The Freedom of Forgiveness

      Competing in the finals this week on America’s Got Talent will be the first “spoken-word artist” (also known as a poet!) to ever compete on AGT.   Brandon Leake, a follower of Jesus Christ who is bold to share his relationship with his Savior and how it has changed his life, so moved Howie Mandel with his initial performance that Howie pushed his golden buzzer automatically advancing Brandon to the live rounds.  In the semi-final last week, Brandon shared an emotional poem addressed to his father, Tyrone, who had deserted the family when Brandon was quite young. Brandon’s performance is a full range of emotion from disappointment to anger to rage, pain and devastation and then to love and ultimately to forgiveness as he lays down his anger at the altar of Christ, at the foot of the cross where Jesus paid for ALL our sins (Tyrone’s, Brandon’s and yours and mine).  Brandon says, “Tyrone, I forgive you so I can be free. This is bigger than you and me.”  (It is a powerful performance. Google “Brandon Leake’s poem to Tyrone” and watch it.)
     Brandon expresses what we all experience when we fail to forgive someone. We are in bondage to the person we will not forgive for what they have done to us. We can’t get them out of our mind. We become angry and ultimately full of bitterness. Our vision is also clouded in our relationship with others and our walk with God is hindered.  “Unforgiveness, like strong acid, hurts the person on whom it’s poured;  but it always does more damage to the vessel in which it’s stored” (Mary Horner). Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and then expecting someone else to die!  When injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive.
     When it comes to forgiveness, there is no greater example than God’s forgiving us through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross to pay for our sins.  We can forgive because He has forgiven us, Even as Jesus hung from that cruel cross to provide atonement for our sins, He spoke these words concerning those who had tortured him and put Him on the cross: “Father forgive, them; for they don’t know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34).  When we get a clear picture of how much we have been forgiven, it makes it easier to forgive others.  The more I know of myself, the more I forgive others.  If we refuse to forgive, we grieve the Holy Spirit who lives in us as believers, and our spiritual growth is hindered. Jesus said, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Mt. 6:14,15).  That’s pretty powerful when you ponder it!
     The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, wrote: “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).  “Never are you more like God  than when you forgive . Never are you less like God than when you are unwilling to forgive” (John MacArthur).   Forgiveness breaks the tyranny and bondage of the past and sets us free as well to continue our walk with God. Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred and bitterness, and the waste of energy.  “The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world” (Marriane Williamson).  There is more power in one act of forgiveness than in a thousand acts of hateful revenge.  And for the Christian, we’ve seen from Scripture that forgiveness is never optional. We don’t get to pick and choose what and whom we want to forgive and what and whom we don’t.  And, if we wait until we feel like it, we probably never will.  Keep in mind, again of how we have been forgiven by God: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us,  in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (which He lives in and through us)” (Ro. 5:8,10).
     As you have been reading this, has the Holy Spirit been speaking to you about someone who hurt you that you have yet to forgive?  If so, now is the time to do so. It begins with a promise to God and then you must keep that promise and not dwell on it anymore or bring it up or use it against them. The Holy Spirit will assist you with this, as it is not in our old nature to do so. C. S. Lewis said, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it!”  But, when we practice it we discover personally what a beautiful, freeing thing it really is. It is the only basis on which we can be reconciled in a broken relationship, just as we have been reconciled to God through the forgiveness offered by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.      
     Or, maybe you have hurt someone else and never asked them to forgive you. Well, then it is your God-given responsibility to do that. It is always your move, whether to forgive someone, or to ask for forgiveness. That is one of the things that makes Christianity so unique. And it is all made possible because “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).
     Forever His,
          Pastor Dave
    
