In Remembrance

     Today is a national day of remembrance–Memorial Day.  In God’s amazing design of the human body, He gave us a memory–the ability to recall things from the past. It is a wonderful gift, but it can also cause heartache because of difficult and hurtful things we remember. God has given us a memory on purpose because there are some things in the past, that were we to forget them, we would be impoverished in the present and the future. 

     Obviously, on a day like today, we are to remember those who, in all the wars of the history of our nation, have paid the price–the price that freedom costs. How difficult it is for those who receive the phone call or have the knock on the door and hear that their loved one for whom they have been praying is not coming home, but has paid the ultimate price of his or her life in service for our country.  It is important for us to remember the loss and the grief that comes when we try to secure freedom, not only here in America, but around the world. When we don’t remember, it’s as if we are taking it for granted and in a sense wasting the sacrifices that so many have paid for our benefit. 

     The one who wrote the book of Hebrews was exhorting believers who were suffering persecution to remain faithful and not return to their old Judaistic ways. In Heb. 10:32 the author challenged: “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings.”  Our American younger generation, like the Hebrew Christians back in the first generation after Christ, seems in grave danger of forgetting the great sacrifices of those earlier generations in this country who made our nation “the land of the free.” ” What seems like a ‘dumbing down’ of our great Christian heritage has been taking place in our public schools and universities ever since World War II ended. Memorial Day should not be merely an occasion to give people a three-day time of leisure and pleasure, but rather a call to remembrance of those who suffered and died to ensure our political and religious freedoms–especially that freedom to believe and proclaim the saving gospel of Christ, which so motivated our forefathers” (Days of Praise, May 30, 2022).  

     It is even more important for us to daily remember the unfathomable sacrifice made by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died, not only to give us temporal freedom but eternal freedom, providing everlasting life to all those who believe. Jesus, knowing how important it is for us to continually remember the price paid for our redemption from the penalty of sin, before He left the earth, established the ordinance of “The Lord’s Table,” or “Communion.”  At His final celebration of the Passover with the Apostles, Jesus took the bread and the cup and told them that these elements represented His body which would be broken for them and His blood which would be shed for them (and us) and said, “Do this in remembrance of Me…For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Cor. 11:23-26).   And Christians have been remembering Him in this way ever since He met with His disciples the night before He died for our sins. 

     But, we need to remember Him every day, not just on the days scheduled for communion, just as we ought to remember and thank God for those who died for our country, and to do so far more often than just once each year. 

“Father, we thank you for each and every one of our military personnel who defend our country from those who might take our freedom from us. Today, we thank you especially for those who have fought and died on foreign shores…for those whose graves we mark and honor, and for those whose fate is known only to You. We thank you for those who have been wounded in battle…may we never forget their service and care for them as they deserve. Father, we ask you to watch over those men and women stationed abroad today, and be there with their families when they cannot be there. Bless, preserve, protect and defend them, and bring them safely home. In Jesus name, Amen” (Virginia Saunders “Memorial Day Prayer”)

     Forever His,

          Pastor Dave

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

     In 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States made a decision in the Roe versus Wade case which resulted in the bloodiest stain ever left on America by an activist court.   Since that fateful court ruling, more than 65 million babies have been cruelly put to death before they had an opportunity to use their God-given abilities to minister to our society.  In addition to that is the trauma it has caused to the multitude of mothers who were brainwashed into thinking they were doing the right thing. 

     Now that the Supreme Court may be about to overturn Roe v. Wade, pro-abortion advocates are going crazy. That includes those who are protesting not only at the Supreme Court, but at the homes of the Justices and just yesterday violently attacked and set ablaze a pro-life group’s headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, leaving behind life-threatening graffiti.   And the anti-life legislators are trying to hurry and get a bill in congress that would make abortion rights permanent nationwide.  Another bill has already been introduced that would allow infanticide up to 28 days after birth.  My how far we have fallen!   Our culture has forgotten–or ignored–some very important and basic truths when it comes to the development of human life. Our society has been infected by an anti-life ideology, treating its most vulnerable members as disposable objects. Abortion that was once thought of as a last resort in a medical emergency has become the new normal.  

