Why Go To Church?

     During the peak of the Covid-19 epidemic, many schools and businesses had to shut down, Classes started being taught by Zoom and many workers were able to do much of their work from home via the computer and the amazing capabilities of the Internet.  The majority of churches also closed their doors and those with the capabilities, started having their services online.  Now that things have returned to “somewhat normal,” not everyone went back to their workplace but continued to do much of their business from home.  There are also those who found “attending church ” from the comfort of their home to be attractive and continue to do so, and have not resumed going to the services of their local church.  There are also those who have had bad experiences in a local church so quit attending altogether. 

     This brings up  the question of “Why do we go to church?”  What is the purpose of the local church and is it really important for believers to attend one? Can’t we just study on our own, maybe attend a home Bible study group, and watch an online service of our choice. There are so many to choose from–some with good, solid Bible teaching, and some which are more of a “show” don’t really practice sound doctrinal teaching. 

     The word for church (ekklesia) means “called out ones.” It has the idea of a group that has been called out for a purpose. In general use, it simply means “assembly.”  Ekklesia is used more than 100 times in the New Testament, primarily in reference to local churches, but also as a designation for all true believers in Christ, which we refer to as the “universal church” and includes all who have trusted Christ since the day of Pentecost and are thus baptized into the body of Christ (the church) by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; I Cor. 12:12,13).The church, therefore, is distinct from the nation of Israel in God’s plans and purposes. The Apostle Paul made it clear that the church was a “mystery,” hidden and not revealed until the time of Christ and the apostles (Mt. 16:18; Eph. 3:1-10). It will continue on earth until the Lord Jesus comes “in the air” and raptures it out of the world (I Thes. 4:13-18; II Thes. 2:1). 

The focus of ekklesia in the New Testament is not on the universal aspect of the church, but on the church as it existed in local areas, like Philippi, Rome, Corinth, Jerusalem, Ephesus, etc.  The New Testament letters were written to these local assemblies of believers. Once a person came to faith in Christ and became a member of the universal church, he united with a local group of believers. There seemed to be no question of whether or not they needed to be part of a local church. They sensed their need for fellowship and for commitment to other Christians. 

     So what is the biblical purpose for the local church?  From the New Testament we find three basic purposes indicated. The first is evangelism. The church is to be God’s lighthouse in a world darkened by sin and satanic blindness (Mt. 5:13-16; II Cor. 4:3,4).  The church’s external ministry is to take God’s good news (the Gospel...Ro. 1:16; I Cor. 15:1-4) to those who do not know Christ (Mt. 28:19,20; Acts 1:8; II Cor. 5:18-20). The gospel may be presented within the walls of a church building, but the primary place for evangelism is the “marketplace” (where you live, work, socialize, and recreate). 

     The second purpose of the church is edification–to build up and strengthen believers, equipping them for ministry (Eph. 4:7-16; Acts 2:42-47). When the local church gathers, it does so primarily to build up believers, not to evangelize. When evangelism is the emphasis of the local gathering, it is a detriment to the edifying of its own people. While it is appropriate to give any unsaved who may be in attendance an opportunity to trust Christ for eternal life, that should not be the primary focus of the church services. The focus should be on equipping the saints so that they become effective in lifestyle evangelism outside the local assembly.  

     Certain elements are fundamental to carrying out edification: teaching the Scriptures, worshipprayer and fellowship (Acts 2:42-47).  Clear, systematic teaching of the “whole counsel of God”  (Acts 20:27; II Tim. 2:1,2; 3:16,17) is essential for a believer’s spiritual growth and is foundational to a healthy, maturing church.  Worship, another vital element, is the heart response to the Lord for who He is and what He Has done. Without real and vibrant worship, the church becomes man-centered and self-centered. Just because a church has a “worship service”  does not mean that worship actually takes place. Every local church needs to analyze its services to determine if true praise and worship are going on or if the services are characterized by empty ritual. God desires the worship of His people, but detests formalism (Mt. 23:23-28; Jn. 4:23,24; Psa. 145-150).  A third necessary element is public prayer. The church should provide times for thanksgiving, confession, and requests (Acts 2:42).  Fellowship is a fourth necessary ingredient.  It is not merely potluck dinners or shaking hands after the Sunday service. Fellowship is sharing about the Christian life, both successes and failures, with other believers. It is sharing one’s life and resources. It is encouraging, supporting and even confronting other believers. For many churches today, this is a missing element. Even small churches become impersonal when biblical fellowship is missing. 

     Along with evangelism and edification, a third major purpose for the local church is purification. The church is to be characterized by purity and holiness because that is the nature of the One it serves and worships (I Pet. 1:16). Though sanctified positionally, the Christian still has to deal with the world system, Satan and the sin nature in his own life. Because the word of God taught and applied will have a cleansing effect, the church has an important role in teaching all of God’s Word and encouraging members of the assembly to apply it to their own lives in order to grow in Christlikeness (I Jn. 3:1-3). Being part of a local church provides us with an accountability group. 

