Removing What Doesn’t Belong

Libby, Montana recently hosted its second annual chainsaw carving championship with competitors from across the United States as well as from Zimbabwe, Japan, Lithuania, Scotland, Argentina, Moldova, Slovakia, Ireland. Each carver had from Friday through Sunday morning to work on a major project and in addition, a couple of “quick-draw” (1 1/2 hour) contests were held. Their finished products were then judged and put up for bid at an auction. My, oh, my were they impressive!  Look up Libby, Montana Chainsaw Carving Championships online to see some of their amazing sculptures.
     We cut our own firewood out in the forest and I’m happy to just make straight cuts in the bolts as I buck them up to haul home and split. I can’t imagine the talent these men and women have, not only in the operation of their saws, but to envision what the finished product should look like to end up with such realistic looking, detailed birds and animals and people.  They are truly very gifted artists.
     As we watched them work, to saw a bolt of wood, probably 24-36 inches in diameter start to resemble a bear or goose or dragon or Indian chieftain. With each chip that flew to remove something that didn’t belong, the sculpture became more and more recognizable as the image in the carver’s mind.   By the time they were done the bird, animal or person looked so very realistic, as you will see if you go to the website.
     I couldn’t help but think of how God is at work in our lives removing those parts of our old, sinful life that prevent others from seeing Christ in us. Paul tells us 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. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son… (Ro. 8:28,29). God places the right people and circumstances in our lives to help mold us little by little every day, little by little in every way into the image of His Son. He does this, like the chainsaw carver, by removing what doesn’t belong in the finished product. The Bible uses a number of pictures that describe this process. One is the refiner who uses heat to remove the impurities (cf Isa. 1:25; Ezek. 22:19-22; Mal. 3:3).  Job, who really went through the “fiery furnace” of adversity, said, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as (pure) gold” (Job 23:10). The furnace is never pleasant, but without the process, we would never have the finished product. Gold as normally found in nature, is mixed with 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 you could never have the pure gold.
     In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter speaks of the refining process in our lives: “…though now for a little while, if necessary (and it is!), 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 the praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Christ” (I Pet. 1:6,7).  And the Apostle Paul, writes about how “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (i.e., Christ living in us…II Cor. 4:7). And he goes on to describe the process God uses to help others see that treasure in us: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body…Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary,  light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Cor. 4:8-18).
     We went several times to observe the progress of the carvers. Each time their product was more recognizable. That’s how it should be in our lives as well, as God works day by day to remove those things that detract from “Christ in us” which is our “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).  As believers, each of is “work in progress,” at different stages of completion. So, PBPGINFWMY! (Please Be Patient, God Is Not Finished With Me Yet!).