     For the past couple years–as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic–we have been hearing a lot about “following the science.”  Well, if we “follow the science” regarding the development of human life, we know that life begins at conception and that an unborn baby develops a heartbeat, brainwaves and nervous system which can “feel pain” not long after conception. Yet, despite all of this, the unborn are treated by many as though they are not alive or even human. Dr. Ben Carson said, “As a surgeon, I have operated on infants pre-birth, and I can assure you that they are very much alive!”  

     Life is a precious gift that has been given to us from our Creator. No person is disposable. Every life is precious according to Him. ALL LIVES MATTER!  Everyone deserves a right to life. The Psalmist wrote: “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, and I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body (embryo). All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psa. 139:13-16). God said to Jeremiah the prophet: “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. 1:5). 

     In his books, Harbinger and Harbinger II, Jonathan Cahn lists nine warning signs given to Israel (the northern tribes) and Judah (the southern tribes) before they were judged by God by sending the Assyrians against Israel in 722 BC and Babylon against Judah in 586 BC. His premise is that God has been giving the same warnings to America to urge the nation to repent and come back to God.  As we read of the spiritual decline of both Israel and Judah, we see they progressed from rejecting the true God to the worship of idols and ultimately to child sacrifice. The depth of their spiritual decline was seen in the burning of their children in sacrifice as worship of their new gods, like Molech. 

     One of the signs that preceded Israel’s judgment was not only that it partook in the murder of children, but that it also did so brazenly, even with joy, even to the point of celebration! We see this as an indication that the hour was late–judgment was imminent. And it is happening in the United States of America! The killing of children is the ultimate evil–the most graphic witness to the depths of spiritual darkness. 

     Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, writes of the progression of spiritual decline. It begins when men “suppress the truth” about God that is evident in both creation and conscience.  They don’t “honor Him as God or give thanks, but become futile in their speculations and their foolish hearts are darkened. Professing to be wise, they become fools” (Ro. 1:18-22).  Then comes a very sobering statement: “Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creatures rather than the Creator…” (vv. 24,25).  It goes on to describe how they “abandon” God’s design for sex and pervert it with homosexuality and lesbianism (the LGBTQ movement) and all sorts of other immoral and evil activity. And not only do they become involved in such gross wickedness, “but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (v. 32). 

     In other words. Our nation (and world) is hurting because of “suppressing the truth” and turning our back on God and replacing Him with idols and even making sacrifices to them–including the murder of children.  Repentance is desperately needed or we, like Israel, will face God’s judgment (I believe we already are!).  Pray for our leaders to be convicted of their need to turn back to God and biblical principles. Pray for the Supreme Court and their crucial decision regarding the lives of the unborn (and rights of Christians in the workplace).  Pray for Christians to stand strong for the truth in these trying times. Let YOUR light shine brightly in this very dark world. 

     Forever His,

          Pastor Dave

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Who is Influencing You?

     As human beings, we are very complex creatures, having been made in the image of God as the crown of His creation (see Psa. 8:3-6). Our worldview, attitudes and behavior have been–and are being–molded by a great variety of influences:  our national heritage, parental upbringing, whether we grew up in a rural or urban setting, our natural talents and spiritual giftedness, our education, our church background (or lack thereof), our circle of friends, our passions and hobbies and now a thing called “social media,” where many are dependent on getting input from their “Facebook Friends.”  All of these things go into making us who we currently are and who we are becoming.  

     All of us have had certain individuals who have had and/or are having a major impact on our life. My question is “Who is influencing you?”  Who, or what is having the greatest influence on your life right now?

     The Apostle Paul wrote this to the believers at Philippi: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of Christ whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Phil. 3:17-19).  Paul warned the believers to guard who was influencing them (who they were following) for not everyone who wanted to make an impression on the church was necessarily a good influence. Some in the church were probably not being as careful as they should have been about whose example they chose to follow.  

