The Gospel Comes to Samoa

Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Mt. 16:18).  The church began at Pentecost, just 10 days after Christ ascended back to heaven. The Holy Spirit came to indwell believers and Peter preached a powerful sermon about the death and resurrection of Jesus and some 3,000 Jews became believers that day (Acts 2).  Many others also believed and were added to the church in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria.  Soon, a very religious Jew, Saul of Tarsus, came to faith in Christ and was chosen by God to be the missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Saul (also called Paul) along with Barnabas, Silas, Timothy and Luke, took the Gospel throughout Asia minor and then over to Europe. Others spread the Good News about Christ’s suffering on our behalf to Africa.
     It is fascinating to follow the building of Christ’s church as it has spread (as Jesus predicted) to the “remotest parts of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).  As new converts grew in the faith and were trained in Scripture, they usually sent out missionaries to yet unreached areas. In 1884, for example, Christian missionaries from Europe went to Pyongyang, North Korea which became the center of Christianity in Northeast Asia until about 1942 when communists took over.  In fact, Pyongyang became known as “The Jerusalem of the East!”
     On August 24, 1830, Rev. John Williams and other missionaries from the London Missionary Society, aboard the schooner Messenger of Peace, anchored at Savaii, Samoa in the South Pacific.  With their arrival, Christianity came to the island and spread quickly. The receptivity of the people to the gospel was rooted deeply in their respect for the political structure of their culture in which the religious leader was the top authority in all matters concerning the moral life of the village. God had been at work—as He always is—preparing the people for the arrival of the “Good News.” Only 14 years later Malua Bible College was established to train young men as village pastors and missionaries to other Pacific Islands including Fiji and Tonga. Before long, the native Samoan religion had been replaced by Christianity. 
     Although European whalers and traders started to arrive at the Samoa Islands in the late 1700’s, by far the most important agents of change in Samoa were the Western missionaries, bringing the Gospel of Christ, which converted the majority of the population from belief in gods of the sun, earth, heavens and sea to the one true God. More than 90% of all Samoans in both Samoa and American Samoa are professing Christians and more than 90% of them attend church at least weekly.
     Now, fast forward to the National NCAA football championship game in January.  Alabama had a stunning come-back victory over Georgia that was fueled by freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who came into the game in the second half, replacing the starting quarterback, and led his team to an exciting victory. In a remarkably humble interview after the game, especially given what he’d just accomplished on national television, Tua said: “I would like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. With Him all things are possible.”
     Tua was considered the best high school football player in Hawaii, playing quarterback at Honolulu’s Saint Louis High School. Many compared him to another alum from Saint Louis High School who was also as quarterback, and the one Tua patterned his game after–Marcus Mariota, who took his Oregon Ducks to the national championship game against Ohio State. Mariota also won the Heisman Trophy in 2014 and now plays for the Tennessee Titans in the NFL. Marcus is also follower of Jesus Christ and is quick to give God the glory for his accomplishments.
     So what do these two Christian football players from Saint Louis High School in Honolulu have to do with the evangelization of Samoa?  (Glad you asked!)  Tua and Marcus share a Samoan heritage, a heritage that includes the passing on of strong faith in Christ.  Sports Illustrated did a story about Tua Tagovailoa and his family back in 2015. The article is filled with Bible verses and tells readers that the entire Tagovailoa clan gathers “every evening for prayer and teaching,” and to sing a Samoan hymn that “asks God to be present in everything they do.”
     Samoa and American Samoa, despite their small population, produce a disproportionately large number of world-class athletes. By one estimate, “a Samoan male is 56 times more likely to play in the NFL than an American non-Samoan” (Breakpoint Jan. 12, 2018). And the majority of those who do are Christians. You may recognize some other names like: Junior Seau, Troy Polamalu, Marques Tuiasosopo and Mosi Tatupu. 
     In addition to football players, Samoa has produced numerous well-known rugby players, wrestlers (Dwayne Johnson, for example!), and many in the mixed martial arts. 
     Little did those missionaries in the 19th century know what an impact they would have world-wide one day by bringing the gospel to those beautiful islands in the South Pacific.  Christianity’s influence on Samoan life and culture is hard to dispute. This legacy and heritage are on display in stories like that of Tua Tagovailoa and Marcus Mariota. The missionaries who brought Christianity to the Polynesian world wound up transforming an entire society (or, more accurately, the  message they brought did.) Paul the Apostle got to witness  that same exciting  transformation of lives and cultures. No wonder he wrote: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Ro. 1:16), and: “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (II Cor. 5:17). You won’t change a culture through political or military domination. Culture can only be changed through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t be ashamed to share it with your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.  Only God knows how far it may spread from there.