        Forever His,

                Pastor Dave


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God versus Alexa

A friend recently sent us the story of a Christian family that had gone out to a restaurant to eat. The dad asked his young daughter to say grace before their meal. Her prayer began: “Dear Alexa…”  at which the family members broke out in laughter. The little girl, very embarrassed said, “well, you know what I meant.” 
     In this day of amazing technology and artificial intelligence, we become accustom to asking “Siri” all sorts of questions and giving commands to “Alexa.” In doing so we are becoming rather lazy in doing our own research to solve problems or to perform simple tasks. Children can easily get into the habit of ordering others around just like they do Alexa. And, when it comes to prayer, that attitude can carry over to where we treat God like an artificial intelligence—a computer—like Siri or Alexa. We look upon Him as a genie in a bottle who is there to minister to our every need at our command.
     As a child, C.S. Lewis enjoyed reading the book Five Children and It by E. Nesbit. The children on a summer vacation discover an ancient sand fairy who grants them one wish each day. But every wish brings the children more trouble than happiness because they can’t foresee the results of getting everything for which they ask.
     The Bible does tell us ask and seek and knock (Mt. 7:7) and to make our requests known to God (Phil. 4:6), but prayer is much more than telling God what we want Him to do for us. God is not an artificial intelligence or a genie in a bottle or a wish-granting fairy;  He is the Creator and the Sovereign ruler of the universe. “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psa. 100:3), so we are to “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (v. 4a). We are to “Give thanks to Him and bless His name” (v. 4b).  When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He began by reminding them, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Mt. 6: 8). What we call “The Lord’s Prayer” (really the disciples prayer), is more about living in a growing, trusting relationship with our heavenly Father than about getting what we want from Him. The prayer begins with an acknowledgment of the holiness of God and a desire for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done (Mt. 6:9-13).  As we grow in faith, our prayers will become less of a wish list and more of an intimate conversation with the Lord.
     Toward the end of his life, C.S. Lewis wrote: “If God had granted all the silly prayers I’ve made in my life, where should I be now?” Prayer is placing ourselves in the presence of God to receive from Him what we really need. God’s answers are wiser than our prayers. Prayer isn’t the way to get God to do whatever we want. It’s an expression of our trust in His power, wisdom, and grace. Prayer is telling God we love Him and are entrusting our life into His hands to do what will bring Him glory in our situation.
     Also, there is nothing magical about prayer and the words we use. Prayer is not an “open sesame.” Because we close our prayer with “In Jesus’ name,” doesn’t mean we will be granted our requests.  “In Jesus’ name” is not words so much as it is an acknowledgment that Jesus is God the Son and our Mediator and that we can come to the Father only through Him. It is an expression of the desire that His will to be done.  I don’t believe in the power of prayer (the words we express to God). I believe in the power and presence of God, and that is what our prayer should express. Prayer may or may not change our situation, prayer changes us. It is our time of intimate fellowship with the One who made us and gave His life to buy us back from the bondage of sin. What a privilege prayer is. To think that God is interested in the details of my life and really cares about me and is thinking about me constantly is amazing (Psa. 139: 7-18).
     And, of course, we are to pray only to God—not to some artificial intelligence (a Siri or Alexa or fairy). We pray to the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit (who even intercedes for us when we don’t know what or how to pray (Ro. 8:26). “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all…” (I Tim 2:5,6). It is because of Jesus’ work on our behalf as our high priest, sacrificing His life and shedding His blood, that we can even come to the Father in prayer, but in Him (Christ) “we have boldness and confident access through faith” (Eph. 3:12). We can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in  time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
     Alexa and Siri may be a wealth of information and may perform some simple tasks for you, but God alone loves you and cares about you and can help in your time of need!  He alone can meet your deepest needs and provide eternal and abundant life. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and every-where present, available 24-7. And He loves to hear from us and commune with us. Amazing! Wonderful!  I’m so glad I’m a part of His forever family, and can pray: “My Father…”
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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The Depth of His Love

   I have a degree in Industrial and Management Engineering from Montana State University in Bozeman (Go Cats!).  Several of the courses I had to take were very challenging and difficult to wrap one’s mind  (mine at least) around—like calculus for example!  But through many, many hours of studying I was successful in passing those courses. PTL!
      I have discovered since that time that those challenging concepts were nothing compared to some of the deep teachings of God’s Word such as the sovereignty of God versus the free will of man, the Tri-unity of the Godhead, or how Jesus was both fully God and fully man at the same time. Unfortunately since our finite minds cannot comprehend an infinite God, we have the tendency to bring God down to a place where we can understand and explain and even control Him.  This has resulted in all sorts of false teaching and cults which have ignored or distorted the clear teachings of Scripture.
     We can definitely identify with what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then (in heaven)  I shall know fully, just as I also have been fully known (by God)” (I Cor. 13:12). One day Jesus will come for His Church and will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory…” (Phil. 3:20).  “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…the dead in Christ will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (I Cor. 15:51). The Apostle John writes: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” ( Jn. 3:2).  Until that time, our minds will continue to struggle to comprehend the infiniteness of our God.
      Maybe one of the “deepest” concepts to grasp concerning our amazing God is the depth of His love for us. Paul, prayed this for the believers at Ephesus: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:17b-18 NIV).  God loved us so much that He sent His Son to give His life to pay the penalty for the sins of the world (Jn. 3:16). Jesus suffered torture and death by crucifixion on our behalf, bearing the wrath of God against our sin, and at any point could have “called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set Him free, but He died alone for you and me.” “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro. 5: 8). “By this the love of God was manifest in us that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins” (I Jn. 4:9,10).
     Because of God’s love for us, demonstrated by Christ dying in our place, when we put our trust in Him for salvation, we stand before God justified—just as if we had never sinned—because Jesus bore those sins in His body on the cross (I Pet. 2:24; II Cor. 5:21). He didn’t just cover our sins, but, as the Lamb of God, put them away (Jn. 1:29). “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psa. 103:12). “For Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back” (Isa. 38:17). “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; and will not remember your sins” (Isa. 45:25).  He has cast our sins “into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19). The deepest part of the  Atlantic Ocean is the Puerto Rico Trench at 27,493 feet. In the Pacific Ocean, the deepest location is the Mariana Trench which is 36,070 feet deep!  Mt. Everest towers above sea level some 29,029 feet. How amazing is our God! His love for us—demonstrated by removing our sins—is even deeper and higher than these!
     How would it change our lives if we could really grasp the depth of Christ’s love? We believe in order to be saved, but are we walking fully in His love? If we completely believe that we are deeply loved, we will not feel empty, fearful, anxious, or lonely. And His love will overflow to others because we are filled with His fullness. That was Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians and one we can pray for one another today. Lord, empower us today to grasp the width, length, height and depth of you unfailing, unconditional agape love. Amen!
                “O the deep, deep love of Jesus—Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free! Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me. Underneath me, all around me, is the current of His love—leading onward, leading homeward, to my glorious rest above” (O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus by Thomas J. Williams).
                Forever in His Love,
                        Pastor Dave
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Showers of Blessing