     If this was true in Paul’s day, it is exponentially more so in our own. Social Media and the Internet is filled with people who aspire to be influencers. We are often passive consumers of popular media designed to motivate us to buy products and to attempt to shape our values. Every day we are being pressed into a mold without realizing it.  The solution that Paul offers is to be careful about those we take as our role models. We need to ask, “What is their motivation? What is driving those who seek to influence us?” Many who claim to have our best interests in view are really looking out for themselves (Phil. 3:19). But even more important is a question of values (v. 18). Is their mindset on heavenly things?  Are they helping us grow in spiritual maturity or are they causing us to drift into a worldly mindset and values?  Paul’s challenge to the believers in Rome (and to us) was: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Ro. 12:1,2). 

     Who and what are influencing your life?  Who do you have as “role models?”  Whose examples are you following?  And how is it affecting your faith and joy in Jesus?  That is the most important question and one each of us needs to ask ourselves on a regular basis.

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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Kingdom Living

     As a consequence of the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, death entered the human race as the Apostle Paul wrote later: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Ro. 5:12 cf Gen. 2:17).  God also placed a curse upon the earth making it difficult to grow crops. All the birds and animals which had lived in harmony began preying upon one another. All of life changed and death and decay became the norm.  Much of the beauty of God’s perfect creation could still be seen, but it was also marred as a result of sin and soon came the judgment of the world-wide flood which completely changed the topography and weather patterns.  

     Paul wrote of how all of creation is still groaning, awaiting the removal of the curse: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pain of childbirth together until now” (Ro. 8:19-22).  

     The Old Testament prophets spoke of a future time when Christ returns to earth to rule for 1,000 years, a period we refer to as the Millennium, when the curse is removed and peace and harmony are restored.  Isaiah writes: “And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.” (Isa. 2:4) Jerusalem will be the center of the earth in the kingdom age, the place where the Law and the Word of God will go forth, with the Messiah as ruling judge, resulting in universal peace. “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. And the cow and the bear will graze; and their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:6-9). 

     Every oncein a while God gives us little glimpses of life in the Kingdom with the curse of sin removed.  A few years ago I was on the drive pad washing our car when I felt something nuzzling my hand. I turned to see a cute little whitetail deer fawn.  We discovered later that its mom had been killed on the highway and a neighbor had bottle fed it. It hung around for several years, becoming a handsome big buck. In his first couple years he would let you pet him and scratch his head.  But, he was still a “wild” animal and one day felt the “call of the wild” and was to be seen no more.

     Yesterday Libby High School hosted an invitational tennis tournament. Since I still help out with our team, we were there to encourage our players.  One venue, the old Racquet Club where we spent many, many hours as a family when our children were in high school, was also used for the tournament. As we were watching one of our player’s matches, here comes a wild Canada goose waddling by. It stopped in front of us and cocked its head to look at us as we “talked” to him/her.  It wandered among the spectators and then would put its head under its wing and rest for awhile. At one point it stopped and took a sip from a cup of Sprite that was left sitting on the ground. It was probably expecting water so got pretty excited and tipped the cup over.  The spectator went and filled it with water and the goose spent probably the next half hour just sitting by the cup, occasionally taking a sip and then resting. A few times it cackled some message  which we couldn’t interpret!  Maybe a “thank you for the drink!”  At one point it even stood by the fence and would follow the ball as it went back and forth. It stayed the whole time we were there, entertaining the crowd!

    And then, a special treat was the surprise of being reunited with a family that had attended Three Lakes Community Bible Church where I pastored.  We hadn’t seen them in many years.  There youngest son, a freshman, was playing a match against one of our Libby boys.  It was so fun to see them and catch up.  The Libby boy is new to our community and we had recently befriended his family who are believers and we had the opportunity to go for a walk with them between matches and had great fellowship.  

     We live in a world that has lost its moorings and is such a mess with wars, evil, and immorality. It is easy to get discouraged. It is so refreshing to have those moments which remind us that we have a glorious future awaiting.  Praise God, He gives us those occasional glimpses of the glorious future that awaits us as believers, as we get to enjoy His Kingdom on earth and then on into eternity. Paul said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Ro. 8:18).  

