Why? – III

August 30, 2017

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James 1:2-5

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Now we get to the heart of the matter:  Should I be questioning God – asking GodWhy? ” – when hard trials enter my life?  Here is what it says in James 1:2 through 5:

      My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing
      that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have
      its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 
      If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally
      and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

We saw that the early New Testament believers were under persecution from the Jewish leaders, and probably experiencing drought and famine.  We also learned from James in verses 2 through 4 of our featured Scripture that through allowing trials to touch our lives, the Lord is maturing us to be more and more like Jesus!  But trials are tough!  So should we ask God why such struggles are present?

This is where verse 5 comes in:  “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  But this is not to be separated from the three verses before!

First, let’s define knowledge and wisdom:

•      Knowledge is knowing the facts!  But just knowing the facts does not mean you will be wise.  Some people have a lot of ‘head-knowledge’, but are said to “…have no common sense!

•      Wisdom, on the other hand, is knowing how to apply the facts of knowledge properly to life!  In relation to trials – it is understanding the situation you are currently experiencing and how it applies to your life!

So, if you lack wisdom – that is, the understanding of what is going on in your life through the trials you are facing – let him ask of God !  “Why, God?  Why is this happening to me?  What are You trying to teach me through it? ”  According to Romans 8:28, “…we know that all things work together for good to those who love God….”  And Philippians 1:6 says that the Lord “…has begun a good work in you, [and] will complete it [continue it] until the day of Jesus Christ [His return]….”  But what is the goal of this good work God has begun and will continue?  The answer is in Romans 8:29:  “…whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (See II Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 3:10).  It can be a painful process to take the likes of us and conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ!  Why?  Because we have a lot of rough edges in our lives that have to be ‘ground off!  That’s very often done through tests and trials – and that can hurt!

Here are just a couple of examples of specific reasons why someone might experience a trial (taken from my own life):

•      In the first ten years of our marriage, Hope and I were in financial difficulties!  During the winter of 1976-77 – having left my first pastorate for a business opportunity in fund-raising sales – we were so financially strapped that at times we didn’t know from where the next meal would come!  But God always provided – and more than once by miracles!  What was the purpose of this financial test?  We learned the truth of Matthew 6:31 through 34:

      Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall
      we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For after all these things the
      Gentiles [unbelievers, in this case] seek.  For your heavenly Father
      knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of
      God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 
      Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about
      its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Hope and I have learned to rely on what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:19:  “…my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

•       In struggling with my very addictive nature (alcohol, drugs, food, pornography, etc.), I often wondered “Why do I struggle so much?  What is missing in my life that others possess who have found victory? ”  But the more I struggled over the years, the more I desired victory – to find out what was missing!  Then I discovered II Peter 1:3 and 4:

      …His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godli-
      ness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,
      by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises,
      that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having
      escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

I already had it – I already have it – all!  What I needed to do for victory was comprehend and apprehend what God had already given me!  In learning this, I have victory over all the things that used to control me!  Now, I understand the struggles of others, and teach them also to have victory.

But there is a caveat here!  We need to hear what is written in James 1:6 through 8:

      But let him ask in faith, with no doubt, for he who doubts is like the
      wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  For let not that man
      suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-
      minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Yes, when we don’t understand the purposes for which He is allowing us to undergo testings and trials, God encourages us to askWhy? ”  He will give us the answers to understand what we are going through, and how to apply the lessons we are to learn properly to our lives!  However, as it says in Luke 11:9 (International Standard Version):  even if we “Keep asking… Keep searching…Keep knocking…,don’t give up!  God will answer yourWhy?in His own good time!  But He will answer!

I hope this helps you in the midst of any trial or testing you may be experiencing.

Why? – II

August 28, 2017

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James 1:2-5

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Are we supposed to ask God “Why? ” when hard trials come our way?  Too often I have heard it said, “Don’t ask why; don’t question God!  Just accept it.”  But our featured Scripture says something different!  Here is James 1:2 through 5:

      My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing
      that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have
      its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 
      If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally
      and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

In Friday’s blog, we saw the major trials that the early followers of Jesus Christ were experiencing:

•      They were excommunicated from the synagogue! (See John 9:22).  They were cut off from the religious, social, and business life of Jewish society!

•      They were under severe persecution, led by Saul of Tarsus! (See Acts 8:1; 9:1, 2; 26:10, 11).

•      They may have been experiencing devastating drought and famine! (See Acts 11:27, 28).

So when James tells his readers to “…count it all joy when you fall into various trials…,these believers were undergoing extensive trials!

Now trials, for the most part, are not joyous occasions!  What does James mean when he says to “…count it all joy…”?  It is actually a book keeping term.  In keeping a ledger at the most elementary level, you have two types of entries – debit entries and credit entries!  James is saying to mark down any trial we are experiencing as Christians in the credit column of the ledger!  Trials don’t feel good!  They don’t seem good!  Too often they are downright painful!  However, God is doing a good work through those trials, and so we can mark it down in the credit column, on the plus side!

