Inventory Time

     During high school, and sometimes during vacations from college, I worked at the local Coast to Coast hardware store.  In a previous “WOW,” I mentioned how hectic it was on Christmas Eve as last-minute shoppers became desperate to find a gift and then how busy it was on the day after Christmas, as many of those  gifts were returned for various reasons!  Next came a rather tedious time at work, often late into the night, as we conducted our annual “inventory” to literally count all our merchandise in stock. Since we carried hardware, housewares and appliances, paint, automotive, sporting goods and gardening supplies, it was quite a job. This was long before the use of a computerized inventory system, so we literally counted every nut and bolt.   Not only was it a long tedious task, but also a bit of a dirty job. It also revealed that we probably needed to stop carrying certain items which had been there for some time–collecting dust– without selling. 

     As we end one year and begin a new one, it is also an appropriate time for us to take a “spiritual inventory,” to evaluate our lives and see where we are spiritually and where we are headed, to see what needs to be added and what needs to be eliminated. In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, he discussed the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper (or communion) and challenged the believers, writing: “Let a man examine himself” (I Cor. 11:28).  The Greek word Paul used (dokimazo) for “examine” means “to prove, to test, to evaluate.”   Throughout our lives we have to take exams whether in school to evaluate our progress, at the doctor’s office to evaluate our physical condition or at the drivers’ examiner to evaluate our driving skills and knowledge of the rules. 

     Most of us would rather not think about exams, let alone take them, but they are quite valuable and necessary in revealing where we are and what we need to do to progress in the right direction. Plato said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”  Well, it is important that we have periodic spiritual exams or check ups to evaluate our condition and progress and to see if we need to change something to stay healthy and on track. 

     Just as at the Coast to Coast store we had a number of categories that needed to be inventoried, so in our spiritual lives we need to examine a number of areas, such as our thoughts, our tongue, our time, our treasures and our talents.

     First of all, what is your thought life like?  What does your mind dwell on when it is not actively engaged in an activity?  There is a great battle going on to capture your mind and thoughts. It is really where spiritual warfare takes place, as our new, divine nature battles against the world, the flesh and the devil(I Jn. 2:15-17; Gal. 5:17; Jas. 4:7). Paul encourages us to “...take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:5). We need to replace wrong thoughts with those that are edifying and honor God.  To the Philippians Paul writes: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8...a great verse to commit to memory and then to practice, especially in this upside down world in which we live today!)

     We should also examine our tongue.  Careless use of the tongue is one of the most common sins.  James writes: “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (Jas. 3:2) He compares it to a bit in a horse’s mouth which directs its whole body, or the little rudder that guides a large ship, or a little flame that can set a whole forest aflame (vv. 3-6). The Bible lists many sins of the tongue: gossiping (Pro. 6:16-19), unclean speech (Eph. 4:29), lying (Eph. 4:25), grumbling (Phil. 2:14a), arguing (Phil. 2:14b; II Tim. 2:24), too talkative (Pr. 10:14a; I Thes. 4:11). Words can be weapons or words can be medicine. Words have the power to lift up or to tear down, to heal  or to injure, to change lives, to renew relationships, to build bridges or to tear bridges down. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Pr. 18:21).  How does your tongue test out?  “Set a watch (guard), O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). 

     We should also examine our use of time. Are we spending time each day in His Word?  Do we take time to spend communing with Him?  Or have we become so busy that we have trouble “squeezing out” time to be with Him?  Are we investing time in things that will last for eternity?  Paul’s challenge is “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil (amen to that!) (Eph. 5:15,16). 

     We need to also examine our use of the treasures with which God entrusts us.  As with our time, are we using God’s material blessings to build up His kingdom or are we spending them on the desires of our flesh?  Our checkbook is a good indicator of the priorities of our life. In His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt. 6:19,20).  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (I Tim. 6; 17,18). 

     Finally, we should also examine how we are using our talents, the special natural abilities as well as spiritual gifts that God has given us. God equips us all in unique ways in which to make a living and to contribute to the culture in which we live, but He also equips us with special abilities to minister to the body of Christ. The purpose of these gifts is not for self-edification, but “for the common good” of the body of Christ, the church (I Cor. 12:7).  When we give account of our lives at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Ro. 14:10; I Cor. 3:10-15; II Cor. 5:10), we will be held accountable for the use of the “treasures” with which God entrusted us, both natural abilities and spiritual gifts.  

     So, how did you do on the exam?  What areas need some changes to correct your course for the coming year?  Maybe you have some “blind spots.” Pray with David, “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” (Psa. 139:23,24). 

Have a joyous year ahead using your thoughts and tongue and time and treasures and talents in service for our Savior, Lord and King, Jesus Christ. 

