Our DAILY Bread

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

While working at Hyster Company in Portland, Oregon from 1969-1974, I had the privilege of having Ron Farrell as my boss in Systems Engineering.  Ron had a very brilliant mind and a very conservative life philosophy. Although he was not a Christian when I first started working under him, he had quite a biblical worldview and was definitely searching. Often throughout the day he would ask me questions about the Bible and how it applied to the issues of life. Many times I would have to say, “I’m not sure about that but let me do some research and get back to you.”  It really made me dig into God’s Word to try to give him a biblical answer. But, Ron, in his intellectual approach, struggled to take that step of faith to commit his life to Christ.
     Ron’s brother, Mike also worked at Hyster and, like Ron, wasn’t a believer but was a truth seeker.  He had questions about future events so I loaned him a book titled 666 by Salem Kirban. It spoke about the Rapture of believers and the period of Tribulation that would follow. He realized that he wasn’t ready if this rapture happened, so I shared the message of the Gospel with him and he prayed to receive Christ as his Savior.  The changes that God was making in Mike’s life were obviously noted by his brother, Ron.  One noon as they were out walking during our lunch break, Ron said to Mike, “It would be great if our dad had what you have. At least he’d have hope for the future life.” (Their dad struggled physically due to serious war injuries and had become bitter.)  Mike replied, “Ron, that goes for you too!” Suddenly it clicked in Ron’s heart and mind that he didn’t have to figure everything out before he trusted in Christ, he just needed to put his faith in what Christ did at the cross. In other words he just needed to believe the gospel which is simply the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.
     The Apostle Paul experienced firsthand the power of the Gospel to transform his life and consequently made sharing the message of the cross the focus of his ministry to others.  He wrote to the church at Corinth: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 25:1-4). Paul reminded them, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:1,2).
     When Ron came back to work after lunch, for awhile he just sat at his desk staring ahead. He finally turned to me and said, “Dave, guess what I did this noon?  I trusted Christ as my Savior.”  It was so encouraging to see the changes that took place in Ron—some immediately and others progressively over the next weeks.  He realized that much of his worldview was very biblical, but his attitude of animosity toward those who disagreed with him was not. He said that when he asked Christ into his life he also asked the Lord to take away those animosities and God really did.  He used to bring The Wall Street Journal and read it before work. He started bringing a Bible and reading it instead, which prompted lots more questions during the day!
     Ron realized that he needed to share the Gospel with his wife and two daughters which he did.  When we gain eternal life, God gives us a burden to share it with those we love so they can find the same joy and hope for the future that we gained through the transforming power of the Gospel.
     A number of years after we moved back to Montana to be involved in full-time Christian ministry, Ron went to be with the Lord (April 26, 1993).  His family sent me a copy of the tribute that his daughter Debbie (Herman) wrote for the Memorial Service. What a great testimony to the power of the Gospel. I’d like to share just a bit from her tribute.
            “In the last few years, Dad had become very vocal and expressive about his beliefs, and I think for some people, that made them feel uncomfortable. My dad never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable or uneasy, nor did he intend to force people to believe the way he did. But, I think because of what he experienced with the Lord when my Mom died, Dad could no longer keep quiet about God’s goodness and his grace. Dad became God’s messenger, so to speak, and whatever God put on his heart or mind, Dad spoke it. If you knew my Dad at all, you know he was never one to keep quiet when he had something to say (amen!).
            “Dad became a Christian several years ago. I was in junior high at the time, and that is when he led me to the Lord. Shortly after that, however, he began to struggle in his walk with the Lord. He experienced a series of ups and downs, and he openly admitted that he was backsliding. He never denied God, he always knew God was there, and he never passed up an opportunity on a Sunday morning campout with the Boy Scouts to share the message of Jesus Christ. God used him in spite of himself, and many boys came to know the Lord through him.