What good work is God doing through trials?  It is a three-fold work directed to one grand aim:

•      Trials test our faith! (verse 3).  This is obvious.  In Hebrews 11:1 we are told:

      Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of
      things not seen….But without faith it is impossible to please Him,
      for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is
      a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Faith lays hold of the unseen!  It gives substance to that for which we hope!  Few people claim to have seen God.  Few have been to heaven and returned (some who have experienced dying and then have been revived say they received a taste of heaven.)  But for most of us, God and the things of God remain largely hoped for and not seen But if our faith is made strong, these unseen things become very real! (See Romans 10:17; 12:3; Colossians 2:7; I Thessalonians 5:8; II Thessalonians 1:3; I Timothy 4:6; 6:11; II Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 12:2; 13:7; James 2:17, 18 to help understand how faith is initiated and built up).  Just as any physical muscle in our bodies by regular exercise is made stronger, so our faith is strengthened through dealing with trials!

•      “…the testing of…our faith produces patience.” (verse 3).  What is patience?  The Greek word is υʽπομονή (pronounced hoop-om-on-ay’ ).  In Thayer’s Greek Definitions, we are told, “…the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety even by the greatest trials and sufferings.”  In trials of our faith, patience is produced – unless we utterly fall apart and quit believing!

•      “But let patience have its perfect work….” (verse 4).  Through patience, we keep bearing up under trials without complaint!  This bearing up is its perfect work because such patience is what God practices!

      ✞      Commenting on the days leading up to the great flood of Genesis 7 and 8, Paul writes in Romans 9:22 (Contemporary English Version), concerning corrupted and sinning humankind:  “God wanted to show His anger and reveal His power against everyone who deserved to be destroyed.  But instead, He patiently put up with them…for 120 years while the ark was being built! (See Genesis 6:3).

      ✞      Peter wrote in II Peter 3:9 (Lexham English Bible) about the second coming of the Lord Jesus being delayed:  “The Lord is not delaying the promise, as some consider slowness, but is being patient toward you, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

So, in learning and practicing patience, we are becoming more and more like God, revealed in Jesus Christ! (See John 14:7).

•      The end result is that we…may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (verse 4).  And Who is the only One who is perfect and complete, lacking nothing?  Jesus Christ!  We are to be made more and more like Jesus!

      ✞      Romans 8:29 – “For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

      ✞      II Corinthians 3:18 – “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

And, by the way, in Hebrews 2:10 we are told, “…it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory [us], to make the author of their salvation perfect [complete] through sufferings.”  Jesus was made complete through His sufferings, because we were redeemed and added to His Body, the Church! (See I Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 5:29-32).

So that’s what trials endured with patience will do in our lives!  In the next blog, we will consider the question we often desire to ask when in a trial – “Why?

Why? – I

August 25, 2017

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James 1:2-5

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Have you ever heard it stated concerning a hard trial coming into a life – “We are not supposed to ask God ‘Why?’ ”?  I disagree!  And so does the Bible!  Here is James 1:2 through 5:

      My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing
      that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have
      its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 
      If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally
      and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Let’s take a look at this Scripture verse by verse, and see what we can learn.  We will begin with verse 1 so we can better understand the situation of this writing.

James 1:1 – “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

•      The epistle of James is most likely the earliest of the New Testament writings.  There are some indications of this in verse 1 (and this early date becomes important when we get to verse 2):

      ✞      According to tradition, and recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus, James, the half-brother of Jesus (see Matthew 13:55) was martyred in Jerusalem around 64 AD – stoned by Jewish leaders!

      ✞      Many Bible scholars date this epistle as early as 45 AD – only 15 years after Jesus was crucified!

      ✞      This letter was directed to the Jews – “…to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad…,” which speaks to an early date of writing.

              ▸      Following Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8: “…you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth…,” it is probable that the witness of these early believers had not yet gone past Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  The main witness may still have been focused on Jerusalem and all Judea.  It was still an early date when Peter opened the door to the Gentiles taking the gospel to the Roman centurion Cornelius in Acts 10.  Even earlier, in Acts 8, Philip ministered to the Samaritans just to the north of Judea.  These were the first outreaches beyond the Jews!

              ▸      In James 2:2 it says this: “…if there should come into your assembly a man…” (James is writing concerning the practice of showing favor to the rich over the poor.)  The word assembly in the Greek is συναγωγή (pronounced soon-ag-o-gay’ ).  We pronounce it synagoguethe local center of Jewish worship and education – another indication that this is an early letter directed to the Jews.

James 1:2 – “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials….”  What were the trials the early Jewish believers were experiencing?

•      In John 9 is the story about Jesus healing the man who was blind from birth.  The Pharisees were upset and angry because this had occurred on the Sabbath (see John 9:14).  When the leaders called in the man’s parents to confirm the facts, their answer in John 9:21 was, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees, we do not know….He is of age; ask him….”  And then it gives the reason for their abrupt answer in verse 22:  “…they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that [Jesus]…was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue.

