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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Great Expectations

   The novel, Great Expectations is a classic work of Victorian literature by Charles Dickens (published Oct., 1861) that depicts the growth and personal development of an orphan named Pip.

 It has themes of wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. Dickens himself considered it to be his best work.
     At Christmas, people have “great expectations” of what the season should provide for them: a time of peace and joy and celebration; a time with family and friends; a time of special music and programs. Children have an excitement as they await Christmas eve and/or Christmas morning and the gifts they expect or wish to receive. They may have a certain item that they really, really want for Christmas and as the gifts are wrapped and placed under the tree, they look to see if one has the right size and shape of the item they hope to get. This year our son and family were with us for Christmas, and our granddaughter was really hoping for and expecting a certain American Girl Doll.  She saw a box under the tree that appeared to be the right size and shape and sure enough turned out to be for her and was what she had expected. She was so excited she couldn’t contain  her emotions. It was pretty fun to observe her joy at receiving what she expected and hoped for.
     Sometimes  when we get someone a gift they are hoping for, we try to disguise the package to not look like what they are expecting. That way when they do open it, not thinking they are getting what they wanted, they are really surprised as well as excited. And sometimes children (and adults!)  don’t get what they are hoping for or expecting. They are disappointed to have their expectations go unfulfilled.   All throughout the Old Testament, God had promised to send a Redeemer and King who would usher in a time of peace on earth and a rule of justice and righteousness.  Isaiah prophesied: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forever more. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this…a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit…with righteousness He will judge the poor and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth…And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea ” (Isa. 9:6,7;  11:1-9).
     But, when Jesus was born, grew up and began His ministry, He wasn’t what they had expected. They were hoping for relief from the oppression of Rome and for a kingdom on earth of peace and safety and prosperity. Instead, God sent His Son into the world as a babe in a manger born to a virgin engaged to a carpenter from an obscure village in Galilee called Nazareth. He became a tradesmen like His father and when He began his ministry at age 30, He didn’t overthrown Rome to establish an earthly kingdom. He kept talking about the “first being last,” and about having a servant’s heart and loving your enemy and those who persecute you. He also kept mentioning that “His hour” or “His time” had not yet come, referring to the real purpose for which He came, and that was to give His life as a sacrifice and substitute for sin.  What people had missed that the prophets had also said, was that the Messiah would first have to suffer. The Psalmist and the prophet Isaiah had spoken of how the Messiah would be tortured and crucified (Psa. 22; Isa. 53).  Since He wasn’t what they expected, many rejected Him and He was ultimately arrested, tried unjustly, turned over to the Romans and crucified—just as had been prophesied! 
     John, in His gospel, wrote: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11).  He didn’t meet their great expectations of who and what the Messiah should be, so they rejected Him, not realizing that He was exactly what they needed, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10). He came as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). 
     Things are no different today. Many have expectations of Jesus being a sort of genie in a bottle to grant their wishes, or a vending machine or convenience store where they can get what they want when they want it, but not someone to rule their life.  They want to be free from the oppression of evil rulers in our present world.   People don’t like to hear about sin or the need of a Savior and someone to be Lord of their life. They want to live their lives as they please, and in comfort. The Jesus of the Bible isn’t the one on their wish list, so they reject Him.
     But, praise the Lord, John went on to add in the first chapter of his gospel: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (Jn. 1:12).  Jesus may not be what we were expecting, but He is exactly what we need, and provides far more joy and peace and excitement than we could ever have obtained in what we thought we wanted. For in Him (Jesus), God blesses us “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him, you have been made complete…” (Col. 2:9,10).  Jesus is definitely the “gift that keeps on giving” and Who will never disappoint.  “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20,21). 
                            Forever His,
                                            Pastor Dave
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Special Gifts

 My wife and I have been working on a couple special gifts, an afghan for a grand daughter that Kathy has spent many, many hours on, and a desk for a grandson. If you count your time they end up being very “expensive” gifts, but the time is really a “labor of love.” It is a joy to put in the time and effort because you are really incorporating your love for the person into the gift you are making. It is also a great reward to see them receive it with excitement and joy.