After several weeks of hot, dry summer weather and nearby forest fires producing lots of smoke, what a blessing it was two weekends ago to receive the blessed rain that not only aided those fighting to contain and control the fires, but cleared the air which had become hazardous to breathe. It was a blessing as well for all the gardens, lawns, crops and vegetation which desperately needed moisture.   Hopefully we have some more rain headed our way this week as we have had a few really smoky days again.
     Farmers, from the beginning of time, have been dependent upon the early (spring) and late (fall) rains in order to produce their crops. As the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, God told them that if they were obedient He would bless them with rain for their crops but if they disobeyed Him, He would withhold the rain. “And it shall come about if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all you heart and all you soul that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. And He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied. Beware, lest your hearts be deceived and you turn away and serve other gods and worship them. Or the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you” (Dt. 11:13-17).
     When King Solomon gathered the people together to pray and dedicate the temple, included in his prayer was this statement: “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they (the Israelites) have sinned against Thee, and they pray toward this place and confess Thy name and turn from their sin when Thou dost afflict them, then hear Thou in heaven and forgive the sin of Thy servants and of Thy people Israel, indeed, teach them the good way in which they should walk. And send rain on Thy land, which Thou has given Thy people for an inheritance”  (I Kgs. 8:35,36).    Several years after Ahab became king over the northern tribes, married wicked Jezebel and began worshiping Baal. It tells us that “Ahab …did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him” (I Kgs. 16:30,31). Then Elijah, God’s prophet, “…said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word’” (I Kgs. 17:1). Baal, the Phoenician storm god, was held by Ahab, Jezebel and his other devotees to control the rain. Elijah abruptly announced to Ahab that Jehovah would be proved to be the One who does so. Indeed God did withhold the rain—for 3 1/2 years (cf Jas. 5:17,18)!  We thought it was difficult to go for two or three months without rain. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to go for 3 1/2 years! 
     God sends rains to refresh the earth (Lev. 26:4; Job 5:10; Psa. 65:10; 72:6; Isa. 55:10; Acts 14:17) and it falls on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45). God can also withhold the rain as judgment on those whose hearts have turned away from Him in rebellion. When David lamented over the death of Jonathan and King Saul (even though Saul had been trying to kill David!), He prayed, “O mountains of Gilboa (where Saul died), let not dew or rain be on you, nor fields of offerings; for there the shield of the mighty was defiled” (II Sam. 1:21).   
     Of course rain can be a problem when more comes than the ground can absorb, as recently took place in Hawaii and will likely happen to the southwest coast of the United States in the next few days as a hurricane is headed their way. Rain, of course, came in judgment on the earth in the days of Noah, when it rained for 40 days and nights and all life on earth was destroyed except for Noah and his family and the animals that God sent to the ark.
     But normally, rain is a blessing, God’s blessing as He sends the early and late rains to refresh the earth, the air and to help all vegetation grow and produce. It is a symbol of how God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”  (Eph. 1:3).  The Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah and Ezekiel wrote much concerning a future time of blessing for the nation of Israel when they are restored to their land and their hearts are restored to worshiping the Jehovah God of Israel. Christ will return, the curse on the earth will be removed and the kingdom promised to God’s chosen people will finally come to fruition, with Jesus reigning for a thousand years from the throne of David. God spoke through Ezekiel saying, “ ‘And I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing. Also the tree of the field will yield its fruit, and the earth will yield its increase, and they will be secure in their land. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them. And they will no longer be a prey to the nations, and the beasts of the earth will not devour them; but they will live securely, and no one will make them afraid. And I will establish for them a renowned planting place, and they will not again be victims of famine in the land, and they will not endure the insults of the nations anymore. Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and they, the house of Israel, are My people,’ declares the LORD God” (Ezek. 34:26-31).
     That’s quite an encouragement when you look at the world today and all the hatred toward Israel and the Jews and at the many nations that have vowed to eliminate the Jews from the face of the earth. Our God reigns and no one can thwart His plans. Israel may have experienced many times of physical and spiritual dryness because of rebellion against God, but one day, as a result of a period called in Scripture “The time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer. 30:7) or “great tribulation” (Mt. 24:21), the Jews who remain on the earth will turn to Christ. Paul prophesies in Romans, that at that time, “all Israel will be saved” (Ro. 11:26).
     Praise God for His showers of blessing—both physically and spiritually. And Praise God for the blessings yet to come in the future to those who Know Him. I trust you are one of them. You can be. Put your complete trust in Him as Savior and Lord.
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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A Mind to Work