      ✞      This was not just being thrown out of the building on his ear!  This was excommunication from the Jewish religion – and their religion was the central part of the Israelite’s life!

      ✞      This excommunication was somewhat like the Amish ban!  Wanda Brumstetter, in her website, wandabrunstetter.com/amish-life/amish-facts, says this about the ban:

      Although limited conversation is permitted with a shunned person, church
      members are advised not to have any business dealings with someone who
      is being shunned.  The shunned person may attend family gatherings, but
      will likely be served food at a separate table.

Jewish excommunication was even more severe!  Other Jews were not allowed to hold conversation with the excommunicated one.  They were not to buy from or sell to that one.  The ‘sinning’ one was cut off from the religion of the Jews, (as said above) the central part of the Israelite’s life!  That person was put in a very hard place!  He would probably lose his job or his business, and perhaps his home and family!  He would be like a leper – ostracized from the community! (See Leviticus 13:45, 46).

•     In Acts 7 is recorded the incident where Stephen is stoned – the first Christian martyr!  In Acts 8:1 and on into chapter 9, it tells us of the intense Jewish persecution led by Saul the Pharisee, who later became Paul the Apostle.  We are told in Acts 8:1, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”  Paul later testified before King Agrippa in Acts 26. In verses 10 and 11 he told the king:

      …many of the saints I shut up in prison…and when they were put
      to death, I cast my vote against them.  And I punished them very
      often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and
      being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even
      to foreign cities.

Saul was a terror to these new Jewish followers of Jesus!  They ran for their lives!  And James wrote to them, addressing them as “…the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad….

•     One more hardship that they were facing is recorded in Acts 11:27 and 28:

      …in those days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch.  Then
      one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that
      there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which
      also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.

This famine is an historical fact, occuring in 47 AD!  And this was another hard testing for those persecuted Jewish believers to whom James was writing!

So, when James tells them to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials…,they had a lot of trials to count for joy!

We will continue on Monday.


August 23, 2017

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II Corinthians 5:20, 21

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

It is all about Substitution – this matter of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ!  And the Scripture that best shows this is II Corinthians 5:21.  I include verse 20 in our featured Scripture because, as Paul writes, we are ambassadors for Christ !  Jesus is not here physically to call us to the Father through Himself (see John 5:23; 14:6; Ephesians 2:18), but we are here in His place– Substitution!  And so we implore you on Christ’s behalf !  Here is II Corinthians 5:20 and 21:

      …we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through
      us:  we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He
      made Him [Jesus Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might
      become the righteousness of God in Him.

But there is more to Substitution than being ambassadors for Christ, and imploring on His behalf.

•      The very need for Jesus Christ to come to earth in His first incarnation is because we have placed ourselves in Substitution for God!

      ✞      We are designed to have the Lord at the center of our being, directing our lives for His glory!  Paul wrote concerning believers in I Corinthians 6:19, “…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? ”  But before one invites Jesus into his or her life, that unsaved one is empty of God and controlled by the devil’s directions! (See John 8:44; Ephesians 2:2).

Since we are designed to have God living and directing from within, without Him we have an emptiness therein that we try to fill with other things!  Saint Augustine, the bishop of Hippo (an extinct city in Algeria, North Africa), wrote The Confessions at the end of the third century AD.  The great theological scholar made this statement:  “You have made us for yourself, O Lord. And our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”  It is that inner restlessness that we so desperately try to fill!  With what do we try to fill our lives?  With many things, including drugs, alcohol, sex, recreation, work, hobbies, music, electronic gadgetry, etc. – anything that can divert our attention away from that inner restless emptiness!  The problem is that none of these diversions can take the place of God!  They only cover the real issue – our estrangement from our Creator because of sin! (See Romans 3:10-18).  In Isaiah 57:20 and 21 it says, “But the wicked art like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.  ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’

      ✞      But the main thing we put in Substitution for God is ourselves!

              ▸      This has been the devil’s first lie to mankind – and his chief deception ever since!  Genesis 3:5 (International Standard Version) – “…your eyes will be opened and you’ll become like God, knowing good and evil.”  It is that same lie by which he, Lucifer, fell from God’s favor! (See Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-17).

              ▸      Without the Lord in His rightful place, we wrongfully occupy the throne of our lives, making our own decisions!

The problem with making this Substitution is that we are always under the ultimate dominion of another!  We are designed to be under God’s dominion, but without Him, we are under the rule of…the god of this age…” (I Corinthians 4:4) – Satan!  Unless something drastic takes place, we will join the devil “…in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death….And the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever….” (Revelation 14:11; 21:8).

•      Because we have substituted ourselves to be in God’s place, and to solve that problem, He became our Substitution – taking our place!

      ✞      As sinners, we deserve to be under the wrath and judgment of God!

              ▸      John 3:36 – “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

              ▸ Hebrews 9:27 – “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment….

              ▸ II Peter 2:9 (International Standard Version) – “…the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials and to hold unrighteous people for punishment on the day of judgment….

      ✞      We are told in our featured Scripture, II Corinthians 5:21, God…made Him [Jesus Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us….

