As I give tennis lessons, I am reminded over and over how difficult it is to make changes and to correct bad habits. Webster defines a habit as: “a pattern of action or behavior that has been repeated so often that it has become automatic and is hard to break.” Amen to that!  So, a habit is something we can do without thinking—which is probably why most of us have so many of them! 
     It is easier to start with a complete beginner who has never played tennis and to instruct them with proper strokes and movements and to help them develop good habits than to try to correct the bad habits of a student who has been playing for awhile but never had instruction. Bad habits are kind of like a soft chair—easy to get into, but hard to get out of. Good habits are as easy to form as bad ones, but to turn bad habits into good ones takes determination, discipline and time (unless God just performs a miracle for us!).  For example if someone has been using the wrong grip on their racket, or has incorrect racket preparation or follow through, it is not easy to change to where the proper grip, preparation and follow through happens without thinking about it—in other words, turns a bad habit into a good habit. Typically a player can make the changes needed as you are helping them, but then as soon as he/she is not thinking about it, goes back to the old habits.  It takes doing it the correct way—while thinking about it—enough times that it becomes automatic. I know for me, it took years to change some of my bad habits with the racket, and I’m still working at making changes, so I can empathize with the students I teach!  Also, it seems to be much easier to see other’s bad habits than to acknowledge your own!
     How true that is of all of life, and especially as a Christian that is trying to live a godly life. We often have some bad habits that we developed over a period of years and realize that they are a detriment to our faith and joy and testimony. Sometimes when we become a Christ follower, He instantly takes away some of our bad habits, whereas other bad habits may take time and discipline and lots of depending on the Lord. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with some things in his life as he described in his letter to the Romans. He wrote: “For that which I am doing I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15).  After a discussion of the battle within him, He cried out: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”  (v. 24). But, praise the Lord, the passage doesn’t end on that desperate note, for in the next verse, Paul answers the question, saying: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Ro. 7:25-8:2). As believers we have a new nature, Christ comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit. Paul writes: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away, behold, new things have come” (II Cor. 5:17).  So, we have the potential to live a new, victorious life and not fall back into our old pattern of life. But, we still must make choices, because we also have—until our bodies are glorified—the old nature living within us along with the new. Paul describes the struggle within us in Gal. 5:17: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” The key to victory over the old, sinful flesh and its desires is in v. 16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” As an act of our will, we need to consciously ask—and allow—the Holy Spirit to be in control of our lives. Paul calls that being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and that is an ongoing process, not a once and for all decision. The good news is the more often I make the right choice the more it becomes a good habit and a new pattern in my life as I become more like Christ, which—by the way—is God’s purpose for each of us, “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Ro. 8:29).
     Paul describes this process of practicing making the right choices in Eph. 4:22-24 where he writes: “that in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which, in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” As those who have trusted Christ for salvation and been given a new, sinless nature in Christ, we must still throughout each day make the choices to “lay aside the old…and put on the new.” That is our responsibility, but even that we do through the strength of the indwelling Christ (Phil. 4:13). In that passage in Ephesians 4 we also have a key to helping us be successful in making “putting on the new” a habit and that is through the renewing of our mind, which comes from spending time in God’s Word, reading, memorizing and meditating on what God has revealed to us about Himself, about us and about our responsibilities as His child and ambassador here on earth. As we make godly, biblical choices over and over we are becoming in practice who we really are in Christ. We are replacing old, sinful habits, with new, Christ-like ones.
     Changing our habits, like climbing long flights of stairs, is easier to do when we are young, but remember, “Nothing is too difficult with God.” Ask for His help. Better yet, just let Him do it in and through you (Phil. 2:12,13). Memorize and meditate on Jer. 32:17 (NASB) “Ah Lord GOD! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee.”
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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I Can Do All Things

  As I was giving a tennis lesson last week, I noticed the tank top that Ryan was wearing said, “I CAN DO ALL THINGS.”  The shirt was not from  a “Witness Wear” Tee Shirt company, but by Under Armor.  I commented on the statement to Ryan and asked if he realized that the statement was actually from the Bible.  He knew the verse from Phil. 4:13 where the Apostle Paul says: “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me.”  The essential part of the claim is in the phrase “through Him (Christ).”  So often in our culture today we hear people who have succeeded in sports or music, or entertainment, or business, etc. say: “You can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do. Just believe and dedicate yourself to it.” Nike has a similar catch phrase to that of Under Armor. Theirs is “Just Do It!” 
