nations and increasing anti-Semitism world-wide, what a contrast the coming Millennium will be. Now they face the dark, smoky, ash-filled skies with fires all around (metaphorically speaking), but will one day (soon) experience the showers of blessing promised in Ezek. 34:26 which will produce the conditions described above.
     Maybe  you are experiencing a lot of smoky days in your life right now and are having trouble seeing the Sun.  Maybe the fires of adversity are pressing in all around you and you long for a refreshing rain so you can again have blue skies and see things clearly and breathe in refreshing air. Well, if the fires and smoke are of your own doing by ignoring God and going your own way, then you need to repent, confess your sin, and ask God for the cleansing that comes through His shed blood. The Apostle John gives us this promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9).  If the fires and smoke are just the result of living in a cursed world that has turned its back on God, just know that you can still experience the blessings of God in your life, no matter your circumstances. Maybe you can’t see the hand of God, but you can trust His heart and His promises to you such as: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand…When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God…” (Isa. 41:10; 43:2);  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride” (Psa. 46:1-3); “for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’ (Dt. 31:6), so that we can confidently say, ‘The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?’ (Psa. 118:6)” (Heb. 13:5,6). 
     So, no matter what we face, as Christians, “For this we have Jesus” in whom we have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3).
     “There shall be showers of blessing: This is the promise of love. There shall be seasons refreshing, sent from the Savior above. There shall be showers of blessing—precious reviving again; over the hills and the valleys, sound of abundance of rain. There shall be showers of blessing; send them upon us, O Lord. Grant to us now a refreshing; come and now honor Your Word…. There shall be showers of blessing; O that today they might fall, now as to God we’re confessing, now as on Jesus we call! Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need. Mercy drops around us are falling, but for the showers we plead.” (Daniel Whittle and James McGranahan).
                Forever His,
                        Pastor Dave
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The Church: Unity in Diversity

Our pastor, Alex Mauck,  is  currently doing a series on the Church, the Bride of Christ. Yesterday we were in Ephesians 1: 3-14 where Pastor Alex spoke on “The Church’s Identity: What makes the Church Unique?”  The passage in Ephesians shows how “The Church is Blessed by the Father” (vv. 3-6), “Redeemed by the Son” (vv. 7-12), and “Sealed by the Spirit” (vv. 13,14),  so we see how the Triune Godhead is involved in the identity of the Church.  Pastor Mauck pointed out too how the pronouns used referring to the Church are: “us” and  “we,” emphasizing that while we are individually accountable to God and must individually make a choice concerning Jesus Christ and salvation, when we do trust Him as our personal Savior, we are placed in a body made up of many members with whom we need to spend time and  to help each other grow into maturity as Christ’s Body, the Church.
     Interestingly, my wife and I are currently reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown and I want you to observe the portion we just read this weekend. (Usually Kathy drives and I read since she gets motion sick very easily if she doesn’t do the driving. So I read to us as she drives).
      The Boys in the Boat is a true story about nine American young men and their quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympic. It is a thrilling tale of struggle, and triumph during the most desperate of times, the Depression of the 1930’s.  You would thoroughly enjoy reading it.
     Rowing is an interesting sport where, in this case eight big, strong, athletic young men try to propel a narrow, shallow cedar boat called a shell as smoothly and rapidly as they possibly can while they are directed by the smallest and least powerful person in the boat, the coxswain, “who must have the force of character to look men twice his size in the face, bark orders to them, and be confident that the leviathans will respond instantly and unquestioningly to those orders. It is perhaps the most incongruous relationship in sports.” And, added to this crucial relationship between the coxswain and the rowing crew, is the fact that while the goal is to move as quickly through the water as possible, the faster the boat goes, the harder it is to row well, as each oarsman must stroke with exquisite precision, as the pain to his body increases with the stroke rate.
     As I quote three paragraphs from pages 178-180 of the book, keep in mind the Body of Christ, the Church and how we are to relate and work together, though we come from different backgrounds and have differing spiritual gifts, personalities, and interests.
            “The greatest paradox of the sport has to do with the psychological makeup of the people who pull the oars. Great oarsmen are necessarily made of conflicting stuff—of oil and water, fire and earth. On the one hand, they must possess enormous self-confidence, strong egos, and titanic will power. They must be almost immune to frustration. Nobody who does not believe deeply in himself —in his ability to endure hardship and to prevail over adversity—is likely even to attempt something as audacious as competitive rowing at the highest levels. The sport offers so many opportunities for suffering and so few opportunities for glory that only the most tenaciously self-reliant and self-motivated are likely to succeed at all. And yet, at the same time—and this is the key—no other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does. Great crews may have men of exceptional talent or strength; they may have outstanding coxswains or stroke oars or bowmen; but they have no stars. The team effort—the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat and water; the single, whole unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes—is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self. 
        ‘Even as rowers must subsume their often fierce sense of independence and self-reliance, at the same time they must hold true to their individuality, their unique capabilities as oarsmen, or for that matter, as human beings. Even if they could, few rowing coaches would simply clone their biggest, strongest, smartest, and  most capable rowers. Crew races are not won by clones. They are won by crews, and great crews are carefully balance blends of both physical abilities and personality types….Each must be prepared to compromise something in the way of optimizing his stroke for the overall benefit of the boat so that all oars remain parallel and enter and exit the water at precisely the same moment. This highly refined coordination and cooperation must be multiplied out across eight individuals of varying statures and physiques to make the most of each individual’s strengths.  Only in this way can the capabilities that come with diversity—lighter, more technical rowers in the bow and stronger, heavier pullers in the middle of the boat, for instance—be turned to advantage rather than disadvantage.
