Sandcastles

Over Valentine’s weekend we were on the Oregon coast at Seaside to watch our grandson, Luke, play in a basketball tournament and to spend some time with our family and in-laws. We were treated with a beautiful sunny weekend with temperatures in the mid sixties and little wind. We spent quite a bit of time wandering on the beach—along with hundreds of others!  Someone had built a very elaborate sand castle which obviously had involved quite a bit of time as well as creativity. People would stop by and take pictures as they admired the handy work. The next day as we walked by the same location, there was—of course—no evidence of the work of art. It had been completely washed away and became once again just millions of grains of sand on the beach to walk upon.  At nearby Cannon Beach they will be holding their 44th annual Sandcastle Day Festival this June 7th with an estimated 1,000 participants  and some 8,000 spectators, as groups in every age category create their ornate and intricate sculptures starting at 6:30 a. m. The day after the contest, the impressive sculptures, just as the castle we saw at Seaside, will be obliterated and just part of the beach once again.

     I am reminded of one of Jesus’ parables recorded in both Matthew 7: 24-27 and Luke 6:46-49—the parable of the two foundations or of the wise man and the foolish man. It was the basis for a chorus we often sang in Sunday school. The foolish man built his house upon the sand and when the “rains came down and the floods came up, the house on the sand fell flat.” In contrast, the wise man built his house upon the rock and when “the rains came down and the floods came up, the house on the rock stood firm.” And the spiritual lesson? “So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ and the blessings will come down as the prayers go up.” 
     If you have come to Christ for salvation, He is the foundation—“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11).  He is the rock upon which we need to build our life (I Cor. 10:4).  When you are resting on Christ, you can build on that foundation things which will last, referred to by Paul in  I Cor. 3:12 as “gold, silver, and precious stones.” The person who has put his/her faith in Jesus Christ, can build on that foundation an edifice of Christian character that will weather the storms of misunderstanding, cynicism, criticism, suffering, adversity, disappointment, doubt and persecution when they threaten to—like ocean waves—overwhelm him. He can remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58).
     But, those who build on the sand, no matter how intricate, ornate, and crowd-pleasing their structure, will one day find everything come crashing down and the storms of adversity and ultimate judgment come. What is the sand? It is human goodness and human effort. It is the old weakness of the flesh, and as  Paul wrote: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…” (Ro. 7:18).  No matter how much effort and expertise goes into a sandcastle, no matter how impressive the sculpture, it is not going to withstand the power of the tide coming back in and will be washed away as though it had never existed.  Many in this world continue to work on their sandcastles as if they are going to last forever and somehow grant them entrance into heaven because of their efforts.  The prophet Isaiah, however, wrote: “…And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isa. 64:6).  Titus, in the New Testament, wrote: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5). And the Apostle Paul wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works (building sandcastles), that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). 
     The obvious conclusion then, just as in the children’s chorus, is to “build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The Psalmist wrote: “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it…” (Psa. 127:1).  The wise man builds his house on the rock, Christ Jesus. The foolish man builds his house on the sand. On what are you building your life?
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
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Manufacturers’ Warnings

  It is amazing how people will use a product for something other than it is intended and then try to sue the company or manufacturer to compensate them for injuries incurred. To cover themselves from liability, manufacturers have had to place some humorous warning labels on their products. Here are just a few examples:

