The Rat Race

     “Rat Race” was a dance popular among teens during the 1930’s, along with the “Turkey Twist” and “Bunny Hop,” but our current usage of the term “rat race” has nothing to do with the dance, but likely refers metaphorically to the futile existence of laboratory rats that are doomed to run mazes, get a reward at the end and then repeat it over and over, never making any progress, and having to live in a cage in between tests. 

     The term “rat race” is thus used to refer to the working routine of humans performing the same, often meaningless,  routine over and over for a reward but never making any real progress. To some, it not only applies to their work but to the sum total of their existence.  Such was the experience for much of King Solomon’s adult life. He attempted to find significance and satisfaction and purpose in wealth, in women, and in work, but, because He left God out, He found that it was all “vanity of vanities” (Eccl. 1:2).  Being  disillusioned by the futility of the routine cycles of life, he wrote: “All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun…  I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind…And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor.  And thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun”  (Eccl. 1:8,9,14; 2:10,11).  Life for Solomon was indeed a “rat race.”  

     Wow, if anyone was candidate for “most likely to succeed” it was Solomon. Blessed with wisdom and wealth and women and power and prestige and position, he had everything a man could want–or did he? Note his observation in Eccl. 5:10:  “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.”  His final conclusion?  “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth…The conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person…” (Eccl. 12:1, 13,14). 

     You see, we are each built for significance, and the problem isn’t that we search for it, but that too often we search for it in all the wrong places: position, power, pleasure, possessions, pride, and passion. Ty Cobb, one of baseball’s all-time greats, made a revealing admission: “For years I ate baseball, I slept baseball, I talked baseball, I thought baseball, I lived baseball.” But then he added, “When you get beyond those years of playing professional baseball, you can’t live on baseball.” Certainly there is a vast multitude of purposes to which we can devote our energies, but the end of none of them will prove sufficient. We were created with a God-shaped vacuum in our heart which only Jesus Christ can fill.  One purpose alone gives meaning and significance and enduring motivation to life. The Apostle Paul stated that lasting purpose in Phil. 1:21: “For me, to live is Christ.”  Knowing Jesus Christ, trusting Him, abiding in fellowship with Him, reading and meditating on His Word, and serving Him–this is the one driving purpose that saves life from being no more than a monotonous march of meaningless days–from being a “rat race.”  

     Interestingly, every time the word “God” appears in Ecclesiastes, it is the Hebrew word meaning Creator. The personal name “LORD” (Jehovah) never appears. Solomon is speaking not of a God he knew personally, but of a God who was far above–like many speak of God today.  In I Chron. 28:9,20, Solomon’s dad, King David, just before he died, challenged Solomon to “Get to know God, to place Him first, to be sold out to Him,” but Solomon didn’t take David’s advice.  He didn’t realize his error until he came to the end of his life.  You’ll notice that Solomon is not listed in Hebrews chapter 11 as a great man of faith. What makes a person great is his intimate relationship with God. 

     In contrast to King Solomon and his search for significance in all the wrong places, note the goal of the Apostle Paul, as expressed in his letter to the church at Philippi:  “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” (Phil. 3:10)

     Is your life a “rat race” and devoid of real meaning, joy and satisfaction?  If so, there’s a solution and it is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came that we “Might have life, and might have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).  Start by trusting Him as your personal Savior if you have never done that and then let Him be your life. Get to know Him intimately and serve Him faithfully, no matter what your vocation or place in life.  “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father…. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:17,23) and you will find purpose and significance and abundant joy–and escape from the “rat race.”  

     Forever His,

          Pastor Dave

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It Was No Accident

     Forty years ago, on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 1982, Beverly Paul received a call from her son who “just happened” to need a ride from Bonners Ferry, ID to Libby. She took her married (and pregnant) daughter Debbie Chamberlain and left her home south of Libby to pick up her son. After a couple “delays” in Libby, she left town at 8:30 p.m. 

     After Family Night at Three Lakes Community Bible Church near Troy on Wednesday night, Feb. 24, 1982, my wife and our two children got in our car ready to leave the church for our home just south of Libby. It was 8:30 p.m. I noticed a car stuck in the parking lot so I got out, put on my overshoes, and helped push the car. By the time I got back in our Ford Escort and drove away, it was 8:37 p.m. 