Forever His (And looking forward to His return!)

     Pastor Dave

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Whiter Than Snow

     Yesterday morning, Resurrection Day, we awoke to a fresh blanket (3″) of “beautiful” white snow, a reminder of what was accomplished for us on that day nearly 2,000 years ago when Jesus arose from the dead as evidence that our sins had been paid for and, as the Psalmist David put it, we have been “washed whiter than snow” (Psa. 51:17).  

     The Apostle Paul, in writing to the believers at Rome, spoke of “the righteousness of God (which comes) through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration I say of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus…He was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of (or “on the basis of”) our justification” (Ro. 3:22-26; 4:25).   As proof that God’s holiness was satisfied (“propitiated”) by the sacrifice Christ made on the cross, in shedding His blood for our sins, God raised Him from the dead.  

     The “gospel” (“good news”) as Paul defined it in I Cor. 15:1-4, includes not only the death of Christ, but His burial and resurrection. The gospel isn’t just that Jesus died for you, but that Jesus died for you, was buried and rose again on the third day, just as He had prophesied.  The resurrection is evidence that our redemption was complete and that our sins were “paid for in full,” so that all who trust in Christ’s finished work at Calvary are saved from sin’s penalty and have eternal life in Christ.  

     The scene at Calvary presents a vivid picture of how Jesus died for “all” which includes Jew and Gentile, male and female, bond and free, wicked, evil sinners like the criminal on the cross who repented and “good” people like Jesus’ own mother.  The only one who ever lived who didn’t need a Savior was obviously Jesus Himself, who did not sin but was punished for our sin (Isa. 53:6; II Cor. 5:21; I Pet. 2:24).  Some people think they are too bad to be saved and others think they are too good.  Don’t let the good things or the bad things you have done keep you out of heaven!  Eph. 2:1 says that we are ALL spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins,” and there are no “degrees of deadness!”  John writes, “He who has the Son has the life, and He who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I Jn. 5:12).  All of us, whether hardened criminals or good, upstanding citizens, need Jesus.  Salvation is a gift, not a reward. It is nothing we can earn and we certainly don’t deserve it.  Gifts must be received. Without Jesus, we are dead (separated from God) and will spend eternity apart from Him in hell, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12,13). 

     So, to each of us, God says, “Come now, and let us reason together. Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they will be like wool” (Isa. 1:18).   “Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole; I want You forever to live in my soul; break down ev’ry idol, cast out ev’ry foe–Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow” (William G. Fischer…Whiter Than Snow). 

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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Tetelestai

     It was noon in Jerusalem and time for the Passover sacrifices to begin.  There was an eerie, unusual darkness that suddenly covered the land for the next three hours (Mt. 27:45), but the priests still stood ready to sound the threefold blast from the silver trumpets to signal the slaying of the Passover lambs. Earlier that morning, Roman soldiers had driven iron spikes through the wrists and feet of Jesus of Nazareth, nailing Him to a wooden cross (Mk. 15:25). As Jesus hung from that cruel crucifixion cross He probably heard the Levites singing the Passover hymns (Psalms 113-118, known as the Hallel (Praise) Psalms). 

     During those hours of torment on the cross, as Jesus not only suffered the excruciating pain of having been beaten, scourged and now nailed to the cross, struggling for each breath, He uttered seven brief statements. The sixth was a powerful shout of victory: “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30).  In Greek, the extraordinary proclamation is just a single word: tetelestai, an accounting term which means “paid in full, to bring to a close, to complete and fulfill.” This was Jesus’ divine declaration that His work to secure humanity’s redemption and salvation was fully, finally, and forever finished. At the well in Samaria, Jesus had told His disciples: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (Jn. 4:34), something He repeated several times (cf Jn. 6:38,51; 12:24-27,46; 17:1-5). When Jesus cried out tetelestai from the cross, He was declaring a finality to His Father’s plan to provide redemption indicating nothing more needs to be or can be added to it! The work of providing for man’s salvation from the penalty of sin was now completed–the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” had been offered (Jn. 1:29)

     The writer of Hebrews, speaking of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, says “He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.  For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10: 12-14).  All the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which pointed to the sufferings of the Messiah as our sin-bearer, were now accomplished. The ceremonial law was abolished, the substance had now come, and all the shadows are done away. His sufferings were now finished, both those of his soul, and those of his body. “It is finished!”