     While we do need to dedicate ourselves to what we want to achieve and to become, it is definitely not true that “we can do all things” or become anything we put our mind and efforts to or to “Just do it.”  Obviously our physical makeup, intellectual abilities, financial resources and doors of opportunity hinder us from being and doing anything we choose to do or be.  For example, think of how many little boys dream of one day playing major league baseball, professional basketball or football. The percentage of those who get there is very small, though many try very hard to achieve that goal.
     I get it that it helps to have a positive mental attitude toward achieving our goals and being successful, but there is a huge factor that needs to be included which our secular culture leaves out—God and His will and His working on our behalf.  In the epistle of James we read about some Jews who had great plans to succeed in business, but failed to include God. 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 don’t 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).
     In the first place, we need to acknowledge that God makes us each unique with varying physical abilities, natural talents and also—as believers—with  special giftedness to serve the Body of Christ, the Church. The Psalmist wrote: “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).  Then we need to acknowledge our dependence upon Him, the One who gives us each breath and our daily bread. He gives us life and sustains us. At any moment, He could take that away, if that were His plan for us. Each morning that we wake up we can say, “Thank you God for giving me one more day to live for You. Help me depend upon You today and allow you to accomplish Your purpose in and through me.” Jesus talked about His being the vine and we the branches. He said, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). The Apostle Paul understood that. As Saul of Tarsus, he had been a very talented, powerful person in Judaism, from a prestigious Jewish tribe and family, having had excellent training and had progressed up the ladder of success in Judaism. But then he had an encounter with the risen, ascended Christ (Acts 9) and his life completely changed: from being a persecutor of Jesus’ followers; now he was one. He began spreading the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for sin. God chose him to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).  Although Paul had great success as a missionary spreading the Gospel, he always acknowledged, that it was not him, but Christ in him, that made the difference and produced the fruit (brought the success). He said, “By the grace of God I am what I am…” (I Cor. 15:10). He said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
     Obviously if we are going to be successful in any venture in life, it requires effort and dedication and discipline on our part. We don’t just sit around and watch ourselves achieve our goals.  Although Paul acknowledged his complete dependence on Christ, he also put in a lot of effort and faced a lot of adversity. He traveled many thousands of miles both by foot and by ship, was shipwrecked, arrested, beaten, and was imprisoned on several occasions (cf II Cor. 11:16-28). Paul worked hard at his calling as a missionary to the Gentiles, but as he did so, he was dependent upon the power of the indwelling Christ. He wrote: “And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29).  Paul spoke of that balance also in his letter to the believers at Philippi where his challenge to them was: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phi. 2:12,13). We don’t, and can’t work for our salvation, but we are to work it out, that is to actively be sharing with others what Christ is doing in us.  Paul set the example for the believers at Philippi and for us. After talking about how he had learned to be content in any circumstance in which he found himself (Phil. 4:11,12), he wrote: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (v. 13).
     Don’t leave God out of the equation. We can do all things—which God has purposed for our lives—only through Him. I can be anything God wants me to be, I can do anything God wants me to do, as long as I am trusting in and depending upon Him.
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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Heeding Warnings

  Failure to heed a warning may prove harmful, even fatal.  We have all sorts of warning lights and bells on the dash of our automobiles to warn us if we are getting low on oil or gasoline or the engine is overheating, or if you don’t have your seatbelt on, or a door is not shut, etc. Warnings are given on the radio and television of the approach of severe thunderstorms or snow storms. Warning sirens go off to warn of approaching tornadoes or hurricanes. We can choose to ignore the warnings, but we must then face the consequences for our choice.
     On January 27, 1986, Robert Ebling called his boss with a warning. He and four fellow engineers concluded that their project contained a weakness that could prove fatal, particularly in below-freezing temperatures. However, because the project had already suffered costly delays, his superiors ignored the warning.  The next day they forged ahead with the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Only 73 seconds into its flight, the shuttle exploded due to a failure of the O-rings, and all seven astronauts aboard were killed!