              ▸ I Peter 2:24 – Christ…bore our sins in His own body on that tree….

              ▸ I Peter 3:18 – “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God….

              ▸ I Peter 4:1 – “…Christ suffered for us in the flesh….

              ▸ Revelation 1:5 – “…Jesus Christ…loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood….

      ✞      Jesus – the Son of God, God the Son – became sin for us! He took the punishment we rightly deserved for our sinful rebellion against the holy God!

              ▸      He suffered on the cross the equivalent of eternity in hell in our place!  Somehow, in the period of three hours of darkness (see Matthew 27:45), all hell, for all sinners, for all eternity was compacted and laid upon Him!

              ▸      When, at the end of that ‘eternal’ suffering, Jesus cried out in John 19:30, “It is finished! ”  He was literally saying in the Greek, “Paid in full!

      ✞     But that is only half the transaction described in this Substitution!  The other half is…that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

              ▸      Wearing the very righteousness of God, we stand before the Lord as if we had never sinned! (See Zechariah 3:1-5).

              ▸      We are told in Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

              ▸      No wonder it tells us in I John 1:7, “…the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

              ▸      According to Ephesians 1:6, “…He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

What a Substitution!  If you want to be a part of this Substitution – my sins for His righteousness – then heed John 1:12:  “But as many as received Him [Jesus Christ as Savior], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.

Gain, Loss, And Gain – IV

August 21, 2017

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I Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Easy-to-Read Version)

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Our featured Scripture for this fourth blog in the series, Gain, Loss, And Gain, is I Thessalonians 4:13 through 18.  It is a rather long passage for a blog, so I shortened it as much as I could without losing the meaning of what Paul has written.

      Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those who have died.
      We don’t want you to be sad like…those who have no hope.  We believe
      that Jesus died, but…also…that He rose again.  So we believe that God
      will raise to life through Jesus any who have died and bring them to-
      gether with Him when He comes.  What we tell you now is the Lord’s
      own message….The Lord Himself will come down from heaven….And
      the people who have died and were in Christ will rise first.  After that
      we who are still alive at that time will be gathered up with those who
      have died.  We will…meet the Lord in the air.  And we will be with the
      Lord forever.  So encourage each other with these words.

I want to emphasize Paul’s words in verse 15:  “What we tell you now is the Lord’s own message….”  It did not come from the apostle’s mind! It came directly from God – to…encourage each other with these words.” (verse 18).  And truly, these are words of encouragement!

While I was writing this, my office phone rang.  When I answered, I could hear sounds of something being moved around, but no voice answered my “hello?”  What happened is what we refer to as a ‘butt-call! – an unintended call from a cell phone in someone’s pocket.  I hung up, and immediately the phone rang again.  My dear friend Bob, who lives on the other end of the state, realized he had made a ‘butt-call’ and called back to talk.  I asked how they were, and he replied, “Under the circumstances, it could be better.”  Sandy, Bob’s dear wife, has a younger sister, Christy, who is dying of cancer.  She and her husband live in Florida. Bob and Sandy – and other family members – are traveling in to express their love to Christy, and to say goodbye.  She probably has only a week or so to live.  Bob, Sandy, Christy, and many of the family members are Christians!  Although he and Sandy knows the truth of I Thessalonians 4:13 through 18, I reminded Bob of Paul’s words of comfort – any separation of believers is only temporary.  Someday, perhaps soon, we will be together again forever with the One who redeemed us!  Bob and I prayed together and I wished them a good trip to Florida, and a great last visit with Christy and family.  God’s timing is perfect – even forbutt-calls!

What Gain, Loss, And Gain am I referring to in this blog?

•      GainWe have great gain in our relationships with loved ones, in most instances, over many years!  My dear wife Hope and I have been married for going on 49 years.  She is the perfect fit for me – God’s best gift He could have given me – after, of course, His own dear Son, Jesus Christ my Lord!  My wife is such an easy person to live with.  We get along very well, and I love her more than I can say!  I pray for her every day, and ask God for many more years with my precious life-mate!

Then there is my immediate family – two daughters, nine grandchildren, and three great grandchildren!  I love them all, and many have accepted Jesus Christ as their own personal Savior.  My extended family includes one brother in heaven, Christian cousins, and many, many believing friends!  I have great Gain through my family and friends!

•      LossThis brief temporal life is not guaranteed, even for the proverbial “…threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years…” (Psalm 90:10 – King James Version).  James 4:14 says, “What is you life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”  I know my loved ones can be taken from this life in an instant.  Even with my beloved wife there is no guarantee for tomorrow!  I would feel the loss keenly, and from my current vantage point – I depend on her for many things – I don’t know how I would make it!  But because of the positive example I have seen in others who have suffered the loss of a loved one, and because of the promises I read in my Bible (see Deuteronomy 33:25; Philippians 4:19; Hebrews 13:5; and many more), I know, by God’s grace, I will get through any Loss I experience!