Forever His,

Pastor Dave

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The After-Christmas Letdown

   For most, there is an exciting build up to Christmas day caused by the many extra activities, including: concerts, programs, baking, gift purchasing, decorating, wrapping presents and looking forward to family coming. Then finally the big day arrives with Christmas stockings, gift unwrapping, and probably a big meal.  But all that leaves quite a mess to clean up and soon special guests and family leave and there is often quite a “letdown” feeling as life returns to the old norm and routine.  Then there is always the “putting away” of Christmas as the tree and decorations come down and get stored away until next Christmas.  

     Much of the excitement of Christmas day also fades for us as the years go on, but if there are young children or grandchildren in your life, you probably still cannot help catching their enthusiasm for the special celebration of Christ’s Incarnation.  

     But, we can also catch the joy of Christmas from two very old people, Simeon and Anna, who had long been awaiting the coming of the Messiah.  Luke records the story of the arrival of Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus in Jerusalem forty days after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.  According to Mosaic Law, the mother of a male child was ceremonially unclean. On the eighth day after birth, boys were circumcised, but the mother remained unclean for 32 more days, after which she presented a burnt offering and a sin offering for her cleansing at the temple in Jerusalem (Lev. 12:4-6).  She was to offer a yearling lamb and a dove or pigeon (v. 6). If poor, she could offer two doves or pigeons (v. 8). Mary’s offering indicates that she and Joseph were poor (Lk. 2:24).  The dedication of a first-born son was also required by Moses Law (Lk. 2:23 cf Ex. 13:2,12-15). 

     As Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus arrived at the Temple courts, they met Simeon, who was “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon Him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that He would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Lk. 2:25,26).  Imagine how Simeon’s heart leapt within him. “May I hold your child?” he asks. Then in his arms he carries the tiny newborn whose arms would one day carry him and Anna from sin to salvation. When any of us holds a baby, we can’t stop staring at the baby’s beautiful little face. I’m sure that’s what Simeon was doing. And his joy was far greater than that of a child on Christmas morning! As he held the baby, Simeon delivered his own hymn of praise (called Nunc Dimittus–Latin for “now let depart”), and his first stanza gives glory to the Sovereign Lord for fulfilling His promise. Having seen God’s salvation, Simeon declared his readiness to leave this life in peace.  Simeon called Jesus “A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel (v. 32). Salvation would come through “God’s chosen people” and be offered to  all nations, to Jew and Gentile alike (cf Ro. 1:16; 11:11-27). 

     Mary and Joseph, of course, “were amazed at the things which were being said about Jesus” (Lk. 2:33).  But Simeon’s song also included some somber notes, for Simeon turned directly to Mary and prophesied the opposition Jesus would face that would cause personal agony for Mary (v. 35).  

     Also present in the Temple was an elderly prophetess, Anna who since widowed when she was young, had dedicated her life to the ministry of intercession in the Temple (v. 36), She came up to Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus and “began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).  Simeon and Anna were faithful servants who followed God into their old age. Thank God for older disciples who provide a model for us to follow

     There may be some “Christmas letdown” when all the presents have been opened and the wrappings are strewn about. Realities set in–gifts don’t fit, items weren’t what we’d hoped for, company will leave to return home and bills will arrive. But, along with Simeon and Anna, we have the greatest gift ever in Jesus.  We can face life and even death someday because we understand the significance of that baby who triumphed over sin and death for you and for me. Now we can anticipate Jesus’ second coming like little children awaiting Christmas, hardly able to sleep the night before and with hearts leaping for joy as Simeon and Anna. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).   “For the grace of God has appeared (at Christ’s first coming), bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (His second coming); who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).

Forever His,

Pastor Dave

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The Gift of Light

     In just a couple days (December 21st) we will arrive at the winter solstice and the shortest period of daylight of the year. Beginning on Thursday, December 22nd, the minutes of daylight will gradually begin increasing until we reach the summer solstice around June 21st with the longest amount of daylight and then the cycle repeats.  

     I’m sure you can all relate to how energized you feel when you see the sun after a few days of cloudy, dreary skies. Some suffer what is called “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD) during the late fall and early winter when the hours of sunlight are limited. The symptoms are moodiness, depression, lack of energy and loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy.  It is especially difficult for those who go to work in the dark and come home in the dark on the shortest days.  Some need to have specially designed lighting to provide “light therapy.”  I guess the bottom line is, God created us to “walk in the light.”  We all need sunshine for our physical and mental well-being.

     So, one of God’s many perfect gifts to mankind–along with the most important gift of His Son to come to earth to die for our sins (Jn. 3:16)–is the gift of light.  We read in the Genesis account of the creation week that “God said, ‘Let there be light’ ; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and morning, one day” (Gen. 1:3-5).  Then, on the fourth day of creation, “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens…and God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth…and God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:14-18).  Light is the basic energy by which all creation functions. The light from the sun energizes all earth’s processes. 

