This is the time of year that I write my goals for the next year. It is a fun experience each year as I think about what my year will look like and what I would like to accomplish. I have decided to do a one month bicycle trip this year instead of my usual 2 month trip, and then I will do a one month camping trip in the Steen’s Mts. I will stay in one spot, and I will live in a tent, and I am going to talk Patty into camping with me. August 24th is our 50th wedding anniversary, and I had thought earlier that it would be fun to do a 100 mile canoe trip up in Canada, but Patty wasn’t to excited by that idea. She seems a little more agreeable to this new idea than the first one. A corollary goal would be to make a big wall tent to live in. We are about 30 minutes from Frenchglen where there is a campground that has showers that we could use a couple times a week. One of the things I do on the bicycle trip is study and write out the sermons and lessons that I will preach and teach that next year. While we are camping at the Steen’s I will have more time each day to do my sermon and lesson preparation. I will do some hunting and fishing, but not near as much as the time on the bicycle. The beauty and majesty of the Steen’s is a great backdrop for spending time alone with God and discovering His will for my life and ministry. Now I just need to get Patty as excited about this adventure as I am.
The devil is very real, he is very powerful, and he has an army of demons who follow his every assignment. He and his army are the source and the energy of evil in our world. Jesus has this to say about the devil in John 8:44-45, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” What does it mean when Jesus says that the devil is the father of those He is speaking to? He is saying that their behavior, choices, and leadership is controlled to a high degree by the devil and his demons. Jesus also says that the devil is the father of lies, that is he tempts, initiates, and puts it into people’s minds to tell lies. Jesus says that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, meaning that it was the devil who prompted Cain to murder his brother Abel. One of the devils primary targets to be murdered is children. He prompted Pharaoh to have all Hebrew baby boys killed, the devil is the one who prompted Herod in Matthew 2:16 “Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.” Today he is the one who is driving the murder of millions of unborn children in the name of freedom of choice. Watching the political scene today abortion has become the major focal point that divides. Those who defend a woman’s right to choose do so with an obsession that is beyond human reasoning and rational thought. The devil is alive and well in the United States of America. The church is the army that God intends to resist the kingdom of darkness, and our main offensive weapon is prayer. God could destroy the devil and his demons with a single breath, but He limits the devils work now, on the basis of the prayers of the church, and if Christians are to busy to pray much, we get what we have today.
There is a famous photograph taken by the Hubble. It is referred to as the Hubble Deep Field photograph. The photo is filled with nearly two thousand galaxies of various shapes, colors, and sizes. Each of these galaxies is made up of at least ten billion stars like our own sun. The number, and the size of these galaxies and stars is incredible, and then as the distances between these billions of stars are brought up the whole thing becomes incomprehensible.
I am going to be teaching the book of Hebrews at 8 am on Sunday mornings, beginning on October 7th, and again on Wednesday nights at 7 pm. It is an amazing book in the Bible that tells us all about Jesus and who He is and what He has done for us. Hebrews 1:10 says about Jesus, “And, You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands;”. Last week my boys and I were camping in the Steen’s Mts in South East Oregon, and the elevation where our tent was set up was a little over 8,000 feet. At night because of the elevation and the absence of any other light the stars are incredibly bright, and there are so many of them. Gazing into the heavens at night there was for me, a genuine spiritual experience. There was in me an overwhelming sense of God’s existence and His presence there with me, and of His infinite power.
In light of the vastness of the heavens, and the fact that they were created by and are held together by the power of Jesus, Philippians 2:5-8 is such a mystery, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The 2 Word phrase “emptied Himself”, Jesus did that and became a man, just like me, and experienced all that I experience, and understands me. How far of a journey is that, from being God, infinite, almighty, creator to being a man?
When Jesus dove off the high dive in heaven and came down , down, down to earth where did He land, as it were? Luke 1:30-35 tells us, “The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” Jesus began His journey to save us from our sins as a single cell embryo in the womb of Mary. That little supernaturally fertilized egg was the God who created the universe, how amazing is that.
Many say today that an unborn baby is not a person, and that abortion is not murdering a child. Another verse from Hebrews. Comes to my mind when I hear or read that statement, Hebrews 9:27. “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment”.
From September to June Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are my main ministry work days. I usually put in about 15 hours each of these three days, going from 6 am until 9 pm. I like focusing my teaching, meetings, study, and writing in three long days because I get in a groove, and find that I get the most done when I maintain the momentum gained when not shifting gears much. Unlike a lot of pastors who take one day a week off, I usually take both Monday and Friday off. Friday is my get rested and energized for the weekend day. One of the things that I believe to be true is that when I teach the Bible to people that I have the ability to energize them, that is to motivate them to actually do and put into practice what I teach from the Bible. That energy and motivation is more caught than taught, meaning that if I start the weekend tired people won’t get much energy from me, but if my gas tank is clear full I can pour energy into the hearts of each person listening to me teach. It is emotional energy that I am giving out, and over the years I have learned how to fill my tank full. I do spend extra time alone on Fridays praying for each person in our church by name asking God to open their spiritual eyes and ears so that they can hear God’s Word speaking to their heart. I enjoy Pastoring very much, I enjoy teaching and counseling, I enjoy making a difference in people’s lives, in their marriages, in their parenting, and especially in their walk and relationship with the God of the universe.
