Are You Ready?

I got a call early this past Thursday morning from a neighbor of my brother, Dennis, telling me that she was at the hospital in Butte (Montana) where Dennis was having a major heart attack. The neighbor called back just a few minutes later to say that he had not made it.  Wow!  Dennis, who just turned 85 April 1st, had been very healthy all his life and was still golfing, bowling and playing tennis on a regular basis, and even played basketball weekly until they lost use of the facility where they were playing.  He had also come to Libby each fall for many years and spent a week hunting with me (involving lots of hiking).  Dennis did recently have a slight stroke while staying in Arizona with my sister and brother-in-law who go to Yuma each winter, but he recovered quickly and had returned to Butte and seemed to be doing well. 
      It is a reminder of just how frail life really is and how none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.   Psalm 90:10 (the one written by Moses) says: “As for the days of our life, they 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.”  James writes: “Come now, you who say, today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there 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’” (James. 4:13-15). 
     Jesus told a parable about a rich man who wondered how he would store his bumper crops since his barns weren’t big enough to hold it all. He decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones for his grain and goods. Then he would be able to say, “ ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ ” (Lk. 12:19-20). 
     Dennis, who was 14 years older than I am, played a key role in my life as I grew up. He was the one who taught me a number of sports and took me hunting and always gave generous gifts to me and to us and our children at Christmas. I had always considered him sort of “invincible.” But, he, and my other older brother, Arnold, had left home before my folks and sister and I were exposed to the Gospel and came to know Christ as Savior and Lord. During the years of continued contact with Dennis, I would try to share with Him about the need to trust Christ for eternal life and that just living a “good” life won’t do it. But, being the little brother (youngest in the family) I didn’t get a very positive reception. Although Dennis would always sit through our morning devotions when he stayed with us, he would never go to hear me speak (as pastor) or attend an evening Bible study. He did, however, attend services with my sister and brother-in-law in Arizona when he stayed with them. But whenever we would start talking about spiritual matters he would close us out.  I just pray that he had responded to the messages of the Gospel he heard—and saw.  If not, it is too late now.  “Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).  None of us will get a second chance. We must make a choice about Christ while on this earth and we don’t know how long that will be. In responding to one of his “comforters,” Zophar, Job said: “Since his (man’s) days are determined, the number of his months is with Thee, and his limits Thou hast set so that he cannot pass” (Job. 14:5).  
     God has set a limit on our number of days. Each of us has an appointment with death, and it is an appointment we will keep. We won’t be able to “reschedule”!    So, it is so important that we are ready. Satan tempts folks to think, “I’ll consider Christ at some point, but not right now. I have some things I would like to do first. I have lots of time.”  But, we don’t know that, and we don’t know whether or not we will even be in our “right mind” later. We could die in a car wreck or have a heart attack and be gone—just like that—with no time to consider the offer of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ.  So, if you are reading this and you haven’t yet acknowledged your sinfulness and need for a Savior, trusted Christ’s death on your behalf and believed in His being raised from the dead to prove your sins are paid for, I strongly encourage you to do so now—before it is forever too late.  Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2).  If God is speaking to your heart, don’t ignore Him; don’t think you have lots of time to consider His offer.  Commit your life and your eternal destiny to Him now.  If you have a friend or loved one who may not have yet trusted Christ, prayerfully share this “Wisdom of the Week” with them.  It is urgent—a life and death matter.
                Forever His,
                        Pastor Dave
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Winning and Losing

Well, “March Madness” is over. If you aren’t a basketball fan, you are probably really glad. For a couple weeks, between the NCAA and NIT tournaments for both men’s and women’s teams, and throw in tournaments for small colleges and Christian colleges, there were several hundred games played—many of which were televised.
      Just for fun, our family fills out brackets for the NCAA tournament to make it a little more exciting as we watch our favorite teams perform.  Two of the teams I picked for the “Final Four” made it—Oregon and Gonzaga, and Gonzaga made it to the championship and would have won if the game had ended three minutes earlier!  Since we live near Spokane, there are lots of “Zag” fans here. We have followed most of their games on TV for the past several years so it was very exciting to see them do so well this year, ending up with the best record, 37-2, in Division I men’s basketball.