     Light is a special gift from God. James 1:17 states: “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.”  John begins his gospel talking about “The Word” that was “with God and was God.” He continues, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (overpower) it” (Jn. 1:4,5). He was “the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (v. 9).  Later, in John 8:12Jesus stated, ” ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life’ .”  Our Lord was drawing an analogy between the sun as the physical light of the world and Himself as the spiritual light of the world.

    Darkness is often symbolic in Scripture of sin and evil and lack of knowledge of God (the “true light”).  For example, Prov. 2:13 speaks of “…those who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness.” In reference to the coming of the Messiah, to be virgin born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2), Isaiah prophesied: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who dwell in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Isa. 9:2).   Christ (the Messiah) would appear in dark, despised Galilee. Unfortunately, many rejected the light that God sent into the world–Jesus Christ.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” but the passage continues: “and this is the judgment that light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (vv. 19,20).   How sad that many still reject the Light, because Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sin and remove us from our spiritual darkness. When we acknowledge our lost, sinful condition and receive God’s gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ, we are “…delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin,” qualifying us to “share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:13,12).  “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor. 4:6).  “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). 

     If we have received God’s gift of Jesus Christ, we now have “the Light of the World” living in us and it is our job as His ambassadors (II Cor. 5:20), to let that light shine so that others will be drawn to Christ (Mt. 5:16).  John writes: “And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I Jn. 1:5-7). 

     Many of you have probably experienced total darkness. How did it make you feel?  I remember our visit to the Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana. At one point on the tour, the guide turns out all the lights in the cavern and it is a very foreboding, disorienting feeling when there is no glimmer of light. {I was reminded that the Bible, in speaking of those who chose darkness over Jesus, in whom is light and life (Jn. 1:4), will ultimately be cast into outer darkness eternally separated from the source of light, Jesus Christ (Mt. 22:13; 25:45; Rev. 16:10) }.  But, even one small light dispels the darkness. Darkness cannot be driven out of the world, but light can swallow it up. The reverse is never true, There is no such thing as darkness swallowing up light. God is Light, and all the world’s darkness cannot extinguish it, but must retreat before even the glow of a tiny candle. 

     So, let your your light shine. “….Proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:8b). 

Merry Christmas!

     Forever His,

          Pastor Dave

P.S.   As you enjoy the lights of Christmas, be reminded of the “True Light” who came into the world to die for our sins so that we could be removed from spiritual darkness and experience the “inheritance of the saints in light.” 

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Our Walk

     We try to go for a walk each day. Not only does it provide good aerobic exercise (we walk at a good pace!) but also a time to talk without distractions.  We occasionally also invite others to join us, especially if they are new to the community and/or the church we attend. It gives us a chance to get to know the area as well as to get to know them. If you are going to “walk with someone,” you have to first of all agree to do so (Amos 3:3 KJV), then you must be headed in the same direction and at the same pace.  

     From Gen. 3:8, we can surmise that prior to Adam and Eve’s disobedience and their attempt to run and hide from God, that they used to “walk with God in the Garden.” Sin obviously disrupted that intimate time of fellowship until God provided a means of atonement (Gen. 3:21). 

     When we speak of “our walk” as a Christian, we are referring to how we live. Are we headed in the same direction as God, as revealed in His Word. Do we have the same goals? Do we desire to do His will, no matter what the cost? Jesus, in His allegory of the vine and branches, says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me…for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:4,5).  Then the Apostle John writes: “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (I Jn. 2:6).  Wow, so how do we walk as Christ walked? After all, He is the sinless Son of God, fully God, yet who gave up everything to become a man to give His life for us, making salvation available to all (Tit. 2:11-12).  I’d say He set the bar pretty high!  Nothing short of perfection and total sacrifice will do.  Peter writes: “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY…For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH  (I Pet. 1:15,16; 2:21,22). Needless to say, none of us can achieve that exceedingly high standard of Christlikeness on this side of glory; nevertheless, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6).  The key phrase in that verse is “in Him,”  for as Paul also wrote: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (II Cor. 3:5). And that “adequacy” is Christ who lives in us through the Holy Spirit from the moment of salvation.  As we allow the Holy Spirit to control us (fill us… Eph. 5:18), and “walk by the Spirit,” Christ will live His life through us (Phil. 1:21; Gal. 2:20) and we “will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).  Christ in us and the empowering of the Holy Spirit make it possible for us to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you…” (I Thes. 2:12 cf Eph. 4:1). 

     Our walk is a walk of faith, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7).  We must also “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). And, since we are now “light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8 cf I Jn. 1:7). We do that as we “walk in the truth” (III Jn. 1:7).