     The moisture on the roads had frozen since we had come to church, so I slowed up and drove cautiously. Just past Throops Lake, we were starting up the little rise when Beverly Paul “just happened” to be coming up the other side. She started to slide on the ice as she came over the top so touched the brake, thinking it might straighten her out. Instead, she went into a complete skid, now only 50 yards away from us. She then rammed into the rock wall on the south side of the highway. This bounced her right back in front of us. We slammed into the side of her car and spun sideways. Her momentum carried her over the abrupt edge of the north side of the road and her car flipped end-over- end and came to rest below on its top next to the R.R. tracks some 25-30 feet below the highway. Our car, in spite of the jolting impact “just happened” to come to rest within just a few feet of the collision, with the rear wheels partly hanging over the edge. 

     A lady heading west from Libby “just happened” to drive by only a few minutes after the collision. She pulled over and I asked her to stop at the next home on the right and have them call an ambulance (this was long before cell phones!). That home “just happened” to belong to the Munsons  who attended Three Lakes!  

     Jeff Grotjohn (who had sold us our Ford Escort) and Mark Ingram “just happened” to be fishing the Kootenai River that night for ling and were just below the scene of the accident. They heard the collision, saw headlights twirl through the air and came rushing up to the highway, thinking perhaps their pickups had been hit.  They “just happened” to have flairs in their pickups and quickly set them out on the icy road. Had another car even touched ours, we would have gone over the edge. (Note: Jeff’s first comment: “Guess I’ll have to sell you another car!”  Which he did later!)

     Then Sandy Gilstrap and Lori Ferring “just happened” to drive by, saw our Escort and stopped. Earlier that day, at a Bible study at Angel Island, I had made some comment to Sandy which prompted her to make a trip to Libby that evening. She had been “delayed” by waiting for Lori to get ready to go with her. She also “just happened” to have a sleeping bag in her car which she had meant to take out but hadn’t “gotten around to it.” She took our children, Heidi and Grant  and put them in her car and wrapped them in the sleeping bag to keep them warm until the ambulance came. She also took them to our house where grandma Kutz came over to be with them. 

     Niki Wohlwend from Libby often rode to Family Night with us, but Tuesday night when she watered the horses, she “just happened” to forget to drain the hose and when she went to water on Wednesday afternoon it was frozen. By the time she got the horses watered it was too late to catch a ride with us. 

     Ambulances soon arrived from both Libby and Troy. One took Beverly Paul and her daughter (who miraculously suffered no serious injuries) and the other took Kathy and me (Kathy suffered a concussion and broke her thoracic rib and I had a broken nose and hole in my knee). Our ambulance driver, Wayne Maffit  and his wife Sylvia ended up later coming to Three Lakes Church.  When we arrived at the hospital in Libby, many from our church or Bible studies were already there lining the hall waiting to see how we were.  

     “It was no accident.” It was an “incident” in our lives which God had prepared beforehand.  All the details of timing resulted in our encounter with Beverly Paul that evening. God didn’t prevent the “accident,” but He provided all the support we needed, which was set up beforehand and was all in place for that moment. 

     The “why?” of suffering has perplexed Christians for centuries. It would be easier if we could always see the reason–see God at work–but we don’t. Job suffered the loss of his possessions, family and health, and had no idea of the conversation in heaven between God and Satan.  In Job’s reply to one of his “comforters,” he said: “Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and  backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him. But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:8-10).  God created man in His own image but because of sin, much of that has been lost. The Christian suffers so that God’s image might be restored in him. That’s why “all things are working together for good to those that love God” that we might be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Ro. 8:28,29).  Thus suffering will continue until Christ takes us home. Then He will remove it and wipe away all tears (Rev. 21:4,5). 

     None of us would choose to suffer, but we can choose to grow through suffering. It is our opportunity to become more Christlike and will result in our being rewarded in heaven.  Paul, who suffered greatly during his ministry for the Lord (see II Cor. 11:16-33), wrote this: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (II Cor. 4:16,17). 

      We will all suffer in various ways during our stay on earth. The question is, “How will we respond?”  The doorways of bitterness and joy lead off the same hallway of circumstances.  James exhortation to us is: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have the perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). 

     Forever His,

          Pastor Dave

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Snipe Hunting

     So, have you ever been “snipe hunting”?  A snipe hunt is a practical joke or “fool’s errand.” It has been in existence in North America as early as the 1840s. An unsuspecting newcomer is duped into trying to catch a non-existent animal called a “snipe.”  Although snipes are an actual family of birds, a snipe hunt is a quest for an imaginary creature whose description varies. The target of the prank is led to an outdoor spot and given instructions for catching the illusive “snipe.”  Since they are nocturnal, the hunt must, of course, take place in the dark. The person is given a bag, like a gunny sack, and sometimes a flashlight to shine into the bag, is placed at a key location, such as a game trail in the woods, and is often given instructions on certain noises to make to attract a snipe. Then the others involved in the prank leave the newcomer alone in the woods. He is left “holding the bag”!  