Monday has been for me over the last 42years my main Sabbath Rest Day. I am often not feeling particularly good on Mondays, this morning I woke up with a pounding headache. I am often depressed on Monday as I review my preaching and teaching from the day before, which never goes quite the way I planned, as I think about the attendance, and who wasn’t at any of the worship services, and the various conversations with people about their problem marriages, prodigal children, recent cancer diagnosis, and financial problems. For the first 13 years of pastoring I was so discouraged on Monday’s that I quit every Monday, I am glad that I never did officially, just in my head. But though it was often a downer day, it has also usually been a day when I sleep in, play golf, go fishing, go out to lunch with Patty, watch Monday Night Football with good friends and eat fried chicken. When the kids were home we would keep them home from school on Monday and have a family work day, like splitting firewood and stacking it, taking a trip to the dump, picking apples and making cider using a rented grinder and press, a house fixing project, and sometimes going to someone else’s house and helping them. On Monday’s I usually get in a little extra Bible Reading, book reading, scripture memory, and praying. I don’t usually look at a “todo list” on Monday’s and I rarely look at my goals for the year. I do dream on Monday’s and visualize the future, and try to imagine in living color all that I am going to accomplish as a servant of Jesus in the years to come. Yes, Monday’s are good days, I almost always go to bed on Monday evening refreshed, reenergized, and full of passion and fire for the next week of ministry.
This morning at JBC Pastor Mike fainted while preaching in the first service, a scary surprise. They took him by ambulance to the hospital, and determined that he had “Vasovagal Syncope”, “a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure leading to fainting, usually a reaction to a stressful trigger.” It is very common with about 3 million cases a year in the U.S. I have had it happen to me a half dozen times over the years, the last time was when I was giving blood, I haven’t given blood since. I don’t do very much hospital visitation because I quite often faint as a result of “Vasovagal Syncope”, that “stressful trigger” again. It isn’t serious as far as physical ailments go, but it is certainly an inconvenience and annoying, especially as a preacher of the Bible! There have been a number of well known preachers over the years who have had this problem in the early years of their preaching while they were still adjusting to the pressure and stress of the responsibility of teaching the “Word of God”. Most of them coped with it by sitting on a stool while preaching or by taking a drink of water regularly while preaching. Fainting is almost always a scary surprise for everyone involved because of the unknown reason for it happening, and the possibility of the reason being life threatening. Life is full of surprises, some fun, like a party, but more often than not, very scary surprises. People vary in many different areas in their life as people, some have very high IQ’s and some very low, some are incredibly strong physically and others very weak, some get colds several times a year and others hardly ever. One of the areas that Christians have a wide range of difference in, is in their level of trust in God. Trust and faith are very close in meaning, but trust is the result of a strong belief in the existence of God, a belief in His personal love of us as a person, and a belief that He has our life planned and orchestrated for our maximum growth in character. Our strong faith results in an automatic trust to surprises that come into our life. When our trust in God is strong we don’t have to talk or reason ourselves into being calm when surprises come, we just are. A killer of strong trust in God is this prevailing belief sold by our culture that if God exists and really does love us He will protect us from all harm, problems, trials, and unpleasant surprises. The number of young people who are abandoning all belief in the existence of God is growing every year because of this prevailing belief, and the resulting disillusionment that comes into their mind when scary and painful surprises come into their life. The fact is, God purposefully plans scary and painful surprises in our life to make us grow to be more and more like Him in character, but if we don’t trust Him those surprises do the opposite. Psalms 23 is a key passage that I meditate on , “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me”.
I spent this week in the Steen’s Mts with my 2 sons, Sam and Seth, camping. They archery hunted for elk and deer and I fished in Fish Lake, which we were camped next to. I had such a good time being with them, and had constant memories pop into my head of all the hunting trips we have been on over the years. I enjoyed watching them in action as I observed good, godly character in them, and felt confident that they would run the race God had for them with faithfulness and endurance. All 8 of our kids are high character Christians who are living for the Lord, and doing well in life. I realize there are a lot of variables on how a baby will turn out when they finally reach the age of 40 years old, and many of them are outside the parents control, but I also know that the quality of the parenting is the major factor in the end result. As I think about what Patty and I did as parents, I do so not to feel good about myself, but to be able to help and coach parents today who are faced with 100 times the challenge we had when we raised our kids. We got tons of counsel from successful parents when our kids were little and I would like to give tons to those who want it.