      Even though we are saved by grace through faith, not as a result of works (Eph. 2:8,9), “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v. 10). Our “good works” (i.e., our “fruit”) will demonstrate that we have been saved by grace through faith (Mt. 7:20).  As the song goes, “Our walk talks louder than our talk talks,” “Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15,16).  

Forever His,

Pastor Dave

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Treasures of the Snow

     It creates a lot of work, makes travel difficult and dangerous at times, but it also results in a beautiful landscape and limitless possibilities of recreation, including skiing, sledding, tubing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snow forts and snowball fights and building snowmen.  I speak, of course, of the amazing phenomenon that comes with winter in the northern climates–snow.  We got about 18” over the past week and spent many hours shoveling and snowblowing (we have a long driveway!).  But the sun came out on Saturday and it was so beautiful–a “winter wonderland.” Yesterday we trudged through deep snow to get a Christmas tree and boughs for decorating.

     In God’s first speech to Job He asks Job many questions about His creation which Job cannot answer to emphasize to him his inability to be a competent judge of the works and ways of God. One of his questions was: “Have you entered the storehouses (treasures) of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail” (Job 38:22)? 

     God spoke similar words to Isaiah, saying: ” ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it’ ” (Isa. 55:8-11)

     In God’s wondrous design for the earth, He created the hydrological cycle in which water evaporates from oceans, rivers and lakes and rises into the atmosphere  as gaseous water vapor which sometimes we see as clouds. In the winter, as the temperature drops to 0 degrees Centigrade (32 deg. F),  molecules of water vapor condense onto particles of dust or pollen. These tiny crystals collide with other molecules of water vapor which adhere and turn straight from a gas to solid crystal, adding to the size and weight of the ” baby” ice crystal, becoming snowflakes which become heavy enough to fall to the ground.  Snowflakes that descend through moist air that is slightly warmer than 32 deg. F, melt around the edges and stick together with others to produce much bigger flakes. Snowflakes vary from 3/8 inch to 2 inches in diameter. 

     Because of the way in which snowflakes form in the atmosphere, of the trillions that fall upon the earth each winter, no two are alike!   The ice crystals are typically hexagonal (six-sided), but with both some smooth and some jagged edges. The jagged edges attract more water molecules than the smooth parts , resulting in “arms” or “branches” to the snowflake. Although all snowflakes are made up of the same Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms, it is almost impossible for two snowflakes to form their complicated designs in exactly the same way. Scientists say there are more possible designs of a snowflake than there are atoms in the universe!  Each tiny, unique snowflake is a testament to our awesome Creator. 

     The Bible makes reference to snow some 24 times and many of these speak of the “whiteness” of the snow and use it as a picture of how God cleanses us from the ugliness of sin. In David’s confession of his sin, He prayed: “Purify me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). God’s invitation to the people of Judah who had turned from God to serving idols, was: “Come now and let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool” (Isa. 1:18). 

     In God’s omniscience He designed snow such that when visible light–which is white–strikes snow crystals, almost all of the visible light is reflected back.  Most natural materials absorb some sunlight, which gives them their color.  Clean snow, however, reflects nearly all of the visible light, resulting in a very white appearance. However, snow and ice may also appear blue.  As light waves travel into snow or ice over a distance of three feet or more, some red light is absorbed and the photons emerging from the snow tend to be blue. The snow or ice acts like a filter, filtering out the red.  

     You have probably noticed how snow crunches or squeaks when you drive or walk on it when it is very cold outside.  As we drive or step on the tiny ice crystals, we compress them, causing them to rub against each other, creating friction. The lower the temperature, the greater the friction, causing the crunching or squeaking noise.  At higher temperatures, the grains of ice slide and produce little or no noise. 

     Part of God’s wise design of the winter snow was to create a “snowpack” in the mountains which provides for moisture the next spring and summer as it slowly melts and fills the creeks and rivers and lakes and oceans, where again some evaporates and the water vapor enters the atmosphere to start the cycle all over. (Isa. 55:10).

      If you happen to live, as we do, where you have the privilege of experiencing the “treasures of the snow,” be reminded that God supplies it to provide moisture for our trees and crops. It is part of His omniscient design. And it is a reminder that we can have our sins washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.  And, of course, for those of us who enjoy it, it provides lots of fun recreation.  For those of you who don’t enjoy a northern winter and all the snow, spring is always just around the corner!  That’s part of God’s design too!

Forever His,

Pastor Dave

P.S.  Speaking of “Treasures of the Snow,” you would enjoy the book by that title by Patricia St. John. The story is set in Switzerland just after WWII and speaks of the need for forgiveness–both of others and of yourself. It explores love, hatred, death, disability, repentance, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and self-sacrifice.  It would be enjoyed by your whole family. 