     The Bible records numerous accounts of those who disregarded warnings and incurred calamitous consequences. God has given us warnings in nature of imminent danger from storms such as a sudden drop in barometric pressure, or warnings in the sky: “Red skies at night—sailor’s delight; red skies in morning—sailors take warning!” God often sent prophets to warn people of coming judgment if they did not repent of their evil, idolatrous ways. When Noah built the ark, he continued to warn people of the coming judgment of a flood. People had plenty of time to repent for it took Noah 120 years to build the ark (Gen. 6:3),  but only eight people got on that ark before “God shut the door” (Gen. 7:16) and the rest perished in the world-wide flood (II Pet. 2:5).
     Two angels were sent to earth along with “The Angel of the LORD” (pre-incarnate Christ) to tell Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son in a year and to warn Abraham of the coming destruction of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18).  Abraham whose nephew Lot lived in Sodom, pled with God to spare the cities if there could be found there 50 righteous people…or 45…or 40…or 30…or 20…or, “suppose ten are found there?”  Lot was a believer for he is referred to in II Pet. 2:7 as “righteous Lot,” but apparently he had been influenced by the lifestyle in Sodom rather than being a godly influence on the people who lived there and there were not even 10 righteous who could be found, so the cities were destroyed, but first the two angels went to warn Lot and told him to take his family and flee the city.  Lot had two daughters who were soon to be married. The account in Genesis says: “And Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said,  ‘Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.’ But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting” (Gen. 19:14).  Tragically, Lot’s lifestyle didn’t lend to others believing him when he related what the LORD told him, and only he and his wife and daughters left the city, and only by the angels taking them by the hand and physically taking them out of the city. They then told them, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you…escape to the mountains” (v. 17). But Lot’s wife, whose heart was really in Sodom, “from behind him. looked back; and she became a pillar of salt” (v. 26).
     In contrast, when God sent the prophet Jonah (after much persuasion!) to the wicked city of Nineveh (in modern-day Iraq) to warn them of coming judgment, they repented and God spared them. So often when God sent his prophets to warn, the pride, arrogance, and greed of hard hearts had deafened people to the warning. Rather than repenting, they remained “stiff-necked”—a favorite biblical description (cf Acts 7:51; II Cron. 30:8; Jer. 7:26)—even when it meant forging headlong into disaster.  This tendency to discount warnings that require costly change makes Nineveh’s response to Jonah even more extraordinary. A foreigner miraculously arrived—probably foul smelling and bleached out after having spent three days in the belly of a great fish!—proclaiming the impending judgment of a God who, in all likelihood, the Ninevites hardly knew about. And yet, they not only heard his warning but also heeded it. Donning sackcloth and proclaiming a fast, the king ordered the people to “call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked ways and from the violence which is in his hands” (Jon. 3:8).
     After the judgment of the Flood of Noah, God promised He would never again “send a flood to destroy the earth” and gave us the rainbow as a sign of His promise (Gen. 9:8-13).  But the Bible warns of another coming judgment of the earth which will lead to the eternal state. He will destroy the earth, not by a flood, but by fire. Many people today say as they observe the evil, suffering, and corruption in the world,  “My, what’s this world coming to?” Well, the Bible clearly tells us. God is going to judge mankind once and for all and warns us—just as he warned Noah’s contemporaries, the inhabitants of Sodom and the Ninevites—of the need to repent, to turn from our evil ways and turn to Him. The Bible tells us that Jesus is coming back to earth, this time not to give His life as a ransom for sin, but as Judge of all the earth. But many mock the promise of His coming, saying “all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation. For (but) when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water (creation), through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (II Pet. 3:3-7). 
     God always gives a warning before He sends judgment. It is man’s choice to heed or ignore the warning. God is also very patient, giving us many opportunities to repent and turn to Him. In fact, that is why He hasn’t returned yet. Peter goes on to write: “The Lord is not slow about His promise (of returning), as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9).
If you have yet to trust Christ for eternal life, you still have that opportunity. But one day that opportunity will end. Peter writes: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (vv. 10,11).  Just as in the days before the flood when Noah preached of the coming judgment, there was a day when he and his family entered the ark and the door was closed by God. It was then too late for those who had mocked Noah. They all perished. While God is patient, “not wishing that any perish but for all to come to repentance,” (II Pet. 3:10), it also says, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever” (Gen. 6:3).
     Whether it is a red light on the car dash, a smoke alarm, or a storm warning, warnings are given for us to take action to avoid danger. Ignoring warnings can prove not only harmful, but fatal. And to ignore God’s warning of coming judgment will result in eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. So, if you or any you know have not heeded His warning and put your trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, do so now while you have opportunity. “Today is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2).