•      Gain – The last Gain of our title is from two perspectives:

      ✞      Loved ones left behind – To know our loved one is in heaven with the Lord is indeed a Gain for us and a blessing!  This is especially true if that one has suffered in this temporal life.  To know that one is safe and happy; to know that we will someday – perhaps soon – be together again, this is as Paul says in verse 18, a great comfort…with these words!

      ✞      The one who has passed – It is not easy to explain just what the one in heaven is experiencing because Paul, in I Corinthians 2:9, tells us, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”  But there are great and strong hints as to what that one will experience:

               ▸      II Corinthians 5:8 – “…absent from the body…present with the Lord.

               ▸      Revelation 21:4 – “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain….

                ▸      I John 3:2 – “…we will be like [Jesus]…for we shall see Him as He is…” (see I Corinthians 15:49).  Since the Lord has no stain of sin to mar His perfect being (see Isaiah 53:9; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 2:22), our sin nature – some of the works of which are listed in Galatians 5:19-21 – will be gone!  Only our godly nature will be left – never to sin again! (See I Corinthians 5:17; 15:50-54).

                ▸      I Thessalonians 4:17 – “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them [our believing loved ones] to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  We will be with Jesus forever! (See John 14:6).  And we will be reunited with our Christian loved ones forever also!

And so while there is Gain and Loss in this life, there is eternal Gain in heaven!  Let the words Paul wrote in Romans 8:18 ring in your heart and soul:  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Gain, Loss, And Gain – III

August 18, 2017

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Philippians 3:7, 8

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Philippians 3:7 and 8 is the featured Scripture for Gain, Loss, And Gain:

      But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
      But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the know-
      ledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all
      things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

As stated in the first two blogs, Paul’s Gains – that which he counted as Gains before he became a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ – were his pure Israelite pedigree, his standing as a Pharisee, his zeal for his Jewish religion, and his obedience to the law.  But once he found the Lord – or I should say, once the Lord found him! – he boldly stated,…what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ….indeed I also count all things loss…and count them as rubbish…!  This is Paul’ Loss!  But when you discover that what has been considered so valuable to you in the past is only rubbish, it really is not that hard to give it up – to count all those previous things you thought were Gains as loss!

But Gain and Loss are only two thirds of this series title!  And we already know what the final third is:  “…that I may gain Christ…the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord….”  Paul considered this truly as Gain – great Gain!  Let’s explore how the excellence of the knowledge of Christ is Gain.  In Christ we Gain…

•      …a cleansing!  We need to be absolutely clean from sin to be acceptable before God!

      ✞      Isaiah 1:18 – “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; thought they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

      ✞      Ezekiel 36:25 – “…I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.

      ✞      John 15:3 – “You are…clean through the word which I have spoken to you.

      ✞      I John 1:7, 9 – “…the blood of Jesus Christ…cleanses us from all sin….If we confess our sins, He is able and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

      ✞      Revelation 7:14 – “These are the ones who…washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

•      …a rest!  This life can be a wearisome journey, especially if you are trying to work your way into God’s favor!

      ✞      Isaiah 14:3 – “…the LORD gives you rest from your sorrow, and from your fear, and the hard bondage in which you were made to serve.

      ✞      Matthew 11:28 – “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

      ✞      John 16:33 – “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

      ✞      Ephesians 2:8 and 9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

      ✞      Titus 3:5 – “…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us….

•      …a full life here and now!  This is in opposition to the life of bondage that Satan inflicts upon us!

      ✞      Isaiah 40:31 – “…those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

      ✞      John 8:32 and 36 – “…you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free….if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

      ✞      John 10:10 – “The thief does not come except to steal…to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and…have it more abundantly.

      ✞      Galatians 5:22 and 23 (Easy-to-Read Version) – “…the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

      ✞      Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

•      …eternity with the Lord – beyond…all that we could ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20).

      ✞      Luke 16:25 – “…Lazarus…in…[his] lifetime…received…evil things; but now he is comforted….

      ✞      I Corinthians 2:9 – “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.

      ✞      I John 5:11 and 12 – “…God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life….

      ✞      Revelation 21:4 – “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

•      …God’s presence, guidance, and protection!

      ✞      Psalm 73:23 and 24 – “…I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand.  You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.

      ✞      Psalm 91:11 – “…He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways….

      ✞      Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

      ✞      Isaiah 30:21 – “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.

      ✞      Isaiah 41:1 through 3 – “Fear not, for I am with you; You are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

      ✞      Hebrews 13:5 with Matthew 28:20 – “I will never leave you nor forsake you….I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

There is so much more!  But I think you can see that Paul was not losing out on anything he had previously gained by saying,I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish….”  For he has gained…Christ Jesus my Lord…!

Have you experienced that Gain, Loss, And Gain?

Gain, Loss, And Gain – II

August 16, 2017

Image result for Photo Saul the Pharisee

Philippians 3:7, 8

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

We saw Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:7 and 8 concerning his Gain, Loss, And Gain:

      But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 
      But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the know-
      ledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all
      things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

We covered the first Gain of our title in our last blog.  Paul stated, “…I…count them [the gains] as rubbish…”  What were the Gains?