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Made for Music

Music, both instrumental and vocal, has always played a key role in our lives. My mom and sister (as well as my wife, daughter, and multiple other family members) have played (or play) the piano.  I have played the French Horn since I was in the fifth grade, and my brothers-in-law all played instruments and we all sing or sang. I also remember the old  Sunday evening “singspirations” as several local churches would occasionally get together to sing hymns and praise choruses as well as have special music.  Frequently when family would be together for the holidays, we would get around the piano and sing.

     While in college, Kathy sang in choir at Prairie Bible Institute and I sang in the choir at Grace Bible Church while attending Montana State University. I also sang in the “COLLYP Quartet,”  which would do special Sunday evening services in the Bozeman area; and, while working at Hyster in Portland, I sang in our church choir there as well. (COLLYP = “College Young People”)

     Music is also a key theme in Scripture. There are 246 references to songs and singing as well as many references to using musical instruments to express joy and to praise our God.  A number of the Psalms are prefaced by: “For the Choir Director,” or “To the Chief Musician.”  Instruments and singing have, from the beginning of time, been a key vehicle of expressing our joy and praising our awesome God.  Psalm 100 begins: “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing.” The concluding Psalm (150) is one of doxology calling for praising God because of His deeds and His greatness:  “Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals…Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!”

     When the Apostle Paul wrote about being “filled (controlled) with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), he indicated that the result would be “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (v. 19). Similarly, when you “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” it will result in “with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16)

     In the most recent issue of Acts & Facts (Nov/Dec 2022) from The Institute for Creation Research, there is a very fascinating article, “Created to Sing” by President Dr. Randy J. Guliuzza and Industrial Engineer Aaron T. Guliuzza). The article shares that “singing produces lifelong benefits. It aids in brain development by establishing learning processes needed to assimilate astonishing amounts of information.”  As God engineered the human body, He linked together the auditory and neurological systems, and “made singing such a super-fun activity for toddlers that they gladly partake in this brain-building activity.”  Probably many of us still remember singing the “ABC” song, ending with,  “Now I know my ABC’s, next time won’t you sing with me?”  I still remember a silly song I learned in Spanish in high school.  And I’m sure most of you have hymns and choruses that still play over and over in your mind and often, subconsciously, break forth into singing.  Even folks who suffer from dementia and struggle with memory, can often remember the words of hymns that they learned years ago!

     “Our auditory and neurological systems were orchestrated (by God) to work together seamlessly to give us the ability to sing, play instruments, and enjoy music. Our brains contain an area that specifically analyzes music–an area clearly built for this purpose!”  Wow!  The more we learn about our human bodies and the many intricate systems that work together, enabling us not only to have life but to “grow in wisdom and stature” and to appreciate God’s created world around us and to express our joy and to praise God with our voices and our musical abilities, the more we can understand David’s words: “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth” (Psa. 139: 13-15 NIV).  (Note: “the depths of the earth” is a reference to the womb). 

 A key part of God’s amazing design of the human body is our ability to sing and play musical instruments, which He intended as a means of expressing our joy and praising Him.  It is interesting that Scripture also often makes reference to a “new song.”  In David’s testimony in Psa. 40, He said, “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. And He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear, and will trust in the LORD” (vv. 2,3). In Psalm 98:1 all creation is summoned to celebrate and rejoice over the establishment of the LORD’s kingship on the earth with a “new song.”  “O Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done wonderful things.”  Again in Psa. 144:9, David writes: “I will sing a new song to Thee, O God; upon a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to Thee.” David was referring  to Israel’s “new song” of redemption (vv. 9-11) that will be sung in kingdom blessing (vv. 12-15).  

     When the Apostle John was caught up heaven to be shown things that would take place in the future (Rev.4:1), he saw a scene about the throne where they were worshiping “The Lamb that was slain” (Rev. 5:12). John writes: “And they sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy art Thou..’ ” (Rev. 5:9).  the final reference to the “new song” is in Rev. 14:3 where this “song of redemption” is being sung by all the redeemed saints in one gigantic choir. They are rejoicing over the accomplishment of God’s entire redemptive work before Christ’s return.

    We were “created to sing.” We were “made for music” so that in both time and eternity we could praise our Majestic Creator-Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is worthy “to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).  So, “Sing to the LORD a new song. Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised…Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name…” (Psa. 96:1-7). 

Forever His,

Pastor Dave

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God’s Plan for Thanksgiving

     Probably the majority of Americans think of Thanksgiving Day as a custom which began with the Pilgrims in 1621. To them the day did not mean a day of turkey and dressing, candied yams, green-bean casserole, cranberry salad and pumpkin pie followed by Alka-Seltzer and a couple football games. To them it was a time centered on the Lord in gratitude for His bounty.  