            1)  On a Swedish chainsaw: “Don’t stop chain with hand!”
            2)  On a Sears hair dryer: “Do not use while sleeping.”
            3)  On a clothes iron: “Do not iron clothes on your body.”
            4)  On a push mower: “Do not use as a hedge trimmer.”
     We laugh at these and think: “How stupid can people be?”  Well, as someone has aptly said, “There is no limit to what stupid can do!”  And such stupidity or foolishness is not limited to the use of chainsaws, hair dryers, irons and push mowers, etc.,—it carries over into the spiritual realm as well. If you will, we are the products and God is the Manufacturer.  He has given us a detailed Owner’s Manual called the Bible which is full of instructions on how we are to operate as intended and some clear warnings about what will happen if we abuse or pervert His directions.
     Unfortunately when His Instruction Manual has been ignored or—as in some cases—outlawed, soon everyone begins doing “that which is right in his own eyes” as happened during the period of the Judges before Israel had a king (Judges 21:25). When we are not living in obedience to God’s Word, we are ruled by our old, sinful natures which are in rebellion against God. We are easy prey for the devil and the philosophies of man. The Apostle Paul warns us:  “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2: 8).
     God gave very clear instructions, for example, regarding marriage, that it is to be one man and one woman. He gave us that pattern from the very beginning way back in Genesis as He provided a wife for Adam, and then gave this directive for the future: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).  In His infinite wisdom, He designed men and women in such a way that they could become “one flesh” and reproduce to fill the earth. If you think about the features of male and female and their ability to reproduce, never through time and chance could that have happened through some process of evolution! It was the amazing design of the Creator.  God’s design was for children to be reared in a home with a mom and a dad who have become one through the physical intimacy of their marriage.  As you think about how traditional (i.e., biblical) marriage is being attacked today, you realize how many have, in ignoring or rejecting God’s Word, bought into Satan’s lies, just as Eve did in the Garden of Eden, when he said to Eve: “Indeed, has God said, ‘you shall not eat from any tree of the garden? …You shall not die…’” (Gen. 3:1,4).   God made us in His image (Gen. 1:26,27), and part of that is our free will to choose to obey or disobey, to follow the Manufacturer’s directions or to do it our own way. But, we can’t avoid the consequences of our choice.  “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7,8).  “Flesh,” as used here refers to our old, sinful nature received from Adam as a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden. Just think of all the problems our society faces—economically, emotionally, physically, spiritually—because of the disintegration of the family.  We are reaping what we have sown. We have failed to follow the instructions in the Owner’s Manual. 
     Perversion of God’s design for marriage is called immorality, and notice Paul’s warning: “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body” (I Cor. 6:18).  Then  in his letter to the Romans, Paul tells what the consequences will be: “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function (God’s design) for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer (i.e., follow His Manual), God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Ro. 1:24-28). (There is no question of what God has to say about what our society calls alternate lifestyles. Look at the words I underlined in these verses!). 