I am grateful to my parents for many things, but one I am reminded of on this “Labor Day” is that they taught me to work. I’m thankful too that I grew up in a time when most youngsters learned a work ethic, because there was usually lots of work to do. We had a little farm and fruit ranch and a big garden, so there were always chores to do. I also inherited a “fish-worm business” from my older sister. I sold three dozen worms for 25 cents! I also would get 25 cents an hour for weeding the garden. It seemed like a lot of money at the time. But far more than the money, it taught me the value of work and of saving for things I wanted to buy, like a bicycle.  I later got a newspaper route for The  Pennsylvania Grit and a few years after that got a route for a daily newspaper, which I delivered on my bicycle over a seven-mile route to about 50 customers.
     As a sophomore in high school, I got a job at a local Coast to Coast hardware store. During college I worked for my brother-in-law and his construction business called Kutz Builders. When you worked for Dick Kutz, you really worked! He had a great reputation in the community for high quality work as well as finishing projects quickly, so there was no slacking and everything had to be done precisely. If he made a half-hour run for materials, we were given a half-day’s work to keep us busy while he was gone! I also learned some basic building skills for which I am very appreciative.
     Work is a major topic throughout Scripture, starting with God’s creation of the universe and the earth and all that is on it and in it in six days (Gen. 1,2; Neh. 9:6) setting a pattern for man’s work week (Ex. 20:11).  He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to care for it, so work was part of man’s responsibility before sin took place. Though work became much more difficult because of the curse put on the earth when sin occurred, it is not part of the curse, but something that is part of our makeup being made in the image of God.  When the tabernacle and temple were built craftsman were hired according to the special skills God had given them.
      God the Son even learned a trade as He grew up in the home of Joseph the carpenter (craftsman).  I’m sure he too had a good reputation for the quality of his work. The Jewish Rabbis had a saying: “He who does not teach a son to work, teaches him to steal.” Paul, the apostle and missionary to the Gentiles, worked extremely hard, often against great adversity, in his ministry. In his letter to the Colossians, he wrote: “And for this purpose, also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29). He exhorted the believers at Colossae, saying : “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than men” (Col. 3:23).  “Our position, as followers of Christ, gives every job we do a higher, clearer, ultimately more satisfying sense of purpose” (Paul Nyquest). All our work, when done as service to our Lord, has significance. All Christians work for the same employer!
     Nehemiah led a group of Jews from captivity in Babylon back to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls that had been destroyed. He faced much opposition but was successful in completing the task. One of the secrets (besides God’s enabling) is given in Neh. 4:6: “So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, FOR THE PEOPLE HAD A MIND TO WORK.”  Unfortunately today, too many people stop looking for work when they get a job!  They don’t have a mind to work. They just want to get a paycheck. The world is full of willing people—some willing to work and some willing to let them, saying, “I love work. I could sit and watch it for hours!”
     As believers, we should be examples of those who “have a mind to work.” Work isn’t just a platform to do ministry—it is ministry. In fact, when done heartily as to the Lord, it is also worship. Do you have a “mind to work”? I hope so, and I hope you have passed it on and are passing that on to you children and grandchildren. “The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker” (Helen Keller).
     Happy Labor Day!
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
     