     As believers we are members of the “universal church,” the “bride of Christ,” and will one day soon be removed from the earth (by death or the rapture) to forever be with the Lord, but meanwhile we are to be part of a local assembly of believers where we can worship corporately, and be built up in our faith and be equipped to effectively serve the body of Christ and to be a witness to those around us outside of the assembly.  The author of Hebrews writes: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking the assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25). When we are “born again,”  the Holy Spirit equips us with special abilities to serve and help build up the body of Christ (Ro. 12:3-8; I Cor. 12; Eph. 4:7-16).  These are not for our personal benefit so much as “for the common good” (I Cor. 12:7), meaning that they are to be primarily exercised to help build up a local assembly of believers.  None of us has all the spiritual gifts but each of us has some of the gifts, so the church needs us and we need the church!  So, don’t leave the church in the lurch!  Be part of a local assembly and use your gifts to help that church grow and be a lighthouse in your community.  It’s good for your soul!

Forever His,

       Pastor Dave

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Our Purpose for Working

     On Labor Day, we traditionally take time to recognize the great workforce here in America. From factories to restaurants, from hospitals to machine shops, from schoolrooms to department and grocery stores, laborers help make the economy run, and on this day America honors its workforce. 

     Oh, you thought it was just a final holiday before school starts at the end of summer!  Well, that is what it is for many, the final long weekend before the fall routine begins.  To many, “work” is a dirty word. That is especially true for a high percentage of young people. For many adults, work is just a necessary evil in order to make a living. 

     Did you know that we were created to work? God designed work as a good thing and designed and equipped us with abilities to work.  In Gen. 2:15, we learn about Adam’s role in creation (and Eve’s when she joined him). God put him in the garden to “work (cultivate) it and keep it.”  In Scripture, the verb used for “work” most often describes service to God, rather than agricultural tasks. Thus, Adam’s assignment (and Eve’s) was not merely a utilitarian or physical job. It was a spiritual one. Their work was their worship.  

     God set an example for us when Hecreated the heavens and the earth and every living thing in six days and then rested on the seventh day (Ex. 20:11). When He gave the ten commandments to Israel, He made reference to His creative “work” and told them, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work”…but, “the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God, in it you shall not do any work”…but “keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8-10). 

     The Bible frequently commends those who work. For example: “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need” (Eph. 4:28).  To the saints at Thessalonica, Paul wrote: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you” (I Thes. 4:11). We are to have a mindset of work, not laziness or expecting others to do for us what we can do for ourselves.  One who refuses to work becomes a burden to society and is a reproach to the community of Christ.  Paul set a good example to those at Thessalonica, as he worked his trade of tentmaking so as to not be a financial burden to them. “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God ” (I Thes. 2:9).  Laborers are honored in Scripture, and so is labor. It should be an act of worship for the believer. No matter our trade (providing it is ethical and moral!) we are given this exhortation by Paul: “And 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; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:17,23,24). 

     Rather than seeing their work as a way to worship God, many can’t wait for weekend or the next holiday.  Many complain about even a five-day week, and “T.G.I.F” is a common feeling as the “weekend” approaches. “Labor” Day is now a day mainly for fun, but it might be a good day for Christians to thank God for the privilege of work and doing that work “heartily, as for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). Our work, whatever it may be, can become a real testimony for (or sadly, against) the Lord whom we profess to serve. But, unless we keep God at the center, our work becomes useless. It is possible to work hard and achieve nothing of eternal value.  “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the LORD guards the city, the watchmen keep awake in vain”  (Psa. 127:1). 

     It is perhaps significant that neither holidays nor vacations nor retirement are mentioned in the Bible at all.  There were many “holy days” and “festivals” (Eg., Col. 2:16) when “no servile work” was to be done, but they were associated with a special feast of some deep spiritual significance. They certainly were not holidays in the modern sense, devoted mostly to pleasure. 

     In the ages to come, there will still be work to do for the Lord. In that day, it is promised that  “His bondservants shall serve Him” (Rev. 22:3).  “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). 

     Today, whether you work in the office, a worksite, or at home, let everything you do be infused with an awareness that the One you serve is God Himself! Praise God today for the joy of participating in His work in the world, feeding the hungry, creating beautiful pieces of art, disseminating knowledge, constructing homes, and creating life-sustaining products. 

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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Restoration

     On the third weekend of August each year in Libby,  the local Igniter’s Car Club hosts a big car show–“Ignite the Nights.” On Saturday all the cars are parked in town for folks to walk by and view and talk to the owners if they wish. They also have judges who evaluate each vehicle in the various categories of entries: antique cars, classic cars, muscle cars, novelty cars, etc.  Most of the “vintage” cars have been restored to beautiful  “mint condition” as though they just came out of the showroom.  There are always a few that have yet to be restored or are still in the process of being restored.  Many of the vehicles displayed had a writeup of the history of the “restoration process.”  Some had quite the transformation from a rusty old “carcass” to a showroom model. The restoration, of course, was costly and often took some time to complete. 

      The crowd of people parading up and down looking at the vehicles may have been just as interesting as the cars–folks from a number of “vintages.” Some have been “restored,” but most are showing the wear and tear of the years.  

