My Precious

Many of you have probably watched Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy which portrays the image of the emaciated creature Gollum in his obsession with the “precious ring of power,” which he calls “”My Precious.”  The picture painted is one of greed, obsession, even insanity in the search for meaning, fulfillment and significance.  In his love-hate relationship with both the ring and with himself, Gollum’s voice echoes the hunger in the human heart. Whether it’s directed at one thing in particular (like the precious ring of power) or just a vague longing for “more,” we’re sure that once we finally get our “precious,” we’ll be satisfied. Tragically, what we thought would give us meaning and significance and wholeness leaves us feeling even emptier than before.      

Ty Cobb, one of baseball’s all-time greats, made a revealing admission. He said, “For years I ate baseball, I slept baseball, I talked baseball, I thought baseball, I lived baseball.”  But then he added, “When you get beyond those years of playing professional baseball, you can’t live on baseball.”  Certainly there is a vast multitude of purposes or things to which we can devote our energies, but none of them, in the end, will prove sufficient.  King Solomon, with his great wealth and position, tried everything the world had to offer and said: “So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me, because everything is futility and striving after wind. Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool…He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with the income. This too is vanity”  (Eccl. 2: 17-19; 5:10). 

Solomon concluded: “I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him…Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them’..The conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person (Eccl. 3:14; 12:1,12,13). 

We are each built for significance and meaning, and the problem isn’t that we search for it, but that-–too often—we search for it in all the wrong places such as position, power, prestige, riches, possessions, accomplishments. One pursuit alone gives enduring satisfaction and significance in life. The Apostle Paul expresses it in his letter to the Philippian believers: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Knowing Christ, trusting Christ, living for Christ, serving Him in whatever we do—this is the one and only pursuit that will fill that emptiness in our life and give it real meaning.  Other things can provide “pleasure (and meaning) for a season” (Heb. 11:25) but ultimately leave us empty and longing for more.  Only God can ultimately satisfy this longing heart of mine. He made us that way: to find our joy and satisfaction and fellowship in Him.  Everything else falls far short.  A man gave his grandson Jay a special T-shirt that he had really been wanting, for his birthday. He put it on right away and proudly wore it all day. When he appeared the next morning in the same shirt, his dad asked him, “Jay, does that shirt make you happy?”  Jay replied, “Not as much as yesterday!”     

That’s the problem with material acquisition: even the good things of life can’t give us the deep, lasting happiness we strongly desire. The world offers happiness and meaning through material accumulation or achievement but no material acquisition or accomplishment with accolades will continue to provide the satisfaction that we felt initially.  That’s because we were made for God and nothing less than His filling our life will do. True satisfaction is found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  And, in contrast to the riches and prestigious positions of the world which are only available to a small percentage of the people, God’s riches and becoming “children of God” are available to all.  “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Ro. 10:13).   God offers eternal life to all who will trust in Christ for salvation (Jn. 3:16).  And to each one who receives Christ into their life, He “gives the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). “And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Ro. 8:17a).  And Jesus came not only to provide eternal life through faith in Him, but also “abundant life” to those who allow Him to be Lord in their life (Jn. 10:10).  Wow, talk about providing meaning and significance!  God offers us “His Precious” to become “Our Precious,” and we will never be disappointed or disillusioned with what God provides—plus it is forever, unending! The joy and satisfaction will never run out!  PTL!!  Amen!!              

Forever One of His,                

Pastor Dave                       

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The Master’s Mandate

In what is often referred to as “The Great Commission,” Jesus gave the apostles their marching orders before He returned to heaven. Matthew records it for us: “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you..’” (Mt. 28: 18-20).   It literally translates, “going (having gone or wherever you go), make disciples..”  The command—the “Mandate of the Master”— is to “make disciples.”      

Just moments before Jesus ascended to heaven, He gathered His disciples together and “commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised… (the coming of the Holy Spirit…Acts 1:4 cf Jn. 14:15-26; 15:26,27; 16:13-15)…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnessed both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).  They did wait in Jerusalem and ten days later, on the Day of Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers and all who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation ever since are also indwelled by the Holy Spirit, equipping and empowering us to fulfill Jesus’ mandate of “making disciples of all the nations.”  The fact that there are believers today in every corner of the globe is evidence that God’s plan worked and will continue to until the beginning of the eternal state.      