     We happened to be in Spokane for Christian Workers Conference many years ago when the Zags made their first “Sweet Sixteen.” The town went nuts. It was pretty fun.  This year they had one of their best teams ever and it looked like they might go all the way, but faltered right at the end of the championship game with the North Carolina Tarheels.  It was hard watching the emotional let down suffered by the players at the end of the game.  In spite of a fantastic season and the accolades received by the team and players ( Mark Few was “Coach of the Year” and Przemek Karnoski was “Center of the Year”), it is still really hard to lose that final game. It seems that is what is remembered most.
     As you think about it, counting the “play-in-games,” 68 teams enter the NCAA Tournament, and 67 of them end their season with a loss!  Only one ends up with a win. These teams qualify for the tournament either by their record over the season or by winning their conference tournament so they are all good teams with a winning record but all but one ends up losing their final game.  At the end of the tournament, they play some video clips of highlights of the tournament and you see all the highs and lows of emotions, from the agony of defeat to the thrill of victory.   And yes, there is crying in men’s basketball!
     The Apostle Paul, who used athletics a number of times in his letters to illustrate spiritual truths, writes in a letter to the Corinthian believers about the discipline and training of a runner or boxer in order to be victorious. Paul draws upon his readers’ knowledge of the Isthmian games held near Corinth every two years. He says: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (I Cor. 9:24-27).
     Paul wasn’t saying he was concerned about “losing his salvation,” but rather was talking about being “disqualified” from effective service and suffering loss of reward if he didn’t remain faithful. The Greek word he used translated “disqualified,” adikomos, has reference to a “cracked pot”—not one thrown away, but one put on the shelf. When Paul came to the end of his ministry, a prisoner in Rome and soon to be put to death by Emperor Nero, he wrote in his final letter: “…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Tim. 4:6b-8).
     While only one can win a race or the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, all believers who have self-discipline and remain faithful in serving their Lord, will receive “imperishable” crowns (rewards) in eternity. Heaven is not a “reward,” but a gift to those who have trusted in Christ for salvation (Eph. 2:8,9). In that sense, all believers are “winners,” having escaped the condemnation and judgment in hell we deserve (Ro. 8:1), but when we, as Christians, stand before God at the “Judgment Seat of Christ” (II Cor. 5:10), and give account (Rom. 14:10-12), “each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it (his foundation in Christ…vv. 10,11) remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss (of rewards), but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (I Cor. 3:13-15). 
     To succeed in athletic contests requires much discipline and training. You have to be committed to the endeavor. For a team it requires unselfishness and teamwork and “chemistry.”  Paul’s challenge to us is to consider how much effort athletes put in just for the possibility of receiving a perishable, temporary reward and then think about how much more valuable to have similar discipline and dedication toward building up God’s kingdom, where the rewards are eternal. “Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Pet. 1:3,4). 
     Oh, may we “run to win,” that one day we may hear from our Lord and Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Master” (Mt. 25:21). May we have an “abundant entrance” into Heaven. “And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (I Jn. 2:28).
                    Forever His,
                        Pastor
“Go Zags!”  Maybe next year!
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PI Day

   A family at the church we attend celebrates March 14 (3-14) as “PI DAY.” They invite their neighbors to bake a pie and come join in a “pie social” at their place on that day, since the mathematical constant of the ratio of a circle to its diameter is always 3.14, which, since the mid-18th Century has been designated by Pi, the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet. Pi is taken from the first letter of the Greek word perimetros, meaning circumference. Pi is a mathematical constant, no matter the circle’s size.  Being an irrational number, Pi cannot be experienced exactly as a fraction. Its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern. It has been calculated to 10 trillion digits! 
     A number of people have attempted to memorize as many digits of Pi as they could. On March 21, 2015, Fajveer Meena, a 21-year-old student at VIT University in Vellore, India sat blind folded before a panel of judges and over 10 hours quoted 70,000 digits of Pi!  In 2006, Akira Haraguchi (age 60), a mental health counselor, recited 100,000 decimal places for pi in 16 hours!  (WHY!?)
     Since Pi relates to circles, it is involved in many trigonometric and geometric formulae and occurs in the proofs of many equations defining the universe God created.  Our amazing God created His universe and planet earth with such order and precision that we have the maths and sciences which are mere observations and utilization of that order. Besides Pi, we have many other constants that are used in formulae and calculations. Another such physical constant is Planck’s Constant ( h ) which relates to energy and frequency.