•      His pure Israelite pedigree – so highly prized by most Jews.

•      His standing as a Pharisee – a scholar-of-Scripture position demanding respect.

•      His zeal for his Jewish religion, worshiping the one true God – which, out of that zeal, he was fanatically persecuting the church.

•      His obedience to the law – at least the outward obedience to the God-given law plus adherence many of the man-man obligations the Pharisees had added.

But as a dedicated believer in and follower of the Lord Jesus, he firmly stated,…what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”  And then he elaborated, “…indeed I also count all things loss…and count them as rubbish…!  Why would Paul trash that which was before so important to him?  It was because of…the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord….

Two blogs ago, in Beware Of Blessings, I discussed the often-misunderstood truth that the devil is…the god of this world…” (see II Corinthians 4:4 – King James Version).  And, according to Luke 4:5 and 6, he has control of…all the kingdoms of the world…and the glory of them…,” which he usurped from our first parents.  While God is in ultimate control, and Satan can only go as far as God allows (see Job 1:12; 2:6), the evil one pulls the strings on this world’s societies!  That’s why the world is in such a mess with…wars and rumors of wars…famines, pestilences, and earthquakes… many betraying one another, and…hating…one another.” (Matthew 24:6 and 7).

Saul of Tarsus, before he became Paul the Apostle, was an enemy…of the cross of Christ…” (Philippians 3:18), and so he was under the dominion of the devil!  Even as an ultra-religous Pharisee, Saul…walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience…” (Ephesians 2:2).  And the input that this godless world instilled in Saul’s mind was opposed to what the Lord God wanted him to know!  He had to have a drastic mind-shift – a complete change of his world view – in order to be of use to God!  And so he had todumpall the rubbish of which before he was so proud, counting it loss for Christ !

Now, a Pharisee was well-trained in the Old Testament Scriptures.  And God testifies in Isaiah 55:11:  “…My word…that goes forth from my mouth…shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”  So when God’s plan of salvation came to Saul on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9:1-6), much of what this Pharisee had learned in his extensive training in the Scriptures came home to him, and was useful in his Christian life!  Likewise, early Christian training – as when a boy or girl is taken to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, and is taught the truth – is profitable when that one opens his or her heart in later life to the Lord Jesus Christ!

The mind-shift – the change of world view, that Paul had undertaken – was why he could say,But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”  He dumped the rubbish – what Christ called in Mark 7:7 and 8, “…the commandments…the tradition of men….”  Paul had found something much better – “…the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…”!

How about you?  What is your world view?  Is it the way of the world – the way of Satan?  Do you need to dump the rubbish and fill the voids with the excellence of the knowledge of Christ ?  One of the best ways to do this is to heed what the apostle wrote in Philippians 4:8 (American Standard Version):

      Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are
      honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure,
      whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report;
      if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

If you carefully monitor the input of your life, the output will reflect what is put in! (See Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 12:34, 35; 15:18-20).

Paul counted “…all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord….” (Philippians 3:8).  What if we did the same?

Gain, Loss, And Gain – I

August 14, 2017

Image result for Photo Saul the Pharisee

Philippians 3:7, 8

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

The title, Gain, Loss, And Gain, actually signifies a three-stage process!  And it is a process which Saint Paul experienced in his own life.  He writes about this in Philippians 3:4 through 14, of which our featured Scripture is verses 7 and 8:

      But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 
      But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the know-
      ledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all
      things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Let’s look at the three stages of this process:

•      Gain – “But what things were gain to me…” (Philippians 3:7).  Paul had a lot to brag about!  As he tells his readers in Philippians 3:4 – “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so….”  When he mentions the flesh, he is referring to our natural sin nature that is in opposition to God!  Still, by the world’s standards, Paul had accomplished a great deal in a short time!

      ✞      Philippians 3:5 – “…circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews….”  The apostle was recounting his flawless Israelite heritage!  No one could accuse him of not being 100% Jewish!

This was important to the Jews, for they considered themselves God’s chosen people!  As Moses told them in Deuteronomy 7:6:  “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God…chosen…for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples of the earth.”  The problem was what the Jews thought of themselves:  “I am so special! ” and not, “I am only special because God has called me unto Himself! ”  Hence, they looked down upon the Gentiles – the non-Jews – even considering them as unclean and untouchable!  Even Peter had this attitude – before God corrected him – shown in Acts 10:28.  He told the Roman centurion Cornelius, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.  But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”  Where in the Jewish law does it say that?  It doesn’t!  It was one of their Pharisaical man-made laws wrongly laid upon the people!  They were supposed to show forth Jehovah God to the nations – not totally isolate themselves from them!  God plainly told them in Psalm 96:10 (Jubilee Bible):  “Say among the Gentiles that the LORD reigns; He also has established the world, it shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” (See also Genesis 12:3).

      ✞      Philippians 3:5 – “…concerning the law, a Pharisee….”  The Pharisees were the conservative scholars and teachers of the Old Testament Scriptures.  It says of them, comparing them to the Sadducees, in Acts 23:8:  “…the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection — and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.