     Restoration has become a lost art in our current age of easily disposable items. Mass production of goods has prompted mass reduction of intrinsic value; things are cheap. It’s easier–and often cheaper–to replace something than to fix it. Sadly, this throw-away mentality has even infiltrated our relationships. Rather than working to restore a troubled marriage or broken relationship, people tend to just move on to new ones–it’s easier than the work and cost of restoration. 

     In a world where people seem eager to end things, Jesus seeks to mend things. Christ’s supreme sacrifice at Calvary gives an important clue to the Father’s estimation of the value of one soul. Jesus counted the cost and paid the price in full with His own lifeblood to make restoration possible.  “He (Godthe Father) made Him who knew no sin (God the Son) to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21).  “And He (Jesus Christ) Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by He wounds you were healed” (I Pet. 2:24). 

     A person may be broken and battered from years of use and abuse, or maybe, set aside to sit and “rust,” but God sees a soul of great value, worth dying for. He sees what that soul can become if they come to Him for “restoration.”  Each of us is born a sinner and separated from fellowship with God. We receive the old Adamic sinful nature by birth. Paul wrote to the believers at Ephesus: “You were dead in trespasses and sins…But God,  being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:1,4-6).  Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are restored to a right relationship with God. Positionally, we are restored to “mint condition.” Paul uses the word “justified” which means “Just as if I’d never sinned.”  

     God, however, has yet to remove our old sinful nature and our body has yet to be restored. We still suffer from the curse that took place when Adam sinned. All of creation suffers under that curse. Ro. 8:22,23 says: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”   But, Praise the Lord, though our bodies will be sown in their natural,  corruptible state, they will be “raised an imperishable, (and spiritual) body” (I Cor. 15:42,44). “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20,21). We will be fully restored in all aspects. God’s purpose for creating mankind will be fulfilled as we worship God in our new, glorified bodies without any interference from the world, the flesh or the devil. “What a day of rejoicing that will be!” 

     To complete His plans and purposes, God will also restore the nation of Israel, His chosen people.  Rom. 11:26,27 tells us that “a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins'” (cf Isa. 59:20,21).  

     And, our “God of Restoration,” will also carry out His purpose for this earth, renovating it by fire and removing all marks of sin and death. II Pet. 3:10 describes that “Global Warming” event which results in “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”  Rev. 21 describes this new earth, on which the New Jerusalem will descend, which will be the dwelling place of believers for eternity–everything having been fully restored. 

     And, from all indications today, all this may be happening very soon. Are your ready?  Have you been “restored by the blood of the Lamb?”  

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave 

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Having A Bad Day

     You have probably read the children’s classic by Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Alexander went to sleep with gum in his mouth and woke up with gum in his hair. He tripped when he got out of bed, his best friend deserted him and there was no dessert in his lunchbox and he had to eat lima beans for dinner. His brothers were mean to him and when he retaliated he got in trouble.  He did not have a good day!

   Maybe you have had days like that.  Alice Roth had one like that. She was attending a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game on August 17, 1957, sitting in the press box behind the third base dugout with her husband, Earl (sports writer for the Philadelphia Bulletin), and their two grandsons.They were there at Connie Mack Stadium to watch the home team play the New York Giants (who later moved to San Francisco). 

      Richie Ashburn, one of the “Whiz Kids” of the 1950 National League Champion Phillies, came up to bat. Richie, who would retire with a .306 batting average and more than 2500 hits, was very adept at fouling off balls until he got a good pitch to hit. Well he fouled off a ball that ended up going in the press box behind the third base dugout and hit Alice in the face, breaking her nose. After a brief delay in the game to allow the medical staff to attend to Alice, Ashburn fouled off the next pitch, hitting Alice as she was being carried off on a stretcher, breaking a bone in her leg!

     To try to salvage their relationship with the sports editor of the local paper, the Phillies invited Earl Roth and his grandchildren into their clubhouse after the game, giving the kids free tickets to future games and an autographed baseball from Richie Ashburn.   Visiting his grandma in the hospital later that day, one of the grandsons asked her, “Grandma, do you think you could attend an Eagles game and get hit in the face with a football!”

     Richie Ashburn went to see Alice the next day and developed a friendship with the Roths, whose son would later become the Phillies bat boy (and Alice continued to attend games!).  Upon his retirement, Richie did radio and TV color commentary for the Phillies’ games and wrote articles for the Philadelphia Bulletin!

     So, how do you deal with “horrible, no good, very bad days” in your life? We all have them at times. In the Bible accounts, several people come to mind who had some very bad days. I think, for example, of Job who the Bible says was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). On one day, his oxen were killed by the Sabeans, his sheep were burned up by fire from heaven (lightning), and the camels were taken by the Chaldeans. Almost all his servants were killed and then a great wind collapsed the house of his oldest son where his ten children were celebrating a meal together and all were killed. Now that’s a “bad day”!  So, how did Job respond? “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed by the name of the LORD.’  Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:20-22).  Wow!