            “One of the reasons I think Dad struggled so much in his walk with the Lord during this time was largely due to the type of person he was. He was a leader. He wanted to be in charge and in control at all times. I think this is why he had such a difficult time letting go and letting God have complete control of his life. He knew that if he was going to truly walk with the Lord, he’d have to deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow God 100%, not just a part of him, but all of him. And either he wasn’t quite ready to do that or perhaps he didn’t know how because he was so used to being in control himself. Dad sometimes would say to me, ‘Deb, I know I’m not walking with the Lord like I should, and I don’t know what God is going to have to do to get me where He wants me.’  Well, two years ago, my Dad experienced the heartache of a lifetime when his wife of 34 years, whom he loved and cherished with all his heart, suddenly and unexpectedly died in his arms. The reality of the One who was truly in charge hit him like a ton of bricks. From that moment on, Dad set both feet firmly and securely on the pathway of God’s will for his life. Ron Farrell was no longer in charge. God was. Dad’s favorite verse was Romans 8:28 (‘And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.’).  On the day that my Mom died, this verse came to life for my Dad, and it carried a whole new meaning. Immediately, Dad felt God’s loving arms embrace him, the peace of God was on him, and God drew Dad to Himself. There Dad remained, resting securely in God’s hands and allowing Him to guide Dad through days ahead.”
     What a beautiful example of the transforming power of the Gospel of Christ.  I am so glad that God gave me the privilege and joy of sharing that Good News with my boss, Ron Farrell, some 45 years ago.  Obviously it didn’t end with him—Praise the Lord!  No wonder Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Ro. 1:16).  If someone has shared that Good News with you, don’t keep it to yourself—pass it on!
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave

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God Doesn’t Waste Anything

     When I graduated from high school, I contemplated the possibility of going to Bible school versus going to Montana State University and pursuing an engineering degree. My girlfriend (who would become my wife) had graduated a year earlier and was attending Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta. As much as I would have liked to be at the same school to be near Kathy, I made the choice to attend MSU in Bozeman, Montana, partly because I knew it would be a good test to see if our relationship was meant to be a life-long commitment. I knew if it could withstand the separation of 1,000 miles, that it was strong enough to make it in the future as well. We wrote lots of letters! Kathy graduated from PBI and worked a year in Libby at a newspaper and then we were married between my junior and senior years at MSU, and this past June 16 we celebrated 50 years of marriage!
     After graduation from MSU, I took several interview trips and ended up taking a job for Hyster Company in Portland, Oregon where I worked for a little more than five years.  During that time, God really worked in my life, helping me with assurance of salvation and allowed me to get involved on a lay basis with Campus Crusade for Christ.  I also had the privilege and joy during that time of introducing my boss, Ron Farrell, his brother Mike, and our secretary, Vicki, to Christ. I was then transferred to our proving grounds at Troutdale, OR to write test procedures. There I met a couple strong Christians, Norm and Gary, and we started having a Bible study at work during the lunch time. I had the opportunity to share Christ with a number of the employees there as well. We also started a home Bible study. 
     While I really enjoyed my work at Hyster and had developed a number of close friendships, God was at work redirecting our path. We could see that teaching God’s Word and sharing Christ was something God wanted us to do on a full-time basis. We interviewed with Rocky Mountain Bible Mission back in our home area in Montana, were accepted as missionaries and came back to Montana in April of 1974 to work under Kathy’s dad, Pastor Clarence Kutz, who, after retiring from the pastorate in Libby, had joined the mission. In the fall of 1975, Pastor Kutz was diagnosed with a very aggressive leukemia and went to be with the Lord that October.  Suddenly, I was thrust into the ministry full bore. For awhile I had nine Bible studies and youth meetings a week!  One of the Bible studies had grown to the point that they decided to start a church. Pastor Kutz was there while we poured the foundation and walls and then passed away.  He was literally in on the foundation of Three Lakes Community Bible Church near Troy, Montana, where I was then, unexpectedly, the pastor!
     Pastor Kutz was an amazing Bible teacher and excellent pastor, so I was very intimidated and felt very inadequate to fill his shoes.  But I realized that God makes no mistakes. I just had to depend upon Him and be who He made me.  I thought, “Oh, if I had only gone to Bible school instead of engineering school!”  I had even planned to take night classes at Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, but hadn’t been able to do so before we left.  I did take a number of correspondence courses from both Moody and Prairie Bible Institutes, but my training was in Industrial and Management Engineering!  How had that prepared me for the pastorate?