     An even more tragic commentary on our current culture is that those who are showing their loyalty to God and are following His instructions are now being persecuted for refusing to bake a wedding cake, or prepare a floral arrangement, or take photographs for a homosexual wedding. Rather than being lauded for standing up for their Christian beliefs, they are being sued and are having their lives threatened. Wow, how far we have strayed and we will pay the price. How can we flippantly say “And may God bless America” at the end of a speech in which we have advocated activities contrary to God’s Word?  The Bible says, “Blessed is that nation whose God is the LORD…” (Psa. 33:12). “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Pr. 14:34).  We have been a blessed nation, probably more than any other on earth other than Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon, but we can’t be blessed any longer if we turn our back on God and His Word. Earlier in that chapter in Proverbs it says: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Pr. 14:12). 
     Manufacturers’ warnings are given for a reason: to protect us, knowing our tendency to do stupid things!  God, knowing the bent of our sinful nature, has also given us warnings—not because He is some celestial killjoy, but because He loves us and wants to protect us. He truly wants the best for us and gave His best to prove it by dying for our sins on the Cross.
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
Anyone can have a wedding, but only God can create a marriage!”
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Play Calling

  Oh, my goodness! What a strange finish to Super Bowl 49!  For those of us in the Northwest who happen to be Seahawk fans, we experienced another roller coaster of emotions, not unlike what happened in the NFC Championship game where Seattle came back from a 16-0 half-time deficit to win in overtime after some very bizarre plays and risky play calling that worked, with a little “luck” thrown in. Again yesterday there were some “gutsy” play calls which worked—except for the final one of the game.  With Seattle down 24-28, Jemaine Kearse had an amazing reception while lying on his back, putting the Seahawks in scoring position. After another punishing run by Marshawn Lynch, nicknamed “Beast Mode,” (giving him 102 yards rushing for the game, 133 overall), the Seahawks had three downs and one time out to gain one yard and win their second consecutive Super Bowl. Surely with football’s most-bruising runner in your backfield, you can punch it into the end zone given three plays and a little less than a yard to go!  But that’s when it happened, shocking players, spectators, and the millions of us watching—they ran a slant pass to Ricardo Lockett which was intercepted by a rookie free agent from West Alabama, Malcolm Butler. You’ll have to admit, it was a surprise, and sometimes that can work to your advantage, as it had on numerous occasions for the Seahawks.  The call was made by offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell but could have been overruled by Pete Carroll, head coach, or changed at the line by Russell Wilson, Seahawk quarterback. But they ran the play and with it ended their chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions. There, of course, has been lots of commentary on the play call, especially since a similar thing happened when Pete Carroll was head coach at USC, costing them a third consecutive national championship. Had the pass call worked successfully, the whole outcome would have been different. They would have been interviewing Seahawk players and coaches and they would have been heroes instead of goats—what a fine line between the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory. It can be determined by the minutest of detail.