     I also think of David, who, though he had been anointed to be the new king of Israel to replace King Saul, had to flee for his life from Saul for several years and undoubtedly had many “bad days.”  He was also, with his band of men, having to battle some of Israel’s enemies, like the Philistines and the Amalekites.  On one occasion, he and his men returned to Ziklag, to discover that it had been burned and the wives and children of David and his men had been taken captive (I Sam. 30:1-3). On top of being distressed over the loss of his two wives, Ahinoam and Abigail, David faced the anger of his men, blaming him for their situation and speaking of stoning him.  Now that too was a bad day for David. What did he do?  I Sam. 30:6 tells us: “But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.” Later the Psalmist would write: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray. But now I keep Thy word…I know, O LORD, that Thy judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me” (Psa. 119:71,75)

     From the many stories in the New Testament, I think of when Paul and Silas, obeying God’s leading to take the Gospel to Europe, ended up having a bad day at Philippi.  A demon-possessed slave girl who made money for her master by fortunetelling, was a great annoyance to Paul and Silas as they preached, so Paul commanded the evil spirit to come out of her (Acts 16:16-18).  “But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the  market place before the authorities,… saying, ‘These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans’ “ (vv. 19-21… Philippi was a Roman colony). The crowd tore off Paul and Silas’ robes and beat them with rods, and had them thrown into the inner section of the jail and fastened their feet with stocks (vv. 22-24).  I’d say that Paul and Silas were having a very bad day! But notice the next verse: “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (V. 25).  Then God sent a great earthquake and all the doors in the jail came open and chains came off the prisoners and when the jailer (who had been asleep) was made aware he was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul said, don’t harm yourself, we’re all still here!  The jailer, seeing that was true, said to Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved” (vv. 25-31).  Out of Paul and Silas’ “bad day” came salvation to the Philippian jailer and his household (vv. 32-34).  

     We all have bad days, but God can use them for our good and His glory. “When you can’t see His hands, trust His heart.”  

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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The One Thing

     Mark Twain once stated, “Out of all the things I’ve ever lost, I miss my mind the most!”  So, what is the one thing that you couldn’t do without–that you would miss the most if you lost it?  

     In our culture, many might say their cell phone. Mobile phones have become an integral part of modern life, serving not only as a way to communicate, but also as a social network tool, personal organizer, online shopping tool, calendar, alarm clock and timer, camera, flashlight, calculator, etc.  Mobile phones are definitely beneficial devices, but overreliance can lead to a form of behavioral addiction. In fact, the term “nomophobia” was recently coined to describe the fear of being without your phone which can come from losing it, damaging it, having low batteries or just being in an area without coverage. It can cause feelings of stress and anxiety or even feelings of fear or panic.  

     Others might say the one thing they cannot do without is their credit or debit card!  We become very dependent upon it for pretty much all our financial transactions whether in person or ordering online. We are getting closer and closer to a cashless society.  Just try paying your bills with cash!  Along with the fear of losing your credit/debit card is the fear of losing your identity. Identity theft has become more and more of a real threat. So, along with the plastic cards, many might say the one thing they can’t do without is their wallet or purse, which contains those cards along with their identification cards. 

     Probably the one thing I would miss most is my old Ryrie NASB Study Bible.  I believe it was around 1978 that a number of us at Three Lakes Community Bible Church (where I was pastoring) ordered these study Bibles from Moody Publishers.  I decided to read it from cover to cover and read Unger’s Bible Handbook along with it. I would add some of Unger’s information as notes in the margins of my Ryrie Bible.  As I read other materials or heard messages that fit certain passages, I added more notes in my Bible.  I also used colored pencils and highlighted verses that stood out to me–hundreds of them!  (NOTE: At funerals, you often hear the pastor read verses from the deceased’s Bible which had been marked as favorites. Well, good luck to the pastor who has my service!).   I also added more verses to the existing cross references already indicated.  Needless to say, my Bible is rather worn, but I keep duct-taping it together for I would feel a bit “lost” without it. I even have a new Ryrie in which I have also recorded notes, for the first one is pretty much maxed out, but I continue to use it. Even if I can’t remember an exact reference for a verse I am looking for, I know where it is located on the page. 

     Many today have gone to using a cell phone for their Bible, as they can have all sorts of translations, commentaries, etc., as apps, but I still like turning the pages, knowing right where to find a passage or verse, and reading my many notes, which are really a history of my spiritual growth.  So, I would really miss having my Bible. Yes, I could do without it, but I would miss it greatly!    

      Christians who have been incarcerated, especially those who have been prisoners of war or have been imprisoned for their faith testify that the one thing they missed most was their Bible. Some are privileged to receive one, but many have to rely on the verses they have memorized and are able to quote to receive encouragement.  Even the Apostle Paul, in his final imprisonment prior to being executed at the hands of Emperor Nero, wrote to his beloved understudy, friend, and fellow-worker, Timothy hoping he could come to see him before he was put to death and to bring with him Mark, his cloak (left in Troas), “and the books, especially the parchments” (II Tim. 4:8-13).  Obviously Paul missed his friends but also wanted some books (Christian literature) and parchments (Scriptures).  He missed his “Bible”!  