     “Snipe hunting” is often used as an initiation of a new member of a group or as a fun prank for a group of Boy Scouts or a youth group on a retreat. The same prank is played in France, where it is called “hunting the duhot,” and in Spain where it is “hunting gamusinos.”  

     Rest assured that God will never take you “snipe hunting”!  God will never play tricks on you and leave you foolishly “holding the bag,” having been duped by Him.  He will never “set you up” and then leave you to look like a fool. He will never lead you on, only to desert you (Heb. 13:5).  When the Apostle Peter exhorts his readers to “follow in His (Jesus’) steps,” he goes on to write: “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (I Pet. 2:21b,22 cf Isa. 53:9).  In the Old Testament, Balaam, the “prophet-for-hire,” was paid by King Balak of Moab to come and curse Israel, but “the Angel of the LORD” (God the Son), said to Balaam, ‘you shall speak only the word which I shall tell you'” (Num. 22:35). Balaam said to Balak, “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced…God is not a man, that He should lie; nor a son of man that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Nu. 23:19).  God is truth and only speaks truth. He never lies or deceives. He never plays tricks on us and leaves us holding the bag. 

     In contrast, our adversary, Satan, “does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44).   Satan loves to “take people snipe hunting” and leave them “holding the bag.”  He promises all sorts of attractive things but his underlying goal is to defeat, discourage and destroy.  As the “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31), he uses the pleasures of the world to set up his victims and then leaves them empty and disillusioned.  History is full of tragic stories of those who “climbed the ladder of success only to find it leaning against the wrong wall.”  King Solomon discovered that as he tried to find pleasure in what the world offered, only to find it was vanity, a bubble that bursts, or like chasing the wind. He wrote of his experiences in the book of Ecclesiastes.  His conclusion? “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth…fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:1,13).  

     Don’t be tricked by our enemy, Satan, into following his “ponzi schemes.”  He is a con artist and a very good one. Instead, put your complete trust and confidence in the One who will never take you “snipe hunting.” He will never deceive you or lead you on and leave you holding the bag. In Him is true joy and pleasure that is real and everlasting. “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever  more” (Psa. 16:11). 

     Forever His,

          Pastor Dave

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Better Than Broccoli

     It was well known that the late U.S. President George H.W. Bush hated broccoli. He supposedly mentioned the fact at least 70 times while in public office.  He even banned it from Air Force One’s kitchen, telling reporters, “My mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”  

     Probably each of us has memories of being made to eat our veggies when we were growing up, or of trying to get our children to do so. It may have been peas or corn or beans or brussel sprouts or spinach or broccoli. We were motivated by, “You need to eat your vegetables in order to grow up healthy.”  Some of us, like President Bush, may have learned to hate certain foods as a result.  Some may even suffer from lachanophobia, an irrational fear of vegetables. Hey, don’t laugh. It is a real thing. People who suffer from lachanophobia experience real symptoms at the mere sight of broccoli or bell peppers, or….ranging from nausea to shortness of breath. 

     We’ve all been encouraged to eat healthy in order to grow healthy. The same is true of spiritual growth. From the time of our new birth we are to “Long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Pet. 2:2). Then we are to continue our spiritual growth by getting into the “meat of the Word,” not just trying to survive on “milk.”  Apparently the believers addressed in the book of Hebrews had that problem. The author writes this to them: “Concerning Him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore, leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity…” (Heb. 5:11-6:1a).  

     Unfortunately, for many Christians, developing healthy spiritual diets can feel like being forced to eat broccoli. Maybe as a child you had to sit through “family devotions” and don’t want to put your children through that and you even have trouble making room in your schedule for your own personal time in the Word. You try to get by on “snack food.”  Reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on God’s Word takes discipline.  It is hard work–but oh, so rewarding, and helps us stay spiritually healthy and keeps us growing.  Paul’s challenge to young Timothy was: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15).  As we get into the Word and the Word gets into us, our minds are being renewed (Ro. 12:2) and our lives are being transformed–we are growing spiritually. through the Word of God and the Spirit of God we are being conformed to the image of Christ (Ro. 8:29).  “Little by little every day, little by little in every way, Jesus is changing me. Since I made a turn-about-face, I’ve been growing in His Grace, Jesus is changing me.”  Change comes through the discipline involved in submitting to the Spirit’s work in us to transform us. But, the Spirit primarily works through using the things we are learning from God’s Word.  That’s why Paul writes: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…” (Col. 3:16).  