But the Pharisees were greatly legalistic, insisting that to keep the Jewish law properly, one must obey all sorts of legal requirements – man-made rules loaded upon – and often obscuring – God’s law! (See the whole chapter of Matthew 23).  And Paul testified in Acts 26:5, “…according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”  But Jesus roundly condemned this sect!  He told them, “Serpents, brood of vipers!  How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

      ✞      Philippians 3:6 – “…concerning zeal, persecuting the church….”  The Jewish leadership’s reason for persecuting the church (and so Saul the Pharisee’s reason) was that these followers of Jesus Christ were heretics who were pursuing a false religion!

              ▸      Jesus claimed to be God! (See Mark 2:7; 14:62; John 8:24, 28; 10:33).  This was considered blasphemy!  And, according to Leviticus 24:16, “…whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death….

              ▸      Whoever put their faith in Jesus as the Son of God (Savior and Lord) was considered engaging in idolatry, which was also punishable by death! (See Deuteronomy 8:19, 20; 13:6-10; 30:17, 18).

And persecute the church Saul did!  His zeal was boundless!  He tried to totally stamp out thisidolatrousmovement!  When later, as Paul the Apostle, he testified before King Agrippa in Caesarea, he told the king in Acts 26:9 through 11:

      Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name
      of Jesus of Nazareth.  This I did also did in Jerusalem, and many of
      the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief
      priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 
      And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to
      blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted
      them even to foreign cities.

      ✞      Philippians 3:6 – “…concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”  No one can completely keep the law, and so gain righteousness before God! (See Romans 3:20; James 2:10, 11).  The only way to be righteous in God’s sight is to have that righteousness imputed to you by Another! (See Romans 4:20-25; II Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:11).  And the Jews totally missed this essential truth! (See Romans 10:3, 4).

But Saul the Pharisee kept the Jewish law as well as or better than anyone!  He could say, as did the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:20:  “All these things I have kept from my youth.

All this was his Gain before He met Jesus on the Damascus Road!  Let’s see what then happened in the next blog.

Beware Of Blessings!

August 11, 2017

Image result for Photo blessings

Deuteronomy 6:10-12

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Now this is a strange title for a blogBeware Of Blessings!  We all want to be blessed of God with heath, prosperity, peace, and happiness.  But there is a danger in being so blessed!  God told Moses this in Deuteronomy 6:10 through 12:

      And it shall be, when the LORD your God brings you into the land of
      which He swore to your fathers…to give you large and beautiful cities
      which you did not build, houses full of good things, which you did not
      fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees
      which you did not plant — when you have eaten and are full — then
      beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of
      Egypt, from the house of bondage.

The Lord was warning the Israelites – newly redeemed from slavery in Egypt, and headed for the blessings of the Promised Land of Canaanto Beware of taking for granted His Blessings because of the human tendency to attribute such Blessings to ourselves or to false supernatural forces!  That’s just what happened multiple times in Israel’s history (see for instance Judges 10:10-14).  They finally lost their blessed land because of their unfaithful attitude! (See II Kings 17:6-23; Daniel 9:5-7).

The reason we need to be Beware Of Blessings is built into who we are in our innermost being!  You see, we have a sin nature!  And that nature, inherited from our first parents (see Romans 5:12) infects us all! (See Romans 3:10, 23).  We naturally tend to pull away from God and gravitate toward that which is against His nature.

This Bible truth is not easy to accept, because it runs counter to what we are generally told and what we tend to believe about ourselves.  This Bible truth is that we are under the dominion of Satan!

•      Adam and Eve were given dominion over all the earth! (See Genesis 1:28, 30).  They – and all descendants they were to produce – were to…fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28).  But they were to be benevolent and gracious rulers over creation, under God’s direction and headship!  Mankind was not designed by God to rape and destroy His creation!

•      But enter the devil!  This rebellious super-angel, Lucifer (see Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19 – speaking of the spiritual force behind the powerful king of Tyre), usurped the dominion of creation God gave to man when Adam and Eve bowed, as it were, to obey him rather than God! (See Genesis 3:1-6).

•      That is why the devil is called “…the god of this world…” (II Corinthians 4:4 – King James Version).  That is also why he could offer Jesus “…all the kingdoms of the world…and the glory of them…[because] ‘All this authority…has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.’ ” (Luke 4:5, 6)

•      Satan controls all the kingdoms of the world because he controls the inner nature of man!  We naturally carry the devil’s nature!  That is why Jesus told the Pharisees (and all the rest of us!) in John 8:44:  “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.

•      The devil’s nature, imparted to us, includes a mighty desire to…

      ✞     …steal, and to kill, and to destroy…” (John 10:10).

      ✞      devour people! (See I Peter 5:8).

      ✞      …be a murderer and a liar! (See John 8:44).

      ✞     oppose…and exalt…himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped…showing himself that he is God.” (II Thessalonians 2:4).

      ✞     …accuse…[the followers of Christ], who accused them before our God day and night…” (Revelation 12:10).