     I think of another, infinitely special gift that God prepared for us, and the “labor of love” that went into making it available to each one of us. I’m speaking, of course, of the gift of salvation through the gift of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. God didn’t have to prepare the gift. Rather, He spent some 4,000 years preparing the world to receive the gift. From the time that sin took place in the Garden of Eden, God worked to prepare a people through whom the gift would come, and He prepared the world conditions to be just right for the time He would send His gift to the earth to be “wrapped in the likeness of man.”  In fact, as Paul tells us, this was God’s plan before He even created man: “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined  us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself…” (Eph. 1:4,5).
     So, as history unfolds, it is really “HIS-Story” of how He worked out the details for the arrival of our gift–how He chose a man, Abraham, through whom he would develop a nation (Gen. 12:1-3) and from that lineage how He chose another man, Judah, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, as the royal line through which this promised gift, the Messiah (“seed of the woman” of Gen. 3:15) would come (Gen. 49:8-10). Then God chose a king for this nation from the family of Jesse, who was of the tribe of Judah and lived in Bethlehem, where the Messiah was to be born (I Sam. 16:1; Mic. 4:2). God made a covenant with David, saying, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (II Sam. 7:16). The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah also wrote: “Then a shoot  will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isa. 11:1); “….In those days I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth, and He shall exercise justice and righteousness on the earth” Jer. 33:14-16).
     After the time of the kings and prophets of Israel and Judah, there was a strange silence from heaven for some 400 years? Had God given up on sending His gift, seeing the wickedness of mankind? No, God was very actively setting the stage, even using pagan world powers to do so. When the Persians overpowered the Babylonians, who had taken the Jews and Jerusalem captive and scattered the people in 586 B.C., the new ruler, King Cyrus decreed that the Jewish exiles were free to return home, fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that the exile would last 70 years (Jer. 25:11,12). Cyrus’ decrees specifically gave the Jews permission to rebuild the temple and to requisition supplies from local authorities. He even returned items the Babylonians had looted (Ezra 1:7-11)!  In the book of Proverbs, Solomon had written: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Pr. 21:1). The story of Cyrus and his decree is a prime example of how this is all HIS (God’s) Story—how God was at work preparing the world for His “Love Gift,” the promised seed (Gen. 3:15; Gen.. 22:6-8)  that would defeat the enemy Satan, and provide  forgiveness for sin through being sacrificed on our behalf.
     During the “silent period” (between the last prophet, Malachi and the Angel of the Lord—pre-incarnate Christ—speaking to Zacharias the priest [Lk. 1:11-17]), no one did more than Alexander the Great of Greece (356-323 B.C.) to shape the culture into which the “seed” would be born. He conquered Palestine in 333 B.C. and brought with him Greek learning. Everywhere he conquered he also introduced Greek as the common trade language, which would not only provide a very expressive language to use for the recording of God’s Word, but would aid in the spread of the Gospel.   Then, as the political influence of Greece faded away, Rome began ruling the Mediterranean area, bringing an emphasis on commerce and trade and travel and building a complex road system (“All roads lead to Rome”).  Travel became much easier and would also aid in the spread of the Gospel. There was a greater world consciousness. Rome also did a lot of taxing, which too would work out some of the details of the coming of “The Gift,” especially in where He was to come—Bethlehem. The virgin Mary, whom God chose to be the “woman” through whom the “seed” would come to the earth, lived in Nazareth of Galilee, some 90 miles north of Bethlehem, where the Messiah (Christ) was to be born (Mic. 5:2).  But God directed a godless ruler to require everyone in his empire to return to the town of his ancestors and register for taxation purposes. Mary was an ancestor of David (a son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite), as was her fiancé, Joseph. So, they made the trip to Bethlehem just in time for her son to be born, and prophecy to be fulfilled.