      Definitely the one person we can’t do without is the Lord Jesus, who for believers, is our life (Phil. 1:21), but among the things we possess, what is the one thing you just can’t do without?  It says a bit about our priorities, doesn’t it!  How precious is God’s Word to you?  Jeremiah said, “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).  The longest chapter in the Bible, Psa. 119 containing 176 verses, is all about God’s Word and how it contains everything man needs to know.   It is the “lamp unto our feet and a light to our path…The unfolding of Thy words give light and understanding…” (vv. 103, 130).   In Psa. 19, David wrote: “The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes…They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than the drippings of the honeycomb; moreover, by them is Thy servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (vv. 8-11).  

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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The Danger of Shortcuts

     When our son and family were here recently, I went hiking with them to Leigh Lake, my favorite place in the Cabinet Wilderness near our home in Libby, Montana.  It is not a long hike (only a couple miles), but a very steep one with many switchbacks and loose shale rock.  It is important to stay on the trail. If you get tempted to take a shortcut to bypass a switchback, you could easily fall or send rocks tumbling down upon the trail.  Well, we had just about reached the beautiful waterfall below the lake when we heard hollering ahead and could hear rocks falling down the mountainside.  We stopped walking and watched as a teen-age boy was sliding on his backside down a steep shale slide just past where we were on the trail, knocking rocks ahead of him as he made his way down. Fortunately he was only bruised up a bit but it could have ended up much worse, and–PTL–we stopped where we were or we would have been on the trail where the rocks tumbled down. As the rest of his party who had been hollering to him came down the trail, I reminded them of the danger of attempting to take shortcuts. It could prove fatal, not just to the one who takes the shortcut but to others around as well.  By the way, we made it safely to our special spot on the lake to have lunch at a place where a snow-melt stream comes into the lake and creates a big ice tunnel near the lake. The view is spectacular as you sit there by the shore and look up to Snowshoe Peak (the highest in the Cabinets) towering above you, with big snow banks clinging to the massive rock wall. A big chunk of snow broke off and slid into the lake just as we started heading back.

     Our experience reminded me of the danger that taking shortcuts can present. I thought of Abraham and Sarah who were promised descendants like the dust of the earth and the stars in heaven, yet had no children (Gen. 12;1-3; 13:16; 15:5; 17:1,2).  Rather than wait for the promised son, Isaac, they “took a shortcut.” Sarah, who was still barren, suggested that Abraham have a son through her handmaid, Hagar. Well they did, and Ishmael was born, and we all know how that worked out–the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue until the end of human history!

     Isaac’s son Jacob continued the pattern of taking shortcuts. He traded a  bowl of stew for his twin brother’s birthright. Esau, being born first, as the eldest son, had precedence over his brothers and was assured of a double share of their father’s inheritance.  When Isaac was nearing the end of his life, Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was intended for Esau.  Jacob ended up leaving home and fleeing for his life because of his deception. 

     King Saul, in a serious conflict with Israel’s nemesis, the Philistines, was getting very anxious and rather than waiting for Samuel to arrive, He offered a burnt offering to unite the people and prepare for war. He resorted to situational ethics rather than biblical ethics (I Sam. 13:7-14).  He took a shortcut and then offered excuses for his conduct, trying to justify himself instead of confessing his sin. Saul’s career after the pronouncement by Samuel demonstrated the futility of trying to discharge the work of God without God’s grace and blessing–i.e, by trying to shortcut God’s plan and orders.  

     But we do have some positive examples in Scripture as well. Jacob’s son Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, jailed on a false rape charge, forgotten in jail and yet he was willing to follow God’s plan and wait on God’s timing.  When he arose to a position of power in Egypt he had opportunity to get even with his brothers, but he forgave them instead, saying; “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive (Gen. 50:20)

      David, having been anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as King of Israel (I Sam. 16:1,13), had an opportunity to kill Saul (who had been attempting to kill David) and be installed as the new king, but he refused to do so, for Saul was still “the LORD’S anointed” (I Sam. 24:6,10). David was willing to wait for God’s timing rather than taking a shortcut. 

     But, the ultimate example is that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who came to earth as the God-man to “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9 cf 2:14,15).  At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt. 4:1).  In Satan’s third temptation, he “took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these will I give You (NOW), if You fall down and worship me” (Mt. 4:8,9).   Satan was indeed the “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31for Adam and Eve had given up that role when they disobeyed in the Garden. Jesus will one day rule over this world in His thousand-year reign, but the time was not right. He came to first suffer for sin on the cross. Satan was attempting to stop Jesus from becoming the Redeemer for mankind through His death on the cross and His resurrection.  Remember when “Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priest and scribes and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Mt. 16:21). Do you recall how Peter responded? “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You'” (v. 22). And what did Jesus say to Peter?  “Get behind me, Satan…” (v. 23). Satan again was trying (through Peter) to get Jesus to take a shortcut and bypass the cross. 

     Even as Jesus–the God-man– prayed in the garden before His arrest, He agonized over going to the cross and enduring the wrath of God on the sins of the world. Three times He asked God to take away this cup of suffering, but He concluded with: “If this can’t pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done” (Mt. 26:42).  Praise God, Jesus did not take a shortcut and bypass the cross!  Rather, the author of Hebrews exhorts us to “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  Because of the empty cross and empty tomb, we have a full salvation!!  