     And, of course, Praise the Lord, three days later, Jesus arose from the grave and lives today to save all who call on Him: “Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Ro. 10:13). His resurrection was proof that God’s holiness was propitiated (satisfied), our sins were indeed paid for (Ro. 3:21-26; 4:25) and now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we could have eternal life. “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I Jn. 5:11,12)

     Because Jesus finished the work, salvation is a gift to be received, not a goal to be achieved, or something we work toward earning: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).  Jesus did everything for us–It is finished (tetelestai)!  

     Yesterday at Faith Bible Church, Grant Clay, executive director of ELLS (Equipping Leaders for a Lifetime of Service), shared with us the amazing story of how God worked in the life of Hudson Taylor who founded the China Inland Mission. After struggling spiritually Hudson finally realized the fact of “the finished work of Christ” and, on his knees, trusted in that finished work, and consecrated his life to serve the Lord. It totally transformed his life.  What a difference it makes when we stop struggling in the flesh to please God and rest in His finished work.  English preacher John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) offered this encouraging significance of Jesus’ statement from the cross for the believer in Christ: 

     “We need not fear that either sin or Satan or law shall condemn us at the last day (see Ro. 8:1,31-39).  We may lean back on the thought that we have a Savior Who has done it all, paid all, accomplished all, performed all that is necessary for our salvation…When we look at our own works, we may well feel ashamed of their imperfections. But when we look at the FINISHED WORK of Christ, we may feel peace.”

     Philip Bliss, American composer (1838-1878) also captured the emotion of tetelestai when he wrote the hymn “Hallelujah! What a Savior.” The fourth stanza goes like this: 

                         “Lifted up was He to die; 

                          ‘It is finished!’ was His cry;

                          Now in heaven exalted high,

                          Hallelujah!  What a Savior!”

    AMEN! Have a blessed time this week celebrating the finished work of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, culminating with the victorious resurrection. Praise God, “He’s alive and I’m forgiven.  Heaven’s gates are opened wide” (Don Francisco). 

     Forever His,

         Pastor Dave

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The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

     If you are a Charles Dickens fan, you will recognize that my title comes from the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”  Shakespeare was suggesting an age of radical opposites and wrote a story of contrasts and comparisons between London and Paris.  

     We are about to enter what we call “Passion Week,” the final week of our Lord’s earthly life culminating in the crucifixion.  As I think about “the best of times and the worst of times,” there has never in the history of the world been a more dramatic contrast than that of the scene in Jerusalem a couple millenia ago when the powers of darkness came against the “Light of the World” (Jn. 8:12).  We see the ultimate worst behavior of mankind in rejecting the Creator of the Universe, unfairly trying Him, torturing Him, mocking Him, and nailing Him to a cruel cross to die a humiliating and  agonizing death. But, at the same time, we see the greatest display of the love of God toward man, as God the Son was willing to lay down His life to pay the penalty for our sins so we could, through faith in Him, become “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Ro. 8:17), sharing in His eternal kingdom on a renewed earth (Rev. 21:1,2). 

     As the “God who is light, and in whom is no darkness” (I Jn. 1:5) was hanging on the cross, being judged for our sins (II Cor. 5:21; I Pet. 2:24),  there was an eerie, supernatural, darkness on earth from noon until 3 p.m. (Mt. 27:45). The “prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 16:11) had done his best to destroy the “seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15) sent to defeat him and to pay for sin.The evil of man’s sinful heart was seen at its worst as Judas betrayed Jesus for just 30 pieces of silver, Peter denied knowing his Master, the Jews shouted “crucify Him,” Pilate, though he found no fault with Jesus, was unwilling to just let Him go for fear of the Jews, the Roman soldiers beat Him, scourged Him, placed a crown of thorns on His head and drove nails through His wrists and feet to hold Him on the cross which was placed in a hole for the public to look on Him and watch Him suffer and die like a common criminal or insurrectionist. 

