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October 8 / October 15 / October 22 / October 29

October 1, 2017 - Passion

Anyone that knows me knows that I love football. I think it's the greatest game ever invented and it's about the only sport that I watch all the time. I love my NY Giants and would go through hours of traffic, pay ridiculous parking fees and suffer a bunch of other abuses to see a game live at Giant Stadium. I love everything about football, including "fantasy football." I am not alone. There are millions of people from all walks of life who feel that way about their sports. You see, there are very few things in life that bring out passion like sports. This is true when you go to a soccer game in Barcelona, a Basketball game in Lithuania, a Rugby match in Australia... Sports bring out passion in people, countries and cultures. Remember the 1980 Olympic US hockey team beating the powerful USSR team to win the gold medal? What an eruption of passion in our country. It was like a human seismic quake of joy. That's what passion does.

The last few weeks, something happened that has been quenching the passion for football. Even I am getting to the place where I may watch a whole lot less football (I think I just heard a big hand clap from Barbara). I am not here to describe nor analyze it. I only want to state that even passion can be affected when certain things get to it. It's like cold water being poured onto a fire. And if it's not remedied, that fire of passion can be put out.

Now there are a few other passions that are very important to us as Christians. One of them is the passion for the gospel. I remember the months immediately after I became a believer, I was so passionate for the gospel message. I would wear t-shirts stating that I loved Jesus. I would walk down streets sharing the gospel to people I meet. I would stand on a box by street corners singing gospel songs. I would spend hours behind a book table telling people about the Lord that I loved. I did that as a teenager and I never got paid for doing any of that. It was my passion that drove me to be involved in them. I am sure many of you can share similar experiences. But over time, that passion can be affected. There are so many things like school, career, relationships, family... and a host of other worldly concerns that can put out that passion. And unless we are careful, our passion for the gospel will be gone. Perhaps if we can keep this verse that Paul wrote in Romans 1:16 front and center, "...I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." then we can always keep that passion in our hearts. The gospel saves anyone and everyone who will hear it and believe it. Be passionate about that. Now hopefully football will get straightened out, or I will have to learn how to golf.

October 8, 2017 - Diasters and Our Response

Here's a headline from USA today this week, "Storms, earthquakes, North Korea and now the Las Vegas massacre. We have to wonder: 'What's next?'" In the span of two weeks, two major Cat 4 hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, hit the continental U.S. Then a third storm, Maria, clobbered Puerto Rico. Mexico was shaken by two earthquakes 12 days apart that killed hundreds of people. Wildfires consumed an area in the West 50% larger than the state of New Jersey. And then Las Vegas... What are we to think? Actor Kirk Cameron called the hurricanes "a spectacular display of God's immense power" and said, "weather is sent to cause us to respond to God in humility, awe and repentance." Is he right? Does it not seem like a major scary thing is happening one after another? Why is that? Now we have always had these things throughout history, but does it not seem a lot more intense these days?

There are people who almost with instantaneous responsive impulses will blame someone. In politics they will blame the other party. In geopolitics, they will blame the country they hate. In social issues, they will blame those on the other side. But is there something else far more than that? Maybe Kirk Cameron has a point? The Bible has at least 2 things to say about it. First, Mark 13: 8 states, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains." Yup, the Lord told us these things are going to happen and they will increase as the end times are nearer. Second, there is a promise God gave for the short term, "...if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (II Chron. 7:14) As God's people living in this great country, what are we doing in response to all these things? Are we humbling ourselves before God? Are we repenting for embracing blatant immorality? Are we praying and seeking after him? USA Today ended the article by quoting this, "...with all that's going on in the world, you can't help but be a little bit apocalyptic." Something to seriously think about as we wrestle with all that is going on today. God has a lot to say about it. We just have to listen.

It is always good to worship with you in the house of the Lord. Barb and I will travel next week to Ukraine and minister with orphans and foster children. We will worship next week at the Bucha Baptist church outside of Kiev. We covet your prayers. We know God answers them.

October 15, 2017 - God Is There

For anyone who has traveled internationally, you know how difficult a long trip on an airplane can be. While the modern jet is equipped with the latest technology along with everything possible to make you comfortable, being herded into the economy class cabin with a couple of hundred people and squeezed into a tiny chair for the next 14 hours are not things anyone can wish for. That environment can cause a host of effects that are not very desirable. I am somewhat claustrophobic and that just increases the irritation. Barb has a fear of flying. And we both have a disdain for bad airplane food. So before every trip, we pray earnestly for the Lord's hand to make it a great trip and that we can bless the Lord in our encounters. And without exceptions, there would always be a conversation with someone, an event that happens, and an encounter that would make the trip more than a means to an end. God makes the experience different. On this trip, we entered it being pretty tired from a month of extreme work and ministry exhaustion. And getting ready for some important ministry works with orphans and foster homes in Ukraine required some more efforts. So the Lord answered our prayers in a really kind way. The plane we boarded to go to Munich was more than half empty. We each had our own row of seats, enough to lie down totally across. Wow! That doesn't happen much in these "stuff in as many as you can" airplanes. What a blessing it was for us. It completely changed the environment of our travel. And we arrived quite differently physically, mentally and emotionally. Hmmm... I guess that's why people fly "first class", for a couple thousand dollars more.