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And the Work Goes On

As Jesus met with His disciples in the upper room, He told them of His imminent death, resurrection and return to heaven. He told them not to be troubled, because He would return one day to take believers to His Father’s house (Jn. 14:1-3). The disciples had given up their vocations to follow Jesus and had grown to love and depend upon Him. Now what would they do? To add to their sadness and confusion, Their Master said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, 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” (v. 12).  I’m sure the disciples were thinking back to Jesus’ many miracles and wondering how that could be possible. What they did not realize yet was that when Jesus returned to heaven, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to indwell believers, empowering them to be witnesses throughout the world (Jn.14:26;  Acts 1: 8). That would be the “greater work” of which Jesus spoke. Jesus’ ministry had been limited on earth to being in one place at a time. The day was coming when the work of building the Kingdom of God would go worldwide through the Holy Spirit indwelling every believer, equipping and empowering them as Christ’s ambassadors (II Cor. 5:20).  That’s why Jesus went on to tell the disciples: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you, And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:7,8).
     Remember Jesus’ statement at Caesarea Philippi? After Peter’s confession that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16), Jesus said, “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (v. 18). Gates were used for defense, so Jesus was indicating that no powers of darkness would be able to stop the spread of the Gospel and the building of His church.
     When Jesus died, the disciples hid in fear, but in three days Jesus arose and forty days later ascended back to heaven. Then, just ten days later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came as Jesus had prophesied and the disciples, who had hidden out in fear and confusion, were empowered and began spreading the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ in payment for sin. Most of them became martyrs for their faith. But when they were gone, the Gospel continued to spread to the far corners of the world, and does to this very day. You see, as George Mueller once said, “God buries His workers. (But) He never buries His work,” because Jesus is the One building His church.  We have had many great evangelists, pastors, teachers, missionaries, and Christian workers who have come and gone, but God’s work goes on. We recently mourned and celebrated the home-going of arguably the greatest spiritual giant of our lifetime, Billy Graham, who in his evangelistic ministry which covered some six decades, reached hundreds of thousands of people for Christ throughout the world. At the graveside service, his pastor posed the question: “Billy’s gone–what happens now? Who will take Billy’s place?” 
     There may not be another Billy Graham in our generation (although his son Franklin and grandson Will seem to be walking in the same footsteps), but Christ will continue the work of building His church. He still has His messengers throughout the world. If you know Christ as Savior, you are one of them!  Billy Graham, just a few years ago, hosted a gathering in Amsterdam of 10,000 Christian leaders from some 200 countries. We have a missionary friend who focuses much of his efforts on the Philippines, working to train some 41,000 pastors!  God’s work is going on throughout the world, even—and especially—among the Muslim people. 
     On November 6, 1935, Billy Sunday, the most famous preacher in the world at the time, passed into eternity. That same night, a gangly teenager wandered into a revival meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. He went forward to declare that he was putting his faith in Christ as Savior that night. His name? Billy Graham! In a single night, God took home His leading voice in that generation and brought forth His voice for the next generation. But ultimately, the hope of the Gospel does not rest with evangelistic superstars. Most lost people will come to Christ through a Jesus-follower that they know. Someone already in their life. That’s you! That’s me!  We are His witnesses, His ambassadors. Every heart with Christ is a missionary. Every heart without Christ is a mission field. Most who came to Christ through Billy Sunday’s or Billy Graham’s crusades were there because of a believer they knew and trusted. Most people who ever come to Jesus for eternal live do it because of a Christian they know. That may well be you and me. Let Christ rule in your life and share your “Jesus story” with those that God brings into your life—at work, at school, in the community. People listen to someone they trust and respect—and that’s usually someone who has built a relationship with them. That’s called “Lifestyle Evangelism,” in which each of us as Christians should be involved.
     When Jesus wanted to reach the Samaritans, He didn’t hold an evangelistic crusade in their village, He reached a Samaritan woman and sent her back to her people to be His voice and we read: “Many of them believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony,” (Jn. 4:39), and  others came to hear Jesus and “many more believed because of His word” (v. 41).  Like the Samaritan woman, we too are to be His “voice,” sharing our Jesus story with those God puts into our lives. We no longer have Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or John Wesley, or George Whitfield, or Billy Sunday or Billy Graham with us today reaching out with the gospel. Their work on earth came to a close. They died and were buried, but God’s work goes on, through each one of us. He continues to build His church until the day He returns in the clouds and calls the church home, as He promised in John 14:1-3. We long for that day, but until then we have work to do—His work.
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
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A Pied-Bill Grebe on a Tennis Court