     America’s annual observance of Thanksgiving began in 1863 with a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.  But, the plan for a regular season of thanksgiving actually originated about 3500 years ago with the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths), a week-long Jewish festival established by the Lord (See Dt. 16:13-17).  In the autumn, when the crops were gathered in, God planned that His people would stop and give thanks to Him for the material blessings. They also gave thanks for God’s provisions during their wilderness wanderings when they lived in tents (booths).  The Feast of Tabernacles was the last great feast of the Jewish year and the last of three feasts requiring every Jewish man to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (along with Passover and Pentecost).  It was a time of celebration, and the mood of the event was festive. As they made their way to Jerusalem, they sang the “Songs of Ascent” (Psalms 120-134), which describe the progress of the pilgrims as they traveled from a distant land (Psa. 120) to within sight of the Holy City (Psa. 121) and finally arrived amid great joy (Psa. 123-134). 

     Real thanksgiving comes from the heart. It is to be more than lip service. It is to be the heartfelt gratitude for benefits bestowed by our Heavenly Father. We see that attitude expressed by David in Psa. 103:1-5: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits…who satisfies your years with good things…” The Lord pours out His blessings of sunshine, rain, health, provision (not to mention all the spiritual blessings…Eph. 1:3) but knew we would tend to “forget His benefits” so gives us many reminders in Scripture to be thankful (Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:15; I Thes. 5:18). God must teach us to be thankful just as parents must teach their children to say “thank you.”  To be thankful starts with being “thinkful”!  As we “think” about the blessings of God, then out of our heart will come expressions of thanksgiving. If we pause to think, we’ll have cause to thank.  “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mt. 12:34 cf Lk. 6:45). The greatest blessing/benefit of all, of course, is salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who as “The Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29), gave Himself for us to pay the penalty of our sins (II Cor. 5:21). “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). “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (II Cor. 9:15)

     God’s plan for us is “thanksgiving.”  Thanksgiving is the only sensible response to the character of God and the blessings He bestows. “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow” (Jas. 1:17). “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (I Tim. 6:17). “True worship flows from a grateful heart” (R.C. Sproul). We don’t need more to be thankful for, we just need to be more thankful! ” Gratitude should be our natural response to God’s grace. Gratitude should be a continuous attitude, not an occasional incident.  Ever wonder what an atheist must think when he feels grateful but has no one to thank?!

      “Nothing so takes the heart out of a person as ingratitude. Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others” (Cicero).  The road to spiritual apostasy is paved with the boulders of ingratitude (cf Ro. 1:21).  When you have truly thanked your God for every blessing sent, what little time will then remain to murmur or lament!

      As my brother-in-law, Ray Kutz, once said, “I’m always thankful when the roof doesn’t leak, the toilets flush and the lights come on!”  Amen!  Don’t forget to pause often to thank God for His many benefits, and even in the midst of trials, “give thanks,” for God is good (all the time!) and only allows those difficulties in our life for our good and His glory. Be thankful that you don’t already have everything your desire. If you did, what would there be to look forward to? Be thankful when you don’t know something, for it gives you the opportunity to learn. Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow. Be thankful for your limitations, because they give you special opportunities to see what God can do. Be thankful for each new challenge because it will build your strength and character (Ro. 5:3-5). Be thankful for your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons. Be thankful when you are tired and weary because it means you’ve made a difference. It is easy to be thankful for the good things (and we should be!), but a life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks. Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become your blessings.  “In everything give thanks, for this God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thes. 5:18). That’s “God’s Plan for Thanksgiving.” 

Happy Thanksgiving,

Pastor Dave

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“…And God Lives On!”

     As the ducks and geese go by far overhead in their long migration to warmer climates for the winter, I think of a fun song, The Duck Song, that we used to sing at Bible camp. As I reflect on the words, it actually has a very deep, timely message for us today, as many of us are probably wondering what is happening to our country and world?   Here are the words of the song, and I think you will see what I mean:

               And the ducks go by (quack, quack, quack).

                He made the birds, He made the bees, all of the flowers, and all of the trees.

               Don’t you see?  He made you and me.

               Chorus:  “And the ducks go by (quack, quack, quack).

                     And things go up, and things go down,

                    and the world goes around, and around, and around, 

                    and God lives on!