Each one of us who knows Christ as Savior has that same mandate given to us to “make disciples.”  As I was thinking about our responsibility to pass on to others—starting with our family—what God is doing in our lives, I thought of an example from the world of sports.  We have been fans and followers of Duke men’s basketball team under head coach Mike Krzyzewski for many years.  Mike was born 2-13-1947, so just turned 74 and continues to have a passion for the game of basketball.  “Coach K” played basketball for Army from 1966-1969. He became assistant coach at Indiana from 1974-1975 and then head coach for the Army from 1975-1980.  He became head coach at Duke in 1981 and has continued there through the present, compiling a career overall record of 1,167-358.  His tenure at Duke has included 12 NCAA  Final Fours and 5 national championships (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015).  His teams have also finished first in The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) 12 times, and have won 15 ACC tournaments.  “Coach K” has won more basketball games than any other coach in history—and he’s not done yet!  Three times he has been named “Naismith College Coach of the Year.”  He has been either assistant or head coach of our national team, helping them win 5 gold medals in the Olympics.     

Over his amazing career at Duke, “Coach K” has been offered a head coaching position in the NBA by the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trailblazers, New Jersey Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Lakers offered him a five-year contract and part ownership in the team. The Nets offered him a $15 million per year contract.  He turned them all down, indicating he loves where he is and the program at Duke and it isn’t about more money.      

One of the impressive things about “Coach K’s” career is the number of his players that have gone on to successful professional careers. Currently there are 37 “Dukey’s” playing professionally (Kentucky is the only other school with that many).  Maybe the most impressive aspect, however, of “Coach K’s” time at Duke is the number of his young assistant coaches that he has mentored who are now head coaches of major college programs:  Tommy Amaker at Harvard, Mike Brey at Notre Dame, Jeff Capel at Pittsburgh, Chris Collins at Northwestern, Johnny Dawkins at Central Florida, Bobby Hurley at Arizona State University, Steve Wojciechowski at Marquette. In addition, Quin Snyder is coach for the Utah Jazz.  That is quite a list of “disciples” I’d say!     

I see a similar list when I look in the New Testament at the life of Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).  Paul, in his three missionary journeys, compiled quite an entourage of helpers that he mentored and then left in charge at the churches that were established in Asia Minor and in Europe.  Not only did they have the privilege of working side by side, learning from Paul, but he wrote them letters of encouragement and exhortation.  His final three letters of I Timothy, Titus, and II Timothy were written to encourage two of his understudies whom he left to pastor in Ephesus and Crete.  Paul’s “mission statement” is given in his letter to the believers at Corinth in Greece. He writes: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received…”(I Cor 15:3). He passed on what God had taught Him.  Note Paul’s challenge to young Timothy as he faced the challenging task of pastoring at Ephesus in Asia Minor (Turkey today): “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witness, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Tim. 2:1,2). In other words, “Go and make disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples….”   That is Christ’s mandate to each of us.  What God is doing in us and teaching us through His Word is not to end with us, but is to be passed on through our working with, teaching and mentoring others, helping equip them to do the same.  (For a list of some of those who worked with Paul besides Timothy and Titus, see Ro. 16: 1-16 where he lists others such as Phoebe, Prisca and Aquila, Epaenetus, Mary, Adronicus, Junias, Ampliatus, et al.)     

We are stewards of the spiritual treasure God has given us. It is our responsibility to guard the deposit and then invest it in the lives of others. They in turn, are to share the Word with the next generation of believers. Discipleship, like coaching, is a lot of work, but it is how the Lord builds His church. It is His “Spiritual Mandate.”  We need to put more of our time and resources into equipping the saints, rather than entertaining them. A generation of believers who cannot articulate what they believe and why they believe it will greatly compromise the effectiveness of the church in carrying out our mandate.       So, how are you doing?  Who are you mentoring?  Don’t keep it to yourself!          

Forever His                

Pastor Dave

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Where Did Love Come From?

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day in recognition of a humble Christian, Valentinus, who remained dedicated to his biblical ideals. Not even the threat of death could keep him from practicing his beliefs. He was arrested and imprisoned by Roman Emperor Claudius II.  According to tradition, the jailer had Valentinus tutor his daughter. Julia, who had been blind from birth. In addition to teaching her about Roman history, God’s creation and arithmetic, he also told her of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice for her sins.  She knelt with him in his prison cell and prayed. In addition to being born anew, suddenly she could also see. On the eve of his death, Valentinus wrote a last note to Julia, urging her to stay close to  God and he signed it: “From your Valentine.” His death sentence was carried out the next day, February 14, 270 A.D.  On each February 14th, St. Valentine’s Day, messages and gifts of affection, love and devotion are exchanged around the world.       

As I was thinking about what “love” means, I was wondering how an atheist or evolutionist explains the existence of love. Where did it come from? How did it start?  What really is “love”?  The Greeks had six words to describe various types of love:  1) Agape…unconditional love, no strings attached, an “in-spite-of” kind of love; 2)  Eros… sexual passion, and “if” kind of love [“If you fulfill my desires, I will love you”]; 3) Philea… friendship, brotherly love; 4)  Storge…love of parents for their children and children for their parents; 5)  Philautia…self love; 6)  Xenia…Love of strangers and guests, hospitality.     