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I Will Build My Church

    (In Loving  Memory of John Ring…April. 23, 1940—Sept. 1, 2020)
     On one occasion, Jesus took His disciples into the district of Caesarea Philippi which had been built by Herod Philippi, son of Herod the Great, at the base of Mount Hermon near the mouth of an enormous cave, a center of Baal worship. Baal was thought to descend through the cave to the center of the earth until spring when he emerged to have sexual relations with Ashserah .  From their union, the world was supposedly blessed with fertility.
     It was there that Jesus—likely standing on the large rock outcropping overlooking the cave— asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  (Mt. 16:13)“And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, and others say Elijah, but still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (v. 14). Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). Simon Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Jesus told them that Peter had not figured that out on his own; only God the Father could reveal that to him (v. 17). Then we have Jesus’ statement and prophecy: “…you are Peter (a small stone), and upon this rock (feminine form for a large rock outcropping) I will build My church and the gates of Hades (powers of spiritual darkness) shall not overpower it” (v. 18).  Jesus was not saying that He would build His church on Peter or upon his successors, but upon this divine revelation and Peter’s profession of faith as to who Jesus Christ is. “I will build My church…” indicated that the formation of the church was still in the future. It began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection and ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven,  when God sent the promised Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26; 15:26,27; 16:7; Acts 1:5) to permanently indwell believers, immerse them into the body of Christ—the Church (I Cor. 12:12,13)— and empower them to spread the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection to the far corners of the world (Acts 1: 8).
      Little assemblies of believers began springing up all over as the Gospel spread. Many of these assemblies of believers (ecclesia = “called out ones”) met in homes.  When the Apostle Paul wrote a letter from prison to Philemon, he greeted him this way: “I Paul,. a prisoner of Christ Jesus…to Philemon, our beloved brother and fellow worker…and to the church in your house” (Philemon 1:1,2).
     In Libby, Montana, as a result of a Youth for Christ rally in 1954, a number of folks got saved and some began meeting for Bible study in the home of Lou and Nora May Auge.  The group grew and decided to begin a church, calling Pastor Clarence Kutz (my future father-in-law) to come and be their pastor. They rented the Grange Hall and then bought property and built Faith Bible Church.
     A similar thing happened a few years later as missionaries with American Sunday School Union came from Pennsylvania to western Montana and started a rural mission called Rocky Mountain Bible Mission. One of the first missionaries, Gary Walker, was instrumental in introducing a number of folks in the area of Savage Lake, Schoolhouse Lake and Milnor Lake (on the north end of the Bull Lake Road…Highway 56) to Christ. Gary started a Bible study in September 1972 in a cabin near the home of Marvin and Bernice Kates. When the Walkers moved to Hot  Springs in 1973, the Bible study was resumed by Pastor Clarence Kutz who, upon retiring from Faith Bible Church, had also joined RMBM. In September of 1974, the Bible study moved to the trailer home of John and Lottie (Kates) Ring. 
     Ray and LuRee Sampson had recently moved to Little Joe, Montana which is a very small community located ten miles south of the Rings’ trailer.  Ray had retired as a fireman in Seattle. He was not yet a believer, but LuRee, a Christian, had prayed that they would locate near a church for her to attend. There were no churches near Little Joe, but she heard about the Bible study at Rings so tried it out.  She found out that John Ring and some of the other men enjoyed hunting, especially elk hunting, so she told Ray—also an avid elk hunter—that he would enjoy these men since they also liked to hunt. On that basis Ray came. Pastor Kutz was teaching from John 4 about the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well and ended up believing in Him, leaving her water pot and running back to tell her village about her encounter with the Messiah. Well, that night Ray went back home and got on his knees and “left his water pot,” turning his life over to the Lord.  
     After resigning from my engineering job at Hyster Company in Portland, Oregon, Kathy and I and our two children, Heidi (age 4) and Grant (age 2), returned to Libby in April 1974, having also joined RMBM. I was to work as an understudy to my father-in-law, Pastor Kutz.  While he taught the adult Bible study in the Rings’ living room and Kathy and her mom taught a children’s class in a bedroom, I taught a youth group in the shop. 
     In March 1975, the Bible study group had grown to about 40 people and they decided they needed to start a church so took up an offering that evening to begin “Three Lakes Community Bible Church.” Articles and By Laws were drawn up. The initial executive council was composed of John Ring, Ray Sampson, Ivan Varner, George Jordan and myself.  Construction on the church building (by men of the church) began in April 1975.
     Pastor Kutz suddenly was diagnosed with Leukemia in September and went home to be with the Lord in October of 1975. I had the frightening task of filling in for someone I still consider one of the best Bible teachers and pastors that I have even known.  Kathy and Mrs. Kutz continued teaching the children’s class and Rocky and Mary Zaic became our youth leaders. Sunday services began in the church basement on February 6, 1977 with Bible study, youth group and children’s classes held mid-week. TLCBC was officially incorporated in the state of Montana October 10, 1977 and the first service in the superstructure was on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1978. In the spring of 1979, TLCBC built Elohim Bible Camp on the Bull Lake Road on property donated by Ellis (Al) and Ida Stewart. Camp began in July.  That fall, “Three Lakes Christian School” also began at the church for K-6, expanding eventually through grade 9 with up to 70 students. The school continued until 1983, having to close because of the loss of local mining and logging jobs and many people having to move. 
     As I think about the impact that TLCBC has had on our community and now throughout the world as those who have moved on have taken the Gospel with them, I think about how the faithfulness of John and Lottie Ring and their zeal and passion for the Lord made it all possible. When I retired from pastoring TLCBC in May 2011, Kathy and I made a list—to the best we could remember—of all the folks who had attended TLCBC and we came up with about 650!  Add to that all the young people who attended TLCS and have gone to ELohim Bible Camp, and there have been several thousand people influenced for Christ because of the dedication of John and Lottie Ring (and the Kates) to building the Kingdom of God. 
     John Ring had a compassion for the souls of others and had a very sensitive heart. Anytime he started relating what God had done in his life, it brought tears to his eyes. He loved his Savior very much.  Whenever we had opportunity to visit at Three Lakes after we retired, we always got a big hug from John. I look forward to when we get to join him one day in heaven. He was truly a faithful servant and will be greatly missed here. But I also think of the greeting when he arrived in heaven. There to meet him were the many who attended Three Lakes, and were influenced by its ministry, who got there ahead of him. I am so grateful for having had the privilege of knowing John Ring and for the influence he had on my life and that of my family and our church.  I am thankful for the patience he had with me as a young “green” pastor who had huge shoes to fill when, by default—but God’s plan—I became the pastor of the church which began in the Ring home.
     Forever His,
            Pastor Dave
    
    
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The Law of Increasing Entropy

     Although we may not have realized that it is evidence of a physical law of the universe, The Second Law of Thermodynamics called “the Law of Increasing Entropy,” we all experience it on a regular basis.  For example, just a week ago you neatly organized your sock drawer–and now look at it!  Or, you got yourself a glass of water with a couple ice cubes to sip on as you work on the computer, only to forget where you placed the glass until a couple hours later–the ice has melted and if you hadn’t found it when you did, the water would soon have evaporated as well.  Or, you accidentally burn one of your wife’s favorite candles–oops, can’t un-burn a candle!