And that is why we need to be redeemed out from under Satan’s dominion into the Lord Jesus Christ’s!  As Paul put it in Colossians 1:13:  We need to be…delivered…from the power of darkness and translated…into the kingdom of the Son….”  It is only by the power of the Son of God that this can happen!

•      Only He left the glories of heaven to live as a human being upon the earth (see Philippians 2:5-7).

•      Only He lived the perfect life before the Father that no one else could ever live (see I Peter 2:22).

•      Only He voluntarily went to the cross and died bearing our sins, fully taking our punishment – our condemnation before almighty God (see John 10:17, 18; II Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 2:24).

•      Only He rose again from the dead three days later, conquering sin, death, hell, and Satan himself! (See Micah 7:19; I Corinthians 15:26; Hebrews 2:14, 15).

•      Only He offers us life – both eternal life forever and spiritually abundant life here and now (see John 3:16; 10:10; Galatians 5:22, 23).

•      Only He…is…able to save them to the uttermost…who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25).

For it is written: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36) – free from slavery to obeying the devil’s nature within us! (See Romans 6:1-14).

Yes, God has truly blessed us.  And we, especially Christians in the prosperous western world, need this warning – Beware Of Blessings!  We need to be aware of the dangers of being so blessed that we are tempted to forget Who is the Author of all our Blessings!

Pastor O

August 9, 2017

Image result for Photo man preaching

II Timothy 3:16-4:2

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Forty-five years ago my wife and I were in a crisis!  During my first year of Bible college we were attending a church whose pastor was becoming more and more legalistic, separatist, and dictatorial.  We made the decision to leave.  But, even though we searched – attending various other churches – we could not find one where we felt at home!  I had heard about Faith Community Church, a relatively new congregation that was meeting in an old grange hall.  What I found out encouraged me, so we attended one Sunday.  During the pastoral prayer, I heard the pastor say, “…and Lord, be with and bless all the congregations as they meet to honor your Son, no matter what name is over the door.”  I poked my wife with my elbow, and whispered,Did you hear that? ”  It was so unlike the church where we had previously been a part!  It didn’t matter to this pastor if a church had the words,Independent, Fundamental, Bible Believingon their sign out front, or not!  If they honored Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, he was including them in his prayer!

We started regularly attending Faith Community Church and got to know the pastor, The Reverend Alton F. Olsen.  Pastor O, as he was fondly called, had been an Episcopal priest in Scranton for eleven years.  But he accepted the pastorate of Faith Community, a non-denominational start-up around 1970.  Pastor O became one of the hero’s of my faith!  I loved him, his wife Jacqi, and the church family of Faith Community!  Hope and I joined the church, becoming members 99 and 100.  But just five months later I was called to be the pastor of my first church, about 180 miles away.  It broke my heart to leave.

I served First Baptist Church of Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania for four years.  But I still didn’t know if I wanted to be a pastor for my life’s work.  So I resigned First Baptist and moved back to the Scranton area to develop a product fund-raising business – working with schools, scouts, auxiliaries – any group that wanted to raise money for their activities.  Hope and I also rejoined Faith Community Church – now in a new building, and three times the size when we left four years before!  It felt to me as if we had come home!  We maintained a relationship with that church through two other of my pastorates over almost eight years in the Scranton area.

I said before that Pastor O was one of my faith heros!  I remember sitting in services, enthralled with his teachings!  One evening service in particular, his sermon went on for an hour at least.  When he ended, I was surprised.  “Is that all? ” I asked myself.  I looked at my watch and could not believe more than an hour had passed! It seemed like fifteen minutes!  Pastor O’s sermons were deep, relevant, and easy to understand.  Obviously, he did his preparation!

I chose II Timothy 3:16 through 4:2 for this blog’s featured Scripture:

      All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, ind is profitable for doctrine,
      for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man
      of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.  I
      charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ….preach the
      word! Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort,
      with all longsuffering and teaching.

Pastor O fervently believed the Bible was the answer to all the questions of life!  In one way or another – by direct commandments and teaching, by example, by parables, by inference – Scripture deals with everything with which life can challenge us!  Indeed, he knew thatAll Scripture is given by inspiration of God….”  And by diligent study and application of the truths mined therein, Pastor O was confident that…Scripture…is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness….”  He worked hard to prepare…the [people]…of God…[to] be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  And so he…preached the word! ”  He was…ready in season and out of season…[to] Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering [patience] and teaching.

Over the last forty-five years, I have tried to model my ministry on the example set for me by The Reverend Alton F. Olsen.  I do not copy him exactly, because we are all individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses.  But the apostle Paul made a very bold statement in I Corinthians 11:1 (King James Version)!  He told the Corinthian Christians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”  One must seriously follow and obey Jesus Christ to say something like that!  I don’t think Pastor O would have thought himself to be in such elite company.  But I would love to tell him – and I will when I see him in heaven someday! – “Pastor O, you set a wonderful example for me to follow in my ministry.  Thank you for being my pastor and my friend.