We use the word “love” to express our affection not only for people but also for activities and objects.  But what really is love and how did it originate? Where do we get the capacity to love?  If man evolved from inorganic matter, where did love come from?  I would guess that atheists and evolutionists have difficulty explaining its existence.      

We didn’t evolve from non-living matter by a process of time and chance over eons of time. We were made on day six of God’s creation week, and made in the image of God. “Then God said, ‘Let Us (a reference to the Triune God) make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’…And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26,27).  We are not given an explanation for what it means to be made in the image of God, but by studying what God is like, we get an idea of what man is like. God is able to govern, to make decisions, to express emotions, to think. And God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit who have an intimate relationship with one another yet exist as one God.  Man is made of body (through which we have world consciousness through our five senses) and soul (through which we have self consciousness; also the source of emotions and desires), and spirit (through which we have God-consciousness and can communicate with and respond to Him). We read in I Thes. 5:23: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We also know that “God is love” (I Jn. 4: 8).  Love is His supreme quality. For all eternity, there has been perfect love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The word used in Scripture to describe and define this love is the Greek word agape, which refers to unconditional, no-strings-attached  love. It is not “I will love you if,” or “I will love you because of who you are or what you have or what you have done,” but “I will love you because of who I Am.”  So, just what is love?  Someone said “defining love is like painting a picture, not of Jell-O, but with it!”   But the  Bible clearly describes and defines love. Probably the most familiar verse in all of the Bible says: “For 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). In His first epistle, John wrote: “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 gave His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins” (I Jn. 4:9,10).

From these and other verses about God’s love (like I Cor.13:4-7) we see that agape love is “A spontaneous act of sacrifice to meet a need, expecting nothing in return,”Love isn’t a feeling you have (although it involves feelings); it as a voluntary, sacrificial action of your will in giving to meet a need.   God didn’t wait for us to “get our act together” before He loved us. Paul writes: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro. 5:6-8).

If that isn’t exciting and amazing enough, we, as Christians, now have that same love (that sent Jesus to die for us) dwelling within us. “…because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Ro. 5:5). The moment we trust Christ as our personal Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us and “the fruit of the Spirit is love….” (Gal. 5:22).  The thing that should characterize a Christian’s life, just as it is the supreme quality of God, is love—love for God and love for others.  Just before going to the cross, Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34,35).  In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul said that no matter how gifted we are, if we don’t show love, we “are nothing” and all our activity “profits nothing” (I Cor. 13:1-3).      

My prayer for you, as Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers is: “that God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).         

  Forever His,            

Pastor Dave    

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People Who Impact Our Lives

Can you tell me who won Super Bowl XL and who the MVP was?  Can you tell me what the most popular movie was in 2015 and who were the lead actors?  Can you tell me who our 33rd president was?  Can you tell me who won the Daytona 500 in 2011?  Unless you are a trivia genius and could compete well on Jeopardy, I doubt you can answer those questions. While these are people who have made great achievements and had their “moment in the sun,” unless you knew them personally, they probably had little impact on your life, and have long since been forgotten.     

But, let me ask you a few more questions. Can you remember the names of any of your grade school teachers?  Who was your favorite and why?  What about in junior and senior high? Who were your principals and who were your favorite teachers and why?  If you played sports, what coaches do you remember?  If you grew up attending Sunday school, do you remember any of your teachers?  Or, how about some of your youth leaders and pastors in the church where you grew up. I’m sure you remember the names of your best friends growing up and have lots of memories of those days with them.  Do you remember the names of any of your neighbors?  What did they mean to your family?  How about co-workers? Can you name some of the people you have worked with and how they affected your life?     

It is obvious that while we might try to remember the names of entertainers, sports heroes, presidents, etc. to do well on a trivia test, they aren’t the people who really impacted our lives. Rather, it is has been those with whom we have personal interaction: our teachers, youth leaders, pastors, coaches, neighbors, friends and people with whom we worked.  They have all left “footprints” in our lives,  as through our interaction with them we have become the person we are today.  Probably not all our memories are good ones, however, regarding the people who have impacted our life, for people often fail us too and even sometimes turn against us. But, even those interactions affect who we are and what we have become.  Some live with lots of anger and bitterness and carry a lot of baggage with them wherever they go because they have been burned or hurt by others they had trusted, making it hard to develop good relationships now.      

I guess it all depends on the impact another Person has had on our life, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. If we have trusted Him for eternal life and are allowing His Word and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ (Ro. 8:29), then we are able to turn even the bad experiences into growth opportunities, for we are, through Christ, able to forgive and to love unconditionally. Then instead of holding anger and bitterness toward those who have hurt us, we have become more compassionate and forgiving… In other words, we are becoming more and more Christ-like. The Person that has the most impact on our life should, of course, be Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  The more we focus our life on Him and spend time in His Word, the more we are impacted in a positive way by our interactions with others—whether good of bad.      