     “But (at the same time) God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro. 5:8). The greater the darkness, the more the light shows up!  “In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (overpower) it” (Jn. 1:3,4). Darkness cannot be driven out of the world (until the eternal state), but light can swallow it up. The reverse is never true. There is no such thing as darkness swallowing up light, but darkness must retreat before even the glow of a tiny candle!  The darkest time on earth, the crucifixion of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, was the very event that would provide life and light for all who believe, for “Sunday was a comin’!”  Jesus would arise bodily from the grave as proof that He had indeed made peace for us with God and God’s holiness was satisfied with the death of His Son on our behalf. The “Lamb of God” had indeed “taken away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29).  Light had conquered the forces of darkness. 

     So, it was the “best of times and the worst of times.”  What appeared to be tragedy and defeat at the hands of Satan and evil turned out to be triumph and victory on behalf of “The Light of the World,” Jesus Christ (Jn. 8:12). 

   As we get news of the war in the Ukraine, we see again the wickedness of the human heart without Christ. The scenes of devastation and corpses lying in the streets is shocking. What a display of the darkness of the human heart and its potential for evil. Yet alongside we see the gracious, self-sacrificing ministries of missionaries in bordering countries as they care for the millions of refugees who are fleeing from their war-torn country. We also see the  humanitarian efforts of groups such as the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-BRT) and Samaritan’s Purse which has set up Medical Clinics and an Emergency Field Hospital at the train station in Lviv, Ukraine. Even though the Ukranians are going through a nightmare experience of darkness, they are also encountering the love of Christ through those serving as the hands and feet of Jesus as the Body of Christ not only ministers to the physical needs but also presents the message of hope. Though it is dark, the message of hope is bright. We are witnessing death and destruction, and unspeakable brutality of a wicked dictator…and yet, we see in stark contrast, the love of God demonstrated through His Body, the Church as believers rush to the scene, risking their own lives, to minister to the hurting and to share with them the hope of a better, glorious future because Jesus also suffered on their behalf to offer eternal and abundant life (Jn. 10:10). Because of  the terrible conflict in the Ukraine, thousands of Ukranians are hearing the Good News and many will come to Christ and gain a glorious future in God’s eternal kingdom where there will no longer be war, pain, suffering or death (Rev. 21:1-4).

  It is because of evil and suffering that we get to know the mercy, compassion, and love of God in a very real way. If you think of your own life, when have your grown the most spiritually?  It has been when you have been hurting and turned to Him.  The “worst of times” can become the “best of times” when we seek refuge in the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride” (Psa. 46:1-3).  “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psa. 56:3,4). 

     Forever His,

          Pastor Dave

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Our Instruction Manual

     According to a popular saying, “Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.”  But this isn’t really true. Our Creator (“Manufacturer” if you will) left us with a collection of some 66 “books” compiled into one volume called “The Bible,” which someone has aptly described as “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” And, not only did He give us details of how and why we were made, but He also gave us all the instructions we need for life on this earth to fulfill His purpose for our lives.  In addition to His written instructions in His revealed Word, He gave us God the Holy Spirit to live in us to guide us into the truths of His Word, and the power to apply it to our lives.

     In last week’s “Wisdom of the Week,” I warned of the danger of the “Do It Yourself” mentality when it comes to spiritual things.  We have the natural tendency to try things out before we read the “Instruction Manual.”  Because of our fallen, sinful nature received from Adam (Ro. 5:12,19), we have a rebelliousness that wants to do things our way and by ourselves.  When we get a product in the mail or from the store that requires assembly, we tend to first give it a try without looking at the instructions. After all, we are intelligent, educated people. How hard can it be?  Only when we get frustrated at our failure do we finally look at what the manufacturer told us to do. 