        Forever His,
            Pastor Dave
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It’s Never Over Until It’s Over

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, hall-of-fame catcher for the New York Yankees from 1946-1963, was known for his malapropisms and pithy, paradoxical statements like “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over!”  Boy, did that ever apply to the recent baseball college world series (CWS) in Omaha, Nebraska.  As one sports writer put it, “The Oregon State Beavers baseball team overcame more obstacles than Indiana Jones in ‘Temple of Doom.’”  Because they lost their first game, they ended up playing 8 games in 13 days, including a 14-5 victory over the University of Washington in a game that included a 4 1/2 hour rain delay. They won 6 elimination games. Their top two starting pitchers struggled with neither having a quality start. Their leadoff hitter Steven Kwan, who batted .355 over the season, suffered a hamstring strain in the second game against the University of Washington and was limited to spot duty. Second baseman Nick Madrigal, the number 4 pick in this year’s MLB draft, went 0 for 13 in the three games against Arkansas in the CWS finals. Arkansas’ fans flooded Omaha for the finals, filling the stadium with a sea of red and were very vocal in their support of the Razorbacks. OSU lost the first game of the best-of-three finals and in game two trailed 3-2 with two out in the ninth with shortstop Cadyn Grenier down to his last strike. He hit a foul pop up down the right field line which three Arkansas players managed to get to, but let drop. Had any one of them caught it, the championship would have gone to Arkansas. Grenier ended up getting a hit and driving in the tying run that was on third base. The next batter hit a two-run homer and the final score was 5-3 OSU.  Beavers’ freshman Kevin Abel threw a nine-inning, two-hit shutout against Arkansas to wrap up the 2018 CWS title in the third and final game for OSU, who had been within one catch of a pop foul of being eliminating. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over!”
     The Bible is also full of illustrations of Yogi’s pithy statement. On numerous occasions, our adversary, Satan, appeared on the verge of victory, but God always had—and will have—the last word, the final move to end up victorious. After the temptation in the Garden of Eden, when Satan, through the serpent, got Eve to doubt God’s goodness and God’s Word, resulting in Adam and Eve disobeying God and eating of the forbidden tree, God addressed the serpent (and Satan), giving the first promise of a coming Redeemer, the “seed of a woman” that would defeat Satan, but would suffer in doing so.  He spoke, of course, of how God the Son, Jesus Christ, would come to earth and give His life to defeat our adversary, the devil, and provide freedom from the penalty of sin for all who believe on Him for eternal life (Gen. 3:15; Jn. 3:16). 
     From that time on Satan did all in his power to prevent the coming of this Redeemer. Satan, I’m sure, thought Joseph might be the one chosen through whom this seed might come, so attempted, through the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers, to have him killed, but instead, Joseph ended up in leadership in Egypt, where God used him to spare the chosen people, Israel, from the famine that was upon the earth. It wasn’t Joseph, but Judah, however, through whom the Redeemer would come, and then through the descendants of David, whom King Saul, prompted by Satan, attempted to kill. But, again, God had the final say, although at times, the royal line was down to just one person, such as when wicked Athaliah, mother of King Ahaziah, attempted to destroy all the royal offspring when her son died, so that she could rule. But, one of Ahaziah’s sons, baby Joash, was hidden for six years while Athaliah reigned. When Joash was seven years old, Athaliah was put to death and Joash was installed as king.
     When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1), Satan motivated King Herod to have all the boy babies two and under in Bethlehem killed (v. 16).  But an angel had warned Joseph to take Mary and baby Jesus and flee to Egypt (vv. 13,14). Again, Satan, in his attempt to destroy the One who came to defeat him, was thwarted and God had the last word. He always does.
     When you follow the history of God’s chosen people through whom the Messiah and the Scriptures would come, the Jews and the nation of Israel, you find similar stories of the many attempts to destroy that people. Satan continues to try to destroy Israel and presently there are numerous Arab nations surrounding Israel that have vowed to push Israel into the Mediterranean and to annihilate the Jewish people. There is coming in the near future a final battle in which the nations will gather against Israel to destroy her and to do war against God. It will appear that Satan may finally have his way, and the chosen people will finally be destroyed, but then Christ will return from heaven and save His people, and will set up the earthly kingdom He promised to them, for “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over!” 