     We may all be questioning the play call by the Seahawks, but I can’t help but recall some of God’s play calls recorded in Scripture—ones we would surely have questioned had we been participants in the events.  I think, for example of how God led the Israelites out of Egypt yet brought them to the Red Sea when Pharaoh changed his mind about releasing Israel and sent his army after them. The Israelites found themselves between “the devil and the deep blue sea,” or rather Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. They must have thought, “God, we should never have left Egypt. Now we are surely all going to die!”  But God parted the water for them (2-3 million!) to cross and then closed the waters drowning Pharaoh’s army as they pursued.
     I think of God’s play call to take the walled city of Jericho as they entered the land. God’s plan! He had them march around the city once a day for six days, led by seven priests with rams’ horns. Then on the seventh day, they were to march around the city seven time and the priests were to blow their trumpets and the people were to shout. What a seemingly ridiculous play call—but they obeyed and the walls, which may have been as high as 30 feet, fell flat so the people could walk right into the city. (Probably the walls sunk into the ground to allow that).
     I think of God’s play call for Gideon’s army of 32,000 (Judges 7:3) when they went up against the Midianites who numbered 135,000 (8:10).  Gideon’s men were outnumbered more than four to one, so what kind of play would God call?  He told Gideon he had too many men. Say what?  “And the LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me’” (7:2).  God had Gideon pare his army down to 330 men! Now the odds weren’t four to one; they were 450 to one!  God had Gideon divide the men into three companies of 100 and give each man a trumpet and a pitcher with a torch inside. They surrounded the Midianites’ camp, blew trumpets and broke the pitchers and shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” (7:2). The Midianites panicked and began killing each other or fleeing. Gideon’s little band of 300 men routed a Midianite army of 135,000. God captains an unbeatable team and His play calls always work—no matter how strange they may seem to us. It is not the size of the army in the fight; it is the size of God in the army! God had promised the Israelites: “If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments so as to carry them out (follow my play calls), …then five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword” (Lev. 26:6). The Apostle Paul wrote:  “What then shall we say to these things, if God is for us, who is against us?…But in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us” (Ro. 8:31,37).
     On one occasion, Wicked King Sennacherib and his huge, ruthless Assyrian army (of terrorists) had invaded Judah and put Jerusalem under siege, King Hezekiah spoke to encourage the people of Jerusalem, saying: “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria, nor because of all the multitude which is with him; for the One with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles. Hezekiah and Isaiah, the prophet prayed about this and cried out to heaven. And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned in shame to his own land. And when he had entered the temple of his god, some of his own children killed him there with the sword. So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all others, and guided them on every side” (II Chr. 32:7,8,20-22).
     God often has very surprising play calls, ones which don’t make any sense to us, definitely not the ones we would run, but He is the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God and we are not. We read in Isaiah:       “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD” (Isa. 55: 8).  Jesus’ teachings are totally contrary to the ways of man. His play calls just don’t make any human sense. He said that when we are insulted and persecuted and evil is spoken against us because of Him, we are to “Rejoice and be glad” (Mt. 5:11,12).
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:43,44).  The Apostle Paul taught us to: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take you own revenge…But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him drink…” (Ro. 12:17-20). 
     I have to admit, God’s play calls often don’t make any sense from our human view point, especially to our old sinful flesh. His ways are definitely not our ways, but guess what. His always work!  He has never run a play that didn’t succeed. So, it behooves us to follow Solomon’s advice:  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean to you own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Pr. 3:5,6).  When it comes to life on earth, especially in the world of sports, it is easy to second guess those who call the plays, especially when those plays fail. After all, we are creatures of dust with limited knowledge and capability, but “As for God, His way is blameless (perfect)…” (Psa. 18:30). Trust His play calls, even if they don’t make human sense or seem to be working—they will!  “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:57).
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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Facing Failure