     Well, I came to realize that God doesn’t waste anything.  I thought about how God’s preparation for the big job He had planned for Moses involved his spending 40 years tending sheep. I’m sure as he led the nation of Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, he saw a lot of similarities!   I thought about how God prepared Joseph to one day become the heir to the throne in Egypt to be there to provide help to save his family during a famine. The preparation involved being hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, arrested on a false rape charge, and being forgotten in prison for a couple years.  In my case, my training in engineering led me to a place where I got to share Christ at work and see God transform lives. After his trusting Christ as Savior, my boss, Ron, started reading his Bible before work each day and then throughout the day would say, “Dave, what does this verse mean?” He had lots of questions which made me really start digging into Scripture for answers. My engineering training had given my the discipline of knowing how to study and research and now I could apply that to spiritual things. Probably nothing helps us grow more than teaching and discipling others. And this was in a real-life, work-place scene, not just a Bible school or seminary classroom. 
     My lack of formal Bible training  also caused me to really depend upon the Lord when I unexpectedly found myself the pastor of a newly formed church. I realized, as did the apostle Paul, that “we are not adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (II Cor. 3:5), and that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4: 13). Over the 37 years that I pastored Three Lakes Community Bible Church, I saw God work in many lives and situations. We also had the opportunity to start both a Bible camp and a Christian school. Due to the economy we had to close our school after 13 years, but the camp, Elohim Bible Camp, is still ongoing, run by Rocky Mountain Bible Mission. It has a full-time director and even hosts a Bible Training Center for Pastors.  God truly blessed the ministry of Three Lakes.
     Also, a number of our friends in Portland, including my boss Ron and his brother Mike, helped support the ministry of Rocky Mountain Bible Mission and Three Lakes. Ron passed away in 1993, but Mike continues to faithfully support our ministry.
     So, were my years spent at MSU wasted? Goodness no!  God used that training to put me in the place where He reached a number of those He had “chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).  And while there, God was equipping me for the ministry He had also planned out for me back here in Montana.  I am reminded of the truth that Solomon shared in Proverbs 16:9: “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”  
     When my boss, Ron Farrell, became a believer, his immediate response was, “My wife and daughters need to know Christ too.” He had a burden for them so also shared the gospel with them. Next week I will share with you the testimony his daughter, Debbie, shared as a tribute to her dad.
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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What Happened to Gratefulness?

Quite unbelievably, LaVar Ball, father of one of the three UCLA basketball players recently arrested in China for shoplifting, played down his son’s theft of sunglasses and showed no gratitude to President Trump’s helping the young men avoid a 5-10 year prison sentence.  It might have not turned out so well for them had President Trump not been in China at the same time and interceded for them.
     Unfortunately, ungratefulness, although nothing new, seems to be very characteristic of the culture of our day.  I’m sure many or most of you have had the experience—probably many times—of doing special things for others, often at great cost or sacrifice of your time and/or resources, and never receiving a “thank you” for your act of kindness.  The percentage of those who bother to show appreciation is pretty low.  Tragically, it is a reflection on the hearts of people who have become very self-absorbed and expect others to do things for them.  Proud people, those who are wrapped up in themselves, don’t say thanks.
     On one occasion when Jesus was passing from Galilee to Jerusalem, He entered a village where he met ten lepers who asked Him to have mercy on them (Lk. 17:11-13).  Jesus sent them to show themselves to the priest and as they were going, they were cleansed of their leprosy, but only one of them—a Samaritan—returned, glorifying and praising God, to thank Him (vv, 14-16).  Jesus said, “What happened to the other nine? Where are they?”
     When we have experienced the grace of God and His forgiveness of sin through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, how can we help but be grateful people, knowing that “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights…” (Jas. 1:17).  Every breath I take is a gift from God who owes me nothing.  When the Apostle Paul addressed the men of Athens, he said to them: “The God who made the world and all things in it…He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24,25).  An attitude of gratitude honors God, acknowledging who He is, who we are, and what He does for us—often through those He brings into our lives to minister to us.  So, by saying “thank you” to others when they come to our aid, we are glorifying and praising God.  But when we don’t, we are dishonoring Him.  “Gratitude is the echo of grace as it reverberates through the hollows of the human heart. Gratitude is the unashamed acceptance of a free gift and the heartfelt declaration that we cherish what we cannot buy. Therefore gratitude glorifies the free grace of God and signifies the humility of a needy and receptive heart” (John Piper…Decision magazine, Nov. 2017, page 16).
     In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he wrote: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Ro. 1:18-21). 