               He died for you, He died for me

               He’s died to set His people free,

               Don’t you see? He made you and me.     (Chorus)

               1,2,3,4, He’s going to open every door for you,

               if you allow Him to. (Chorus)

     In spite of the current political turmoil and struggling economy and wars and rumors of wars and crime and mass shootings and threats of pandemics and people calling evil good and good evil, and all the uncertainties of the world in which we live, “God lives on!”   The ducks and geese overhead, unaffected by the things that concern us, continue on their annual fall migration, guided by the amazing GPS system installed in their DNA by our Creator God,  remind me that God is still on the throne, carrying out His purpose for this planet and for all His creatures, including mankind.  In the words of a contemporary praise chorus by Blessed Hope Chapel, “The world’s not falling apart, it is falling into place.” Like the ducks going by, the chorus reminds us that the Lord is in control regardless of what is happening in and to the world around us.  

     God’s Word states explicitly that “in the last days difficult times will come” (II Tim. 3:1).  The passage by Paul goes on to list conditions that will exist in “the last days,” conditions that will intensify as Christ’s return draws near (cf I Tim. 4:1-5). It indicates that there will be  mass corruption and a breakdown of law and traditional values, with people “always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Tim. 3:7).  

     So, while we need to continue to be “salt and light” as Christ’s ambassadors here on earth (MT. 5:13-16; II Cor. 5:20), and to “Preach the Word in season and out of season” and to always be ready to share with others about our hope (I Pet. 3:15), God will continue to carry out His plans and purposes for the earth and for mankind. Nothing will thwart His plans. In fact all that is happening is fitting into His plans. “The world is not falling apart; it is falling into place.”  Psa. 76:10 tells us that even “the wrath of man shall praise Thee,” meaning that man’s rebellion and evil doesn’t change God’s plans, but works to fulfill them, for God is sovereign and immutable–He has no need to have a “Plan B”!   God is still in charge. God reigns over everything. “God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne” (Psa. 47:8). “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Ro. 13:1). “…He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan. 4:21). 

     We read in Isaiah: “I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me, there is no God…It is I who made the earth and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, and I ordained all their host…Declaring the end from the beginning…saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure…Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it’ ” (Isa. 45:5,12; 46:10,11). 

     So, come what may, God is still on the throne, saying, “Trust Me, I’ve got this!”  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at it swelling pride” (Psa. 46:1-3). 

          “What tho wars may come, with marching feet and beat of the drum, for I have Christ in my   heart!

          What tho the nations rage as we approach the end of the age, for I have Christ in my heart!

          God is still on the throne, almighty God is He, and He cares for His own thru all eternity;

          So let come what may–whatever it is, I only say that I have Christ in my heart…”

               (I Have Christ in My Heart by Wendell P. Loveless)

     So, when you hear and or see a flock of ducks or geese heading south, be reminded that “God lives on!”

Forever His,

Pastor Dave

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Stand Firm!

     Living in a rapidly changing culture has prompted many messages by pastors and a number of books on how to maintain our Christian convictions and lifestyle when our culture is becoming more and more anti-Christian.  I think of How Should We Live Then? by Francis Schaeffer, How, Then, Shall We live? by Samuel Wells, and How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson

     There are also plenty of admonitions in Scripture challenging us to “stand fast” amidst all the ungodliness around us.  Solomon, the son of David, wrote: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching…if sinners entice you, do not consent…do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path…Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men…watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor the left; turn your foot from evil” (Pr. 1:8,10,15; 4:14,26,27).  The Apostle Paul wrote: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Ro. 12 2);  “Do not be bound together with unbelievers…come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord” (II Cor. 6:14,17); “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children…do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you…you are children of light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Eph. 5: 1,3,8);  “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). 

     We need to remember that God and His Word are unchanging. God said, “For I, the LORD, do not change…” (Mal. 3:6a).  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, yes and forever” (Heb. 13:8 cf Psa. 102:25-27). “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8 cf Mt. 5:18).  No matter what trends our culture is following with respect to marriage, sexual orientation, gender identity, abortion, critical race theory, evolution, etc., God’s standards have not changed. His Word is as applicable today as it was when it was written. It never needs “updating.” 

     In 1964, Bob Dylan published a song that became very popular, “The Times, They Are a-Changin’ “.  Well, the times may be changing, but we are not to “adapt” to our changing culture, we are to “adhere” to God’s Word!  “Do not be conformed to this world” (Ro. 12:2 NASB), or as it reads in The Living Bible, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”  

      Starting with the scene in the Garden of Eden, Satan has always tried to get us to question what God has said (Gen. 3:1-5). He continues to use that tactic. Don’t fall for his lies. Stand fast! Paul told Timothy to “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (II Tim. 2:13,14).  We need to do the same. 

     Far too many Christians, including many preachers, are afraid of what people may say or think if they don’t cater to and “fit in” to our modern culture, so they compromise and fail to boldly proclaim and live out the truths of Scripture. The times, they may be changing (and, boy are they!), but thank God, He never does, nor does His Word. So, dare to be different. Dare to be a Daniel, a Joseph, an Esther, a Peter, a Paul, a Martin Luther, a John Wycliffe, a William Tyndale, a Dietrich Bonhoeffer…  Stand fast on the truths of God’s Word. Don’t compromise. “Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58). 