     So, just as our physical diet (plus exercise) helps determine our physical health and well-being, so our spiritual diet (plus exercise–putting God’s Word into practice) helps determine our spiritual health and growth. And, the treasures and truths of God’s Word are far better than broccoli!  Jeremiah writes: “Thy words were found and I ate them, and Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart…” (Jer. 15:16).  David says this about the Scriptures: “They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psa. 19:10,11). 

    Stay in the Word–be healthy–keep growing.

     Forever His,

           Pastor Dave

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Making Plans–Part III

     A couple weeks ago I wrote about how though “The mind of man plans his way, it is the LORD who directs His steps” (Pr. 16:9).  So, as we make our plans, we need to at the same time acknowledge the prerogative of our Sovereign, Omniscient God to change those plans.  As I shared, I was to preach at the Kootenai River Bible Church on January 16th, but got a call just as we were about to leave the house telling us many of the group were sick and wouldn’t be there, so, could I come the next Sunday (yesterday).  I agreed but then this past week my wife and I also both got bad colds and I had to call and cancel! (We were just being biblical; for it is written:  “If one member suffers, all the members  suffer with it”…(I Cor. 12:2). This next Sunday (Jan. 30th) I am filling in at FBC (“Lord willing!”)  So I postponed speaking at KRBC until Feb. 6th.  In last week’s devotional, I wrote about how God often gives us opportunity to practice what we preach or hear preached. Well, that principle continues to be true!

      But all this has reminded me of how God doesn’t have to change His plans.  Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote, “The Hiding Place” about living in Nazi-occupied Holland and her time in concentration camps, said, “There is no panic in Heaven! God has no problems, only plans!”  God has a plan and time schedule for all of human history (Remember, history is His-Story!). He is never caught off guard. He never has to go to “Plan B.”  The Creator of the universe does not respond to human events; He superintends them. 

   John “Hannibal” Smith of the action-adventure television series “The A-Team” (1983-87) used a catchphrase that has long outlived the show: “I love it when a plan comes together!”  But, so many times, our plans fall apart.  We try diligently to orchestrate events and manage details; but something unforeseen gets in the way, and our project doesn’t turn out as we intended. That never happens to God. His plans always proceed exactly on schedule and precisely how He formulated them. God is infinite, sovereign, omniscient (all knowing),  omnipotent (all powerful) and immutable (unchanging). He plans and no one can reverse it and He never operates by trial and error, for whatever He does is perfect, whether it is in His creation of the universe and of the earth and all life, or of His operation in the affairs of man, “As for God, His way is blameless (perfect)…”  (Psa. 18:30).  To the prophet Isaiah, God said: “Even from eternity I am He; and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?…I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God…The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity. I am the LORD who does all these…It is I who made the earth and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, and ordained all their host…For I am God, and there is no other. I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure; Calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country; Truly I have spoken, truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isa. 43:13; 45:5,7,12; 46:9b-11).

     The Psalmist, in acknowledging God’s sovereignty in the affairs of man, wrote: “The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation…Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa. 33:10,11; 135:6). 

     What an encouragement to know that God, being immutable, will never change His plans, whether for His chosen people, the Jews, or for us who have believed in Jesus Christ for salvation.  “For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His own possession (special treasure)” (Psa. 135:4).  God has special plans for the nation of Israel which are mentioned throughout Scripture. One day Christ will establish the kingdom He promised them as He, the “Greater David,” returns to earth to reign for 1,000 years of peace and justice on earth. There have been times in Israel’s history when it seemed that God’s “plans” for Israel had been messed up or changed, but that can’t and won’t happen. For example, after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the Jews were questioning God’s plans for them (wouldn’t you?). God, speaking through Jeremiah, the prophet, reassured them: “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).   Today, that little country, the size of a postage stamp, still exists against seemingly overwhelming odds as most of her neighbors have vowed to wipe her off the map and anti-semitism continues to increase world-wide.  But, nothing will change or thwart God’s plans. “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Ro. 11:29). One day, probably soon, “all Israel will be saved,” for “…what God has promised, He is able also to perform” (Ro. 11:26; 4:21). 