     So, let us too run with endurance the race that is set before us and not be looking for shortcuts!

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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Shining Lights in a World of Spiritual Darkness

(A TRIBUTE TO QUEEN ELIZABETH II)

     Throughout history, including in Bible times, there has often been a drought of godly leadership, but amidst that drought, there are refreshing stories of those who go against the increasingly pagan culture to live out their faith and shine brightly in a dark world of depravity.  We have had those like Noah and Enoch who “walked with God” (Gen. 5:24; 6:9) in a day in which “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:3).  We have great men like Abraham whom God called out of a pagan culture to establish a nation through which God’s revelation to mankind, as well as the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ, would come. We have the amazing story of Joseph, the son of Jacob (and great grandson of Abraham), who continued to trust God no matter what his circumstances, acknowledging that even the evil treatment by his brothers was “meant for good” (Gen. 50:20).   And, of course we have Daniel who lived out his faith in spite of the risks involved and ended up having a great influence on a whole empire. 

     The list goes on with people of courageous faith like the judges whom God raised up during times of great spiritual darkness when “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Also included in the list are a number of women like Ruth and Rahab and Esther and, of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus.  The author of the book of Hebrews included a chapter where he lists many of these great men and women of faith who were the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Mt. 5:13,14).  

     Outside of biblical history, there have been countless others who have taken a stand for the faith and made a huge impact for Christ, folks like Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, John and Charles Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Adoniram Judson, David Livingstone, Dwight L. Moody, George Whitfield, Billy Graham, et al.  

     I guess I would add another name to that list of spiritual giants who have “dared to be a Daniel” (or an Esther or a Rahab or a Joseph), and that is Queen Elizabeth II who recently celebrated 70 years of serving as the longest-reigning monarch in British history, and the second-longest reigning sovereign monarch in world history among those whose exact dates are known (only surpassed by France’s King Louis IV who reigned for 72 years, having taken the throne at age four!).   Elizabeth was the first child born (April 21, 1926)  to the Duke and Duchess of York (later to become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth I). She married Philip Mountbatton, a former prince of Greece and Denmark in November of 1947. They had four children and had celebrated 73 years of marriage when Philip died in 2021.  

When Elizabeth’s father, who ascended to the throne in 1936, died in February 1952, Elizabeth–then 25–became Queen, ruling over seven independent commonwealth countries: The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, as well as Head of Commonwealth.  It is, however, not her royalty or fame or longevity that is most impressive to me, but rather her continued faithfulness as a believer in Jesus Christ, and her dependence on Him.  On the day that Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, she said, “Pray for me…that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promise I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”

     In her annual Christmas message broadcast to the Commonwealth in 2000, she said: “To many of us, our beliefs are of foundational importance. For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework by which I try to lead my life. I, like many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.”  

     I can’t help but wonder if her long reign is the result of God blessing her steadfast faith and humble heart of dependence on Him. I’m also reminded that the Gospel is for the great and the small. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10).  That included kings and queens and all those in positions of prestige and leadership, but it also included the lowly and the outcasts in society. “For God so loved the world…” (Jn. 3:16).  We–no matter our status in life–were all included in His amazing sacrifice for sin.   “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:23). “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all…and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (II Cor. 5:14,15). Therefore, “whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Ro. 10:13).  Whether we are royalty or lower class or anywhere in between, whether male or female, Jew or Gentile, bond or free,  Jesus died for us. And through faith in Christ, we become part of “God’s Forever Family” (Gal. 3:28).  

     The Gospel is for the great and the small. The story of every Christian is a beautiful part of the great story God is creating in history…a story that’s all about Jesus!   Each of us, like the great men and women of faith in history, and like Queen Elizabeth II, are called to be salt and light to a decaying and dark generation. Queen Elizabeth, despite all the challenges and disappointments and criticisms she has faced,  has been letting her light shine for many decades, faithfully depending upon her Lord and Savior.  Thanks, Queen Elizabeth, for your example. May your tribe increase!

      How about you and me?  How bright is our light shining? How “salty” are we?  Our world desperately needs those who remain faithful no matter what others are doing.  

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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Beware of Sinkholes

     Sinkholes are cavities in the ground that form when water erodes underlying rock layers, creating an underground chasm. Types of rock that can be naturally dissolved by groundwater circulating through them are salt beds, gypsum, limestone, dolomite and other carbonate rock. Sinkholes are dramatic because the surface land usually stays intact for a period of time until the underground chasm gets too big and can no longer support the land above. Then a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur.  The sinkhole may appear to have occurred suddenly, but the process leading up to it probably took a lengthy period of time.  Areas where sinkholes develop often are the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and in America in regions of Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Missouri and regions bordering the Chesapeake Bay.  Some sinkholes can reach up to 300 feet deep!