One morning when I arrived at the tennis courts to teach a lesson, I was quite amazed to spot what appeared to be a duck on the court. I got a cardboard box out of the equipment shed and my student and I were able to catch the bird and put it in the box.  Upon closer examination, I recognized that it was a  pied-bill grebe. It had rained the night before and the court, which is blue in color, probably appeared as a pond from above and all we could figure is that the grebe had been flying over and decided to land on the “pond.” Grebes’ legs are located at the very rear end of their bodies, making them excellent  swimmers but cumbersome on land. Because of this limitation, the grebe spends little time out of the water except for flying.  They get up speed for takeoff by scooting along the water. But on the solid tennis court, this grebe was apparently unable to get airborne.
     I called the Fish and Game Department and they suggested I take the grebe out to the Fish Hatchery where there are some ponds often used by ducks and geese. When I released this pied-bill grebe, there happened to be a group of grebes on the pond, so hopefully this one was accepted and fit right in. Who knows, it may have been reunited with its own family! 
     As is true with all of God’s creatures, the pied-bill grebe has some amazing features. First of all, “pied” means “covered with spots of two or more colors,” and the pied-bill grebe has dark-colored spots on its bill. In the water a grebe (which weighs only about one pound) closely resembles a small duck. What distinguishes the grebe is that it floats at a higher level than a duck normally would. But when danger approaches, the grebe is able to control the level of buoyancy by forcing air out between its feathers to the point where only the head is visible above the surface.  The grebe can also dive to thirty feet beneath the surface and remain there for more than a minute. It may resurface a great distance from where it dived and will just poke its head out to check for danger. This tactic gave it the name “water witch” by hunters. The grebe makes a floating nest, loosely attached to nearby reeds so that it can rise and fall with water levels. When the grebe leaves its nest, she covers the eggs with vegetation to camouflage them. The pied-bill grebe is a fascinating bird but not one you expect to find on a tennis court!
     I’m reminded of an interesting verse written by the Psalmist who was crying out in his affliction, asking for God to come and help him in his time of distress. First he said, “For my days have been consumed in smoke…” (Psa. 102:3) which most of us can relate to right now as our air has been full of smoke for several weeks due to all the wildfires in the area. He goes on to say, “I resemble a pelican of the wilderness…” (v. 6), undoubtedly a reference to his loneliness. You don’t see many pelicans in the desert or pied-bill grebes on a tennis court!  They are out of place there. The question, of course, is how and why did they get there?  Again, most likely the grebe thought the tennis court was a pond to land on. He was lured into a situation from which he could not find escape. 
     How like us, as we often are attracted by some of the alluring things of the world, and make some bad choices and end up in situations from which we have great difficulty escaping. It looked and felt good at the time. Rather than take time to consult God’s Word and pray about it and ask the counsel of a godly believer, we make a hasty decision which we soon regret. Adam and Eve, unfortunately set the precedent for us all way back in the Garden of Eden when they were tempted by Satan (through the serpent) to eat of the forbidden fruit of tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan got Eve to question what God had said or meant and the fruit did look good and maybe if she ate she really would become like God, so she ate and gave some to Adam and he ate, directly disobeying the clear command from God (Gen. 3:1-7).  They suddenly found themselves in a situation from which they could not recover on their own. Praise God for His mercy and grace; He provided a means of forgiveness through the shedding of blood of an innocent substitute (animal) which became the pattern for the whole Old Testament period as priests continually made sacrifices for their own sins and for the sins of the people.
     Then Jesus, God the Son, came to earth to be “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The sacrifices by the OT priests could only cover sins but Jesus put sin away by His sacrifice on the cross as He bore the penalty on our behalf. “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, for by His wounds we are healed (spiritually)” (I Pet. 2:24). “He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21).
We, like Adam and Eve, have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standard (Ro. 3:23) and are in a lost condition from which we cannot recover on our own, no matter how hard we try. No religion or good works can help us escape our position of separation from God because of sin (Ro. 6:23). But, praise God, He provided the way of escape for us through sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ro. 6:23). “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7).
     We escape the condemnation of sin by simply repenting of our sin and turning to Christ, putting our complete trust/ faith in His atoning work at the cross and the fact of His resurrection. “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).
     As believers, we still face the temptations of this world which attempt to distract us from following Jesus and rob us of our joy and witness for Him. Before we “land” on what looks like a nice blue “pond,” let’s be sure to check it out—always make God’s Word your standard for faith and practice. Learn to distinguish between what is a scheme of the adversary and what is God’s plan as revealed in His Word. You don’t want to be like the pied-bill grebe on the tennis court or the pelican in the desert!
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
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