    These are all examples of a known law of science that actually is an observation of God’s curse upon the earth after sin took place in the Garden of Eden–it was the law of decay and death. Everything would wind down and wear out.  It was all because of sin.  So, the “Law of Increasing Entropy” is actually an observation of the effect of sin on our universe, our earth, and our individual lives.  The word “entropy” (en’tra pea),  means “a turning towards,” or “a turning inward.”  It is the natural tendency for things to become more and more random and disorganized.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics describes it as matter’s tendency to lose usable energy and decline into disorder when left to itself–like my sock drawer!  Entropy always increases and available energy diminishes in a closed system.  The Psalmist observed that “even the heavens will perish…All of them will wear out like a garment”  (Psa. 102:25,26).  God, speaking through Isaiah the prophet, said: “For the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment…” (Isa. 51:6). 

     Entropy is a property of everything in the universe. Everything and everybody is changing…except God and His Word and His salvation.  God, the only un-caused cause in the universe, doesn’t change. He doesn’t grow tired; He doesn’t lose energy. He “Is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  In reference to the heavens and earth, the Psalmist wrote: “Even they will perish, but You remain…All of them will wear out like a garment…but You remain the same” (Psa. 102:26,27).  In God’s prophecy through Isaiah, we also read: “…the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants will die in like manner, but My salvation shall be forever…but My righteousness shall be forever…” (Isa. 51:6,8). 

     In stark contrast to the decaying, degenerating world in which we live, God remains unchanged. His Word can still be trusted and the salvation He provides through Jesus Christ is forever.   “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8).  Joshua, knowing he was dying, said to the people: “Now behold today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed” (Josh. 23:14).  In Solomon’s great prayer recorded in I Kings 8, he said: “Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant” (v. 56).  And, when we accept God’s offer of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, we are given eternal life and will “never perish.” Jesus said, “…no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:28,29).  Jesus also said, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I lose nothing but raise it up on the last day”  (Jn. 6:37-39).

     When a culture/society turns away from God and “turns within” it leads to decay, disorder and ultimate chaos.  Dr. Erwin Lutzer has written a book, When a Nation Forgets God, which describes in detail what has happened in the United States because God has been not only ignored, but squeezed out of public life.  The inevitable result is disorder and decay—which we are obviously experiencing. The only solution is to “return” to God.  If you read in Scripture about the history of Israel, you see clearly what happens when a nation forgets God and what happens when they repent and return.  May God bring about a “returning” in our nation!    

    In a world that is constantly changing and uncertain, what a blessing to have a rock-solid source of hope anchored in the “Unchanging One,” our Lord Jesus Christ whose Word is trustworthy and will never fail and whose salvation is eternal.  “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Psa. 62:5-8).