The Apostle Paul wrote often in his letters about those who had impacted his life, and he even includes a few who opposed him or forsook him in his time of need.  But all of them made Paul the person of God that he was.  In closing his letter to the church at Rome, for example, Paul mentions Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea, Prisca and Aquila, his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus,”  “Epaenetus,,,the first convert to Christ from Asia.” hard-working Mary, “Adronicus and Junias,” his “kinsmen and fellow prisoners,”  Ampliatus, and “Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ,” and about a dozen more! (Ro. 16:1-16). There were many others too, such as Timothy, Barnabas, Silas, Titus, etc. who had impacted Paul’s life.   Obviously, Paul had established relationships with many who had “left their footprints” on his life, helping him to become the effective ambassador for Christ that he was. And he stopped often to thank God for them.     

We should do the same. And we should let those people know, if they are still on this earth, the impact they had on our life.  Also, we should consider how we are affecting the lives of the people around us. We are either encouraging them in their pursuit of a relationship with God or we are hindering them. Hopefully, each of us is having a positive impact on those with whom we “rub shoulders.”  It will depend on whether or not we are walking with the Lord and being controlled by the indwelling Holy Spirit.     

Take a moment soon to let someone know how grateful you are for how they impacted your life.     

  Forever His,       

  Pastor Dave     

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Save the Date

Weddings today are often a grand event, many costing many thousands of dollars.  Fewer couples are getting married in a church. Many rent a special event center; some even go out of country for their ceremony.  As a result, many young couples start out their married life with the burden of financial debt.  One of our friends suggests that couples should elope, save all the money they would have spent on a big, fancy wedding, and use the money as a down payment on a house; then after they have been married five years have a big celebration with family and friends. Sounds like a great idea!     

Prospective wives spend months, even years, planning and preparing for the big day: reserving a site for the wedding and for the reception, finding the perfect dress, ordering dresses for all the attendants, ordering flowers and food, even creating a website to track their preparations—and for places to order their wedding gifts!  Often the couple will send out a “Save-the-Date” card, inviting their family and friends to reserve that day so they can attend the wedding.     

Although the phrase “bride of Christ” is not in the New Testament, the idea appears throughout (II Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-27; Rev. 19:7; 21:9), providing great insight concerning our union with Christ, the “Bridegroom.” It pictures the intimacy we enjoy with Him, like that of a husband and wife—the most private, personal bond possible in life. Christ’s love for believers, called “the church,” is the model for a husband’s love for his wife (Eph. 5:25).  John the Baptist first used this analogy . He taught that Christ is the Bridegroom, and believers are His bride. John referred to himself as “the friend of the bridegroom” (the “best man”) (Jn. 3:28-30).     

In the marriage custom of the first century, parents of a young man selected a bride for their son. The parents then called in a man who acted as a negotiator called “the friend of the bridegroom” (Jn. 3:29). He made all the wedding arrangements and ceremonially presents the bride to the groom. Until then, the groom didn’t speak.  Marriage ceremonies involved two stages: the betrothal and the wedding.  At the betrothal (similar to our “engagement”), the families of the bride and groom met and the young man would give the young woman either a gold ring or some article of value or simply a document in which he promised to marry her. The bridegroom’s family paid the dowry, and the couple exchanged vows, becoming legally bound to one another as husband and wife. The young man would say to his bride: “See by this ring/or token that you are set apart for me according to the Law of Moses and Israel (Jacob).”  A betrothal, unlike our “engagements,” could only be broken by divorce.     

The actual wedding didn’t take place until months (often a year) later at a time generally determined by the bridegroom’s father (cf Mt. 24:36).  During the betrothal period, the couple remained separated while the bridegroom prepared a home for his bride in the midst of his family or clan, a place where the new couple could live in the shadow of his father. One of the expressions for marriage in that culture was “adding a room to your father’s tent” (cf Jn. 14:1-3). Meanwhile the bride was to keep herself pure and prepare herself for married life, and wait in excited anticipation for the bridegroom to come and get her.  When he finally came, he would take her to his father’s house for the wedding ceremony and festivities. Along the way, the “wedding parade” would be joined by many friends and neighbors in a very joyous procession. At the father’s house there would be a wedding feast—usually lasting a week— to celebrate the happy occasion. The bride was then led to her place under a canopy beside her husband, where the “friend of the bridegroom” would pronounce his benediction upon the newlyweds.     