     Since God’s creation is a reflection of who He is, we know that God is a God of order and precision and constancy. The Apostle Paul writes:  “…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…” (Ro. 1: 20).  What God made and how it operates reveals to us what God, the designer and creator,  is like.  Just as we have “physical constants” like Pi and Planck’s Constant, that can be counted on to always be the same, we have a God who never changes. He cannot be other than who He is. His written revelation, the Bible, confirms this. The Psalmist wrote: “You remain the same, and Your years will never end” (Psa. 102:27). And we read in Heb. 13:8 that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.” We know that circumstances change, and people change. We can count on some people more than others, but we are all frail and fickle at some point and are either incapable of keeping or fail to keep our promises.  That’s not the case with God. “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent (change His mind); Has He said, and will He not do it? or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes…” (II Cor. 1:20.  “Yet with respect to the promise of God, he (Abraham) did not waver in unbelief…being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Ro. 4:20,21). “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (I Thes. 5:24).   “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (II Tim. 2:13).
     Since we can always count on God to remain the same, we can also count on His revealed Word, the Bible,  to be unchanging. Paul tells us that “All Scripture is inspired (God-breathed) by God 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 physical things God created are deteriorating, winding down, and growing old because of the curse God put on creation when Adam sinned in the Garden (Ro. 5:12), but God and His Word are unchanging, will never grow old and obsolete. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40: 8 ).
      God’s truths are absolute and unchanging. They don’t have to be “amended” to accommodate a changing culture!  Just as there are physical constants which we can count on to never change, there are also “spiritual constants” which we can count on, in fact on which we can stake our eternal destiny. Jesus is just who He claimed to be: “The way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). He is the only  “mediator between God and men” (I Tim. 5:6).  And everyone who comes to Christ (being drawn by the Father), believing in His atoning work on their behalf, will not be turned away, but will be given eternal life (Jn. 6:37-40). Jesus Himself said, “For God so loved the world (you and me), that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).  That’s a promise you can count on. It comes from the Creator of the universe who never changes and would never deceive you, and who is willing and able to fulfill every promise to us. “For whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be (not “might be”) saved!” (Ro. 10:13).
     Have you called upon Him? 
                    Forever His,
                        Pastor Dave
P.S.  Maybe next March 14 (if the Lord tarries His coming), you can have a neighborhood “PI NIGHT” and talk about the Creator of physical and spiritual constants.
    
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Second Chances

Last year at this time we had the privilege of staying at a friend’s condo in Scottsdale, AZ and taking in some pre-season baseball games in the “Cactus League.”  Along with their return players from last year, each team has numerous players that are trying hard to impress the coaches and to get an opportunity to play in the Major League (starting next Monday).  Some will, but many will be assigned to minor league teams with the hopes of doing well and possibly getting called up, and if not, ending up at spring training again next year.
     Matt Bush was a star shortstop in high school who could throw in the 90’s.  In 2004, he was the first pick by his hometown San Diego Padres, signing for $3.15 million. He had a thing for fancy cars, so with his signing bonus, purchased a Range Rover for $75,000, and soon added a BMW, an Escalade, an Audi, a Bentley and five Mercedes!
      Unfortunately Matt not only had a thing for expensive cars, but also had a drinking problem. He had grown up with an alcoholic father and had his first drink at age 11.  He was drinking on a regular basis by Junior High.  Because of his drinking problem, Matt was arrested  three times in the space of four months in 2009.  While drunk, he crashed the Escalade  in a parking lot. It took six policemen to subdue him.
Matt relates how he hated himself for what he had become and felt like a total failure. He hated himself during practice and games. Then he would jump in an expensive car and felt like somebody. He said, “Those were my devils: money, fame, and cars, but all the while I was hollow inside.”
     It bottomed out with one more joyride in 2012, one in which Bush crashed three times in just hours. He backed into a car on an illegal U-turn, then hit a light pole, and finally ran into  72-year old Anthony Tufano who was riding a motor cycle, leaving him unconscious on the asphalt, his brain hemorrhaging, his lung collapsed, his face fractured, his ribs cracked and eight vertebrae broken. Matt was arrested and sentenced to 51 months in prison in Jasper, Florida. (He had been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and then to the Tampa Bay Rays.)  Matt had $600 left in his bank account, his long-term girlfriend stopped writing to him, his agent dropped him, and his parents couldn’t afford to fly from California to visit. Matt was extremely depressed and had thoughts of suicide (But God had other plans!).