One of the key things we did with our kids was instill in them a love for the church. The church is the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, Jesus gave His life for the church, the church will be the eternal companion of Jesus. So many people have a low view of the church today and are critical of just about everything concerning the church. They can’t get past the sins and flaws in the people that they see and hear in the church, and their own opinions of how things ought to be done in the church constantly sours their attitude. Loving the church means seeing the church as Jesus does and being part of the reason the church grows in Christ-likeness.
We instilled a positive attitude by having them serve and work in the church beginning when they were barely walking. Some of my favorite pictures of our kids is when they were packing lumber for a building project at the church. We taught them early about giving their money sacrificial for the work of the church. Patty would give them money when they would get the sermon notes all filled out correctly. Most importantly we modeled loving our church by the way we talked about everything in it, and by our own devotion to it. We loved the church like we love Jesus, and we were devoted to our church like we are to Jesus.
God blesses some people, He blesses some people a lot. His blessings are conditional. When we love His Bride He blesses us, and the more we love His Bride the more He blesses us. Teaching our kids to love the church is setting them up for great blessings from the God of the universe.
A great passage that describes “salvation” is Colossians 1:13-14, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Who does God rescue, and why? The word that has been used most often over 2000 plus years is “believe”, from John 3:16, ” whoever believes will have eternal life”. The problem is that the word “believe” has been simplified to mean “the acknowledgment of existence”, and the “acknowledgment of certain theological facts to be true”. James 2:19 says this about that kind of belief, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” The Word I use now instead of believe, is love. So the question isn’t “do you believe in Jesus”, but ” do you love Jesus”. Paul makes this emphasis in 1Corinthians 16:22 “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.” So what dos it mean to love Jesus, how do we know if we do truly love Him? In John 14:15 Jesus is quoted as saying, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments”. He says it again a few verses later in verse 21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Obviously Jesus is not talking about being perfect, no one is perfect but Jesus, and He knows it, but it would be the attitude of wanting to serve Him, to obey Him, to please Him, to be like Him, and wanting, really wanting to do better when we mess up. Paul expresses that strong desire in Philippians 3:12-14. “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Just because a person believes they are a turtle doesn’t make them one, and just because someone believes they are going to live with God forever instead of living with the devil doesn’t mean they will. It would be good to know that for sure.
I heard somewhere a number of years ago that heresy is created by truth out of balance with another truth that is in tension with it, or put another way, majoring on one truth and ignoring another. An example would be the place that good works has in our salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “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, so that no one may boast.” So if that were the only verse in the Bible it would be easy to say, good works don’t matter. But the very next verse in Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” In Hebrews 6:9 it says, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation”. I am convinced after 42years of ministry that many who say they are Christians, who sincerely believe they are Christians are pseudo Christians, which seems apparent by their behavior, which means that some day they will stand before God and He will say to them, “depart from Me, I never knew you”. God created everything, He created hell as a place of torment, He created eternity with Him as a place of incomprehensible joy. He makes the rules, He determines truth, our opinions and beliefs, no matter how strong don’t determine reality. A person who says, “I am not going to believe in a God who would send people to Hell”, I wonder after they have been there for awhile if they will feel vindicated. Our place in eternity is so important, we should seek truth humbly, as a learner, not a know it all, we should seek God humbly, if we truly seek Him we will find Him. Don’t think that the intellectual acknowledgement to a historical fact that Jesus existed and does exist is “believing in Jesus”. You will find yourself on the wrong side of eternity some day, and then it is to late.
When I am camping at the Steen’s Mts with my boys it is easy to justify undisciplined behavior, because we are camping, after all. I can easily spend the whole day, eating, fishing, talking for hours about everything under the sun, but mostly hunting and sports, fishing some more, eating some more, and then it is time to climb into the sleeping bag, but wait – I didn’t read my Bible, I didn’t pray, I didn’t spend any time memorizing bible verses, I didn’t read in any good books, but the thought is, “It’s ok, I am camping, and fishing so I don’t need to do those things, just relax and enjoy the rest”. So when I get back home and send a report to my pastor friends who hold me accountable, I label the report, “A fishing report”, which means, “don’t give me a hard time about not praying and reading my Bible, I have an excuse.” I have done that a lot in the past, and it really messes up my momentum, and my commitment. So I decided before this trip that I was going to maintain the basic disciplines. I didn’t do well at all on Monday and Tuesday, falling into my old routine, but today I am doing much better, having repented last night laying in my sleeping bag, and this morning outlining the day and committing to keep the schedule I had made, asking God to give me His strength to be good and faithful.