     Then, “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4).  God had spent about 4,000 years preparing the scene for the sending of His special love Gift—His only begotten Son. Amazingly, as He grew into manhood and began his public ministry, even his own people, the nation of Israel, the Jews, chose not to receive God’s love gift. It wasn’t quite what they had expected. They were hoping for a political deliverer to free them from Roman oppression. John writes: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11). In fact, they plotted to kill Him—some way to treat such a special gift!  He was arrested, falsely tried, and crucified—but all part of God’s plan to provide the other gift that He came to impart, salvation from the bondage to sin. “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (I Pet. 2:24).
          Talk about a “labor of love” in providing a gift! “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins” (I Jn. 4:9,10).  Have you received God’s love gift? Although those to whom He initially came, His own, the Jews, did not receive Him, God’s Word promises: “But as many as received Him, to them, He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (Jn. 1:12).  If you have never done so, why not, at this Christmas time, receive the gift of God’s labor of love, ask Jesus Christ to be your personal Savior. If you have already done so, thank God “for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15).
                            Wishing you a very blessed Christmas, and a joyous and fruitful year ahead, should the Lord tarry His coming,
                                        Pastor Dave
“There has been only one Christmas—the rest are anniversaries” (W. J. Cameron).
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Promise Keeping

 While living in Portland where I worked for Hyster Company, we also managed the apartments where we lived.  The apartment owner, Bob,  found out I liked to hunt and asked if I could set up an elk hunting trip back in Montana from where we had moved.  So, I made arrangements for a hunting trip in Montana.  He had an attorney friend who was going to fly us over. We invited Bob to join us for an early breakfast the morning we were to leave. We waited and waited and Bob didn’t show up. Later in the day I was able to reach him and he said something had come up and the attorney couldn’t fly that day.   We set another date for our trip. Well again, a no show. Later that day, his son showed up at the apartments and asked if his dad was around, as he was to meet him there. I said, “That’s interesting. We are supposed to be on a hunting trip to Montana!”  He never did show up or call that day.  Needless to say, I was very disappointed. We discovered as we worked for him that it was a pattern of his life, making it very difficult for our job.

     Have you ever made a promise that you haven’t kept? I’m sure we all have at one time or another. Sometimes we may just completely forget about it. Other times we may never have intended to follow through, or maybe we made a promise we were incapable of fulfilling. It makes it difficult for those to whom we made the failed promises to trust our word anymore.  It is especially damaging on relationships with your spouse, children, parents, friends, and if it happens at work, it could cost you your job. It is really important that we be a person of our word. 
     I know of only one Person who can be trusted completely to keep the promises He makes, and that is God. He alone is all-knowing and all-powerful and loves unconditionally. Whatever He promises, we can be totally assured He will do.  For example, He promised to make of Abraham a great nation, and bless him and make his name great and make his descendants like the stars of the heavens and the sand on the seashore. He also promised that in his “seed, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed”  (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:17,18).   But, Abraham and his wife Sarah grew old and were childless. It wasn’t until Abraham was 100 and his wife 90 that God provided the promised seed, Isaac, through whom would come the nation of Israel, through whom one day would come the ultimate “seed,” Jesus Christ, who will one day soon come to reign on earth and every nation on earth will be blessed. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote regarding God’s promise to Abraham: “yet, with respect to the promise of God, he (Abraham) did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Ro. 4:20,21).
     When you think of how many times the lineage of Christ was down to just one individual, you can see the obvious hand of God carrying out His plan and keeping His promise. No one, not even Satan, could stop Him.  Think of how often the Jews have suffered severe persecution and near annihilation and how even today there are many nations that wish to destroy her. But, throughout the Old Testament we read of all the promises God has made to that nation, His chosen people. All those promises will be fulfilled, for our God is sovereign. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying: “Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, 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 and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure…truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it’” (Isa. 46:8-11).  Regarding God’s promises to Israel, we read in I Kg. 8:56: “Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant.”