 If you watched the NFC championship game last Sunday between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, you witnessed an amazing comeback by the Seahawks in the last few minutes of the game and overtime to make it again to the Super Bowl which they won last year against the Denver Broncos. After trailing 16-0 at halftime, Seattle fought back to trail by just 19-14 with 2:09 to play in the 4th quarter. They, of course, attempted an on-side kick as their only hope to get the ball back. What transpired has been the topic of discussion in the sports world since that play.

     With receiver Jordy Nelson behind him on the “hands team,” Brandon Bostick was supposed to block a Seattle player coming into his area to clear space for Nelson to field the ball. Bostick decided instead to try to field the ball himself, but with disastrous results. The ball went through his hands and off his helmet and into the hands of Seattle’s Chris Matthews, setting the stage for the Seahawks’ go-ahead 50-yard touch-down drive that took just 44 seconds. Seattle was successful on its two-point conversion attempt, to make the score 22-19 in favor of the Seahawks with a little over a minute to play. Green Bay responded by marching down the field and tying the game with a 48-yard field goal, their 5th of the game, sending the game into overtime. Seattle won the toss and it didn’t take their offense long to put the ball into the end zone with a long pass from Russell Wilson to Jerome Kearse, winning the game 28-22 and heading for their second consecutive Super Bowl.
     Brandon Bostik, of course, felt that the Packers’ loss was largely due to his failure to catch the on-side kick. He said, “There was a lot riding on the game, and I just feel like if I would have done my job—my assignment was to block—Jordy would have caught the ball and the game would have been over.”  Brandon’s teammates did their best to console him. Players never like to say a game comes down to one play.  “All of us screw up, all of us make mistakes,” said rookie center Corey Linsey.  Special team captain, Randall Cobb, told Bostick, “There’s a bunch of plays we wish we could get back in that game.”  But, your heart goes out to Brandon Bostik, who undoubtedly will have that play running over and over in his mind for a long time, as he plays the “If-Only” game. “If only I had just done my assignment and blocked for Jordy.” “If only I had hung on to the ball!”   “If-Only”—that’s a game we have all played, for we have all made crucial mistakes. It’s just that Brandon’s was made before millions of viewers!
     So how do you handle failure?  We all experience it. How we deal with failure really determines what our future will be like. When R.A. Dickey, knuckle-ball pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, was finally called up to the majors after many years in the minor league, he got to  pitch for the Texas Rangers and in his first game set a record by giving up six homeruns!  But, he went on to win a Cy Young award just a few years later as he pitched for the New York Mets.  He could have just decided he wasn’t cut out for the majors and given up but it just made him work harder to perfect his knuckleball. (Read his amazing story and his testimony of what God has done in his life in his autobiography, Wherever I Wind Up.)  Someone said, “Failure is part of life—getting back up is living.”  You can do nothing about your past failures but learn from them. Dr. Wayne W. Dyer wrote: “If my past is at fault for what I am today and the past cannot be changed, I am doomed to stay as I am.” Thomas Edison said, “To accomplish your goals, failure has to be viewed as part of the process.” Concerning his long struggle as an inventor, he said, “ I didn’t fail repeatedly; I merely found ten thousand ways not to  make a light bulb!” 
     Babe Ruth, considered by many as the greatest baseball player of all time, failed to get a hit in almost two-thirds of his at-bats and struck out some 1,330 times, or about once for every 10 plate appearances!  But, he didn’t give up baseball because he struck out a lot, in fact during his career (1914-1935), which included both pitching and hitting, he had 2,873 hits, including 714 homeruns, 136 triples and 506 doubles for a .690 slugging percentage, with 2213 RBI and a lifetime batting average of .342!  I’m sure there were many times the “Babe” came to bat with an opportunity to win the game for the Yankees, and like “Mighty Casey,” he struck out. Was he, therefore a failure? Hardly!
     Michael Jordan, one of the greatest players in NBA history, missed over half the shots he took from the field. Twenty-eight times he was given the ball at the end of a game with a chance to win it for his team and failed to do so. Was he, therefore a failure? NOT!  He made 49.7 % of his field-goal attempts, 83.5% of his free-throw attempts, amassing a total of 32,292 points in his career (1984-2003). He was rookie of the year and a 14-time NBA all-star. He helped his team win six NBA championships, in five of which he was chosen MVP. Oh, yes, he also has two Olympic Gold medals in his collection!  And by the way, Michael couldn’t make the varsity basketball team at Emsley A. Lamey High School in Willmington, North Carolina as a sophomore. At 5’11” he was deemed too short to play at that level. He played J.V. and had several 40-point games. He grew 4” that summer and played varsity his junior and senior years, averaging 20 points a game.
     Numerous Bible characters who ended up spiritual giants of the faith also had major failures in their lives: Abraham (lying), Jacob (deceit and trickery), Moses (anger, murder), David (adultery, murder), Peter (pride, denial), for example. But, their failures weren’t final. Because of God’s grace, failure need never be final. “If we are faithless (i.e., if we fail), He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (II Tim. 2:13).  Failure need be neither fatal or final, for God is a restoring God who picks us up where we are and gives us a new beginning “The steps of a good man are established by the LORD; and He delights in his way. When he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; because the LORD is the One who holds his hand” (Psa. 37:23,24). “The LORD sustains all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psa. 145:14). “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall” (Oliver Goldsmith). 
     So, did Brandon Bostick fail? Yes. Is he a failure?  No. Because of using his talents, discipline and efforts, he helped his  team make it to the NFC championship game.  Hopefully, he will continue to play with confidence and contribute to his team’s success in the future. Florence Griffith Joyner, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, said, “You never fail until you stop trying.”
                    Forever His,
                                Pastor Dave
“Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up” (Thomas Edison).   
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The Kingdom Belongs to Such as These