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
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It is Not a Choice; It is a Life!

  Bob and Pat were serving as missionaries in the Philippines when she became pregnant. They had been praying for a son whom they could name Timothy after the young man that the Apostle Paul introduced to Christ, who ended up joining Paul in ministry from his second missionary journey on, and who was left in charge of the work at Ephesus and Asia Minor.  Pam was taking a series of aggressive antibiotics to combat amebic dysentery when she discovered the pregnancy.  She immediately stopped the medicine but the doctors advised an abortion because of the irreversible damage the drugs had presumably caused. Pam recalls how they told her it was “just a mass of fetal tissue.” But, as a Bible-believing (and behaving) Christian, Pam knew that what was in her womb was not just “fetal tissue,” but the life of a pre-born human being so couldn’t go through with an abortion, knowing she would be ending that life within her.
     Six months into the pregnancy, she was hospitalized for excruciating pain when doctors said the placenta had detached from the uterine wall. Again she was counseled to have an abortion as doctors warned of the dangers to her own health and predicted the pregnancy would end in stillbirth. Pam still resisted, just not believing that it was right to take a life—even to save hers!  Two months later, on August 14, 1987,  future Heisman Trophy winner, Timothy Tebow was born!  In December of 2007, Tim became the 73rd Heisman winner and the first sophomore to ever receive this prestigious award. When the 6 feet 3 inch, 235 pound quarterback of the Florida Gators, nicknamed “Superman” by Gator fans, embraced the 25-pound bronzed statue with his massive hands, He said, “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…”
     Tragically 45 years ago today, on Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to make it legal for women to abort their unborn child at any time throughout their entire nine months of pregnancy for any reason.  Since that fateful decision by five out of nine individuals some 62 million “Tim Tebows” have never seen the light of day. Approximately one out of three babies never reaches their earthly destination. Today we are missing from our nation millions of doctors, teachers, scientists, entertainers, athletes, politicians, lawyers, laborers, nurses, artists, inventors, musicians, pastors, evangelists…all missing from our country.  We are a great nation, one that has been greatly blessed by God, but how can we expect to continue to be blessed when we kill every third child He sends to us?  I believe you can tell much about a nation by the value they place on human life—at every stage, from conception through old age.   “America stands for liberty, for the pursuit of happiness, and for the unalienable right of life. The most basic duty of government is to defend the life of the innocent. Every person, however frail or vulnerable, has a place and a purpose in this world. Every person has a special dignity. The right to life cannot be granted or denied by government, because it does not come from government. It comes from the Creator of life” (past President, George W. Bush).  The Supreme Court by its fateful decision on Jan. 22, 1973, violated the intent of the Constitution which is supposed to protect the right to life.  “It is not a choice, it is a life!” 
     We are living in a crazy time when almost daily, somewhere in our country (today included—at a school Texas) shootings occur and there is the constant threat of terror attacks—but the most dangerous place by far is in the womb of a pregnant woman!  The chance of being killed by an abortionist is about 33%!  There has  been a total of about 1.2 million American war casualties from the Revolutionary War through Afghanistan, and we grieve over each one, for it meant the loss of a son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister.  But just think that we—calling it “pro-choice” have lost about 62 million young lives that never had a chance to grow up and become part of our earthly family and contribute to our society.
     The Psalmist wrote: “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…” (Psa. 127:3-5a). Children are the one blessing from God that we chose to limit and often eliminate!
     Pray for our governing leaders, especially our Supreme Court, that they will once again understand the value of every life, and make the biblical and constitutional decision to uphold life from conception on. If we are not “pro-life,” we are “pro-death.”  God is for life—He created it. Concerning life, David wrote: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it. You were there while I was being formed in utter seclusion!  You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!” (Psa. 139:13-16 from The Living Bible).