Forever His,

Pastor Dave

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Feeling Clean

     One modern “luxury” that I really appreciate is running water and hot water tanks so I can take a shower.  I love to feel clean, especially before I go to bed at night.  Since we have lots of outdoor work to do at our place, I get dirty and sweaty a lot and may take several showers in one day.  My mother-in-law used to tell me I would wear out my skin!  I also like to hike, hunt, and cross-country ski, and it feels so good to come home and take a warm shower!  

     While I enjoy being physically clean, it pales in comparison to the feeling of being “spiritually clean.”  All of us know what it is like to feel that sense of having made a bad choice and done a stupid thing, one that violated the character of God, especially if it affected the life of someone else, maybe even a loved one.  We hate that feeling of guilt. It makes us feel unclean before God.  

      It all started in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve made a bad decision and disobeyed a clear command from God, they sensed their guilt and “nakedness” before God. Their response was to sew fig leaves together to cover themselves and they then ran and tried to hide from God (Good luck there!).  After God confronted them for their disobedience and pronounced His judgment upon their sin, He clothed them with garments of animal skins to restore them to fellowship with Himself (Gen. 3:16-21).His act also implied the slaying of an innocent animal in order to atone for sin.  This set the pattern for all the animal sacrifices and shedding of blood to atone for sin throughout the whole Old Testament period and also looked forward to “The Lamb of God (God Incarnate) who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29 cf Isa. 53:6; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 2:9 I Pet. 2:24).   God’s plan was for the shedding of blood to atone for sin and to restore a right relationship with Him both in order to have eternal life and to have daily fellowship with Him. God said, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev. 17:11).  

      People make all sorts of attempts at “sewing fig leaves” to cover up their guilt and feeling of uncleanness, but only God can make us clean through the shed of blood of the Innocent Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ.  “By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus ‘Christ once for all…having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, (He) sat down at the right hand of God…for by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:10-14). 

     The two Agents that God uses in bringing about the cleansing from sin are the Word of God and the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to convict us of our sin and “lostness” and shows us that God the Son took our guilt and was punished on our behalf on the Cross.  When we acknowledge our spiritual uncleanness and trust in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us (put on our account), and we are “clean,” washed in the blood.  Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (Jn. 15:3 cf Eph. 5:26). Peter wrote: “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God” (I Pet. 1:23). Titus adds: “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 upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Tit. 3:5).

      Having trusted in Christ and been cleansed from the guilt of sin, we are restored to right standing with God (“justified”… Ro. 5:1).  But, we still have our old sinful nature and if we don’t “Walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 cf Eph. 5:18), we will still sin and need forgiveness (cleansing) to maintain our joy and our fellowship with God.  We don’t need to get saved again. We are only “born again” (Jn. 3:3) once, but we do need forgiveness for our sins as a Christian. When Jesus washed the disciples feet He said, “He who has bathed (been cleansed from sin through faith in Christ) needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you (referring to Judas)” (Jn. 13:10). 

     When we, as believers, listen to our old sinful nature and sin, we feel very unclean and if we do not confess that sin, we are miserable. We can do all sorts of things, like Adam and Eve tried, to cover up that guilt, but nothing will cleanse us except acknowledging to God that we have sinned and asking for (or thanking Him for) His forgiveness.  John, in his gospel and first epistle, encourages us to “Abide” in Christ (Jn. 15:4,5) and not sin (through the power of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Christ, we don’t have to), but “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteousness” (I Jn. 2:1,2).  And “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteousness to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9)

     You may recall the Old Testament account of when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then put her husband, Uriah, in a position on the battlefield where he was killed. Until David confessed his sin he was very miserable.  He couldn’t sleep and was affected physically as well. He said, “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…” (Psa. 32:3,4).  But then God, in His mercy, sent Nathan to confront David and he confessed his sin, saying: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness; according to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin…Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation…” (Psa. 32:5; 51:1-13).    David still had to suffer the consequences of his sin, but the guilt and feeling of being “unclean” were gone. David said, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity…” (Psa. 32:1,2). 

     It is great to feel clean–both physically and spiritually. Have you put your trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life and been cleansed from the guilt of your sin?  If so, praise God!  If not, you need to! 

     If you are a believer and have some sin you have not confessed to God, don’t put it off. Don’t wait for a “Nathan” to come and confront you. Just agree with God that what you did was in violation of His character and His purpose for your life, thank Him for His forgiveness through His shed blood and ask the Holy Spirit to again be in control of your life.

      Forever His,

          Pastor Dave

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