  I was the last of five children in our family. My oldest brother, Dennis, is 14 years older than I am. I also have a brother, Arnold, 12 years older and a sister, Audrey, 8 years older. I  had another sister, Karen,  who would have been even closer to my age, but she died of what was called “crib death” as an infant, so I never knew her.  I look forward to one day meeting her in heaven. I don’t know what she will look like or how old she will be—the Bible doesn’t give us those details—but I do know that she will be there and I will be able to know who she is. 

         When David sinned by taking Bathsheba as his wife and putting Uriah her husband on the front lines of battle where he was killed, his adulterous relationship resulted in the birth of a child to Bathsheba.  But, because of David’s sin, “…the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was very sick” (II Sam. 12:15). David fasted and prayed for the life of their baby, but on the seventh day, the child died and David’s servants were afraid to even tell him, knowing his mental state, afraid “he might do himself harm! But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, ‘Is the child dead?’ And they said, ‘He is dead.’ So David arose from the ground, washed , anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’ And he said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live. But now he has died; why should I fast? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me’” (vv. 18b-23). 
     David had the confidence that he would one day join his son in heaven.  We too can have that assurance, if we are believers, that we will be reunited with loved ones who died before us that either had not reached an age of accountability before God, or had trusted Him as personal Savior.  In Matthew’s gospel we read: “Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Mt. 19:13,14). The Bible indicates that there comes a time when an individual is mature enough to “refuse evil and choose good” (Isa. 7:15).  We find in Ex. 30:14; Nu. 14:29,31 and Dt. 1:39 a reference to those who are twenty and older being held accountable. Nehemiah speaks of “those who can listen with understanding” (Neh. 8:2,3). Jeremiah speaks of “the innocent” (Jer. 19:4). We see a reference to those in Nineveh (where Jonah preached) who “don’t know the difference between the right and left hand” (Jon. 4:11). These passages, along with those in the New Testament such as Mt. 18:2-10; 19:14; Mk. 10:13-16, would indicated that until a child reaches a certain stage of understanding he is “innocent,” being covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, who “died for all” (II Cor. 5:14), and “tasted death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). 
     When you think of how many children there are in the world, and how many have died before reaching an accountable age, you understand better Jesus’ statement: “…the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt. 19:14).  And then consider the fact that one becomes a person at the time of conception (Psa. 51:5; 139:14-16; Eccl. 11:5; Isa. 44:2,24;; 49:1; Jer. 1:4,5; Lk. 1:11-17, 31-33,41,44) and think of the millions upon millions of children whose lives have been terminated while still in the womb!  Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion through the 9th month of pregnancy in the Roe v. Wade decision on Jan. 22, 1973, the number of children whose lives have been terminated before they have a chance to be born is approaching 57 million! (In comparison, the total American war casualties since the revolution through the present is about 1.2 million).  Each day, some 4,000 babies are aborted in the United States. That is one every 22 seconds!  And that is just in the United States. Worldwide there are approximately 46,000,000 abortions per year.  That is a lot of children who make up the kingdom of heaven! 
     As I contemplate how man could be so passionate about saving birds and animals and going to great lengths to protect them—like wolves, and grizzly bears and bull trout in our area—yet be so calloused when it comes to the sanctity of human life that is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:16,27), I realize how depraved the sinful nature of man is. I am reminded of what we read in Jer. 17:9: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it.”
     One of the unique characteristics of Christianity is its view of the sanctity of human life, that each life is precious to God, whether still in the womb, or in old age. That view comes from the heart of God who loved the world of humanity so much “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). God has a purpose for each one of us or we wouldn’t be here. But, I think about what could have been accomplished by the millions who haven’t had the opportunity to live their life here upon earth. By taking the life of a child before he or she is born we are not only committing murder, but are missing out on what each could have contributed here. There are many stories of individuals whose parents either considered abortion or might have been counseled by others to have abortions, yet have been such a great asset to society. One such person that became a household name in the past few years is Tim Tebow, MVP of the Orange Bowl National Championship college football game, and winner of the Heisman Trophy in 2007. Twenty-one years earlier, doctors advised his mother to abort him on two different occasions. Bob and Pam Tebow were serving as missionaries in the Philippines when she became pregnant. She had been taking a series of aggressive antibiotics to combat ambeic dysentery when she discovered the pregnancy. Although she immediately stopped taking the medicine, the doctors advised an abortion because of the irreversible damage the drugs had presumably caused.  But, as a Christian, she did not feel that this should even be an option and several months later the future Heisman winner was born on August 14, 1987. He grew to be 6 feet 3 inches and 235 pounds and was nicknamed “Superman” by Florida Gator fans. As Tebow received the 25-pound bronzed Heisman Trophy, the first thing he said was: “I’d just like to first start off by thanking my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave me the ability to play football, and He gave me a great family.” (That was willing to go against the advice of the doctors and allow him to be born.) Amen! May his tribe increase!
                            Forever His,
                                    Pastor Dave
“It is not a choice, it is a child”
    
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Missing Pieces

  We enjoy doing picture puzzles during the winter when we don’t have as many outdoor projects that demand our attention. We are currently working on a 2,000-piece Super Big Ben of The Dolomites, Italy (a beautiful mountain scene).  The challenge—besides so many pieces—is that it is a used puzzle from a thrift store and apparently has several missing pieces. We have finally conquered the sky and mountains, but there ended up being three pieces missing in that section. We probably spent considerable time looking for them, not realizing that they were missing. There was no indication on the box that pieces were missing.