The wedding customs are quite a picture of how we, “chosen and drawn by the Father”  to be the bride for His Son (Eph. 1:4; Jn.6:44; Heb. 13:20), have been betrothed to Christ, the Bridegroom, and sealed by the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee/pledge of our inheritance (Eph. 1:13,14). We are preparing ourselves for the Bridegroom to reappear and take us to His Father’s House for the wedding ceremony (Jn. 14:1-3). Then will come the wedding feast, “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:7-9).     

When will this big day come; when our Bridegroom comes to take us to His Father’s house?  Just as in the marriage customs of the first century, only the Father knows.  Jesus had been telling His disciples about the final events that will take place on earth before His Kingdom is set up and His disciples responded, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Mt. 24:3).  Jesus shared with them some of the signs of His coming, but then added,“But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt. 24:36).  In other words, there is no “Save-the-Date” card for our Lord’s return. We are to be ready at all times. Jesus said, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Mt. 25:13).      

Jesus did, however give a couple “signs” to watch for regarding the time of His return: “just as it was in the days of Noah…and the days of Lot…It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk. 17:26-30 cf Mt. 24:37).  As you read about the condition of mankind before the Flood when “the wickedness of man was great on the earth and every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5), and the conditions in Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot lived before God destroyed them for their wickedness and sexual perversion (Gen. 18,19), you realize that is very descriptive of our world as well. (Ro. 1:18-32; I Tim. 4:1-3;; II Tim. 3:1-7) also describe the conditions of the “later times” before Christ returns, and, again, describe the world in which we live. When you add to these “signs” all the Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel, the “time clock of the Bible,” you know that His return must be soon.  We may not know what “day or hour,” but we are not to be oblivious to “the signs of the times” (Mt. 16:2,3). We need to recognize that Jesus could return at any moment to take His bride to the Father’s house. We need to be prepared and watchful. First, we need to “be diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you…” (II Pet. 3:10), i.e., make sure you have put your faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone for your eternal life, and then “…abide in Him, so that when he appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame at His coming” (I Jn. 2:28).  We need to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit. 2:12,13).   We should keep ourselves in a state of spiritual readiness, “because you do not know the day or the hour.” Live each day as if it He might return today—He could!  We should live such that we will “love His appearing” (II Tim. 4: 8).  “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).  

Forever His,        

Pastor Dave

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All Lives Matter

A new report shows that the leading cause of death in 2020 was not COVID-19 or cancer or heart problems or homicide, or traffic deaths; it was ABORTION! In 2020, of all deaths worldwide, 42 million were from the premeditated taking of the lives of the pre-born. Not only was it the leading cause of death (nearly 42%), but it was close to all other causes combined—including from the Corona Virus Pandemic. The whole world has suffered from lockdowns of businesses, schools, churches, and social gatherings to stop the spread of a virus, resulting in loss of jobs, closure of businesses, challenges to provide a quality education, hindrance of church services, hampering of missionary outreaches…and the list goes on and on.  And how effective the safety measures have been is greatly questionable. Yet what a price we have paid!   While our lives have been turned upside down in response to a pandemic, abortion took the lives of 42 million innocent babies!     

Meanwhile we continue to fund the greatest cause of death on the face of the earth—the taking of lives of innocent children in what should be the safest place on earth—their mother’s womb. Wow! May God have mercy on us!   Since that fateful Roe v. Wade court case in January 1973 legalizing abortion,   nearly 62 million babies have lost their lives—an average of 98 per hour— in the United States alone.  President Trump, who was one of the most “pro life” presidents in U.S. history,  before leaving office last week,  proclaimed Friday, Jan. 22, as “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.” In his proclamation, he stated: “Every human life is a gift to the world. Whether born or unborn, young or old, healthy or sick, every person is made in the holy image of God. The Almighty Creator gives unique talents, beautiful dreams, and a great purpose to every person. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day we celebrate the wonder of human existence and renew our resolve to build a culture of life where every person of every age is protected, valued, and cherished.”   AMEN! (Unfortunately, our new administration does not hold President Trump’s values of the sanctity of life of the preborn and will do all it can to fund abortion).     

Our nation suffers from the violence and destructive activities of groups like “Black Lives Matter” and “Antifa.”  They claim to be protesting racial inequality in our country.  The paradoxical thing is that they are indiscriminately damaging and destroying not only the property and businesses of whites but blacks as well, the very ones for whom they claim to be advocating.  (By the way, check out the purpose of the BLM movement. It is very anti-Christian. It seeks to dismantle the biblical definition of family, champions the celebration of homosexuality, and touts gender confusion as normal and advocates for a gender revolution).      

