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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No Two Alike

  On a recent trip to the amazingly beautiful Glacier Park, we hiked up to one of the most popular destinations, Avalanche Lake.  The parking lot near the trailhead is usually full by 8:30 a.m., so we took the shuttle from Apgar to the trailhead, where the trail starts out going through an impressive cedar grove with giant cedars several hundred years old. Then you head up along Avalanche Creek to the lake which lies at the base of the continental divide, with very impressive waterfalls cascading into the lake from the snow banks and glaciers above. Along the 2 1/2 mile trail we met literally hundreds of people. I was not only impressed by the beauty of God’s world, but also by the variety of people He makes!
      Just think that of the  billions of people God has made since His creation of Adam and Eve, there have been no two exactly alike. Even “identical” twins have differences, and not just their fingerprints!  Each person born is a unique individual, specially made by our Designer and Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Psalmist David said: “It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves…For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made…My frame was not hidden from Thee; when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth…” (Psa. 100:3; 139:13-16).  The Apostle Paul wrote: “For we are His workmanship…” (Eph. 2:10).
     So, do you like being you? Or do you wish God had made you somebody else? Then who would be you?!  If you had your choice of being anyone in the world, who would you like to be? Are you content with the way God made you or do you think maybe He made a mistake in how He made you, or the parents He gave you, or the country you were born in, or the physical limitations that you have? Well, as a little boy once said, “I know I’m somebody, ‘cause God don’t make no junk!!”  Everybody is somebody, unless, of course, they decide they aren’t! Although there are no two of us alike, one thing we all have in common—we are made in the image of God and have value because He made us (Gen. 1:26,27). (And by the way, that includes every pre-born child!) 
     A person’s attitude toward himself has a profound influence on his attitude toward God, his family, his friends, his future, and many other significant areas of his life. Do you ever feel like a real dummy, like you can’t do anything right? Did you ever have anyone (like your parents)  tell you that? Do you sometimes feel like a loser, a failure, that your life has no real value?  Many do.  But, we’re going to have to live with ourselves and who we are the rest of our lives, so we’d best learn to “get along” and make the most of it! 
     We develop a “self-image” (what we think about ourselves) in one of two ways: Either we accept what others say about our appearance, abilities, parentage and environment (which results in a negative self image of inferiority, insecurity and rejection); or, we accept what God says about us (which results in a right self-image). The consequences of developing a negative self-image are an inability to trust God (If I don’t like how He made me, how can I trust Him with anything?), a resistance against authority, a hindrance to genuine friendships, diversion from true achievement, and an overemphasis on material things.
     So, how do I develop a proper estimate of myself?     
            1)  By accepting and rejoicing in the fact that I am made in the image of God, and He made me just the 
                 way He wanted me to be—and made no mistake (Psa. 18:30).
            2)  By accepting and rejoicing in the fact that I am of great value to God. I am His “workmanship” (Eph.
                 2:10). “Just because He made me, He loves me.”  He loved me enough to die for me  (Jn. 3:16; Ro.
                 5:9; I Jn. 4:9,10). I mean more to God than all of His physical universe (Psa. 8).  I am bought at high
                 cost and forgiven (I Pet. 1:18,19).
            3)  By realizing that God is not finished with me yet (I Jn. 3:2,3).  My inner person is being developed (II
                 Cor. 4:16-18), while my body is awaiting redemption and glorification (Ro. 8:23; Phil. 3:20). God will
                 never give up on me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5). He accepts me as I am, but will not leave me that
                 way. He is working to conform me to His image (Ro. 8:28-30).
             4)  By accepting any “defects” as God’s special mark of ownership, and using them to develop inner
                  qualities of Christ-likeness (I Cor. 6:20).
     I think it would be appropriate for each of us to pause right here and pray: “Thank you God for making me special, like no one else who has ever lived or will live. Thank you for making me in Your image, with a free will to chose to love You and live for You. Thank you Lord for giving my the limitations of _______________ so that I would be more dependent upon You and realize that Your grace is sufficient (cf II Cor. 12:7-10). And help me, Lord, to be the be the best “me” I can be for You. Amen!”
            Forever His,
                Pastor Dave
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Creatures of Habit (Habits Part II)

We are all creatures of habit and habits make life better or worse, depending on whether they are good habits or bad habits. Say, for example, you begin talking with God when you first wake up each morning. That’s a good habit that will help you, throughout the day, to keep in contact with God. Maybe the first thing you do when you get up each day is to fix a cup of coffee and spend time in God’s Word and meditating on its truths. That too is a good habit (unless maybe you need to cut back on caffeine!).  We had a missionary stay with us awhile back whose motto was “no Bible, no breakfast.”  He insisted on feeding his soul before he fed his body. That’s a good habit that takes lots of discipline. My wife and I have a habit of reading a scriptural devotional just before we go to bed—“His Word the last word”—again, a good habit that helps us to have Scripture in our minds as we fall asleep.
     Just what is a habit, anyway? According to Arlene Pellicane, in her recent book Calm, Cool, and Connected, “It is something you do so often that it becomes easy. It is a behavior you keep repeating without giving it any thought. It’s how you live on autopilot.” According to researchers, about 40% of the actions we perform each day is not due to conscious decision making. In other words, we really are creatures of habit. We work at shaping our habits and then our habits shape us. Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, describes habits as consisting of a three-part loop: cue, routine, and reward. “The cue is a trigger that tells your brain to go into autopilot mode and which habit to use. Then comes the routine, the behavior itself, which can be physical, mental, or emotional. Finally there’s the reward, which helps your brain decide if this particular behavior is worth repeating.” If you determine that a particular habit is detrimental to your spiritual life, physical well-being, or interpersonal relationships or work performance, Charles Duhigg suggests just changing one element of the three-part loop of habit as a way to take a step toward change.
     Since we all battle against the desires of our old sinful nature (Gal. 5:17), chances are we each have some areas of our lives where we have developed habits which rob us of our faith and joy in Jesus, detract from our testimony for Him and put a strain on our relationships with others, including our own family members. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the believers at Ephesus in Asia Minor, writes: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind…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” (Eph. 4: 17-24). Paul goes on in his letter to list some specific examples of things to “put off” and to “put on.” “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth…Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good…Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment; that it may give grace to those who hear…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you; along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (vv. 25-32).
     Note in Paul’s admonition that succumbing to habits of the flesh gives Satan “an opportunity.” It allows him a foothold in an area of our life where he can operate to make us miserable and destroy our testimony and rob our joy. Don’t let him do it. Recognize that this “bad habit” is sin and displeasing to God. Confess it as such and ask God to give you strength to deal with the issue. Memorize scripture that covers the subject and each time the urge (temptation) comes to repeat the behavior, thought pattern, or emotion, quote the verse and resist Satan by submitting your will to God (Jas. 4:7).  Remember, Jesus, when tempted by the devil, quoted scripture to Him, saying, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written…” (Mt. 4:1-10). Note also in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that he challenges us not only to stop doing the wrong thing, but to replace it with the right thing. We gain victory over the deeds of the flesh by—through the strength of the indwelling Christ—doing the right thing. We “lay aside the old” by “putting on the new.”
    One challenging area of temptation in our culture today is to overuse and become addicted to our technological devices, causing harm to our spiritual and physical health and relationships. If you happen to be on your devices way more than you’d like to be—more than what’s beneficial—I recommend you get a copy of Arlene Pellicane’s excellent book. It will help you deal with digital addictions, but the principles shared apply to all habits that we need to deal with in our lives. Her book is available from Moody Publishers.
                Forever His,
                    Pastor Dave
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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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