     How much like the life of so many in the world today. They are spending their time and energies looking for the “missing pieces” of their life, that which would complete them, satisfy them, give them purpose. The problem is they are looking for something they can never find in the places they are looking. The first problem is they haven’t even completed the framework of the puzzle. If you are a puzzle maker, you know that after getting the pieces all turned right-side up—no small task when you have a 2,000-piece puzzle—you locate the edge pieces and build the frame so that you have a foundation to build upon. Spiritually speaking, that framework or foundation to build upon, if our life is going to be fulfilling, and purposeful, must be Jesus Christ. To the believers at Corinth (in Greece), the missionary, Paul, wrote: “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (I Cor. 3:11-15).  To attempt to find meaning in life without a foundation of salvation in Jesus Christ is like building a house on  the sand, pure foolishness (Mt. 7:26).
     All efforts to find the “missing pieces” will be futile until a person first puts His trust in Christ for eternal life, for we were made to have a relationship with Him and nothing else we try will fill that need or void in our life. As we looked for some of the pieces to our puzzle (which ended up not existing), we jokingly said we should just take a knife and shape a piece so it would fit!  No matter what pieces we tried, they didn’t quite fit.  There is a longing in every heart which only Jesus Christ can satisfy.   We can never experience true satisfaction apart from the experience of God’s grace (Eph. 2:8,9).   The testimony of the late Chuck Colson is a good illustration of this truth. He writes:
     “While growing up, I had never really been a religious person and my life had been spent trying to find personal and material security, trying to be a success in all that I did. I was the grandson of immigrants, and came from a family that had never sent anyone to college. I remember thinking, ‘If I could only get a scholarship to college, that would be security. I’d find meaning and purpose in life. That’s all I’d need.’ So, I earned a scholarship to an Ivy League university and graduated with academic honors. But, I found that wasn’t enough.  I was then commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. I remember pinning those bars on as a marine lieutenant, hoping that would be my identity.
     “After the war, I earned my law degree and became the youngest administrative assistant in the U.S. Senate. I can remember working my way up the ladder, thinking: ‘I am going to find security; I am going to find significance; I am going to find purpose out of the things of this world.’ When I was just 39, the president of the United States (Richard Nixon) asked me to come and work with him. I was given an office right down the hall. The closer you are to the president, the more powerful your position, and soon I had an office immediately next to the president. One day I remember looking out over the south lawn of the White House, those beautifully manicured grounds, and thinking to myself, ‘My dad used to tell me in the Depression that if you work hard and strive to get ahead, you can do anything in America.’  I remember thinking, ‘That’s right, it’s true. All those years I wanted that security, I wanted success and power and achievement, and now I’ve got it all.’ But, the amazing paradox: when I left the Whitehouse, choosing to go back to private practice shortly after President Nixon’s second inauguration, I walked out with really everything a person could want in life, but I felt absolutely empty, dead and hollow inside.  All those things I thought would give me security, significance and meaning did not.”
     Chuck Colson returned to a very prestigious and lucrative law firm, with clients lined up at the doors. He thought this would give his life a new thrust, new zest and purpose—but still, there was that emptiness and lack of meaning. Then Watergate began leaking and Chuck’s already burdened heart became even heavier with much anxiety added to the load. Meanwhile, Tom Philips, a prior client of Chuck’s contacted him. Tom had become a Christian and he shared his testimony with Chuck. He, too, though president of a successful business with a good family and good health, had a hole in his life. He had begun reading the Bible looking for answers and realized what was missing was a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He attended a Billy Graham Crusade in Madison Square Garden, hoping to find some answers. “That night,” Tom said, “I invited Christ to come into my life and I could feel His presence and His peace.” Tom gave Chuck the book Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.
      As Chuck read the book, God spoke to Chuck’s heart convicting Him that Jesus Christ was God and was what he was missing in his life.  He prayed: “Lord Jesus, I believe You. I accept You. Please come into my life. I commit my life to You.” Chuck felt old fears, tensions, longings, and animosities draining away and in their place came a new strength, serenity, a wonderful new assurance about life, a fresh perception about himself and the world around him. He said, “That barren void was filled to the brim and overflowing.”  He had been obsessed with significance but was looking for it in all the wrong places. He discovered it was not in academic achievement, nor in business success or making more money; it was not in having an office next to the President of the United States—it was in having a personal relationship with the only truly significant Person in the universe—the Lord Jesus Christ. 
     What about you? Are you looking for something to fill that void in your life, that “piece of the puzzle” to complete you and give you real purpose and meaning?  It’s available only in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why not admit your emptiness and need and receive Christ into your life as Savior and Lord. He will not disappoint you!
                            Forever His,
                                        Pastor Dave
“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”
                Blaise Pascal
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Mulligans

     While our son and family were here for Christmas, we had beautiful snow for cross-country skiing and sledding, but also decided to play disc golf in the snow. My wife served as spotter so we could find our discs that would burrow into the snow. We also have a little ground rule for 18-hole course and that is that you can take one “mulligan.”  A “mulligan” is a second chance to perform an action, usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder. Its best known meaning is in golf whereby a player is informally allowed to replay a stroke. While not allowed in competitive golf, sometimes in recreational golf, there is agreement to allow for a “mulligan.” It is probably named after Canadian golfer, David Mulligan. Once after making a poor tee shot, he re-teed and shot again, calling it a “correction shot,” but his friends thought it more fitting to name the practice after him.