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
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If We Remain Silent

Ever since the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden (Gen.3), and then the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel and the scattering of these language groups throughout the earth (Gen. 11), people groups have been at war with and discriminating against other people groups, trying to set themselves up as the “superior” group.  The history of the world is one of war and conflict and ethnic cleansing. We have examples of this in Scripture as well as in our history books and daily news broadcasts. When Esther (a Jewess) was queen to King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes) of Persia (modern-day Iran), she discovered a plot to annihilate her people. The book of Esther records  the exciting story of how her cousin Mordecai (who had raised Esther) challenged her to take a stand for their people, saying, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:14).
     Others, like Adolph Hitler, have also tried to annihilate the Jews. And sadly, many who saw what was happening remained silent. God, of course, did not let His “Chosen People” be destroyed, but some six million Jews lost their lives during the horrendous “Jewish Holocaust.” Today we have many Arab nations who have made it clear they desire to push Israel into the sea and eliminate the Jewish race.
     Throughout history we have had courageous individuals who have been willing to stand up for their convictions and against those who are persecuting certain people groups.  Daniel, taken captive as a youth to Babylon during the time of King Nebuchadnezzar, remained faithful to Jehovah God and was rewarded by being thrown to the lions, but “God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths” and Daniel suffered no harm, for which the king was actually very relieved and pleased because he really liked Daniel and knew he was truly a man of God.
     Many others have “dared to be Daniels.” Continuing to live faithfully for God in the midst of persecution, they have boldly taken a stand for their biblical convictions even at great cost to themselves. One such “Daniel,” and the one whose birthday we celebrate today, was Martin Luther King, Jr., born Jan. 15, 1929. He became a Baptist minister and activist and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights movement. In 1963, in the March on Washington, he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He expounded American values to include the vision of a “color blind” society. In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. He was assassinated April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.   “Martin Luther King. Jr. Day” was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986. 
     In one of King’s speeches he said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”  He obviously didn’t remain silent about the things that really mattered to him!  Neither did Queen Esther. Neither did Daniel nor untold others who have stood up for the needs of others and for the truths of God’s Word, especially the Gospel, the “good news” of Christ’s death on our behalf to pay the penalty of our sins.  The Apostle Paul, who at one point had been persecuting Christians (followers of Jesus called at that time “The Way”) but then met the risen Christ while on his way to Damascus to arrest believers, was converted and became a missionary to the Gentiles that he had once despised, said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile)” (Ro. 1:16).  Paul knew first-hand the power of that Gospel to change lives and he began boldly proclaiming it to the Gentile world as well as to his fellow Jews (cf I Cor. 15:1-4). He ended up in prison for it on several occasions and ultimately lost his life at the hands of wicked Nero of Rome.
     Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, also began boldly sharing the message of the death and resurrection of Christ for sin and were called before the Jewish Council (the Sanhedrin) who forbade further preaching. We read the account in Acts 5:18-20: “And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.’”  They couldn’t remain silent knowing people’s eternal lives depended on the message they had to share.
     The same is still true. God has placed us here on purpose for a purpose and that is to boldly proclaim, by how we live and what we say, that same message of the Good News of the Gospel of Christ. We are here “For such a time as this” (Est. 4:14).   Don’t forget M.L.K.’s statement: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
                Forever His,
                        Pastor Dave
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How to “Destroy” Your Enemies

So, do you have any difficult people in your life—those who bring out the worst in you, who know how to “push your buttons,” who “get under your skin,” who seem to be a constant irritant to you, who just plain annoy you?  I’ll bet you do, for it seems God puts them in our lives to help us deal with things in our lives that either need to be removed or added in order that we may be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Ro. 8:29). Sometimes it appears that we even have enemies who are out to destroy us.  They criticize us, spread rumors about us, and try to undermine what we are doing or are trying to accomplish. Have any of those in your life?  What do we do about these difficult people in our lives? 
     Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, had some good advice. He said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”  Martin Luther King, Jr. made a very similar statement:  “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Jesus, in His “Sermon on the Mount,”  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. 5:44). The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Ro. 12:17-21).