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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Keeping Up With The Weeds

One of the challenges of successful gardening is keeping up with the weeding. If you don’t, the weeds will pretty much take over and squeeze out the vegetables, flowers, etc. that you have planted.  And, you can’t just weed the first time the weeds appear and have it all done for the summer. It is a constant battle. If you let the weeds get ahead of you, it can be a formidable, very time-consuming task. Judging from seeing a number of folks’ gardens, they have just given up trying. 
     I guess one thing this tells us is that God’s Word is true. Way back in Genesis, we read about the beautiful Garden that God planted in which God placed the very first couple (Gen. 2: 8).  God gave Adam the responsibility of cultivating and keeping the Garden (v. 15).  God even installed a watering system for Adam. “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden” (v. 10).   God had also provided a mate to help Adam. Wow, Adam had everything—a right relationship with God, a perfect environment, a good, rewarding job, and now a gorgeous wife to be his companion and partner, and… “they lived happily ever after” (NOT!).  They could eat of the fruit of any of the trees and plants in the garden except for one— “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (vv. 16,17).  God, making man in His own image, gave Adam free moral choice. But He said to Adam that if he disobeyed and ate of the forbidden tree, he would “surely die” (v. 17b).  Well, you know the rest of the story, Satan used the beautiful serpent to temp Eve to eat from the  forbidden tree, and “she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:17).
     As a result, not only did death enter the human race as God had said, but God also cursed the ground, saying, “In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you…By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” (Gen. 3:17,18).  Thanks a lot Adam and Eve!!  Every weed I pull in my garden is a reminder that sin took place in the Garden of Eden, and something else also happened. Man’s nature became sinful and He was in need of a Redeemer. Thus the rest of history is the story of how God, in His love for us, provided a Redeemer so that we could be freed from the penalty of sin which is death (separation from God). “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro. 6:23).
     Praise God, through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are no longer under the condemnation of sin (Ro. 8:1), but, until we receive new glorified bodies at the rapture of believers, we still have our old natures which can sin. We also have a new nature in Christ (II Cor. 5:17), so we have a struggle going on within us between the Spirit of God who indwells us and our flesh (sinful, Adamic nature). Paul describes the battle for us in his letter to the churches in Galatia: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17). But, Praise the Lord, if we “walk by the Spirit” we “will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). So, we don’t have to sin, but we, unfortunately, do not always let the Holy Spirit be in control of of our heart and mind, and we end up following the desire of the flesh and sinning. In fact, as the Apostle John wrote: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I Jn. 1: 8). While on this earth in our mortal bodies, we do not arrive at a state of sinless perfection. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with that battle within and describes it for us in Ro. 7: 15-25. And in Phil. 3:12-14, Paul admitted that he had not become perfect but was pressing on in his spiritual growth. We should be sinning less, but we do not become sinless.
     Just as we have to deal with weeds in our garden until God removes the curse before His Millennial reign on earth, we also have to deal with sin in our lives until we receive our glorified bodies (cf I Cor. 15:42-52). Just as weeds crop up in our gardens—uninvited—so sin crops up in our lives and attempts to squeeze out the “fruit of the Spirit.” So, as we need to pull the weeds, we need to confess the sin, or it will take over the “garden” of our lives. Again, John in His first epistle, writes: “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin (We don’t have to). And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” ( Jn. 2:1,2).  But, even though Christ is our Advocate, there is still something we need to do when we sin in order to maintain the joy of our relationship with Him and to bear fruit in our lives, and that is to confess our sin when it occurs. When the Holy Spirit who lives within us convicts us that we have violated God’s character and have disobeyed His Word, we need to confess, which means to agree, to assent, to acknowledge that we have sinned, thank God for His forgiveness, and ask the Holy Spirit to once again be in control. The promise to us is: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9). He wipes the slate clean and gives us a fresh start.
     Now, to have a fruitful garden we need to keep up with the weeds; to be a fruitful Christian, we need to confess sins quickly and not let them accumulate. Unfortunately, just as weeds left in the garden go to seed to produce more seed, sin left unconfessed begets more sin. Think about what happened to King David when he sinned by having an adulterous affair with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. His failure to quickly confess and forsake his sin led to his having Uriah placed on the battle front where he was killed, and David was flat miserable before he finally confessed his sin, and prayed, “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” (Psa. 51:12). Sin, like weeds, doesn’t just go away with time. We need to “pull” it out by confessing it. Don’t wait, because it will only lead to other sins to try to cover it up. “He who conceals (covers up) his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Pr. 28:13).