     ‘And capitalizing on diversity is perhaps even more important when it comes to the characters of the oarsmen. …Good crews are good blends of personalities: someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve; someone to pick a fight, someone to make peace; someone to think things through, someone to charge ahead without thinking. Somehow all this must mesh…Even after the right mixture is found, each man in the boat must recognize his place in the fabric of the crew, accept it and accept the others as they are. It is an exquisite thing when it all comes together in just the right way. The intense bonding and the sense of exhilaration that results from it are what many oarsmen row for, far more than for trophies or accolades.”
     Now check out the Apostle Paul’s description of the Body of Christ, the Church, working together in Ephesians 4:1-16. You will see an amazing parallel of the importance of unity in diversity. With our varied giftedness, personalities, and backgrounds, we are to lay aside self and work together as a team, recognizing our place, accepting others for how God has equipped them, and striving to work together as a team.  When it all comes together, “It is an exquisite thing!” And it is exhilarating.
            A Member of the Team,
                    Pastor Dave
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Destination Assured

  You’ve undoubtedly read stories about folks who have been led astray following the directions of their GPS.  I did a “Wisdom of the Week” devotional about my experience with some friends when we went to visit “Wilderness School of the Bible” in Montana for the first time. Lola obviously didn’t know the correct location and rather than admit it, took us on a rather “wild goose chase.”  At least we were able to stop and ask directions and managed to find the remotely located Bible school. Others who have been led astray have not been so fortunate and some have lost their lives before they were located. 
     In contrast, when God promises to take someone to a certain location—it will happen. He has never deceived anyone or led them in a direction other than He promised.  Yesterday in our adult Sunday school class we were listening to Dr. David Jeremiah’s lesson on “The Fear of Sudden Trouble” from his series What Are You Afraid of?  He used the story of the disciples and Jesus on the Sea of Galilee when a severe storm suddenly swept down upon them and the waves began breaking over the boat which was filling up with water. While the disciples were frantically trying to keep the boat afloat, Jesus was fast asleep. “They awoke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’ And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, ‘Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?’” (Mk. 4:38-40). As Dr. Jeremiah pointed out, before they left shore Jesus had said to them, “Let us go over to the other side” (v. 35).  They had missed the fact that with Jesus on board, they need not fear, for they would reach the destination He had promised.
     Another story is told in the New Testament about a storm at sea when it appeared those on board an Alexandrian cargo ship bound for Rome laden with grain along with some prisoners and soldiers to guard them would perish.  But one of the prisoners happened to be the Apostle Paul who had been arrested in Jerusalem and had—as a Roman citizen—appealed his case to Caesar. There were 276 in all aboard the ship and it appeared they had no chance to make it in the fierce storm, but Paul urged them saying, “keep up your courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship, For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; for you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27: 22-25).  Paul knew God would do as the angel said. He trusted God fully, and knew they would reach their destination, in spite of the storm, and even in spite of ship wreck.
     In his lesson about the disciples and Jesus in the storm, Dr. Jeremiah pointed out two interested verses. The first is Psalm 56:3 which says: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee.” And the second is Isaiah 12:2 which says: “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid…”  Dr. Jeremiah made a good observation as he compared those two passages, saying: “We can either trust God in the midst of the storm and learn in the process (to not be afraid…as David wrote in Ps. 56:3), or we can learn to trust Him ahead of the storm and know He is sufficient for every need (not be afraid, as Isaiah writes). The more you build your faith, the less you will be terrified by fear. It is a choice. We either live by fear or walk by faith.”
     We can have the same assurance regarding our eternal destination as the disciples should have had in reaching the far shore or the Apostle Paul in reaching Rome in spite of the storms they encountered along the way. Jesus gives us this promise in John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” In the next chapterJohn records another promise Jesus gave: “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me, I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:37-40).   If you have come to Jesus Christ (drawn there by the Father), acknowledged your sinfulness, and believed on Him as your personal Savior, that He died for your sin and rose again, you have been “born again” (Jn. 3:3) and are no longer under the judgment of sin, and have changed your eternal destination from hell to heaven.  And you can say with the Apostle Paul, “…For I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (II Tim. 1:12), “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
     As believers in Jesus Christ for eternal life, our destination is assured, no matter what “storms” we face along the way. With Jesus “on board” we will get there!  As someone has aptly put it, “As long as the Head is above water, you can’t drown the feet!” And Christ is the Head of the Church. We are members of His body. Remember to do as Isaiah 12:2 tells us: “I will trust and not be afraid.”  But, if you have yet to trust Christ for salvation, by all means do that!  Otherwise, you have a lot to fear!  If you’ve never done so, admit to Him today that you are a sinner and believe on Him for eternal life, and you will pass from death to life (Jn. 5:24) and then you “know that you have eternal life” (I Jn. 5:13), for “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (v. 12).
                Forever His,
                        Pastor Dave
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