     Paul, in his letters, exhorted his readers to have a gratitude attitude. He wrote: “there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanksalways giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:4,20); “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” (Col. 3:17); “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thes. 5:18).   Giving thanks “for all things” (good and bad) acknowledges that “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Ro. 8:28).    Paul practiced what he preached too, for throughout his letters he thanks others for what they meant to him (Ro. 1:8; I Cor. 1:4; Eph. 1:15,16; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3;  I Thes. 1:2; 2:13; II Thes. 1:3; II Tim. 1:3; Philemon 4).
     So, for the Christian, Thanksgiving should be not just a day but also a way of life. Thanksgiving (and thanks-living) is the only sensible response to the character of God.  “Happy Thanksgiving!”
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
  
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Beauty out of Judgment

We had the blessing a week ago of going with our entire family (12 of us) to both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and of doing some hiking in the area. None of us had ever been there before so we thought it would be the perfect place to celebrate our 50th anniversary with our family.  We all flew to Las Vegas, rented a couple vans and drove to the Parks, staying at a ranch house between the two. The beauty we saw was beyond our imagination. We were constantly having “wow moments,” and it was made even more special to be able to share the experience with our loved ones.  If you have never been to Zion and Bryce we highly recommend you put that trip on your “bucket list.” You won’t be disappointed.  (Note: November is a good time to visit. The crowds are much smaller than in the summer and the temperatures are ideal for hiking.)
     As I viewed the amazing features of the red, yellow, and sometimes white sandstone and limestone mountains and pillars (often resembling  a palace—especially in Bryce Canyon), I got to thinking about how it was all formed, which I am confident did not take millions of years as evolutionists theorize in trying to explain the areas in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado. Most likely, as the waters of Noah’s flood receded and as God raised up the mountains and lowered the ocean valleys to accommodate all the water (see Psa. 104:6-9), it left some very large inland lakes, a portion of which remain to this day. The area of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and other similar areas probably contained a couple huge lakes with drainage from rain and the supersaturated ground surrounding them continuing to fill the lakes, which finally breached and rushed out to the ocean, the sediment mostly ending up in southern California.  The tremendous pressure of the newly formed Rocky Mountains would have liquified the rock underneath, creating up-thrusts throughout the surrounding areas and causing the amazing configurations of towers with their swirling rock structures that we viewed. Since the Flood of Noah was less than 5,000 years ago, what we viewed was not millions, but a few thousand years old. 
     I say all that to come to the observation that I made: All the amazing beauty we saw was actually the result of God’s judgment on the earth because of sin.  Way back in Genesis 6:5 we read: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” As a result, God sent the judgment of the flood upon the earth “so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered” (Gen. 7:19) and only Noah and his family and the animals on the ark were spared (Gen. 7:1-5; 8:1).
One of the byproducts of the judgment of the flood is the awe-inspiring beauty of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon and the other similar terrain in the area.  Wow, if this kind of beauty comes as a result of God’s judgment, imagine what the initial creation must have been like and what heaven will be like!  Also, think of what beauty can come out of our lives when we allow God to take over and remove the impurities caused by sin and the desires of the old nature.  Job, who definitely went through the fiery furnace of trials, said: “But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). Gold, as normally found in nature, is mixed with ores and impurities that if allowed to remain, greatly cheapen its worth. Subjected to temperatures of several thousand degrees, however, the impurities and undesirable contaminants are burned up, leaving behind the pure tested product. Without the heat we could never have pure gold.  Peter, in his first epistle, talks a lot about the purpose of suffering and trials in the life of the believer. He writes: “..though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”’ (I Pet. 1:6,7). The Psalmist wrote:  “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word…It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statures” (Psa. 119:67,71).  The writer of Hebrews said: “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness…All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:10b,11). 
     If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you will not be judged for your sins (because Christ was judged on your behalf… II Cor. 5:21; Ro. 8:1), but God will discipline (train) you, removing those things from your life that keep Christ from being seen in you.  The process will not be enjoyable, but the product will be one of beauty which reflects the glory of God. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us and eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (II Cor. 4:17).  God is at work making something beautiful out of our lives. What is He working on in you?  Are you cooperating?