Yes, black lives do matter, as to all other lives, no matter the skin color or national heritage.  The concept of race and racial discrimination does not come from Scripture. The Bible says there is only one “race,” the human race, which is made up of many “tribes and nations and languages” (Rev. 7:9).  The only division the Bible speaks of in humanity is between Jew (offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and Gentile, and even those two groups become one through faith in Christ as we are placed in one body, called the “church,” Paul wrote, “For in Christ there is neither circumcision (Jews), nor un-circumcision (Gentiles)…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 5:6; 3:26).    God did not create different “races.”  Acts 17:26 tells us that “He made from one (blood), every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation.  At the Tower of Babel, God confused languages and scattered people throughout the earth (Gen. 11:7,8).  He may have changed skin color at the same time or as they were scattered  around the world the skin colors may have developed over time. In any case, God made that a possibility from the beginning with the DNA he placed in mankind. But the Bible says nothing about a “black race” or a “white race” or a “red race” or a “yellow race.”  The concept of “race” came about with the teaching of evolution by Charles Darwin and was consequently picked up by textbooks and it subsequently became the basis of despots like Adolf Hitler who tried to develop a “superior race” by eliminating the “inferior” (in his thinking).  This became—and continues to be—the justification for genocide throughout the world and for the “racial unrest” even in our own country.      

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who had a hatred toward minorities, especially toward “Blacks,” saw abortion as a means of controlling the black birth rate. It is not by accident that about 80% of Planned Parenthood abortion facilities are located in neighborhoods with a proportionately higher population of Blacks and/or Hispanics.  Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortion has taken the lives of 20 million Black babies, more than the entire population of Blacks in 1960!  Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, creates the false impression that its programs somehow benefit “black health, education, rights and community development.” The tragic reality is that one out of three Black babies in this country—800 per day—are aborted! Of the 61.3 million babies that have died by abortion in the U.S. since 1973, 19.4 million were conceived in the womb of Black women.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that in 2020, 36 % of abortions were of Black babies although Blacks make up only 13.4% of the population. So, tell me, how does that “benefit” the black community?  If BLM and Antifa really were for “racial equality,” they should be protesting in front of abortion clinics!     

I’m reminded of an old Sunday School song: “Jesus loves the little children (including the unborn), all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”  And so should we—All Lives Matter—“whether born or unborn, young or old, healthy or sick, every life is made in the holy image of God” (Gen. 1:26,27).            

   Forever His,              

   Pastor Dave

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The Reminder of the Stars

Our week proved to be rather challenging, First the torsion bar on our garage door opener failed. Fortunately we had one of our two vehicles outside so had a way to get around.  They had to order a new torsion bar which they planned to install today (but one of their helpers called in sick so maybe they will come tomorrow!).  Then on Wednesday we had a powerful storm that passed through with wind gusts up to 100 mph.  The wind lasted all day, with occasional rain and hail. Needless to say there were trees down everywhere—on houses, vehicles and power lines. We lost power about 1 p.m. and would be without power for 48 hours.  Fortunately we have a hand pump on our well so had water and have a wood stove to keep the house warm and to heat water.  One of our neighbors, an elderly single lady, only has electric heat so had to go stay at a local motel (as did others).  Her house had gone down to 48 degrees inside!     

All of this added to the restrictions from the response to the pandemic and the bizarre results of the presidential election and what that may mean for the future of our country, there was lots for the mind to think about. Oh, yes, and a couple of the members of my morning men’s Bible study at a local Laundromat got COVID-19 and one, who is in his 80’s, is hospitalized.  And, oh, yes, the pastor of our church suddenly resigned so things have been a bit irregular to the congregation.     

But, Wednesday night, the winds subsided and the skies cleared and as I went out to get wood for the stove before heading for a rather cold bedroom, I looked up at the amazing display of the stars and could make out several of the familiar constellations: Big and Little Dippers, Orion’s Belt, etc.  They appeared to be brighter than ever (partly because our neighborhood was in the dark!), and were just where God had placed them at the beginning of Creation more than 6,000 years ago! On day four of creation, “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heaven to give light on the earth;’ and it was so” (Gen. 1:14,15).  Those same stars in God’s heavens have been there ever since, and, along with the moon, providing light at night and giving direction to us since they can be counted on to stay where He put them as evidence that He is not only Creator, but Sustainer as well. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth…all things have created by Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15,16). (Even though we are traveling through space at 67,000 mph!).      

When God made His covenant with Abraham, “He told took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (Gen. 15:5 cf 22:17; 26:4; 32:13; Dt. 1:10; 10:22; Heb. 11:12).  Astronomy in its research estimates that the “known” universe contains at least 200 billion galaxies, each made up of about 100 billion stars, The 2010 estimate was 300 sextillion stars (300 x 10 to the 21st power)!  God, who made each of these, not only knows the exact number, but has a name for each of them. “Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number. He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing” (Isa. 40:26). “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them. Great is the Lord…” (Psa. 147:4,5a).