I remember thinking about this a little bit as we were flying across the Atlantic. As people, we are impacted a lot by our environments. Growing up in a certain culture, living in a particular city, having a big or small family, how our parents treated us... all these and many other things formed our life environment. And we did not determine most of them. Are we just by-products of them? Or can we be more? I thought about our trips in those flying tubular compartments and I realized that almost without exception, we had good experiences. Not because they were great environments, but because we didn't let them dictate the essence of what we were and how we would feel. And we always trusted in God to provide grace for us. I love this verse in Psalm 71:16, "Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother's womb, you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you!" You see, no matter the environment, God is there and his hand has a part in it. There is always something great that can come out of it. That's just who God is and what he has in mind so that we can always go through anything and do more than survive. We can be victorious. It can be the most difficult life experience... or just a long trip on a crowded plane. Trust God for victory in it and keep praising him.

October 22, 2017 - Stand Strong

In case you didn't know it, this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Historians usually date the start of the Protestant Reformation to the 1517 publication of Martin Luther's "95 Theses". It took the Thirty years' war and a whole lot of stuff to bring it to a conclusion, which was the allowance of both Catholicism and Protestantism to co-exist in Europe. It is an anniversary celebrated by Europeans a lot more than Americans so it seems. No matter how people celebrate it, it has certainly been used by God to do so much in ministering to the people of the world. Essentially, after centuries of abuse and false teachings, it brought back to the church a revival and the embracing of the Bible and the life-changing message of the gospel. And when you examine its history, you find just a few courageous men who risked it all to stand up for the Lord. Men like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli led the way and paid the price for their beliefs, allowing for the gospel in later years to flourish and reach the most distant shores of this earth. It didn't take many men, just enough passionate and courageous ones, and a world was transformed.

Sometimes I stop and look at the world we live in and wonder whether we are racing down a similar road that the people took back 500 years ago. A road full of hopelessness and despair. The world today continues to make up rules that only enslave, offers up promises that do not deliver, and encourages us to do things that are empty at best and destructive at their worst. And much of the church continues to not have answers for them. Maybe it is time again, after 500 years for some to rise up and stand firm on the Word of God and the gospel message of Jesus Christ. I do know that history told us that the Reformation came during a very dark time. And when the light of God's truth was turned on, it was very bright. Matthew 5:14-15 says, "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house." We are in need of godly people to stand for God's truth, to live out his life, to speak forth his gospel and deliver his love. It is now five centuries closer to the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and people still need to know that it is "sola Scriptura", in scriptures alone that we stand upon and "sola Fide", in faith alone in Jesus Christ we are saved. I believe CBC folks will be amongst those who will stand strong.

October 29, 2017 - Godliness With Contentment

In less than a month, our nation will once again enter into a seasonal shopping frenzy. On the day after Thanksgiving, or what we know better as "Black Friday", millions of people will embark upon a journey of finding the best gifts for Christmas. This may be one of the most tiring, frustrating, and expensive journey of the year. In 2016, an average American spent $929 on gifts. Add onto that the innumerable amount of man hours in spending that money while searching for the gifts. You can see why we can call it a "frenzy". After all that, on Christmas morning when the collected gifts are opened, what do you think the percentage of disappointment found on faces would be? Almost 75% will not like their gifts. 1/3 will re-gift it to someone else. 27% will give it to charity and 14% will sell it. (Survey from Rakuten group). Yikes! And Double yikes! Hmmm... maybe we have taken the American prosperity a bit too much for granted.

On our trip last week in Eastern Europe, we visited Nazar. Some of you will remember him because you contributed some funds to help him and his family. This young boy has an incurable form of muscular dystrophy. Recently he fell and broke his leg. The complications it caused almost ended his life. With hundreds of people praying for him, the Lord is bringing healing slowly back to him. He is back home now, but he is still completely bed-ridden and is in need of a respirator and tubes going into his neck for him to breathe. He has no voice and he can't even move without being carried by his dad. While we were there, we brought him some simple gifts, including a Texas baseball cap, which he wore with a smile. We also discovered one thing that he wanted. It wasn't anything that an American kid would be wishing for this Christmas, I assure you. You see, his respirator is connected to the wall socket. Well, in Ukraine, you often lose power, and sometimes for hours. When that happens, he can't breathe. So for this little boy, his greatest fear was when the lights would flicker. So we are buying and setting up a reserve power pack to be connected to his respirator, just in case of power failure. Let me tell you, no iphones, Play stations, jewelries, or a hundred other expensive gadgets will compete with this gift for Nazar. A simple gift of breathing will do just fine. I Timothy 6:6-8 says, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." I am by no means against Christmas gift giving, but let's just keep these verses in our hearts as we soon enter this season.