     He never touched a baseball for his first two years in prison. He didn’t read about baseball or watch any baseball on television. But one day some inmates invited him to play right field for their softball team against a visiting church team.  One of the visiting batters smashed a line drive off the right-field wall. The batter was trotting casually from second to third when a screaming, laser-like throw traveled 250 feet through the air to the third baseman. The inmates finally discovered who Matt Bush was!
     In February 2016, he was  released to a half-way house where got his hands on an old, scuffed baseball. Often inmates would pick a target for him—a tree, a distant road sign—and he hit each one. Then his dad mailed him a couple gloves and three baseballs and he began throwing again. He was soon visited by Ray Silver, minor league manager and player advisor  for the Texas Rangers.  Silver had a baseball academy in Florida where Bush had lived for a couple months in 2010. Silver helped players deal with alcoholism and drug addictions and shared his Christian faith. He had helped another #1 pick, Josh Hamilton, manage his addiction and return to baseball after a four-year lay-off, to become the American League MVP.
     Silver would come weekly to counsel Bush and to play catch in a restaurant parking lot. The Rangers sent scouts to the half-way house to visit with Matt and watch him throw. 
     In spite of Bush’s horrendous record of alcoholism and arrests, Jan Daniels, the Ranger president and general manager, who has a reputation for giving second chances, decided to give Bush another chance. Bush told Daniels he wanted to be held accountable. He wanted a “zero-tolerance policy” written into his contract that guaranteed his release if he broke certain rules. The team requested that his father travel with him at the family’s expense throughout the season and stay with Bush in his hotel rooms. (Even Josh Hamilton had relapsed twice.)  His 12-step sponsor also stays in continuous contact.  Matt Bush is back throwing 98-100 mph for the San Francisco Giants. He has been given a second chance and will need to continue to make one good decision at a time, followed by another and another.  But, PTL he’s back!
     I can’t help but think of numerous Bible character who had glaring weaknesses and made some very bad choices and messed things up royally, but God restored them and gave them a fresh start. One of them, King David of Israel, even committed adultery and then murder to try to cover his tracks. He was very miserable, unable to sleep and suffering physically, but God sent Nathan to confront him. David repented and God restored him to fellowship, although David’s family suffered the consequences of his sin for years to come. Psa. 32:3,4 describes David’s condition before he repented: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night, Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.”  But then comes the change: “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide…and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin” (v. 5).  Psalm 51:1-13 gives further detail of David’s confession: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness..blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit….”
     If we are willing to turn to God and admit our sin, God is ready and able to forgive and give us a fresh start.  Oh, we may still face some of the results of our sin (reaping what we sowed …Gal. 6, 7,8), but we can have our joy and inner peace restored and be back walking with the Lord. And, by the way, God called David, “A man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22 cf I Sam. 13:14). 
            Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
    
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They’re Back

Well, even though we still have lots of big snow banks, we do have some bare spots showing up (like over the septic tank!) and the calendar says spring just returned and as further evidence, many of our birds are back.  The geese have been back for some time and over the past week or two the starlings, crows, robins, Oregon juncos, a variety of sparrows, and our beautiful rufous-sided towhees have returned. We have a feeder in the back yard and try to identify all the birds that show up there and when over the course of a year they arrive. It’s fun to compare the dates when they appear each year. Most are within a few days on their return dates. We have a list of around 60 different species that either spend much of the year here or stop over on their way through. 
     It would be fun to know where each bird has been over the year between making appearances here. Ornithologists have studied the flight patterns of most migrating birds and it is just amazing to consider the miles they cover in their migratory routes and how they find their way. The black-polled warbler, for example migrates from Alaska to Venezuela—5,000 miles—non-stop in the autumn and back in the spring. It doubles its weight from 1/2 to 1 ounce before it heads out. It waits for a low pressure system in the fall, knowing that afterwards there will be strong winds blowing southeast. When it reaches the New England coast, it moves up to to 3,000 feet elevation to catch trade winds to Venezuela. Wow!