    Forever His,

        Pastor Dave

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Puzzling Lessons

     My wife and I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles, so during the winter evenings when the days are so short and the nights are so long, we occupy ourselves often with spending time listening to music and working on a puzzle.  During the early stages of the shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we also pulled out a puzzle to fill in the time.   We have had some very challenging ones and even a couple we had to give up on, especially ones with pieces that were all alike.  We also built a couple on a backing so we could frame them—one of polar bears and Coca-Cola for our neighbor’s Laundromat where he has a Coke theme. That was a tough one with all the white.  Then we also did one of Bryce Canyon where we took our family for our 50th anniversary celebration. What an amazing place!
     With the many hours of assembling jigsaw puzzles, we have made a number of “Life Observations.”  Here they are: 
        1.  Don’t force a fit.  If a piece doesn’t “quite fit,” then it doesn’t go there. It will fit perfectly somewhere else.  God has made each of us as unique individuals—no two just alike.  He has also given us as believers different spiritual gifts so that we have a unique place where we fit in to help complete the whole picture. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good  …But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”  (I Cor. 12:7,11).
     2.  When things aren’t going so well, take a break.  Quite often you can get stuck looking for a particular piece for quite some time without success, yet if you take a break and come back later, amazingly, there the piece is!  That seems to happen quite frequently.  Sometimes in life, we are struggling with a problem that we can’t seem to solve. It is good to take a break and focus on something else and then come back to the problem with a clear mind.  God created each of us with a need for rest and a time away from the normal routine.  Even God, after creating the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, rested on the seventh day (not because He was tired) but to enjoy what He had made!…Gen. 1:31-2:2).  During His earthly ministry, Jesus  took time away from the demands of the crowds to spend time with His Father. He also gave Israel the Sabbath as a time of refreshing and spiritual renewal.  We are all made with the need to take breaks and to be refreshed and refueled physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
     3.  Be sure to look at the big picture.  If we get hung up on one little piece, we can become frustrated.  In life, we often wonder how what is happening to us makes any sense.  But there is a much bigger picture which God is “assembling,” as He works to conform us to the image of Christ. “And we know that all things (each piece of the puzzle) work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose…to be conformed to the image of His Son…” (Ro. 8:28,29). 
     4.  Perseverance pays off.  Every puzzle goes together the same way—one piece at a time! If you only get a piece or two each time, you will still complete it–in time. Stick with it.  Paul writes, “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9)…”Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” I Cor. 15:58). Anything worth doing takes time and effort. A great puzzle can’t be rushed!
     5.  When you get stuck in one spot, move to another, but be sure to come back later (See #4).  Sometimes when we are reading God’s Word, we struggle to understand a particular passage. Rather than getting hung up on that spot, go on in your reading and studying and come back to it later, with a fresh mind and quite often the Holy Spirit will then illumine it to us.  That’s what is exciting about reading and studying God’s Word, for the best commentary on a passage of Scripture is the Bible itself. It all fits together so beautifully and often as we work on another area and then come back to where we struggled, it suddenly makes sense in context.
     6.  The Creator of the Puzzle gave you a picture as a guide.  Trying to make sense out of the “pieces” of our life would be impossible if we didn’t have the picture (God’s Word) to refer to as a guide. “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (II Pet. 1:3). “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light to my path” (Psa. 119:105).
     7.  Variety is the spice of life.  It’s the different shapes and colors that make the puzzle interesting. When all the pieces are similar shape, it is quite boring and difficult to assemble.  As observed in #1, God makes us all uniquely—different shapes, sizes and colors; different abilities, gifts and personalities, That is something to celebrate, not to complain about. It makes life much more interesting. Paul uses the analogy of the human body (I Cor. 12). . How inefficient it would be if we were just an eye or an ear or with hands but no legs, etc.  Each member of the body has a unique role to play and we need to “play together” for the body to work properly. That’s how God made the “pieces” of the puzzle…the world of humanity. Imagine what we could accomplish if we stopped fighting and worked together!  Well, that will happen one day, when Jesus sets up His Millennial reign on earth—even so come!  Paul also talks about how “the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part…” (Eph. 4:16). 
     8.  Working together with others makes it more enjoyable.   As with any task, it is more fun when your tackle it together with family and friends so you can struggle together and rejoice together.  Even though my wife and I may spend a little time alone working on the puzzle, it is more enjoyable when we both have time to sit and do it together.  That’s how God made us.  Not only do “Many hands make light work,” but it makes the work more enjoyable.  Paul often spoke with great affection about those who “labored with Him in the Gospel” (Phil. 4:1-4).
     9.  Establish the border first.  The first thing we always do as we begin a puzzle (i.e., after turning all the pieces face up!) is to find the edge or frame pieces and put the frame together. Without a frame to work from, it is very difficult to see how everything fits to make the big picture. We all need boundaries in our lives from which to work. They give us a sense of security and order.  God has given us the “frame pieces” in His Word through His commandments.  As we obey the directives of God’s Word, all the other events (pieces) of our life fit together.  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight (the pieces will fit together) (Pr. 3:5,6).
     10.  There will be some surprises.  Our favorite puzzles are those which have uniquely shaped pieces and often they fit into the strangest locations, making the puzzle not only challenging, but fun and full of surprises.  God loves to surprise us in life too with unexpected “pieces” fitting in where least expected. “Now unto Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20).
     11.  Take time to enjoy the finished product.  Celebrate your successes!  When we complete a puzzle, we leave it on the table for a couple days just to enjoy the “big picture,” and see the fruit of our labors.  There is satisfaction in a job completed.  While on this side of heaven we will not get to see how every piece fit into the big picture, we will still get glimpses of what God has been accomplishing in our lives as He grows us for eternity. Stop and give thanks for what God has done and will continue to do. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). 
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
    