     Way back in Genesis, after the disobedience of Adam and Eve, God promised that a “seed of a woman”’ would come that would defeat the enemy, Satan. Throughout the Old Testament, we see additional, more specific references to that “seed of the woman.” For example, Isa. 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son (the “seed of a woman”), and she will call His name Immanuel”… “which translated means ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:23). We learn that this promised seed would be called the Messiah (Hebrew), or Christ (Greek).  The promise (covenant) God gave to Abraham was repeated to Isaac and Jacob and another promise made to King David that his kingdom will be forever (through the Messiah that would come through his family and one day reign on his father’s throne). 
     The last of the prophets, however, came and went, and the promised One still hadn’t come. There was, in fact a silent period of 400 years from the last prophet Malachi who heard from God, until John the Baptist came on the scene. But, as recorded in Gal. 4:4, “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman…”  God kept  His word. He always does and always will.  Jesus, after telling His disciples He would be leaving (Jn. 14:31-38), promised: “…I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (v. 3). Just as Jesus came at just the right time (Gal. 4:4), He will return at just the right time.   He also promised that after He left, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to live in them and guide, teach, and empower them (Jn. 14:26; 16:7).  Again, God kept His word, and just 10 days after Jesus ascended to heaven, on the day of Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers (Acts 2:1-3). Paul wrote: “in order that in Christ Jesus, the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:13).
     God’s Word is full of promises to us as believers. We have, for example, the promise of eternal life through believing in Jesus Christ and His death, burial and resurrection on our behalf (Jn. 3:16; 5:24; Ro. 10:9,10; Gal. 2:8,9,16).  Titus spoke of “…the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Tit. 1:2).  We have assurance of our eternal life in Christ, for Jesus Himself promised: “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. 6:39,40). Peter, in his second epistle, wrote: “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises , in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (II Pet. 1:4).
     So, when we consider all the precious promises of God, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).  And keep in mind, you can’t break God’s promises by leaning on them!
                                                   Forever His,
                                                        Pastor Dave
“Nothing binds us one to another like a promise kept, and nothing divides us like a promise broken” (Leighton Ford).
“God never made a promise that was too good to be true” (D. L. Moody).
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Fighting at the Feeder

 I’m sure if you’ve ever put out a hummingbird feeder, you have witnessed some pretty amazing aerial combat as one of the hummingbirds—usually a brightly colored male—will sit near the feeder to drive away any who try to take “his” nectar. It makes for some pretty entertaining displays of speed and agility. It gets a bit scary if you are sitting on the deck eating a meal and they are zooming by you, sometimes very closely. Our son thought for sure he was going to die with a hummingbird beak stuck in him! 

     We also have a bird feeder in the back yard which is the scene of some pretty heated competition. Currently we have five large, noisy, stellar jays (also called Canada jays), several flicker woodpeckers, lots of little black-capped chickadees, a pair of doves, and three big Chinese ring-neck pheasants that daily vie for first place at the feeder. It is pretty fascinating to watch the “pecking order” on display.  Even though the jays are a bit larger and more aggressive than the doves, we have watched as a single dove held her ground at the feeder in spite of the stellar jays who were “encouraging” her to leave. Then we saw quite an amazing sight as the one jay got up on the roof that covers the feeder, and literally kicked snow down upon the dove a couple times to get her to leave—she wasn’t phased by the tactic!  A couple days later we saw the same thing take place when an “alpha male” flicker woodpecker was sitting in the feeder and not interested in leaving no matter the harassment from the jays. Again, a jay—probably the same one—got up on top of the roof and kicked snow on the flicker! 
     We observe similar competition if we toss out some apples or apple peels where the deer can get them. They have quite the ‘’pecking order” as well and are really not very nice to each other. Often it is a “grandma” doe that kicks others away so she can have first choice—often it is her own “kids” and “grandkids” that she pushes away! 