   And, praise the Lord, as members of the Bride of Christ, the Church, the same is true for us. God’s plans to return for His Bride to “catch us away” to heaven have not changed.  Among Jesus’ final words to His disciples in the upper room were these: “I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3b). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice…”  ( I Pet. 1:3-6a).  

     Amen and Amen!  In this we greatly rejoice!  Thank you, LORD, that Your plans for us won’t change and you won’t change your mind about us.  Teach us, LORD, to treat all that comes to us with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.  In unforeseen events let us not forget that all are sent by You.

     Forever His,           Pastor Dave

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Doers of the Word

     When I was pastoring full time, it was amazing how often there was an opportunity to put into practice the principles from God’s Word from a message I just preached, like God was seeing if I would “practice what I preach.”  Well, you may recall, the subject of last week’s “Wisdom of the Week” was submitting our plans to God, with the understanding that He might have different ones for us, so we should include “Lord willing” with those plans.  Would you believe, I again had “opportunity” to put that into practice this week.  

     First of all, we had “plans” to go to Oregon tomorrow to visit family and take in some of North Clackamas Christian School’s basketball games, since our son coaches and our grandson (a senior) is his point guard. But, talking with our son on the phone he suggested we postpone our trip since a lot of games are currently getting canceled due to the COVID pandemic. He felt that it may hit their school soon as well and we had best wait until later in the season. So, we changed our plans.  

     I have been speaking on the third Sunday of each month at Kootenai River Bible Church since they are without a pastor.  Yesterday was the third Sunday, and we were about to head out when we got a call from a leader in the church asking if we could postpone until next Sunday because most of the folks were sick.  So, we changed plans and attended Faith Bible, our home church.  As the worship team began the service, the powerpoint showing the song lyrics for the congregation was not working and all that would show on the screen were the announcements for the week.  The second worship song was a new one so we got to listen to the worship team sing it!  Being the third Sunday of the month, it was also “Missionary Spotlight Sunday,” and the spotlight was on our local Pregnancy Care Center. The presenter had prepared a powerpoint which wouldn’t work so she had to just read her notes.  

     The key verse of that week’s “WOW” was, “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Pr. 16:9).  It is not wrong to plan–we should–but we also need to acknowledge that God may have another “plan” and we need to be flexible and accept His changes to “our” plans.  

     I often reminded people at the end of a service that the message wasn’t over yet; in fact it was just beginning as they walked out the door, for now we all had to put into practice what we had just learned from God’s Word.  James, the half brother of Jesus, talked about that in his epistle, saying, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).  

     One of my favorite Bible teachers and speakers, Howard Hendriks of Dallas Seminary, often said, “God didn’t give us His Word to satisfy our curiosity, but to transform our lives.”  But, for the transformation to take place, we need to put it into practice. We can read through the Bible, learn all about the purpose of each of the 66 books of the Bible, and even memorize verses, but it won’t change our lives unless we obey and practice its commands and principles. The Bible teaches us a lot about God (theology) but it also teaches us how to know Him through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and how to consider ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 6:11) and how to “walk in newness of life” (Ro. 6:4). 

     It is important to be a “Bible-believing Christian,” but more so, to be a “Bible-behaving Christian.”  IF we are to grow spiritually and be a positive witness for Christ and bring Him glory, we need to put into practice in our every-day life what we are learning from His Word.  Scripture is not just for information, it is for transformation!   Don’t just be hearersof God’s Word; be doers.

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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Include Him in Your Plans

     Someone said, “If you want to hear God laugh. Tell Him your plans!”  So, what are your “plans” for this new year God has permitted us to enter?  Is it wrong to make plans?  No, but we must at the same time acknowledge the sovereignty of God over our lives and say, “Lord willing, we plan to …..”  Solomon, for a good portion of his adult life, left God out of his plans and ended up writing the book of Ecclesiastes where he emphasized the emptiness of life when we think we are in control and leave God out of the equation. Ecclesiastes 2:17 summarizes his experience: “So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.”  He concludes his book with this exhortation: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them'” (Eccl. 12:1). 

     In His “Book of Wisdom” (Proverbs), Solomon makes this observation: “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps…. Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the LORD, it will stand” (Pr. 16:9; 19:21).   James, the half-brother of Jesus, makes a similar statement, recorded for us in the New Testament: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that'” (Jas. 4:13-15).  