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Role Play

     I have often wondered, as I observe a particular character in a movie or television series, what that person is like in real life. Are they like the role they are playing?  It might be true, since actors and actresses are chosen who will be a good fit for a particular role. I believe it is called “type casting.”
      Actually, a lot of people in everyday life are also probably “role playing,” as they pretend outwardly to be someone they really aren’t inside.  They follow the script they’re supposed to follow, act the way they’re supposed to act, and often give such a good “performance” that they almost convince themselves they are someone other than who they really are.  I have witnessed this quite often in couples who are dating and are “on their best behavior,” hoping to convince the other person to marry them. They get married and shortly thereafter have serious problems because they are finally getting to know the real person and it isn’t who they thought they were marrying.
     As difficult and problem causing as that experience is for a newly married couple, that gap between playing the role and experiencing the reality becomes horribly expensive when you are playing the role of being a Christian when you really don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Years ago, when we were living in Oregon and attending Montavilla Baptist Church, one of the pastors we had came from a Christian home where he went through all the motions of being a Christian, regularly attending church services with his family, even teaching children’s Sunday school and ultimately becoming Sunday school superintendent.  Then he finally “got saved”!  It was hard for him to admit to others that he didn’t really know the Lord, because for years he had played the role so well that he had everyone fooled. 
     Many years ago (about 1954), in our hometown of Libby, Montana, there was a “Youth For Christ” rally which was held for a week. Many folks got saved and one group of them began meeting together for Bible study in a home and as the group grew, they contacted Clarence Kutz, who was at the time a pastor in Wilsall, Montana, to come be their pastor. That was the beginning of “Faith Bible Church” where my family ended up attending when we moved to Libby in 1958, It was there I met the pastor’s daughter, Kathy, who in 1967 became my wife.  During that YFC rally, there were also two local pastors of mainline denominational churches who became Christians!  They had been “role players,” but up until then had yet to personally ask Jesus Christ into their lives. They had religion with all its ritual but did not have a relationship with Jesus.
     I’m reminded of an NBC action drama television series from 1996-2000 called “The Pretender.”   The main character, Jarod, was a genius imposter assuming numerous professional identities (e.g., doctor, lawyer, soldier, etc.) in his quest to discover his origins and at the same time stay one step ahead of those trying to catch him.  He was very convincing in his role.  There are many playing the role of “Christian” who are also very convincing to those around them, as they follow the script and say the right words and do the right things. Many of them are members of churches. Some of them might be teaching Sunday school or even be pastoring.  I recall a story of a pastor who “got saved” while preaching a salvation message, as God the Holy Spirit convicted his heart from the Scriptures he was reading! 
     That’s why the Apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, included this challenge: “Test yourselves to see if you are (really) in the faith. Examine yourselves!  Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (II Cor. 13:5).  Christ Jesus isn’t, in Paul’s words, “in you” unless there’s been a time in your life when you’ve consciously opened the door of your life to Him and invited Him in to run your life from then on. When you know the right words, go to the right meetings, and even believe the right things, it’s still easy to miss this one life-or-death step.   You may even have prayed a “sinner’s prayer” at church or with a friend, but if it didn’t come from a heart of conviction, it was just words.  The Apostle Paul also wrote: “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation (in others, as you share your ‘Jesus story’)” (Ro. 10:9,10). 
     Maybe someone who is reading this has been “role playing,” pretending to be a Christian, but without a real relationship with Christ.  Could it be that you have missed that vital, intentional step of passing from death to life? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes on Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24). I encourage you to do as Paul suggested to the Corinthians, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith…” If you were to die tonight and God were to ask you, “Why should I let you into My heaven? What would you tell Him?  All your “role playing” of doing and saying the right things won’t get you into heaven. You must have Jesus in your life.  John wrote: “…God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the eternal life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I Jn. 5:11,12). 
    It takes courage and honesty to finally admit that you have been role playing, that you are a mere “professor,” but not a “possessor” of Jesus Christ, but the cost of continuing to just play the role is way too high to pay.   If you have any doubt of the reality of your relationship with God through Jesus Christ, why not make sure right now, as Jesus is speaking to your heart, telling Jesus, “I know that I am a sinner deserving of judgment, but I believe (in my heart) that you died for my sins, and I believe that You are my ONLY hope, so come into my life and take control. Beginning right now, I’m totally Yours. Thank You for coming in and that You will never leave me or forsake me. Amen!”
        Forever His,
            Pastor Dave
P.S.  If you prayed to receive Christ and/or to gain assurance of your salvation, how about letting me know (and let others who would be concerned know as well!)
    
    
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How Our Choices Affect Others

     As we drove through the Colombia Gorge on our trip last week to see our family in Oregon, we were reminded afresh of the devastation caused by a foolish decision on behalf of a teenager on Sept. 2, 2017 who hurled lighted fireworks (during a burning ban) into a parched canyon near one of Oregon’s most scenic hiking trails near Multnomah Falls, about 30 miles east of Portland.  A cloud of smoke rose up toward the teen and his friends, some giggling as they videoed the event, oblivious to the danger.  The resulting Eagle Creek wildfire raged through the Columbia River Gorge for three months before being contained, burning about 50,000 acres and was still smoldering in some areas as late as May 29, 2018.  The fire endangered numerous popular landmarks such as the Multnomah Falls Lodge and destroyed the Oneonta Tunnel on the Historic Columbia River Highway. It forced hundreds of people to evacuate, closed Interstate 84 for ten days and threatened 5,000 houses and buildings, destroying at least four homes. 
      Hiking trails were closed for months and businesses along the Gorge lost thousands of dollars. The cost for firefighters was about $18 million and then there has been the salvaging of burned trees and rebuilding of the scenic highway. Many of the dead trees still stand, silhouetted against the skyline above the Gorge as you drive through—so sad, and all because of a very poor decision on behalf of one individual, who eight months later was fined $36 million, and sentenced to five years of probation and 1920 hours of community service with the U.S. Forest Service. He also had to write letters of apology to the 52 hikers who were trapped on the Eagle Creek trail, and letters to numerous other organizations that were affected by the wildfire. 
     We are free to make our choices, but we are not free to choose the consequences, and the tragic part is that if we make poor choices, the consequences don’t just come back on us, but can affect others as well—possibly many others, as in the case of the devastating Eagle Creek fire, or as in the case of a man by the name of Achan in the Old Testament. When the Israelites went up against Jericho, God ordered them not to take any personal spoil from the battle (Josh. 6:18,19).  Achan disregarded God’s command and warning and took a beautiful mantle, and some silver and gold and hid them in his tent. His act of disobedience cost Israel a defeat in their initial battle when they went against Ai and 36 Israeli soldiers were killed (Josh. 7:5).  Through the casting of lots to determine who had stolen things under the ban, Achan was found to be the guilty party and he and his family and all their possessions were taken to the Valley of Achor (meaning trouble or disaster), stoned and burned with fire (Josh. 7:25). 
     Then think back to another choice: one made by the first couple on earth to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:6,7). Think of the “trickle-down effect” of that act of disobedience. Everyone who has been born (except Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin) has been affected by it.  The apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…For through the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners…” (Ro. 5:12,19a).  One bad choice can result in a lifetime of heartache and regret—and not only for the one who makes the bad choice, but often for many others as well. In the case of Adam and Eve, it has affected all of humanity.
    But, praise God, there is a second part to Ro. 5:19:  “…even so, through the obedience of One (Jesus Christ), the many will be made righteous.” “When we find ourselves on a wrong road because of a poor decision, God is able to bring us to an intersection where we can choose a new path that will lead us to something better. God is bigger than the mistakes you have made” (Erwin Lutzer).  Even though we are born into this world with a “faulty steering wheel,” namely, the old, sinful, Adamic nature, God offers us a new divine nature in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, if we acknowledge our sinfulness and inability to go straight on our own, and trust in what Christ did on our behalf by dying in our place and bearing God’s wrath on our sin. “He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus Christ, God the Son) to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness…” (I Pet. 2:24).
     With Christ living in us through the Holy Spirit we have available to us the resource to make wise and good choices. James wrote, “If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men generously…” (Jas. 1:5). Be sure to include God and His Word in all your consequential decisions.  Life is not made up of the dreams that you dream but of the choices that you make. “The Christian wins or loses in those seemingly innocent little moments of decision” (Ray Ortlund). And keep in mind, our choices affect others as well as ourselves. 
        Forever His,
            Pastor Dave
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The Brevity of Life