                Forever His,  A work in Progress,
                Pastor Dave
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The True Gospel

  The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Rome, said: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Ro. 1:16,17).   But, just what is this gospel that has the power to save us?  Paul defines it for us in a letter to the Corinthian church: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” ( I Cor. 15:1-3). The gospel is the “good news” of the death of Jesus Christ for sins, His burial, and His bodily resurrection, proving that God the Father was satisfied that Jesus had fully accomplished a plan of redemption for all who believe (Jn. 3:16; II Cor. 5:14). “He was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Ro. 4:24,25).  Jesus final words from the cross were “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30).  The plan of redemption was complete. The “Lamb of God” had come and put away sin (Jn. 1:29). The work of the Old Testament priests was ongoing. Hebrews 10:11,12 tells us: “And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He (Jesus Christ), having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God…For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
      Jesus paid for all my sins, past, present and future. When I believe that He was God in the flesh, dying for my sins, and ask Him to come into my life as my Savior and Lord, I receive eternal life, based solely on what Christ accomplished through His death and resurrection, acknowledging that my only contribution to the “plan of salvation” is my sin, that there is nothing I need to add by my performance to what Jesus already accomplished. If I think that there is anything I can do to help “earn” my way to heaven, then I have denied what Christ accomplished and have distorted the true gospel.  Unfortunately down through the ages there have been many who have done just that and have led many down a wrong path that leads to destruction (Pr. 14:12). Nearly everywhere that Paul preached the gospel, there were those who came and tried to convince the new converts that there were things they had to do to add to their simple faith in Christ in order to really be saved.  They were putting people back under the yoke of a law of works. For example, when Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia (in Asia Minor), he said, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another, only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed…Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified…You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you; did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 1:6-8; 2:16; 3:1-3).
     The Apostle Paul is not the only one who has confronted the distortion of the true gospel. During the 14th-16th centuries a number of influential  individuals in Europe began seeing some of the fallacies of the teaching and practice of the Roman  Catholic Church, such as the sale of indulgences for the absolution of sin and the placing of the papacy as the highest authority. They began protesting what they saw and attempting to reform the church. One such individual was Jon Hus (1369-1415), a Czech priest and dean and rector at Charles University in Prague. Because of his stand against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, he was burned at the stake, but said as he was was being burned, “You can cook this goose, but a swan will arise.” (“Hus” means “goose”!).
     Another protestor/reformer of the 14th century who opposed the corruption of the Roman  Catholic Church was John Wycliffe, an English scholar, and theologian. He was a seminary professor at Oxford, and the first to translate Scripture (the Latin Vulgate) into English in 1382. Wycliffe was posthumously condemned as a heretic and his body exhumed and burned in 1428 by the Roman Catholic Church. 
     Most remembered, however of the reformers is Martin Luther (Nov. 10, 1483—Feb. 18,  1546), a German professor of theology, composer, priest and monk. He came to reject several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and on Oct. 31, 1517 (500 years ago tomorrow), he tacked his “95 Theses” document (which attacked the Church’s corruption and propounded a number of central Christian beliefs) to the church door in Wittenberg.  This really spawned the “Protestant Reformation” that transformed much of Europe and thus spread to North America, and really changed the course of church history. (And by the way, Luther was referred to by some as “the swan,” fulfilling the prediction of Jon Hus!).
     The Reformation was continued by John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and others, resulting in the arising of the Anabaptists, Moravians and others. The Reformation transformed Christianity and eventually led to the emergence of the Protestant denominations that exist today. Actually “renewed” might be a better word than “transformed,” for they were returning to the teachings of the Bible and the “true Gospel.” They were guided by the conviction that the church of their day had drifted away from the essential, original teachings of Christianity, especially in regard to what it was teaching about salvation and the authority of Scripture. Five tenants of faith emerged during the Reformation that summarized the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity. They are given by the following Latin phrases:
     1.  Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority for faith and practice.
     2.  Sola Fide (“faith alone”):  We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
     3.  Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God totally apart from our works.
     4.  Solus (Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
     5.  Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”):  We live for the glory of God alone.
      Praise God for those whom He has raised up to protect His Word and to enable us to hear the “true Gospel” which is the “power of God unto salvation to all who believe!”