     It is not just the birds and animals, however, that display such selfishness and greediness as seen in their “fighting at the feeder.” We human beings, the crown of all God’s creation (Psa. 8) manifest the same selfish, me-first, nature.  For those of you who may have participated in the “Black Friday” sales recently, what was it like? Did people patiently wait for you to take a place in line ahead of them?  Hardly. It was everyone for himself and there was likely pushing and shoving. Hopefully there were no injuries, but some have literally been trampled at these events.
     I remember in grade school kids running to be first in line for just a drink of water or to get into the lunch room. In fact I remember on one occasion being tripped and falling on the gravel, tearing my new jeans and bloodying my knee. (If only I hadn’t been in such a hurry to be one of the first!).  I remember going to the wood pile behind the sawmill to get mill ends that were dumped there several times a day. They were free for the taking and the scene at the wood pile was much like that at our bird feeder!  Amazing how people will push and shove their way to get the “best” 2×4 ends!
     Do you remember what the most common topic of discussion was among Jesus’ disciples? It is recorded numerous times in the Gospels. Mark 9:33-35, for example reads: “And they came to Capernaum and when He was in the house, He (Jesus) began to question them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ (Obviously, Jesus knew) But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.” Luke 9:46 says: “And an argument arose among them as to which of them might be the greatest” (cf Mt. 18:1).  Matthew and Mark record one occasion when a couple of the disciples, the brothers James and John, and their mother, came and asked Jesus if the two might have special positions in the kingdom: “And James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Him, saying to Him, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of you’ (wow, pretty brazen!). And He said to them, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ And they said to Him, ‘Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left’” (Mk. 10:35-37).  Matthew records that their mother also asked (Mt. 20:20-28). When the other disciples heard about the proud, self-seeking request, it says they “began to feel indignant with James and John” (Mk. 10:41).  In other words, they were angry because they hadn’t asked first!   This seeking to be first was a recurring matter among the disciples right up to the meeting around the table at the Last Supper just before Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, as we see in Luke 22:24: “And there arose also a dispute among them as to  which one of them was regarded to be the greatest.”
     So, why this drive to be first, to trample over others to get ahead and get the most and the best?  It is because of sin entering the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they went against God’s clear command and ate of the forbidden tree, a change took place within them as they now had a nature that was in rebellion against God. That nature, which we call the Adamic or sinful nature, or the old man, or the flesh, was then passed on from Adam to each who has been born (with the exception of Christ, who was born of a virgin). The Apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Ro. 5:12).  And, one of the characteristics of that old nature is selfishness and greed. It is a “me-first” mentality.  Not only did God place a judgment upon mankind as a result of the sin in the Garden (recorded in Gen. 3:16-19), but He also placed a curse upon the earth which included the plant and animal kingdom (cf Jer. 12:4; Ro. 8:20). Animals no longer lived at peace with man and with each other, but began devouring one another and being unkind even to their own kind.
     When Jesus observed the debate among His disciples as to who was the greatest, His response was always: “But many who are first will be last and the last first” (Mt. 19:30; 20:16; Mk. 9:35); “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant and whosoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:26-28 cf Mk. 10:42-45).
     As believers, indwelled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we now have a new nature (although the old has not yet been eradicated…Gal. 5:16-18) and, in dependence upon Christ who also lives within us through the Holy Spirit, we can manifest the fruit of the Spirit  which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22,23). We can obey the command to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3,4). Obviously, we still struggle with the desires of the flesh (the old Adamic nature), but praise God we now can have victory over the flesh and actually be Christ-like in our relations to others, putting their needs above ours. What a different world we would have if more did that. Well, one day, when the Prince of Peace returns, that will be the case. But, meanwhile, let’s do our part to show others what Christ is like.
                Forever His,
                        Pastor Dave
“All the graces of a Christian spring from the death of self” (Madame Guyon).
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