      Forrest and Elaine Martell and their children were our neighbors for many years. They moved to Libby in 1957, just a year before my family, and ended up attending the newly formed Faith Bible Church where my future father-in-law, Clarence Kutz, had come to be their first pastor in 1955. When my folks, having heard about the great Bible teaching of Pastor Kutz, went to visit at FBC, the Martells were among the first to befriend our family. They were very involved in helping get the church built (both the structure itself and the assembly of believers who ended up calling that their church home).  They were great examples to us and became good friends of my folks and I. They ended up living next to the Kutzes and when we moved back to Montana, we built our house in the same area. Our children attended school together.
     Jim and Louise Morris were among the first missionaries supported by FBC. They attended Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta (north of Calgary)  where several of the Kutz children also went for Bible school. Ray Kutz became a very close friend and roommate of Jim’s and they played in a trumpet trio together.  Jim also often spent Christmas with the Kutzes since his home, Kansas, was too far to travel.  After Bible school, the  Morrises went to Thailand as missionaries and spent 15 years of faithful service before seeing a spiritual breakthrough. Now there are thriving churches in the area. 
     This past week, both Forrest Martell and Jim Morris escaped their earthly bodies and made the exciting instant transition to the home prepared for them in heaven, and I’m sure received a great welcome from family and friends in Christ who preceded them. What a reunion that must have been! But most of all, they got to see their Savior face to face and hear, “Welcome. Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord” (Mt. 25:21…my paraphrase).
     Both Forrest and Jim had lived for nearly 90 years on this earth when God called them home.  They were given a few more than the 70-80 years that Moses wrote about in the one Psalm attributed to him: “As for the days of our life, they may contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away (Psa. 90:10). When Moses wrote those words near the end of his life, he was 120 years old (Dt. 34:7), but all the rest of the people of Israel (except Joshua and Caleb) who had been more than 20 at the beginning of the 40-year wilderness wanderings, had died there (Nu. 14:28-34), and so there were no others more than 60 years old!  (Someone who was well up in years commented that you are to respect your elders, but I don’t have many of those left!) 
      Prior to the Flood of Noah, the average lifespan was 912 years!  Adam died at 930 and Noah at 950, and of course Methuselah at a record 969. But then Shem only lived to 600 and Abraham died at 175. Thus the normal lifespan by Moses’ time was down to 70-80 years, and he prophesied that this would continue—and it has. It is remarkable that, with all the increase in medical knowledge, this figure has stayed about the same, and there seems to be little the gerontologists can do to increase it. The reason is, it is not a medical or biological problem; it is a spiritual problem. Death entered because of sin and though Christ conquered death, it still remains the final enemy to be destroyed (I Cor. 15:26).  Until then, the death rate will remain the same, no matter the advancements of medicine and gerontology, for “It is appointed for men to die once and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
     Moses also indicated that the latter—so-called “golden years”—are largely “labor and sorrow” just as God had told Adam when his sin brought God’s curse on the earth (Gen. 3:17-20). No matter how much we try to prolong our lives, we are soon cut off.   But then, PTL, “we fly away”!  The soul/spirit of the Christian, released from its weary body, flies away to be with the Lord.  Those behind may sorrow, but “to depart, and to be with Christ…is far better” (Phil. 1:23).  The Christian may confidently say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). In the meantime, as our days on earth grow to an end, it is more important than ever that we “Conduct ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:5). 
     Moses’ conclusion?  “So, teach us to number our days that we may present to God a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12), prayed Moses, and so should we.
     Forever His,
        Pastor Dave
   
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Is God a Self-Serving Glory Hound?