     Just think of how many of our plans changed in 2020 and 2021 because of the Pandemic and all the restrictions and closures that resulted. Our normal patterns of living were turned upside down and have yet to completely return to what we used to call “normal.”  We saw other changes take place after the terrorist attack on our country on 9-11-2001. Some of the disruptions to our way of living became permanent.  I say all this to emphasize that we don’t know what 2022 holds–only the sovereign God who is carrying out His purposes knows.  That’s why we need to include Him in our planning, saying, “Lord willing, we will do this or that.” And, don’t be surprised if He steps in to change your plans.  

    There are many factors which may thwart our plans: sudden illness, loss of a job or financial resources, the need to change locations, death of a loved one, a broken relationship, and on and on. So many things beyond our control can affect what we plan to do. That’s why, as I wrote in last week’s “Wisdom of the Week,” we need to live a day at a time and trust God for wisdom and strength to live that day for Him. We can’t change the past and we don’t know or control the future. We just have today–live it for Him, and in your plans for the future–starting with tomorrow–be sure to commit them to Him and acknowledge that He can step in to change them if He has a better plan.  And, His plans, by the way,  are always the very best ones: “As for God, His ways are blameless…”(Psa. 18:30)

    At one point in his missionary travels, Paul had Silas join him to revisit some of the churches that Paul and Barnabas had established in Asia minor to encourage the new believers. After visiting The Phrygian and Galatian region, they “planned” to continue on in Asia, but were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6).  Instead the missionary team ended up at Troas on the tip of Asia Minor where a vision appeared to Paul in the night of “a certain man of Macedonia standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us'” (Acts 16:9).  This wasn’t part of Paul’s original plan, but Luke goes on to write: “And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia (Greece), concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (NOTE that Luke says “we” and “us” indicating that he must have been in Troas and at this point joined the team as they crossed over to Macedonia.) 

     They journeyed to Philippi, a Roman colony and a leading city of Macedonia (Acts 16:12).  It was there that Lydia, a seller of purple fabric, became the first Christian convert in Europe (v. 14).  Paul and Silas ended up being beaten and thrown in jail for healing a demon-possessed slave girl and ruining her masters’ fortunetelling business (vv. 16, 17).  Put yourself in Paul and Silas’ sandals. God had interrupted their plans of continuing to travel in Asia and sent them to Europe instead where, because of their obedience, they end up beaten and imprisoned. Yet at midnight they were in jail “praying and singing hymns of praise to God” (v. 25).  As a result, the jailer asked them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved!” (v. 30). And the jailer and his household believed.  

     Most of us have our roots in Europe. Aren’t you glad God interrupted Paul’s plans and that Paul obeyed! I am very grateful.

     So, as we enter this new year with all its unknowns, as you make your plans, be sure and say, “Lord willing, this is what we will do.” And know that if God changes them, He has something much better in store.

 Forever His,

      Pastor Dave

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Anticipation

     Well, if you are reading this, you not only survived 2020 with all its shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, etc., but you also made it through 2021 and its many challenges.  Now we enter into a new year, 2022, wondering what things it will hold for us in this crazy upside down world?  One thing will be true of this year, as with all others: we must live just one day at a time and in Moses’ testimony just before his death, he encouraged the people saying, “…As your days, so shall your strength be” (Dt. 33:25 KJV).  In other words, God will give us strength and wisdom for a day at a time.  The Psalmist wrote: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psa. 118:24).  Jesus told his disciples: “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mt. 6:34).  

     The following quote from Henri J. Nouwen in Bread for the Journey helps set the tone for the year ahead: “Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy.  It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”  That reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s words of encouragement to the believers at Ephesus: “Now unto Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20).  

     Each day that God gives us this coming year is a new opportunity to see His hand at work, either through joy or through sorrow, through comfort or trial.   But the variety of experiences that will come our way will provide opportunities to grow in Christ-likeness.  We need to keep ourselves open to enjoy the myriad of events that will make up each day, realizing that the Author of the universe is the Orchestrator of all that comes our way. The One who guides the sun, moon and stars and keeps each in its place, is the One who helps to create the symphony of our days.  And, if He feeds the birds of the air, clothes the lillies of the field, and even cares about each sparrow that falls, how much more will He care for us (Mt. 6:25-32).   “As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him” (Psa. 18:30).   

     No matter what each day of this new year brings, for this we have Jesus!  He has promised to “Never desert us or forsake us” (Heb. 13:5).  We will have many opportunities to watch God take the good times and the bad and to mold us and make us and equip us to serve Him (Ro. 8:28,29).  We can wait expectantly to see what great things He will do in and through us.  So, we can begin each new day of this coming year with anticipation. God undoubtedly has some very special things in store for each of us as He prepares us for eternity.  