     If you haven’t done any “weeding” (confessing sin) for a while, I suggest you pray the prayer of Psa. 139:23,24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”  As God points out specific sins, confess them and then thank Him for His forgiveness and ask Him to again be in control of your life.
     When I catch up on weeding the garden, it looks great  and gives me a feeling of satisfaction, but I’m fully aware that won’t be the end. But it is far easier if I keep up with them rather than if I wait until it is a huge task. And the garden does so much better, for as I get rid of the weeds I am cultivating the good plants and they do better and are able to absorb the watering better. That’s how it is in our spiritual lives as well. As we confess sin we are cultivating our relationship with God and allowing the “Living Water” to reach into our souls and refresh us and produce fruit.
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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Better When Together

     We enjoy fruit and look forward to when the  watermelon, and cantaloupe start showing up in the stores, and our strawberries and raspberries get ripe.  Unfortunately, it is often difficult where we live in northwest Montana to get really good watermelon and cantaloupe. But, when my wife cuts up pieces of melon and cantaloupe, adds grapes, strawberries and raspberries, and a little powdered sugar to the mixture, everything, including the melons and cantaloupe, taste better, and the juice that is formed from combining the various fruits with a bit of powdered sugar is very yummy.
     I thought of how much that fruit salad is like a local assembly of believers.  We each bring a different flavor to the  mix and then when the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives and in our assembly, blending us together—like the powdered sugar in the fruit salad—the product is much better and sweeter than any of the individual parts. And it is no wonder, because it is God’s plan. The Apostle Paul compares the church, the “Body of Christ,” to a physical body with its many members, which work together as an amazing display of Divine engineering and design. 
     In God’s wisdom, He not only places us in individual assemblies, but He also equips us with unique abilities to help that body grow and be effective. They are called “spiritual gifts.” Every  believer has one or more gifts and they are to be used for the good of the whole body. They are not for personal glory or edification, but for building up the body of Christ and for His glory. Paul wrote: “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit (spiritual gifts) for the common good…But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ…And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’…that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another” ( I Cor. 12:7-25).
     There is no individual believer that is of no importance to the body. Each of us has something to contribute to the health and ministry of a local assembly of believers. When one member of our body is not properly performing its function—no matter how seemingly insignificant that member may appear by itself—our whole body suffers. For example, as a result of some back problems, I had nerve damage which resulted in my right foot being numb—yet very sensitive to pain– and I cannot curl my toes down. That may not seem like any big deal, but I cannot grip the ground with my toes so it affects balance. At times my foot also feels a bit like a block of concrete. I have trouble even keeping a slipper or thong on my foot. You don’t realize how much being able to curl your toes helps you until you cannot do it. 
     Paul also wrote in his letter to the church at Ephesus, concerning spiritual gifts, and the assembly of believers, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, to  the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs, to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” ( Eph. 4:11-16).  Note the emphasis on the working together of each individual part. If one is missing, the body can’t grow properly to maturity. 
     In other words, we need each other. The assembly of believers needs you and you need each of them. Note too that the pastor’s role is the “equipping of the saints for the work of service,” not for doing all the work. We are not to just “sit and soak and sour.” We are being taught and trained to play a vital role in the ministry of the church. Are you fulfilling God’s purpose for you in the church? Are you using the gifts God gave you “for the common good”? He didn’t give them to you to be used on yourself but to minister to others.  The body works so much better when all the members are getting their directions from the head. Jesus is the “Head” of the Church. Are you getting your directions from Him? The toes on my right foot are not getting proper directions from my head (brain) so are not performing their intended role. Are you performing your God-intended role in the church? Remember, we are better together!
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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Oh Deer!

While we often are frustrated with having to protect all our plants, shrubs and trees from the resident whitetail deer herd, we also get rewarded by observing them over the course of the year to see their changes of “coats” from winter to summer and back again in the fall, and to see the bucks grow their antlers each year, starting with the velvet stage. This past week Kathy was out hanging up clothes and noticed a doe lying down nearby in our orchard. That was not unusual, as they seem to like to rest in the soft grass under the shade of our fruit trees. You can often see 5-10 of them resting their, especially on a hot day.  This particular doe, however, was in labor and soon gave birth to twins. We went upstairs (we have a bonus room over the garage) where we could observe without being seen or disruptive to the process. We took the screen off the window and videoed the amazing scene.