     I don’t know if you are familiar with “The Church of Oprah Winfrey, ”but it is a New Age religion of positive thinking, of forgiveness without atonement (there is no room for the cross of Christ), of acceptance without judgment and meaning without truth.”  One of the things that turned her off to the Jesus of the Bible is His desire for praise and glory, considering Him a self-seeking glory hound. 
     So, just why does God desire our praise and to be glorified?  Does that make Him like movie stars and sports heroes and people of position and power who want people to idolize them?  Is He like Mohammed Ali who claimed “I Am the Greatest,” and loved the acclaim that came with his boxing success? None of us like people who are “full of themselves,” arrogant, boastful, egocentric.   And didn’t Jesus Himself say: “And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and who ever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 23:12)
     Yet Scripture makes it clear that God’s goal in all He does is to receive praise for the glory of His name. God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah to the Jews said: “For the sake of My name, I delay My wrath, and for My praise, I refrain it for you, in order not to cut you off…For My own sake I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another” (Isa. 48:9-11). The Psalmist, David, prays to God, saying: “There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord; nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before You, O Lord; and they shall glorify Your name, for You are great and doest wondrous deeds; You alone are God” (Psa. 86:8-10).  The last six chapters of the Book of Psalms are all about praising God: “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven” (148:13). “Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness…Praise Him with the trumpet sound..with the harp and lyre…with timbrel and dancing…with stringed instruments and pipe…and loud cymbals…Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” (Psa. 150:1-6).
     God’s clear purpose from Scripture is to exalt Himself and His name in the eyes of man. But, His aim to glorify Himself is wholly good and pure—because it is an expression of His love. First of all, He is worthy of all our praise, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Ro. 11:36).  When the apostle John was caught up to heaven (Rev. 4:1,2), He saw Christ sitting on the throne and all those around were worshiping Him saying, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things and because of Thy will they existed and were created…Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 4:11; 5:11). (NOTE: Many years ago I attended “Promise Keepers” at the Seattle Kingdome and got to experience 40,000 men singing “How Great Thou Art”—a foretaste of heaven!)
     God’s glory refers to His “eternal (unending) intrinsic (coming from within) perfections (attributes).” He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and is sovereign over all the affairs of His creation—including mankind. He is thus deserving of all our praise and honor.  He is also self-sufficient and in need of nothing. We can add nothing to Him that is not already flowing from Him. So, God’s desire to seek His own glory and to be praised by man cannot stem from His need to feel good about Himself or to compensate for some deficiency. People who seek glory and praise are trying to conceal weakness and deficiency and also are concerned only about themselves and not what happens to others.  But we read in I Cor. 13:5  that “Love does not seek its own,” so, how is God loving? If God is a God of love (and He is…I Jn. 4:7-10), He must be for us (and He is…Ro. 8:31).
     So, is God for Himself or is He for us?  YES!  Because God is unique as the most glorious of all beings and totally self-sufficient, He must be for Himself in order to be for us.  If He were to abandon the goal of His own self-exaltation, we would be the losers. His aim to bring praise to Himself and His aim to bring pleasure to His people are one aim and stand or fall together. In view of God’s infinite beauty, power and wisdom, what would His love to a creature involve? What could God give us to enjoy that would show Him most loving?  There is only one possible answer—Himself!  If God would give us the best, the most satisfying, the most significant, i.e., perfect love, He must offer us no less than Himself for our contemplation and fellowship and worship.  That’s what Psalm 16:11 indicates: “In your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” To be supremely loving, God must give us what will be best for us and delight us most—Himself!  How do we respond when we are given something excellent to enjoy?  We praise it. We praise what we enjoy, and “the praise is the climax of the joy itself” (C.S. Lewis). It is part of the pleasure. “We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment” (John Piper).
     “Therefore, if God is truly for us, if He would give us the best and make our joy full, He must make it His aim to win our praise for Himself—not because He needs to shore up some weakness in Himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because He loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can only be found in knowing and praising Him” (John Piper). God, then, is the one being in all the universe for whom seeking His own praise is the ultimate loving act. When He does all things “to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12), He offers to us the only thing in all the world that can satisfy our longings. God is for us and therefore has been, is, and always will be, for Himself. Since 1643, Protestants have used the Westminster Larger Catechism as part of their worship. It begins with the question: “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The Answer: “To glorify God, and fully enjoy Him forever” (p. 153).
     So, “Praise the Lord! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (Psa. 150:6).
     Forever His,
        Pastor Dave
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Sudden Change