     And the best is yet to come.  We have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), and many of those blessings are yet future when we experience the inheritance awaiting us in glory, for if we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we are “heirs also, heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ”  and “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Ro. 8:17,18).  Peter wrote these words of encouragement to those who had been scattered throughout the world because of persecution:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you; who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Pet. 1:3-5). 

     In other words, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are in a “win/win situation.”  As the Apostle Paul wrote: “According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20,21).  

    With all these words of encouragement from God’s Word, we can enter this new year with great anticipation!

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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Part of HIS-Story

     Several years ago, while I was still pastoring at Three Lakes Community Bible Church, my wife wrote a Christmas program entitled, “It’s His Story,” which related how all of history is really “His Story”– God’s dealing with those He created, and carrying out His plan of salvation which came through His sending His Son at just the appropriate time (Gal. 4:4) to become our Redeemer through making the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  And now God is orchestrating the events on earth to prepare the stage for “Advent II,” when Christ first comes to remove the Church (His Bride) and then to prepare the earth for His physical return to reign for 1,000 years of “peace on earth,” before eternity begins.  

     Each of our lives is framed by a particular time in history marked by memorable local, national, world and personal events that have impacted our lives.   Some grew up in the depression years and how difficult life was to provide for a family. Some recall the attack on Pearl Harbor and many family members being involved in World War II. Many lost loved ones and others came home disabled for the rest of their lives. The same has been true more recently with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Some recall what they were doing the day President Kennedy was assassinated.  Others recall the day the Berlin Wall fell or the shocking terrorist attack on the United States on 9-11-01. All of us will remember the global COVID pandemic and how it has changed our lives.  Simply put, we humans exist in the context of history, which is really His Story…nothing that happens is out of God’s control.  Just as all the events of the years before Christ came–such as the conquests of Alexander the Great bringing the Greek language and culture to all he conquered, the Roman Empire which resulted in building roads and increasing travel and commerce–prepared the stage for God’s Son, Jesus Christ, to be born in Bethlehem, right up to the detail of the decree from Caesar Augustus to take a census for taxation, causing people to travel to the city of their ancestry to register (Lk. 2:1,2), which brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where Micah had prophesied the Messiah would be born (Mic. 5:2). 

     During Jesus’ time on earth, He gathered a handful of disciples that He trained to be able to take the Gospel to the far corners of the earth after His death, burial and resurrection.  After He returned to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower believers to share the Gospel (Acts 1:8) and to be Christ’s ambassadors (II Cor. 5:20) wherever they went. The Gospel spread–largely due to persecution–to Europe, Asia and Africa and ultimately to the Americas. We are grateful that God “is not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9) and that someone shared with us the “Good News”  of eternal life in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for our sins.  We each have become part of history (His Story). 

     You may remember some of the important dates in your life such as your birth, when you graduated from high school and college, when you got married, when your children were born, when a loved one died, or when you began a job or a new career, or when you moved to a new location. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you may also recall the very time when you committed your life to Him for eternity and He came to live in you through the Holy Spirit.  While all the other events marked your time in history (His Story), none is more significant than that date, for it marks the time when you “passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24) and changed your eternal destiny.  

     Similarly, there have been many key events in history (His Story), but the event one night more than two millennia ago was the most monumental event ever. It changed the course of all human history–“The Word (God) became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). The angel announced that first Christmas night–“…I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10,11).  Every time we write the date we acknowledge that event,  for it changed our keeping of time as the whole world moved from B. C. (“Before Christ”) to A.D. (anno Domini…“year of the Lord”). Most importantly, Jesus’ birth was the beginning of His restoring our relationship with God. Humanity had been alienated from Him since the fall in the Garden of Eden. Our default mode, sadly, is sin. Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sin through His death on the Cross and the proof came with His resurrection. “He was delivered up because of our transgressions (sins) and was raised because of our justification” (Ro. 4:25).  “He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21) “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the work of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:19).  Those of us who have been reconciled to God by faith in Jesus Christ (Ro. 5:1) are now His ambassadors to help others be reconciled to Him. If you have yet to put your faith in Christ for salvation, then you are still alienated from God. Jesus came to change all that. Why not acknowledge your lostness, thank God for sending Christ to pay for your sins and to rise again, and ask Him to be your personal Savior. What a great way that would be to end this year and to begin 2022!  That will be a part of history (His Story) that you will never forget and your life will be changed forever. 

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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Are You Ready for Christmas?