     Forever His,
            Pastor Dave
    
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Preparing the Soil

Our gardening season here in northwest Montana is rather short so timing is pretty crucial. We can actually have frost any month of the year, but normally we are safe from early June until the first part of September. We try to get the early things (peas, radishes, onions, potatoes) into the ground when we have our first real warm spell in late April to early May and then the rest we plant late May to early June.  Sometimes it is necessary to cover the plants that are especially susceptible to frost. We set the vines and tomatoes out in tires to protect them and make it easier to cover at night.
     But, in order to have a successful vegetable garden, the work actually starts now, after this summer’s crop has been harvested.  If the plants are going to germinate and grow well and produce fruit, it is important to have good soil with the right nutrients.  So, we have been busy digging out any remaining weeds, hauling and spreading manure and rototilling. Now we are covering with leaves (with some pine needles as well for the strawberries that like acidic soil) so that during the winter the leaves break down and pour their nutrients into the soil.  Then, when the frost leaves in the spring and the ground is dry enough, I rototill again, mixing the decayed leaves into the soil and preparing it for planting.  In other words, there is much more to successful gardening than just throwing some seeds in the ground in the spring. Soil preparation is very important.
     Jesus often used simple earthly illustrations to teach spiritual truths. This helped to make the truths much easier to understand and apply. When He made up a story to teach the truth, it was called a parable which is really an object lesson. One such parable is recorded in Luke 8:4-15 where Jesus spoke of asower who went out to sow his seed.”  Some of the seed fell beside the road and was trampled underfoot and the birds ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil and as soon as it sprouted, it withered for lack of water and nourishment. Other seed fell among the thorns and when the plants came up the thorns choked them out.  Some seed fell on good soil (soft, deep and clean) and produced a big crop.  Jesus went on to explain that “the seed is the word of God” and the soil represents the heart condition of those who hear the word. Only on the good, prepared, soil did the seed both germinate and bring forth fruit. Jesus said, “the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
     As Christians, “ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5:20), it is our responsibility (and privilege!) to sow the seed, i.e., share the word of God, the Gospel (Good News of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection…I Cor. 15:1-4), in the hearts of those that God brings into our lives who don’t know Christ. In order for the seed to have its best chance of germination and producing fruit, we need to do our part to prepare the soil of people’s hearts. How do we do that?  We do it by loving people, serving them in whatever way God has equipped us, thus building a relationship of trust with them and, of course, praying much for them, that God will open their hearts and minds to see who He is and to have a desire for Him (cf II Cor. 4:3-6).  We, of course cannot change a person’s heart, only God can do that. But we are the instrument He uses, the conduit through which He pours out His love. 
     When seeds germinate and the plants poke through the surface of the soil, our job, as a gardener, isn’t done. We will need to water, to cultivate and to pull weeds, and cover the young plants if there is a chance of frost.  We may also have to protect the plants from insects, and other pests (like our resident deer herd!).  We must also recognize that it is only God who causes the growth and fruit production.  The Apostle Paul, as gifted as he was, wrote: “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth (increase). Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers…” (I Cor. 3:7-9).
     Each of us, as believers, is to  play a role in reaching souls for Christ, but God does the vital part. We can’t save anyone, only God can. But, we get to be “God’s fellow workers. Wow!  Just think about what a privilege that is!  Planting and cultivating and watering is just using what God has given us. He gave us the soil, the seed, the sun and the rain—man made none of these, we merely apply them. The increase is the vital part—the inexplicable, the miraculous, seeing a plant burst forth from a little seed placed in the ground and then producing an abundant harvest. All the creative genius and science of the world cannot create a grain of wheat or a tiny growing flower or cause the sap to flow through a tree. It is not within the power of science to change the direction of the wind, to move clouds across the sky, to create enough sun to ripen a field of wheat, or to bring forth fruit. There is also a Divine Sovereignty and mystery about every conversion.  And also amazing is the fact that God uses us as His “fellow workers” in bringing in the harvest of souls.  But, in order to reap a successful harvest, the work of soil preparation, sowing, cultivating and watering must be done on our part. They must be done at the right time and in the right place.  There are many links in the chain that lead a soul to find eternal life in Christ. Just make sure you aren’t a “missing link.” Whether or not we get to be the person who is there when someone trusts Christ as Savior, we can all have a part that leads up to that decision.  We can for sure be those that help “prepare the soil” by loving and serving others and letting them see Christ in us.
          Forever His,
            Pastor Dave    
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