     Then there is the bar-headed goose which lays claim to the title “Highest-Flying-animal.” This tenacious bird actually migrates over the Himalayan mountains!  The birds carry no food or water, no oxygen, no winter survival gear—yet there they are, higher than any creature should be. Some of our Creator’s most incredible skills are displayed in the bar-headed goose enabling it to navigate the air over the Himalayas at 30,000 to 33,000 feet. The oxygen concentration at this height is a little more than one-quarter that of sea level—not enough air for kerosene lanterns to burn, helicopters to hover, or people to breathe. Yet this goose remains fully conscious and faithfully flies over the Himalayas twice each year, a journey which takes hours. The goose breeds in southeast Russia and western China but travels to India and northern Burma for the winter. Why doesn’t it just fly around the mountains or snake its way through them using river valleys, like the majority of the other migratory birds in the Himalayan region? I believe this goose has been given the titanic task to show us, in a visible way, that Christ can, and will, sustain His creatures through all difficulties. Christ’s construction of this bird includes larger-than normal wings, lungs that inhale greater-than-normal amounts of air, and blood containing a special type of hemoglobin that carries higher-than-normal levels of oxygen to its tissues and organs. God also designed this bird to produce a lot of heat when it flies which prevents its wings from icing up.
     With a little help from tailwinds, the bar-headed-geese make the trip from Tibet to India—more than 1,000 miles—in a single day!  By using tailwinds, the geese capitalize on weather that would pulverize lesser creatures. These geese are powerful flappers, with huge wings, pointed to reduce wind resistance.  They can fly more than 50 mph on their own power, and can really move out with strong tail winds–around 100 mph. Able to gauge and correct for drift, bar-headed geese can even fly in cross-winds without being blown off course—totally amazing.
     Needless to say, there is no way these geese evolved over time to be the wonderfully designed creatures that they are. The only explanation is that they were designed and constructed by our all-wise, all powerful Creator God, the Lord Jesus Christ.  As you examine the thousands of other creatures that our Lord created, you discover similar, mind-boggling evidence for the amazing handiwork of wonderful Creator. How sad that the majority of mankind continues to deny creation and credits it all to time and chance, coming up with un-provable theory after theory of how it all began and evolved over billions of years. It is definitely not for lack of evidence, but rather that man does not want to acknowledge the existence of God to whom he is accountable. In writing to the believers at Rome, the Apostle Paul said, “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 (conscience); 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, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds, and four footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie (evolutionism), and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Ro. 1:18-25). 
     Many of the issues that the church (all believers) face today such as marriage being between one man and one woman, homosexuality, transgenderism, etc. are explained by this passage in Romans. It is because men have suppressed the truth about God and creation and substituted humanism and worship of creation over worship of the Creator. We are reaping  the consequences of man’s failure to honor God or to give thanks. Unfortunately we have many intelligent people—“professing to be wise”— today who have become “fools.”  Tragically they are indoctrinating our children and young people with their atheistic, evolutionary views and destroying the hope and significance and security and identity that comes from acknowledging God our Creator and coming to have a personal relationship with Him through faith in His work on our behalf at Calvary.
     Today, as you observe the creation around you, be sure to acknowledge whose handiwork it is and give thanks. “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Thy name in all the earth!” (Psa. 8:9).
                Forever His,
                        Pastor Dave
    
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A Miracle Nation

This past weekend the Jews celebrated a great victory that took place during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (his Persian name was Xerxes).  Some 100 years before, the Jews had been exiled from their land by Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. God had prophesied that they would be captives in Babylon for 70 years (Jer. 25:11). At that time (539 B.C.) Cyrus of Persian overthrew Babylon and in 538 B.C. issued a decree allowing and encouraging exiled Jews to return to the Promised land, About 50,000 responded and returned with Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple and another 600 returned later with Ezra and others returned even later with Nehemiah to help rebuild the walls.  But many Jews had become comfortable living in the Persian Empire and chose not to return. Among them were Mordecai and Esther, his younger cousin whom he adopted and raised as his daughter since she had been orphaned (Est. 2:5-7,15).  