     Well, it’s only a few days before Christmas; are you ready?   Just what is meant by that question?  How do we get ready for Christmas?  To most it probably means that they have gifts selected for everyone, packages mailed, cards all written and in the mail (or email), the tree is up and the house is cleaned and decorated with all sorts of “Christmassy” things, all sorts of fattening goodies have been baked, the parts have been learned for the Christmas program, etc.  And, if you don’t get sick or collapse from nervous exhaustion, you are “Ready for Christmas!” 

     If you watch Hallmark Christmas movies, you see a theme of getting in the “Christmas spirit,” by selecting that perfect Christmas tree, decorating the house inside and out with enough lights to shut down the power grid for the neighborhood, attending the local Christmas tree lighting, baking cookies, having hot chocolate with marshmallows, and maybe throw in ice skating at the mall. Santa Claus sometimes plays a key role and much is said about the magical things that happen at Christmas time, but seldom–if ever– is a word said about why we even have Christmas.  “Christmas,” of course, means “Christ’s mass” or “Christ’s birth.”  Although He was most likely born in the fall (around the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles when the shepherds would still have been out in the hills with their sheep….Lk. 2:8-20), the date of Dec. 25th was selected to celebrate His Advent.  (NOTE:  Some have picked Sept. 29th as the most likely date of His birth, and if you go back the normal number of days of human gestation, you arrive at Dec. 25th, which is quite intriguing  since the real “miracle” of Christmas was not Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but the conception in the womb of the virgin Mary, so maybe unknowingly we selected the best time to celebrate!–Just saying! God is the orchestrator of the details of history because it is His-story!).  

     Throughout history (His-story) before Jesus came there were many prophecies recorded in Scripture regarding His coming: He would be the “seed of a woman” (implying a virgin birth… Gen. 3:15; Isa. 7:14), He would be born a Jew from the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and King David; He would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2); He would be despised, misunderstood and mistreated (Isa. 53:3);  He would suffer crucifixion to bear the sins of the world (Psa. 22; Isa. 53); He would be crucified with wicked men and buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa. 53:9; Mt. 27:38, 57-60); He would rise from the dead (Psa. 16:10; Isa. 53:10).  There are more than 300 such prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ which were fulfilled in detail. The probability of that happening is basically zero–unless, of course that person is God Himself, the writer of His-story.  And He was, He was–and is–“Immanuel, God with us” (Isa. 7:14 cf Mt. 1:23).  

     The Jews had all these prophecies in the Scriptures they studied, and yet most of them were “not ready for Christmas.”  They were more concerned about someone to deliver them from Roman oppression than about the need for forgiveness of sin. Oh, Jesus is the “King of Kings” and will one day rule over the earth, but He came the first time to be our Savior, to suffer and die for our sins (Lk. 19:10).  That was all part of His-story.  His own people, with the exception of a handful, rejected Him (Jn. 1:11) and ended up arresting Him, falsely accusing Him, and turning Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. Even Pilate, before whom He appeared during the trials, knew He was innocent.  The only charge against Him was that He claimed to be God!  He was–He was the “God-Man,” fully God and fully man. He had to be in order to die in our place to pay the penalty for our sins (II Cor. 5:21).  

     So, Christmas is not about all the lights and decorations, baking, family get-togethers, programs, music or gift giving. It is about Jesus, who created this earth (Jn. 1:1-3), coming to be born here so He could live a perfect life and then as the “Spotless Lamb of God” be sacrificed in our place to pay the penalty for our sins so that if we put our trust in Him, we can have eternal life.  “For God so loved the world (you and me),  that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).  “That’s what Christmas is all about,  Charlie Brown!”  God gave us Christmas. It wasn’t something man schemed up for another holiday celebration and a ploy by businesses and card companies to make a big profit before the year’s end.  

     The majority of the world wasn’t ready for the first Christmas and sadly the majority of people still aren’t ready. They focus on all the festivities and gift giving and family time (all good things) but miss the real meaning. Jesus really is the “reason for the season.” It’s not the presents under the tree that matter, it is the presence of the One on the tree!  “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree (cross), that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (restored spiritually)” (I Pet. 2:24). 

     So, are you ready for Christmas?  Have you accepted God’s “Gift,”  Jesus Christ?  If not, admit your sinfulness, and put your faith in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection for you. And, you will be “ready for Christmas” (and for eternity future…)  “God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life…” (I Jn. 5:11,12). 

Have a joyous Christmas, celebrating His Coming

Pastor Dave

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