     If you happen to live in an area that experiences Chinook winds, you have undoubtedly experienced sudden change.  In January 1943, warm Chinook winds hit Spearfish, South Dakota, quickly raising the temperatures from –4 to +45 degrees F in just two minutes!The widest temperature change recorded in the US in a 24-hour period is an incredible 103 degrees!  It took place in our home state of Montana where the community of Loma, on January 15, 1972, saw the temperature jump from –54 to +49 degrees F. 
     Sudden change is not restricted to weather. This spring the whole world experienced sudden change, as in a matter of a few days our normal routines of work, school, recreation, church, travel, etc., were drastically changed due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic.  Change is sometimes the very nature of life.  In the Bible, James reminds us, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that’”  (Jas. 3:13-15).
     We cannot presume upon the future or of life remaining as it is today. We can experience the unexpected death of a loved one, a surprise health diagnosis, a financial reversal, broken relationships—sudden changes that we didn’t see coming.  “Life is a journey with many unpredictable elements” (The Daily Bread, Feb. 27, 2020).  That’s why James warns us to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in our lives, and say “Lord willing, we will do such and such.”  None of us is even promised that we will be alive tomorrow, for “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). We do not know when that appointment is—God is in charge of that.  So, “Lord, If I’m still here tomorrow, this is what I plan to do, unless you have something else in mind.”
     But this I do know, while the events of our lives may be uncertain, and the unpredictable often happens, nothing ever takes God by surprise and He will be right there with us through life’s unexpected moments—like a pandemic—and He will never desert or forsake us (Heb. 13:15).  He is our one constant throughout life. He is our Rock, “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride” (Psa. 46:1-3)
     Jesus had been teaching by the Sea of Galilee. Such a great multitude gathered that He had to get into a fishing boat and continue His teaching to the crowd gathered on shore. He taught in parables such as the sower and the seed, the wheat and the tares, the mustard seed and the pearl of great price (Mt. 13). Then when evening came, He told His disciples, “Let’s go to the other side (of the lake)” (Mk. 4:35).  Jesus, exhausted from a long day of teaching, fell asleep in the boat and a sudden storm came up.  The Sea of Galilee, which is some 680-700 feet below sea level with a range of mountains on either side, is subject to sudden winds sweeping down off the mountains, especially at night. Waves have been observed reaching 20 feet in height.  The disciples, some of whom were experienced fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were afraid for their boats and their very lives as waves were breaking over the boat (Mk. 4:37), so they awakened Jesus “and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’ And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm” (v. 39).  I’m sure the disciples learned a lot more about their Teacher that day as they observed His power over nature. They hadn’t fully realized yet His deity as the God-Man.
     Storms can arise suddenly in our lives too, as they did for all of us in mid-March this spring. Sometimes God calms the storms, but other times He calms us in the midst of the storm. In either case, He is in control—we are not. We need to trust Him to do that which is for our good and brings Him the most glory.  God’s words to Isaiah the prophet are good ones for us today: “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10). Remember, “If God is for us, who (or what) is against us?” (Ro. 8:31). Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ—not even a world-wide pandemic! (Ro. 8:35). PTL!!
        Forever His,
            Pastor Dave
    
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What Does God See in Me?

     Way back in grade-school days, I remember the picking of teams for playing competitive games during recess or P.E.  The team captains would normally start with choosing the students whose abilities could help his/her team win. It was always a bit embarrassing for those who were the last to be picked.  It meant that they didn’t really want you on their team, but had to pick you because everyone had to participate.
     When a person is elected to be president of the United States, he has the challenging chore of selecting a group of leaders to serve as cabinet and staff.  Usually the individuals chosen are friends or those that have the same political views, but when Abraham Lincoln became president, instead of surrounding himself with friends and people who agreed with his philosophies, he chose opponents and competitors, people who would offer differing viewpoints and hold him accountable.
     Some may also find rather surprising the list of men that Jesus chose to be His inner circle.  He didn’t pick religious leaders and the highly educated and famous. He chose fishermen and tax collectors, just ordinary people who would accomplish extraordinary things, not because of their natural abilities or potential, but because of who He is.  Jesus was not blindsided by their inconsistencies or failures. In fact, shortly before His arrest, trial and crucifixion,  “Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of Me this night…” (Mt. 26:31). But Jesus also had said to those He chose: “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:19).  And later, Jesus chose to use Peter to help build His (Christ’s) Church that would prevail against “the gates of Hades” (Mt. 16:18).   

    Jesus called the disciples when they were engaged in their ordinary occupations and none of them fully realized what they were getting themselves into. Little did they know that Jesus would, after just three years of ministry with them, end up being crucified and then shortly after would return to His Father in Heaven. And then, when He told them He would be leaving, He made an amazing statement: “…He who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall He do; because I go to the Father” (Jn. 14:12).  That had to be a puzzling prediction because they had been struggling in their faith even while He was with them, and I’m sure were wondering what Jesus had seen in them to pick them. I mean one of them had betrayed Jesus and another—one of the three closest to Jesus, Peter, had even denied knowing Jesus during His trial and crucifixion!  How could Jesus say to them, “…It is to your advantage that I go away…” (Jn. 16:7a)? The answer was: “…If I go, I will send Him (the Comforter, the Holy Spirit) to you” (Jn. 16:7b).   That’s why, just before He ascended back to heaven, “He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, which you heard of from Me” (Acts 1:4)... (a reference, of course, to the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost). Jesus went on to explain, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).  Taking the Gospel (the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sin) to all the world and seeing lives transformed by the power of the Gospel (Ro. 1:16,17), that would be the “greater works” of which Jesus spoke in the Upper Room. Their future success did not depend upon their own ability but on the power of Christ at work in and through them through the Holy Spirit who would come to permanently indwell them (and us, when we believe). 

     Do you ever wonder what God sees in you? Why you were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4)?   It isn’t because of your talents and abilities, but because of His mercy and grace. What does God see in you and in me?  He sees the righteousness of the indwelling Christ (II Cor. 5:21).  He sees what He will accomplish in and through your life. The Apostle Paul, who at one time had been Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the followers of Jesus, was transformed and became the temple of the Holy Spirit and testified, “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). 
     God also sees what He will make of your life. Accept Jesus’ call to follow Him and He will transform your life and use you in ways you never thought possible. “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God” (I Cor. 1:27-29).
        Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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