  They lived in the Persian capital city of Susa (Sushan) where King Xerxes had his palace. While the king was throwing a six-month party he called for queen Vashti to come and show off her beauty to his drunken guests.  When she refused, he “fired” her and held a beauty contest among the most beautiful virgins throughout the empire to chose a replacement. Esther was one chosen for the contest and was selected by Xerxes to be the next queen of Persia.  Mordecai, who also had some official capacity in the capital city of Susa (Est. 2:21), discovered a plot to assassinate the king so told Esther who informed the king. He had the perpetrators put to death and it was recorded in his journal that Mordecai was the one to discover the plot.
     The king’s right-hand man, Haman, an Agagite, descendant of the kings of the Amalekites (offspring of Esau…Gen. 36:12) became furious with Mordecai  because he would not bow and pay homage to Haman. Mordecai had revealed that he was a Jew so Haman convinced the king to write an edict to destroy all the Jews and cast lots (like rolling the dice) to determine the best time to carry it out. The  edict went out throughout the land. Esther, who had not revealed her nationality, found out about the edict, knew she too would be killed and that she alone could possibly convince the king to stop the genocide of her people.
     But the king hadn’t invited her to be with him for a month and to go without invitation could mean death. Mordecai encouraged her to go anyway, saying, “Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this” (4:14).  Esther, after having the Jews of Susa fast with her for three days, went to the king, saying “If I perish, I perish” (4:16). The king was actually glad to see her and asked her what was troubling her, offering her anything she wished (5;2,3).  After inviting the king and Haman to a couple meals she prepared the next two days, she revealed her identity and the plight of her people. The king couldn’t change his edict, but wrote a new one allowing the Jews to defend themselves, which they did and overwhelmed those who came to kill them. The Jews were spared and Esther remained as queen. And, oh yes, Haman, because of his wicked plot, was put to death on the gallows he had prepared on which to hang Mordecai, and Mordecai became second only to the king! 
     The Jews across the empire celebrated their great victory avoiding annihilation at the hands of the Persians.  They continue to celebrate that event to this day (March 12th this year). It is called the Feast of Purim. (The term for casting lots as Haman did to pick the date is the word pur and purim is the plural).
     Though never mentioned in the Book of Esther, the main character is Jehovah God, orchestrating the events to protect His chosen people and to keep the promises He has made to them, going all the way back to the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-3) in which God promised to bless Abraham, to make of him a mighty nation and to bless all the nations of the earth through that nation. God also said He would bless those who bless His chosen people and curse those who come against them.  The Book of Esther illustrates Israel’s unique place in God’s plan. God’s choice of Israel as His treasured possession guaranteed that Haman’s intent to exterminate the Jewish people would fail. Deut. 14:2 tells us: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the people who are on the face of the earth.” God says, “He who touches you, touches the apple of His eye” (Zech 2: 8).  The “apple of His eye” doesn’t refer to fruit but to the pupil of the eye, something very valuable and treasured.
     The Jews are a people for whom God has a particular purpose and who have been given special promises. This status is irrevocable and continues to this day (Ro. 11:29).  Through the Jews came the Scriptures and the Messiah Jesus Christ who first came to earth to become our Savior through His death, burial and resurrection, and will come a second time to set up the kingdom promised to David and Israel and the earth will experience peace and prosperity and “all the nations of the earth will be blessed” when the Jews are back in a right relationship with God (Ro. 11:11-29).
     From the very beginning of the Jews being a chosen people, the enemy, Satan, has done all in his power to destroy them to thwart God’s plans for the earth and its future. From Hitler to white supremacists to Islamic extremists (including most Islamic nations like Iran and Syria), many have attempted to or planned to follow Haman’s steps and eliminate the Jews from the face of the earth. But they are destined to fail in their ultimate objective just as Haman failed. God will continue to preserve and protect the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Israel has been unfaithful and incurred much discipline at the hands of God but He has not forsaken them or rejected them. They have returned and are returning to their land, became a nation again in 1948, and as a little nation the size of the state of New Jersey, have been and are the focus of the world. Israel is God’s “time clock” for biblical prophecy (Dan. 9:24-27) and all indications would point to the final events of prophecy coming soon!  Are you ready?