     The sudden fall of a Christian leader or of a Christian institution such as a Christian school or university, or any Christian in general, can be compared to sinkholes.  Jesus compared those who heard His words and acted upon them with a wise man who built his house upon the rock. When the rains and floods and wind came, the house “did not fall because it had been founded upon the rock” (Mt. 7:24,25).   Jesus compared those who hear His words but do not act upon them to “a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall” (vv. 26,27).  If an individual Christian or Christian school, organization or ministry fails to continue to base their life and ministry on the Word of God, erosion starts taking place under the surface. For a period of time, the exterior (the land surface) seems unchanged, but then, at some point, the void beneath becomes too large, and the surface “suddenly” collapses. 

     For example, we have a number of well-known universities such as the Ivy-League schools, which in previous generations were famous for training men and women in God’s truth and equipping them to serve Him faithfully all over the world. Although the number of students has grown impressively over recent decades, the schools’ distinctively Christian educational quality has diminished just as noticeably. Despite successful appearances, many of our historically Christian schools have lost their original stability and strength by caving in to worldly education influences. These schools are like sinkholes in that the collapse begins with subtle erosion of the underlying foundation. Erosion happens when the school accepts unbiblical theories and cultural changes instead of repelling such errors as foundation-compromising intrusions. 

     “Like disintegrating soft limestone, unseen, the underlying foundation of these schools’ teaching eroded away gradually, without anybody noticing. The schools’ trust in the Word of God was slowly dissolved, being washed away by contra-biblical compromises here and there, often failing to affirm and adhere to the authority and relevance of the Bible’s clear teaching about creation, marriage, family and the value of all life from conception through old age” (Acts and Facts, p.  20,April 2021). 

     The Bible must be the bedrock foundation for all instruction and for our personal lives as Christians. When that Scriptural foundation disappears, unseen by those who only view surface activities, what will happen?  If accumulating subsurface erosion isn’t remedied, in time, the ground above will soon cave in, leaving a hazardous sinkhole.  Think about what happens when a Christian leader suffers spiritual collapse. Many lives–completely taken by surprise–are adversely affected.  Remember when David was confronted by Nathan for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah?  Nathan said, “…by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme…” (II Sam. 12:14).  David had tried to keep up a good appearance while there was erosion taking place within, but ultimately it all came crashing down, like a sinkhole.  

     Make sure you continue to live your life on the firm foundation of God’s Word. Read it and heed it. Act upon His words.  Don’t let little compromises start eroding your foundation to the point where one day it all caves in around you. You won’t be the only one affected. You will take many down with you. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable (keeping a solid foundation of God’s Word), always abounding in the work of the Lord…” (I Cor. 15:58).  

Forever His,

        Pastor Dave

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Christlikeness

     The recent overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 has caused a firestorm of protests by abortion advocates who are doing all they can to continue providing women the option to end the life of their pre-born babies, calling it a “Constitutional right”!  What these folks are failing to acknowledge (or are just blatantly ignoring) is all the evidence that the pre-born is really a person and not just some “fetal tissue.”  

     One of the greatest deterrents to mothers aborting their babies is the use of ultrasound. Once a pregnant mother sees the pictures of her “child” in the womb, with all his or her distinct features (including its gender!), she is much less likely to go through with an abortion. 

     In King David’s prayer of repentance, he stated: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity. And in sin my mother conceived me” (Psa. 51:5). It is not that the acts of giving birth or conceiving are sinful, but that from the moment of conception, a person possesses a sinful nature. From the moment that the egg and sperm unite in the womb, a child’s life begins and then develops for the approximately nine months of human gestation, at which time God, in His amazing design, enables the mother to give birth to her child.  

     Isaiah, using the analogy of the conception and development of a child in a mother’s womb, wrote in reference to the nation of Israel: “Thus says the LORD who made you and formed you from the womb…” (Isa. 44:2). And Jeremiah writes, concerning God calling him: “Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And before you were born, I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations’ ” (Jer. 1:4,5). 

     Not long after conception, ultrasound pictures help us watch the embryonic development. At about three weeks, a heartbeat can be detected. At six weeks, brain waves can be measured and at eight weeks, the stomach, liver and kidneys are functioning and fingerprints have been formed. The baby can urinate, make a fist and feel pain.Every cell in the unborn child contains human genes contributed by the mom and dad.  He is developing features that will resemble his or her parents.  

     The Apostle Paul, in writing to the believers in the Churches of Galatia in north central Asia minor that were founded on his second missionary journey, was concerned about their spiritual growth or development. It seems that folks referred to as “legalistic Judaizers” had persuaded the new converts to Christianity to go back under the bondage of the Law. He wrote a letter to help them get back on track, saying, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?…It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 3:2,3; 5:1).

     Paul was not only the evangelist who had labored to bring to the Galatians the Gospel which is “the power of God unto salvation to all who believed” (Ro. 1:16); but he also had a pastor’s heart, concerned about their spiritual growth as “new-born believers.” In fact, in Paul’s list in II Cor. 11 of all he suffered in spreading the Gospel, he mentions at the end  “the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (II Cor. 11:28). As parents, we never outgrow our children. Someone said, “When they’re little, they’re a handful; but when they’re grown, they’re a heartful!   When they are little, they step on your toes; but when they’re grown, they step on your heart!”  That’s what Paul was experiencing as he tried to help the Galatian believers with their confused spiritual lives. In Gal. 4:19, he expressed his longing for them: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” His goal for them? Christlikeness.  Paul expressed that same goal in his letter to the Christians in Rome: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” (Ro. 8:28,29).  