     When it comes to spiritual things, it is no different, only the consequences are infinitely greater.  If we try to figure out a life plan that will take us to heaven, but don’t bother to see what our Maker said is the only way to heaven, we will one day hear from Jesus, “Depart from Me, I never knew you” (Mt. 7:23). The “One Way” is Jesus Christ who claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through  Me” (Jn. 14:6).  He did for us (paid the penalty for our sins...II Cor. 5:21) what we cannot possibly accomplish on our own (Eph. 2:8,9). That was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  There aren’t many paths to God and heaven, there is one: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:1-4). To make sure of heaven, put your trust entirely in Jesus Christ, by asking Him to be your personal Savior (Acts 16:31).  “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (I Jn. 5:10-12).

     Then, as a believer follow the “Instruction Manual” for how to live to fulfill God’s purpose for your life and to experience the joy of fulfilling the purpose for which God made you.  God gave very clear instructions on the distinction of the sexes, the definition of marriage and of the roles of the husband and the wife, the relationship between parents and children, of employers and employees, how to care for the earth, etc. When we go outside those guidelines, thinking we can live as we please, following the lusts of our sinful flesh, we ultimately pay the consequences. “Don’t be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7).  If we ignore God’s principles and instructions, thinking there really are no absolute standards, and that we can get away with doing what we feel like, we will one day very much regret our choice.  The Apostle Paul, in referring to such people, says that those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” become “fools” and therefore “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God (the instructions in His manual) for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another….” (Ro. 1:18-27).  

     What a sad commentary this is on our current culture where people have totally lost their moral compass because they have thrown out “The Manufacturer’s Instruction Manual” and are doing their own thing and any who object are not just “old fashioned,” but hateful and need counseling!  Isaiah has quite a sobering warning for our generation: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight!…Who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right! ” (Isa. 5:20-23). 

     Our only hope is a return to making God’s Word, the Bible, our absolute authority for faith and practice. History is full of the tragic stories of those who tried it on their own and the disasters that result.  We are witnessing that in our world today and in our own nation, which once largely followed the instructions of our Manufacturer, but now advocate lifestyles that fly in the face of our Maker. God have mercy!

     Forever His,

          Pastor Dave 

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Don’t DIY

     We live in a “Do It Yourself” era where there is information available to help you do many projects yourself without hiring a professional.  You can go to Home Depot for help or you can go online and find a YouTube video on nearly any topic, from how to tile your bathroom or put down laminate flooring to how to tune up the engine on your lawn mower or fix a clogged drain. All you need to do is buy any materials and tools required to do the job.  And, just think of all the money you will be saving!

     With all the training available on the internet, we may be tempted to think we can accomplish anything by ourselves, but that idea can be misleading and dangerous when applied to spiritual matters. Religious beliefs that emphasize self-help and self-effort do not depend upon God. Christianity, on the other hand, is a faith that relies solely upon God. God alone can save us and God alone can empower us to live the Christian life.  God doesn’t want us to try to put anything together, for He has put it all together and offers it free for the asking.  “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him the glory forever” (Ro. 11:36).  “Not that we are adequate in ourselves, to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (II Cor. 3:5). 

     And that begins with salvation.  Scripture makes it very clear that salvation is a gift from God and is not something that we deserve or can earn. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). “Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Ro. 3:20). “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus…” (Gal. 2:16).  “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7).   

     God is the One responsible for our salvation. From the moment we trust in Jesus Christ until our life on earth is done, He is the One who “keeps us saved.”  Paul wrote: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (when He returns for us) (Phil. 1:6).  The Apostle Peter, in writing about our hope and inheritance in heaven, says we are “protected by the power of God” (I Pet. 1:3-5). Jesus said that “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out”  and “of all that He has given Me I lose nothing…that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:37-40). 

     So, if regarding your salvation and eternal life you are trying to “Do It Yourself,” stop it!!  It won’t work. All the work has been done by God through sending His Son as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:21).  “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).  If you have never done so, put your full trust in Christ and what He has done for you.