     When asked if he could prove the existence of God, one theologian paused for a moment and said: “Yes, in one word: Israel!”  What a miracle nation!  And, the God who keeps and will keep His promises to His chosen people, Israel, will keep His promises to all who put their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation: “And being fully assured that what He had promised, He was (and is) able also to perform” (Ro. 4:21). 
                Forever His
                    Pastor Dave
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There is Nothing New Under the Sun–But There Will Be One Day!

  It has been interesting to watch the trends in fashions, home decorating, movies, and even human behavior and to witness the truth presented by Solomon a couple millennia ago that “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). As one person put it (in the Today In the Word devotional from Moody Bible Institute, January, 2017), “We seem to be living in a cultural time of the reboot. Classical television shows such as Star Trek and MacGyver are remade. Popular music styles from the 1960’s have come back and clothing fashions from past decades parade down catwalks and sidewalks” (If you hang on to you wardrobe long enough it is sure to be stylish again one day!)  Even many big-budget movies are sequels or updated versions of old classics like Ben-Hur and Christmas Carol.  We have also noticed the same trend in home interior decorating. When we grew up, if you had the financial resources, you would have beautiful wood-grain doors, trim and cabinets. If you couldn’t afford that, you had just painted boards. Well, guess what—now to keep up with the modern trend, you paint over your beautiful wood gains and turn them into “just white boards!” 
     If you read through the Book of Judges in the Bible, you also see a repeated pattern. It has been called “The Dark Ages” of Israel’s history. During that 350-year period before they had a king, a period of national deterioration following the death of Joshua, we see a cycle of Sin, Servitude, Supplication, and Salvation—or, Disobedience, Discipline, Desperation and Deliverance—that is repeated over and over.  It seemed that they just didn’t get it. They seemed to learn nothing from their mistakes and just kept repeating them with the same outcome.  According to some, that is, by definition, “insanity.”
     Unfortunately that also seems to be the history of mankind. As has been said, “If there’s anything we learn from history, it’s that we learn nothing from history.” You would think that seeing the consequences of turning one’s back on God and “doing your own thing” (Judges 21:25) would prevent us—whether as a nation or individual—from following the same path, but that’s not the case.  People and nations continue to forsake God and try to live on their own terms, repeating the same sins over and over with the same results. 
     But, whether as an individual or a nation, it is always possible to stop the cycle and put God back in His rightful place and experience the blessings of walking in fellowship with Him.  God, in speaking to King Solomon of Israel, said: “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chron. 7:14).  During the Old Testament history of Israel, during the time of the kings, there were times of repentance, revival, and renewal and blessing, but eventually all of Israel became spiritually corrupt and God judged the tribes of the north (Israel) at the hands of the Assyrians and the tribes of the south (Judah) at the hands of the Babylonians and the Jews were scattered and never had a nation again until 1948!  Even now, while there are many individual Jewish believers, the nation is living in rejection of Jesus as her Messiah. Again, “there is nothing new under the sun.” But that will end one day soon when the Messiah, King Jesus, returns. In Ezekiel, God promises: “For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you …Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God…I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation ..and they will no longer defile themselves with their idols…or with any of their transgressions…and they will be My people, and I will be their God. ..and the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever” (Ezek. 36:9,26-28; 37:21-23,28).   
     Three times in Isaiah we read that the LORD will “do new things” (Isa. 42:8; 43:19; 48:6), so there will—in the future—be “something new under the sun.”  In fact, “according to His promise, we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (II Pet. 3:13 cf Rev. 21:1) There will be no more crying, or pain or death, for “the first things (will) have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).  And speaking of “nothing new under the sun,” we won’t even need the sun in heaven, “for the glory of God will illumine it, and its lamp (will be) the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23). 
     Meanwhile, as we await the Lord’s return and the restoration of Israel, we can individually have new lives in Jesus Christ and escape the cycle of sin and servitude by asking Christ to come into our heart as Savior and Lord. When we do that, we become “new creatures in Christ; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (II Cor. 5:17). We are set free from bondage to the old sinful flesh and do not need to serve it any longer but can “walk in newness of life” (Ro. 4:4). So, there really can be something new under the sun. Have you experienced that new life in Jesus Christ?  If not, invite Him in today and let Him be Lord of your life. It will change your present life and give you a glorious and bright future with God in the eternal ages to come in the new heavens and new earth.
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
    
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