     When I was working at Hyster Technical Center in Troutdale, Oregon, I had a secretary who was an agnostic. When she found out I was a Christian, she did all she could to razz me and make life as miserable as she possibly could.  I knew she needed the Lord in her life, but I just plain didn’t like her and my attitude toward her was pretty bad. I had a burden for her soul but had trouble even wanting to share with her. It would have been like “shoving the Gospel down her throat while I was trying to choke her!”  Well, one day God convicted me of my attitude toward this difficult person (He had placed in my life). I confessed my sin and told the Lord that He would have to be the one to love her through me because I didn’t even like her. It was amazing what happened. My attitude so changed that she noticed it and said one day, “Dave, why don’t the things I do seem to bug you any more?”  I was able to tell her what had happened in me and that for the first time she was probably seeing “Christ in me.”  She quit doing things to irritate me. To this day I don’t know if Maureen ever trusted Christ as her Savior (I left not long after our conversation), but I do know she got to experience firsthand the unconditional love that God had for her.
     God places difficult people in our lives to help us to grow and to become more Christ-like. Don’t miss the opportunities He is giving you!  Rather than allowing these people to make you an angry, bitter person, let God use them to mold and shape you. And who knows, you may be able to “destroy” some of your enemies by making them a friend, because. M. L. King, Jr., was right: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” And by letting God love them through us, we are being obedient to Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
    One thing that has helped me a lot is to pray for these folks whenever they come to mind. Rather than thinking about what they have done to me or how they have annoyed me, if I pray for them instead, my attitude changes.  I still have a ways to go, but I am making progress.  Keep in mind what Paul wrote to the Romans: “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Ro. 12:17).  Some may not reciprocate your love and kindness, but at least it gives them an opportunity and then you, having done your part, are free from bondage to them caused by unforgiveness or bitterness or holding a grudge.
     Anybody in particular come to mind as you read this?  Pray for them right now and ask God to show you tangible ways to demonstrate His love to them. You may just destroy an enemy!
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
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Only One Life to Live

We took the train to Oregon for Christmas, which proved to be a good choice since more than a foot of snow came down here just before we returned. The roads would have been quite treacherous the day we returned.  So, praise the Lord for the long train ride (turned out to be 14 hours).  We have done lots of snow removal since we got back but it is a beautiful winter wonderland!
     While in Oregon, we and our family got to attend a very entertaining movie called Jumanji, in which four high school students get detention. Their task is cleaning up a basement room in the school, but while there they discover an old video game which they try out and get “sucked” into the game, ending up in a jungle where they have to work as a team in order to escape and get back home.  One of the students ends up—before he realizes it—quoting the principal who while lecturing them said (in paraphrase), “You have only one life to live. How are you going to live it? Who are you going to be? The choice is yours.” 
     His statement is a good one for us to consider as we enter this new year, for he was right on.  We do have but one life to live. We won’t get a do-over or another chance. We have right now to determine not only where we will spend eternity, but also how we will live our life here.  First of all, we have a choice regarding the Person of Jesus Christ and what we will do about Him and His invitation to believe on Him and His work at Calvary to gain eternal life. We can either, by faith receive Him as our personal Savior, or we can attempt to live a good enough life to make it to heaven.  Unfortunately for those who are trying that, they will one day hear, “I never knew you, depart from me” (Mt. 7:23).  Eternal life is a gift (Jn. 3:16; Ro. 6:23), not something deserved or to be earned. We simply receive gifts; we don’t work for them (Eph. 2:8,9; Gal. 2:16).
     Second, if we have already made the choice for Christ, we still must choose, daily, moment-by-moment, what we are going to do with the rest of our life here on earth.  We can choose who and what we are going to be.  We can ignore the Word of God and the convicting of the indwelling Holy Spirit and just live for self and what we can “get out of life,” or, we can submit to God, resist the devil and offer our life a living sacrifice to the One who made us and paid the penalty for our sins.  Note the Apostle Paul’s challenge to the believers at Rome:  “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Ro. 12:1,2).  Paul gave a similar challenge to the Corinthian believers, writing: “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (II Cor. 5:14,15).
    When we consider what Christ has done for us and means to us, our response should be to live our life fully committed to Him, to love Him, obey His Word, and build up His Kingdom through sharing His love with others and showing them how they too can receive eternal and abundant life in Him. As an old chorus goes: “After all He’s done for me, after all He’s done for me, how can I do less than give Him my best and live for Him completely.” Amen to that! Or, as a poet once put it: “Only one life ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
     So, as we start a fresh new year, learning from, but “forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead, (let’s) press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13,14).
     We have but one life to offer. Let’s start this year by renewing our commitment to living it wholly for our precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father…Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord…It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:17, 23,24).