I’m so glad we serve a God who allows for “mulligans,” or “second chances.” As we read through the Bible we find it full of examples of individuals who had some very poor starts, or committed some major blunders but were given second chances. It all begins, of course with the scene in the Garden of Eden with the original couple, Adam and Eve who disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17).  God made provision for their sin by slaying innocent animals and covering them with the hides (Gen. 3:21) so that they could be restored to fellowship with God.  Moses, when he was 40 years old, became so angry with the way his Hebrew brothers were being mistreated by the Egyptians that he killed an Egyptian and had to flee to the desert for 40 years. But then God called him to go back and help the Israelites escape from Egypt. He was given a second chance. Abraham, with whom God made a covenant to bless him and make of him a mighty nation (Israel), had several lapses of faith, but he was still known as the “friend of God”  (II Chr. 20:7; Jas. 2:23) and is listed in the “hall of fame of faith” (Heb. 11:8-10).  David, in a moment of weakness, committed adultery and murder, yet later, when confronted by Nathan, repented and was used mightily by God and was known as “a man after God’s heart” (I Sam. 13:14).  Jonah, the prophet, when asked to go to Nineveh to preach, refused and ran the opposite direction. But, after his experience of being swallowed by the great fish God sent, was ready to go! He was given a second chance. Unfortunately his attitude toward the Ninevites hadn’t changed.

Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor of followers of Jesus, and even stood by and gave consent when Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:58). But then Saul met the risen Christ as he was headed to Damascus to search for believers to persecute and he was totally transformed and given an opportunity to take the Gospel to Asia and Europe. He was given a second chance for a new beginning.  The apostle Peter, during Jesus’ trial, denied his Lord three times, yet after meeting with the risen Christ and being filled with the Spirit at Pentecost, became a great, bold, leader in the early church.

God is definitely the “God of new beginnings,” and as we start a new year on the calendar, we are reminded that God is not limited by our shortcomings and our blunders. He is willing to give us a fresh start many times over.  We read in I Jn. 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  The prophet Micah said, “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19), and He puts up “NO FISHING” signs!  Jeremiah records God’s promise, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34).  The Psalmist, David, who really understood what forgiveness and new beginnings meant, wrote:; “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12).

     We should note, however, that while God is able and ready to forgive and not hold our sin against us, and to give us a fresh start, it doesn’t mean we won’t face some consequences of our lapses. Adam and Eve’s disobedience brought a curse on the earth and passed on a sinful nature. Moses’ anger kept him from getting to enter the Promised Land. Abraham’s lapse of faith resulted in a multitude of people, the Ishmaelites (Arabs) who became and are the enemies of the chosen nation, Israel, that came through the son, Isaac, promised to Abraham and Sarah. David’s sin resulted in all sorts of turmoil in his family.  There is a law of sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7,8) which we cannot violate. While we can experience the freedom of forgiveness, sin leaves scars as reminders of how much God hates sin.  The brutality of the Cross is evidence of how much God hates sin and how much He must love us to pay such a great price to offer forgiveness.

Maybe you need a new beginning as we enter this New Year.  God is the God of new beginnings. If you need forgiveness, He alone can, and desires to, provide it. Just be honest with Him (that’s what it means to “confess”—to agree with God concerning), and He will forgive and provide a fresh start.  Though He hates sin, He also knows our weaknesses (Heb. 4:13), and while He doesn’t ever condone sin (In His perfect holiness, He cannot… Hab. 1:13), He does allow for “mulligans” or “do-overs.”  Praise God, that we can begin anew this year to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mt. 6:33) and to “set our affections on things above and not on things on this earth” (Col. 3:2).

 

Forever His,

Pastor Dave

 

“Live with the realities of the present, anticipate the future with hope, and let go of the past disappointments” (Charles Swindoll).

 

 

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