So, Wednesday night as I looked up at the star-studded heavens at the same stars shown to Abraham and the same stars David observed as he spent time in the fields tending sheep and later wrote: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth, Who hast displayed Thy splendor above the heavens”…which “are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psa. 8:1; 19:1), I was reminded that God is still in control. He is still holding everything together. If He’s got the universe under control, I could surely trust Him for the current issues we are facing!  And, I was also reminded that the horrific period of judgment of the earth called the “Great Tribulation” (Mt. 24:21) or the “Time of Jacob’s Distress” (Jer. 30:7) hadn’t begun, for at that time “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Mt. 24:29 cf Joel 2:10; 3:15; Rev. 6:13).  (Also, we were still here on earth, and I believe the Bible teaches that before that period of God’s wrath on the earth prior to His coming to reign, He will remove the Church…See Ro. 5:9; II Thes. 2:1-9; I Thes.. 1:10; 4: 13-18; Jn. 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51,52; Rev. 4:1). As I gazed up at the orderliness and beauty of God’s creation, I was reminded also of God’s faithfulness and that His “loving kindness is everlasting.” He is still in charge! “To Him who made the great lights, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. The sun to rule by day, for His lovingkindness is everlasting, The moon and stars to rule by night, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (Psa. 136:7-9).          

FOREVER His,            

Pastor Dave

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Caring For Others

We enjoy watching college basketball and for many years have followed the Gonzaga Bulldogs from Spokane, Washington.  The “Zag’s” coach, Mark Few, (son of a Presbyterian minister) from Creswell, Oregon, joined the coaching staff at Gonzaga University in 1989 and became the head coach in 1999. We happened to be in Spokane for a “Christian Workers’ Conference”  in March, 1999 when The Zags advanced to the “Elite Eight,” with wins over Minnesota, Stanford and Florida.  Spokane sort of went “crazy” in celebration! The Zags lost out in the regional finals to eventual champion, U Conn, by only five points. In his 21-year tenure as head coach, Coach Few has led the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament each year, and has played in the “Final Four” as well as the championship game. They have also made it to the championship game of the West Coast Conference in each of those years.  In 2016-17 the Zags began with a 29-game winning streak with a school record 37 wins for the season. Mark Few was named “National Coach of the Year” by the Associated Press. In Coach Few’s 21 years as head coach, the Zags set a record of 40 consecutive WCC wins and 31 consecutive road wins. Mark Few has the best winning percentage of any coach at 83.1% (610-124) overall and 90.4% (293-31) in conference.  Many of the Zag’s players have gone on to play professional basketball.     

Last season, the NCAA tournament ended up being cancelled because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, but it looked like the Zags had the potential for possibly winning it all.  They started this season with a number of exciting new players and are ranked #1 with a current record of 11-0, with wins over some very quality, power-conference teams.  They are a very entertaining team to watch and are averaging a nation’s best–95 points per game.      

So, what is the key to the success of the Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s basketball teams under Mark Few as head coach?  Well, they do a great job of recruiting not only talented players from all over the world, but they also recruit  “team players” who are willing to play unselfishly and help each other succeed.   As we were watching one of their games this past week on ESPN, a commentator made this observation: “When you care about making other people better, it’s amazing what you can accomplish!” 

I believe that is the key to the success of any team or organization, a willingness to make each other look good and succeed—not focusing primarily on yourself but on others and helping them improve and be successful.  When a whole team is doing that, they will go far.  Think about that in regard to the body of Christ, the Church and to local assemblies of believers.  What would happen if we genuinely had that same philosophy, which—by the way—happens to be a very biblical one! Jesus, observing that the disciples were concerned about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom and who would have the most prestigious positions said to them: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:42-45).   Jesus demonstrated that when, before the Feast of the Passover in the Upper Room, he “rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about (like a servant)…and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (Jn. 13:4,5).  Jesus went on to say to the Apostles: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (vv. 14,15). When the Apostle Paul wrote about the special abilities called “spiritual gifts” that God has given each believer, he emphasized that they are “for the common good” (I Cor. 11:7), i.e., they are not for self-edification but for the “growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).  To the church at Philippi, Paul wrote: “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).  He goes on to speak of the epitome of humility, Jesus Christ who, as eternal God the Son, left the glory of heaven to become a man and “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (vv. 6-8). Paul challenges us that we should have that same attitude (v. 5).     

When we really care about others and about helping them succeed, it’s amazing what can be accomplished. Because Jesus Christ cared enough about us to leave heaven and become one of us and die in our place, we have available eternal life (Jn. 3:16) as well as abundant life (Jn. 10:10). “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).          

Forever His,            

Pastor Dave  

P.S.  “Go Zags!