     As soon as the fawns are born, mom, always alert to the danger of roving predators like the coyote, begins bathing them. She often licks so vigorously, she knocks them over as they are struggling to stand for the first time on their wobbly legs. The young deer is able to stand within the first ten minutes of its life and within about an hour the fawns can sufficiently coordinate their wobbly legs to follow their mother to a resting place. One of the twins we saw born was a bit bigger than the other and was able to stand and walk within just a few minutes, although at one point as it was walking around mom instinctively looking for some nutritious milk, it lost its balance and went tumbling over backwards! The second, smaller fawn made numerous attempts to stand up before succeeding. Many times it would just about be up when mom would lick her baby and it would collapse back to the ground.
     Once the fawns get their “land legs,” mom will eat the placenta in order to eliminate any telltale sign which would betray the deer’s presence and then will take the fawns to a safe resting place where for up to three days the young animals remain practically motionless with their legs tucked under them, their neck stretched out, and heads pressed flat against the ground. The fawns, having been thoroughly cleaned by mom, are odorless, and their spotted bodies (more than 300 spots) blend inconspicuously with the surrounding, looking like light filtering between leaves of trees above. Mom will separate herself from her offspring so that her own scent will not endanger the fawn by attracting enemies, but she will return several times a day to feed her babies.
     Soon the fawns are ready to start exploring with mom, which will make them more vulnerable to predators. Another feature God designed for fawns’ protection was for its tracks to leave no scent. Adult deer have inter-digital glands located between the points of the hooves which deposit a waxy secretion causing the scent of the deer’s tracks to be stronger than any other animal. This is not the case with young fawns. But, as the fawns grow and become stronger, they are prone to wander, so mom has to clearly teach them that when she hides them they must stay there. Every time a fawn is disobedient, the doe firmly pushes it back down with its muzzle. If firmer measures are needed, the doe places a front hoof on the fawn’s back and forcefully presses it to the ground.  To the human observer, it might appear that the doe is pretty cruel, but she is protecting her young and teaching them how to survive in a hostile environment.  Since we are the only place in our neighborhood that does not have dogs, our property is sort of a “wildlife refuge” where the deer feel safe. We once had a doe leave her fawn on the step to our shop and didn’t return for her for about six hours. Even though at one point the sun began shining directly on the fawn (and I placed a wheelbarrow to shade it), the fawn stayed put, only moving once to change directions.
     I guess we humans can learn some lessons from the whitetail deer. We too live in a hostile world under the rule of Satan (Jn. 12:31 cf Rev. 12:9). Peter gives this warning: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet. 5: 8). Jesus told his disciples: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt. 7:15). As believers, we need to recognize that our enemy will do all he can to destroy our testimony and our joy. The world system, ruled by Satan, is opposed to Christ and to all who represent Him on this earth. So, not only does each of us need to “be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” and to “put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:10,11), but we need to be protectors and trainers of our children and grandchildren, and that includes discipline which is for their good. Unfortunately we are living in a “post- Christian culture” where child discipline is nearly non-existent. Just as God disciplines all His children (Heb. 12:5-11), so we as parents must discipline our children, to help protect them from the one who seeks to “devour” them.” The book of Proverbs is the best child-training manual ever written, yet today it is considered “out of date” and “barbaric” by many.  But, it, as part of God’s Word, is to be our final authority for faith and practice, not the ideas of man. Check out Proverbs 1:8,9; 3:12; 4:1-6; 6:2-22; 13:24; 19:18; 22:6,15; 23:13,14; 29:15,17.
     Fawns are weaned from their mother’s milk in four months, but much earlier, at about three weeks of age, the fawns are taught by mom how to forage on their own, shown what’s good to eat—including all those things which are advertised here as “deer resistant!” When our children are young, we read Bible stories to them and pray with them before bedtime, etc, but as they grow older, we need to help them get into the Word on their own and to learn how to talk to God. We need to help them establish a healthy, vibrant, personal relationship with God so that they, when on their own “will not depart from it” (Pr. 22:6) and will be able to stand against the attacks of the enemy.
        Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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