     But, it doesn’t end there, for the Christian life is not difficult, it is impossible! Only Christ can live it!  We still can’t “Do It Ourselves.”  “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (II Cor. 3:5).  Jesus used the illustration of a vine and branches to convey that truth.  He said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears (not produces, but supports) much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:4,5).  Paul, who understood that, wrote: “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), and “And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29). “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). 

     So, if you are trying to make it to heaven by your own merit or efforts, you will never make it. Put your trust in the One who did all the work on your behalf. Or, if you are trying to live the Christian life on your own, good luck!  None of us can do it, no matter how long we have been a Christian. Only Christ in us, through the Holy Spirit, can. So, let Him. Depend upon Him. Otherwise it is “Striving in the flesh, striving in the flesh, here I come defeated, striving in the flesh!” 

     When it comes to spiritual matters, don’t “Do It Yourself!” Say, “God I can’t, You can, Please do!” But, remember, you are the instrument through which He works. Just be available and let Him use you for His glory. 

     Forever His,

          Pastor Dave

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I’ll Be Praying for You

     How comforting it is to hear, “I’ll be praying for you,” or even better “I am praying for you!”  I remember when I was in college at Montana State University and Kathy and I were attending Grace Baptist, that Dr. Heetderks, who taught our college Sunday School class, would often say to us, “Kathy, tell your folks that I pray for them every day.”  What a blessing to have those who pray for us on a regular basis.  Yesterday at church, a gal who just started radiation for breast cancer, told the congregation how much she appreciated and felt all those who were praying for her.

     The Apostle Paul, from a prison cell, wrote to the believers at Colossae and asked them to pray for his mission team, “that God may open a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Col. 4:2-4).  Paul had some, like the church at Philippi, who supported him financially, but many who supported him in prayer, and were also thus a key part of his ministry. When I have an opportunity to fill in the pulpit, there are some who always tell me they are praying for me. That means so much!   Whether we are involved in full-time Christian vocational ministry or secular work, we all need to be supported in prayer. As “ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5:20), we are ALL in ministry for Christ and need the empowering prayers of our “support team.”  

     If we have a friend who is facing difficulty, whether physical, financial, spiritual, or relational, they need to know we are praying for them, that God will give them strength to endure and a “peace that passes understanding” (Phil. 4:6,7). 

     In the evening before His betrayal, torture, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission (literally, “begged earnestly”)  to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Lk. 22:31,32).  Peter, of course, boldly proclaimed his loyalty and that he “was ready to go both to prison and to death” for Christ! (v. 33). Jesus knew better (v. 34) and had already prayed for him. “You” in Lk. 22:31 is plural, indicating that Satan wanted permission to attack all the disciples, knowing that if all the disciples could be made to abandon the faith, the gospel could not be spread, and Christianity would die. Well, PTL, Jesus had prayed for them, that, though they would all struggle with their faith in the next few days, they would prevail, and the Holy Spirit would soon come to empower them and they would take the gospel worldwide (Acts 1:8) for which we are eternally grateful!  

     Satan’s desire to “sift” those who would spread the gospel has not abated. He knows the destruction it causes in the lives of those influenced by one who falls. The “ripple effect” may last for years, and  some may never recover. But, be encouraged!  The One who prayed for Peter and the other disciples, “ever lives to make intercession” for us (Heb. 7:25). We get a glimpse into Jesus’ prayer life in John 17, where John recorded Christ’s great High Priestly prayer, as He poured out His heart to the Father just prior to His arrest. He not only prayed for the disciples, but He prayed “for those who would believe on Me through their word (Jn. 17:20).  That includes us!  How comforting to know that Jesus is still praying for us (Heb. 7:25). And He, more than anyone else in the world, knows our exact needs, and will always do what is for our good and His glory.  

     But, He also uses the prayers of the saints to meet those needs, and that is where you and I come in. If you tell someone you will pray for them–do it!  Kathy and I have a prayer list of missionaries, pastors, family, and friends whom we pray for daily. That list keeps growing, not only for people, but for world situations like currently in the Ukraine and surrounding countries.   Do you have those for whom you pray daily?  Do you pray for us?  We need your prayers too!

Forever His,

     Pastor Dave

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