     The verb Paul used in Gal. 4:19 (“Until Christ be formed in you”) is the same verb used to describe the development of the embryo in the womb.  As we spend time in the Word of God and in prayer and in fellowship with our Lord, and live in obedience to Him, depending upon Him, we are doing what Jesus commands in Jn. 15:4 (“Abide in Me”).  Fruit starts to appear which He (the Vine) produces in and through us (“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control”…Gal. 5:22,23).  We start looking more like Him. Christ is being “formed in us” (Gal. 4:19).  That was Paul’s goal for those he had introduced to Christ. That is God’s goal for each one of us.  How much of Christ do others see in you and me?  “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave 

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Birth Pangs

     Although it has been more than half a century, I still remember when we were expecting our first child and my wife Kathy was well past her “due date.” We were eagerly awaiting those “labor pains” to begin to let us know the time was near for delivery. Well, they finally began, but close to a month late, and we were blessed with a beautiful, very healthy 9 1/2 pound baby girl Heidi, already with a good start on life!

     One day when Jesus had been with His disciples at the temple in Jerusalem, He told them that a day was coming when that temple would be destroyed and “not one stone shall be left upon another” (Mt. 24:2).  Curious as to when this might happen, Jesus’ disciples “came to Him privately (while He was sitting on the Mount of Olives) saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?'” (v. 3).   Jesus went on to speak of how there would be many false Christs who would come and deceive people and that there would be wars and rumors of wars and nations rising up against nations and famines and earthquakes. And then He added, “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs” (vv. 5-8).  Jesus continued listing conditions which will precede His return, including strong persecution of believers, a falling away from true faith, deceptive false teachers, lawlessness, love growing cold (vv. 9-12).  

     The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, also spoke of how in “later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience…” (I Tim. 4:1,2).  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul again speaks of conditions (“birth pangs”) that will intensify as Christ’s return draws near: “…in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power… always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Tim. 4:1-5).  Wow, if that doesn’t sound like today’s news headlines!

     Other prophetic Scriptures speak of a false messiah who will come on the scene, the “beast out of the sea” spoken of in Revelation 11:7 and 13:1-8.  He is called “the Antichrist” by John in I Jn. 2:18 and “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction” in II Thes. 2:3, where Paul indicates that he won’t be revealed until “he who now restrains will be taken out of the way” (probably a reference to the Holy Spirit indwelling the Church, which would imply that the rapture must take place before the Antichrist is revealed).  This lawless one will be empowered by Satan and will perform signs and wonders (II Tim. 2:9 cf Rev. 13:1,2).   He will apparently suffer a fatal wound which is healed, causing many throughout the world to follow and to worship him and the one empowering him, Satan (Rev. 13:2-4).  A world religious leader, “the beast out of the earth” (probably a reference to Israel, and thus of Jewish descent),  also empowered by Satan to do signs and miracles, will use his authority to cause people to worship the Antichrist, requiring that in order to buy or sell, people must take the “mark of the beast (the Antichrist)” either on their right hand or on their forehead (Rev. 13:11-17). This second “beast” will also make, animate and give ability to speak to an image of Antichrist(vv. 14,15).  There will be a one-world government and religion–worship of the beast.  Those who don’t comply by taking the “mark of the beast” and worshiping him will be killed.  

     As you think about what changes the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the world, with all the increased government control and pressure to be “vaccinated” in order to travel, attend events, etc, and the distortion of the truth in the process, not to mention the fear among people that has been promoted by leaders world wide, and the increased push for globalism and “open borders,” etc., what a “setting of the stage” for this world leader to arrive on the scene. Oh, he will also work out a much-needed peace plan for Israel’s protection from all the nations that are vowing to remove her from the map. His peace pact will be for seven years, but in the middle of that time he will break his promise (cf Dan. 9:26,27) and lead the nations of the world against that little nation of Israel (the size of the state of New Jersey!).  

     And speaking of the animated image of the Antichrist, have you seen in the news about “The Giant.” Entrepreneur Paddy Dunning of Ireland has designed and is building giants. They stand more than ten stories high and are programmable and capable of speaking, singing and moving their heads and arms. They also shape-shift, assuming the forms of people. For example, in an instant, a Giant can look like Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, or even you–or even the Antichrist! Dunning’s “The Giant Company” hopes to install 21 of these statues in 21 cities around the world. (For a mere $18-24 million you could have your own!). Check out the website: thegiantcompany.ie

     When a woman starts experiencing “birth pangs,”  it means the baby is soon on the way. Jesus and the apostles (as well as the prophets of the Old Testament) gave us a number of things to tell us when Jesus’ coming is drawing near.  We are definitely seeing those things come to pass–with increased intensity. Are you ready for the Lord to come?  Have you trusted Him for eternal life?  If not, I plead with you to do so soon–you may not have much time.  If you know Christ as Savior, “abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (I Jn. 2:28). 

Forever His and looking forward to His Coming,

Pastor Dave

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