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Stay Focused

A challenge often given by a coach to his player(s) is “Stay focused,” encouraging them to keep their mind fixed on their goal.  When I was the head tennis coach for our high school team, I would share a proverb with the team each week. One of those proverbs I used as the basis of a New Year’s challenge to the congregation at our home church yesterday as I filled in for the pastor.  The proverb and challenge: “As you travel down life’s road, may this ever be your goal: keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole.”  In other words, focus on what is of value, what will last, what will be productive.      

The Apostle Paul, who definitely “stayed focused” on the ministry God gave him as the missionary to the Gentiles (as well as to his fellow Jews, see Acts 9:15), wrote this to the Philippian church which he established in Macedonia (Greece) on his second missionary journey: “…but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13,14). Paul, remember was initially known as “Saul of Tarsus,” was “of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Phil. 3:5,6).   But then, as he was headed to Damascus to persecute Christians, he had a dramatic encounter with Jesus Christ. His life was transformed and he soon became “Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ” (Col. 1:1), missionary and church planter. The same zeal and focus that he exhibited as a persecutor of the church, he now exhibited as a missionary evangelist and church planter. But, it took determination and discipline for him to stay focused on his new ministry and not dwell on the past with guilt and regret.  He knew that he had been forgiven so had to forget the past and press on towards his new goal—“to know Christ and to make Him known.”  He had to “stay focused,” to “keep his eye upon the donut and not upon the hole.”     

The donut represents that which is of eternal value. Paul began living each day “with eternity’s values in view,” knowing that only what was done for Christ will last.  He reflected this throughout his letters to believers in the first-century churches. To the church at Colossae, he wrote: “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1,2).  He encouraged the believers in Corinth with these words: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen;  for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Cor. 4:16-18). 

This doesn’t mean that all we do each day is read our Bibles, pray and witness to people. Our lives involve work to make a living, interaction with family and friends and neighbors, enjoying hobbies, recreation, involvement in community activities, doing housework and yard-work, etc.; but in all aspects of our life, our focus needs to be on honoring and glorifying our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Remember Paul’s words in Col. 3:17, 23, 24: “And 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 rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

So, if we are to “keep our eye upon the donut and not upon the hole,” what does the hole represent?  Glad you asked!  The hole represents the following:  being tied to the past—things that you cannot go back and change, being immobilized by fear and worry over the future, over which you have no control; focusing on temporal things which don’t really matter and won’t last.  Make it your goal this year to keep the main thing the main thing: knowing Christ and making Him known, glorifying Him in all that you do, and growing in Christlikeness.  “Stay focused!”  Keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole.       

Forever His,            

Pastor Dave

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It has been interesting reading our Christmas cards and letters.  There has obviously been a major theme and that is the crazy year that 2020 has been; but, what has varied is the way in which the writers have viewed the events of this past year. Some of the comments have been all negative as if the year were only full of bad, harmful things and an overall loss. Others have commented about how they appreciated the extra time spent at home and with family, doing things together and accomplishing some home projects that they may not have had the time or opportunity to do in a more “normal” year.  In other words there was a wide spectrum of perspectives.  It has been said that life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 % how you respond; i.e., what is your perspective or attitude?  What we find depends mainly on what we searching for and much of what we see depends on what we are looking for.     

The Apostle Paul had a list, that none of us can match, of negative things that happened to him. In his second letter to the Corinthian church he reiterated a few of his most challenging experiences:  “… in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep…in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labors and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (II Cor. 11:23-28).  Yet in all of this, Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil. 4:11).  

I believe the secret to Paul’s facing such adversity and being content is in another statement he made in his letter to the Corinthians: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Cor. 4:16-18).  Paul was looking at things from God’s perspective—an eternal one. Thus he could look upon his adversity as “light” and “momentary” and insignificant compared with the glory that lay ahead in eternity.  He shared that same perspective with the believers at Rome, writing: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Ro. 8:18).   In other words, Paul viewed each day with eternity’s values in view.      

That would be a great goal for each of us this coming year.  Dallas Holm, Christian recording artist, wrote: “when you get the perspective that God is preparing us for eternity, these (daily challenges) are just little blips on the radar screen of life.” Focusing on Christ puts everything else in proper perspective.  “In Western Christianity especially, we have become committed to relieving the pain behind our problems rather than using our pain to wrestle more passionately with the character and purposes of God” (Larry Crabb). Even if everything looks bad, God is good—all the time! Trust Him.  We don’t know what challenges we will face in 2021, but rest assured, God has already been there. He  goes before us and will be there for us. He’s got our back.  Nothing ever takes Him by surprise and since He is with us wherever we go, we are equipped to face whatever should come our way in 2021.  So, keep a “God perspective” and you are ready to face 2021 head on.  May you experience His peace and joy this coming year.       

Forever His,          

   Pastor Dave     

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