      Have a joyous New Year. Maybe this will be the year of His return. “Even so come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
                Forever His,
                        Pastor Dave
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A Hallmark Christmas

Those of you who watch Hallmark Christmas movies raise your hand.  I thought so. Okay, you can put them down. We do too.  Why are they so popular?  Well, they are good clean entertainment with good morals, no bad language or violence, with attractive actors and actresses and beautiful settings in usually quaint rural settings.  They always turn out with a happy ending (i.e., except for the jerk of a boyfriend or girlfriend who gets dumped!) Usually (there have been a few exceptions), you can predict how it will turn out and who will end up together within the first ten minutes of the movie.  But they are feel-good movies that are very “family friendly.”
     There is, however, one key ingredient missing from the storylines. Never is there a mention of the real meaning of Christmas—the coming to earth of our Lord and Savior, the God-man, Jesus Christ.  There is instead a focus on the “Christmas spirit” which comes from the “magic” surrounding the season–the music, the festivities, tree decorating, gift giving, parties, baking cookies, usually an ice skating scene, and of course, snowfall on Christmas eve!  Quite often there is a “real” Santa Claus involved or an angel on assignment, and sometimes Christmas ornaments with magical powers. Normally the lead character has had a bad experience in a past Christmas, such as breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend or losing a parent or mate in death and as a result, has lost “the Christmas spirit.”  That spirit is revived when they again fall in love with someone and/or find themselves in a little community that goes all out in its Christmas festivities (again, which exclude any mention of why we have Christmas).  Occasionally, there is also a reconciliation with a family member with whom there has been a strained relationship.
     I’m reminded of the story about a birthday celebration for a young child. The family and friends met at a restaurant to celebrate, but the parents dropped off the child at a baby-sitter on their way to the birthday bash so he wouldn’t be a “bother.”  While that sounds ridiculous, I guess much of the world does that at Christmas. We have all kinds of parties and celebrations but we leave out the One whose birthday we are celebrating.  Christmas, after all is “Christ’s mass” or “Christ’s birth.” It is our reminder that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).  From Gen. 3:15 through the whole Old Testament, God promised to send a Deliverer who would first suffer as a sacrifice for sin and then return later to reign as King and bring “peace on earth.” For several millennia, God prepared the scene for the sending of His Son. All the prophecies given concerning His birth and ministry would need to be fulfilled in every detail. “But when the fullness of 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. 4:4,5). One night an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds out in the fields near Bethlehem and said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David, there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (the promised Deliverer)” (Lk. 2:10,11).  The Apostle John, in His version of the “Christmas story,’’ wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:1-3,14).
     Although we don’t know exactly what time of year Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem of Judea, December 25th was chosen by Christians as the date to celebrate that earth-shaking event to counteract the pagan Saturnalia and Winter Solstice celebrations that took place during that time and also (possibly) to coincide with the “Festival of Lights” or “Hanukkah,” which celebrates the rededication of the Temple which had been desecrated by the Romans. Unfortunately, Christmas has become for so many just a time off work and a time to get together with family, exchange gifts, make lots of fattening goodies, and attend parties.  The One whose birthday it is is being totally left out, even though His coming is recognized every time you write the date. Our history is divided between “B.C.” (Before Christ) and “A.D.” (“the year of our Lord”).
    If you want the real “spirit of Christmas,” it comes, not from all the lights, trees, programs, music, family get-togethers, special food, or even from Hallmark movies! It comes from being in awe of the fact that God, the Creator of the universe, loved you enough to come to earth and be born as a man so that He could pay the penalty for your sin and give you eternal life. Speaking of the incarnation (God taking on flesh), Paul writes: “Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:6-8).  To quote from a favorite Christmas movie, “And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Christmas is about gift-giving all right. It is about God’s gift of Jesus Christ, God the Son, sent to become our Savior. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (II Cor. 9:15).  Have you received God’s love gift to you?  If not, why not do so this Christmas season. You will indeed discover the real “spirit of Christmas,” as God’s Holy Spirit comes to live in you.  If you have received Christ, share Him with others. He is the “gift that keeps on giving and giving and…”
     A joyous and Merry Christmas to you all, and a blessed New Year of serving Him and looking forward to His Return.
            Pastor Dave
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Our DAILY Bread

I recently had someone ask me why I need to study in order to teach Bible study, saying, “Don’t you already know the Bible inside and out?”  I recall a similar question when I was pastoring wondering why I needed to prepare a sermon: “Can’t you just preach from the heart?”  While I (we) need to teach and preach from the heart, not just from head knowledge, I (we)  must also obey the command to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15). If we are going to accurately and clearly teach God’s Word, it requires work—lots of study, research and prayer.  My wife and I spend many hours in preparation for the Bible studies we teach.
     Teaching God’s Word is an amazing privilege but also a very weighty responsibility. We need to be careful to teach what a passage really says by looking at the context, setting, cultural background, words used, and comparing it with other Scriptures, for God’s Word cannot say two things; i.e., it cannot contradict itself.  Since we are going to be having an influence on others, it is so important that we are directing them toward the truth, and not misleading them.  We will give an account before God for our teaching. That’s why James 3:1 says, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.”
     The Scriptures are full of warnings about false teachers who lead people away from the truth (Mt. 7:15-23; 24:3-5,11; II Cor. 11:13-15; I Tim. 4:1,2; II Tim. 3:13; 4:1-4; II Pet. 2:1-3).  There are also tests given to detect whether or not someone is a false teacher (I Jn. 4:1-6; 5:1; II Jn. 7-11; Jude 3,4,8-16; Rev. 22:18,19).  There may be some variations of interpretation of Scripture among those of us who teach God’s Word, but when it comes to the core doctrines of Scripture—the Triune Godhead, the deity of Christ, the atoning work of Christ, the inspiration of all Scripture, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—we must be rock solid. Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I AM (He) you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). We must believe that He is indeed GOD (Jehovah) incarnate (Jn. 1:1-3,14). We must believe that “Jesus Christ (Messiah) has come in the flesh” (I Jn. 4:2). And we must believe that He is “the way, and the truth and the life” and that no one can come to the Father but through Him (Jn. 14:6 cf Acts 4:12). We must believe that we are saved solely through faith in Christ and His work and not by any works on our part (Eph. 2:8,9; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5,6).
     One of the reasons it is so important for each of us to continue to spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis is so that we can detect false teaching when we hear it. One of the ways bank tellers are trained to spot counterfeit currency is to handle and examine the genuine bills to become very familiar with the real thing.  As followers of Christ, we need to do the same regarding the  truths of God’s Word.  The Apostle Paul complemented the believers at Berea that “they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things (that Paul had taught!) were so” (Acts 17:11). 
     Not only are we to continue in the Word, reading, studying and meditating on it (cf Josh. 1: 8) in order to know what it teaches and to be able to detect false teaching, but we do it in order to get to know God better, for the Bible is really all about God and His wonderful plan of redemption through the sacrifice of God the Son in our place.  The more time we spend in His Word, the more we see His character and His love and the more we see our sin and the need for His work in our lives. When we both “read and heed,” our lives are being changed little by little into the image of Christ (cf Ro. 8:28,29). Our love for God is growing and when we do teach others, we are teaching not only from head knowledge of what we have learned, but from our heart in what we have personally experienced.  You cannot be a growing Christian if you are not spending regular, quality time in His Word. Paul said, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Ro. 10:17).  It is God’s Word that helps our faith to grow.  In order not to fall away from our steadfastness, we need to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:17,18).
     The Psalmist gives us some other benefits of being in God’s Word and meditating on it and memorizing verses that really speak to us or meet a need in our life. He wrote: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word…Thy word I have treasured (hid) in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Psa. 119:9,11);  “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path…The unfolding of Thy words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (vv. 105,130).
     The Apostle Paul, in writing to encourage young Timothy to be diligent in his study of Scripture (II Tim. 2:15), went on to say, “All Scripture is inspired by God (God breathed) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:16,17).
    The Bible is unique; it is unlike any other piece of literature ever written, “For the word of God is living and active (powerful) and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow; and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).  We study it, not to satisfy our curiosity and to just gain knowledge; we study it that it might transform our lives—and it does.  God cleanses us “by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26).  Like the manna in the wilderness that was life sustaining and needed to be collected daily, so God’s Word is our “daily bread” to bring and sustain life.  Study the Bible to be wise; believe it to be safe; practice it to be holy. If your study of God’s Word does not affect the way you live, either you are already perfect (not!), or are not studying correctly (with a heart for God). Bible study is meant to be a sanctuary, not a factory—it is worship!   Have you worshiped today?
     And that’s why I continue to study the Bible!
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
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