Coffee anyone?

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A group of young adults got together at a friend’s home.
They talked about a lot of things but soon the conversation turned into complaints  about politics, stress in work, trouble in our country & life.
The host offered his guests coffee.  He went to the kitchen where he had already prepared the coffee.  He picked out a number of different cups and mugs, as he had a good collection.  Some were porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain-looking, some expensive, and some exquisite.  He brought it into the room with sugar and cream telling them to help themselves to the coffee.   After everyone had chosen a cup, and began to drink their coffee, the host remarked to the group.  "If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is but normal for us to want only the best for ourselves, that is the source of our problems and stress.   "Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee.  In most cases, it's just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup.   But, subconsciously, we go for the best cups...and then we began eyeing each other's cups.   "Now consider this: Life is the coffee, and the jobs, money and, the politics, our position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life, and the type of cup we have does not define nor change the quality of life we live. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided us. God brews the coffee, not the cups.  Let’s enjoy our coffee.”   When a family suffers a devastating fire in their home a number of things transpire.  There is the immediate shock followed by the sense of loss when you start to realize all that was destroyed.  The task of sorting through the rubble, is often a very painful task.  People often have to move out of the house right away due to health issues or safety problems.  That change in itself can be very demoralizing.   At some point you begin to focus on what is really important in life. It always comes down to loved ones and relationships.  You realize that your life was not the house of the things in it.  Job, in the Old Testament, experienced this in a major way that. God forbid we will ever have to experience such a nightmare.   The house the clothes, the possessions, were just the cups that hold our lives. God is most concerned about His beloved children. The cups they come and go.  Sometimes in life the cups are beautiful and precious.  At other times they are downright disappointments. But through it all, it is the “coffee” that is important, what God is brewing in our lives.  
Fortunately, we know the end of the story.  These cups here are only temporary.  Jesus is preparing a new cup for us, that will be glorious and it will carry this precious gift of life into all eternity.
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Enjoy your coffee,
Pastor Mike


Do you love me?

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Last week I made reference to the movie/musical  Fiddler on the Roof.
I drew attention to the scene where Tevye is asking his wife Golde if she loves him.  They had been married the traditional way, by a matchmaker. They never saw each other until their wedding day.  His parents had told Tevye that they would grow to love each other.  He hadn’t thought about that much until it was time for his daughters to be wed.  They had each fallen in love and did not want to be married to someone chosen by the village matchmaker.  They were breaking tradition because of the love in their hearts for someone else. Tevye gives in to their request, but now he is wondering, does his wife love him. Tevye : “Golde, Do you love me? Golde responds: “Do I love you? With our daughters getting married,and this trouble in the town you're upset, you're worn out.  Go inside, go lie down!  Maybe it's indigestion.” Tevye persists with his question: “Do you love me?” Golde responds to his persistence:  “Do I love you?  For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow, after twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?” Tevye   wants an answer, “Do you love me?” Golde,  speaking to herself: “Do I love him?  For twenty-five years I've lived with him, fought with him, starved with him, twenty-five years my bed is his.   If that's not love, what is?”
Tevye jumps at his chance: “Then you love me?”
Golde   “I suppose I do”
Tevye  “And I suppose I love you too.”
They both seem quite satisfied to know, & then they sing together:  “It doesn't change a thing, but even so,  after twenty-five years it's nice to know.”
Yes, it is nice to know.  We all need to be loved & to give love in return.  Jesus summarizes the whole of the law of the Old Testament with 2 great commands in Mark 12:28-31
quoting Deuteronomy 6, the Shema.
28      …“what commandment is the foremost of all?” 29      Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30      AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31      “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” I have a good handle on what it means to love others.  Not that it is all that easy.  Some are easier to love than others.  That is not so much a judgment on them as it is me.  My love needs to do a lot of growing here.
But the 1
st 
command, to love God with all my heart, all my soul, my mind, and my strength, now that is where I have a problem.  I have no issue loving my wife, my kids and my grandkids like this.  But to be honest, I struggle emoting those kinds of feelings towards God.
After the resurrection Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore of Galilee (John 21:15-17) where Jesus asks Peter three times in a row, “Do you love Me?” Each time John responds in the affirmative, & each time Jesus tells him to “take care of Jesus’ sheep”.   I take this to mean that our love for Jesus is shown to Jesus when we do what he wants us to do. He says as much in John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” And then in John 14:21 “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.” In John 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” And then Jesus closes out this section by saying in John 14:25 25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” Based on what Jesus has taught in these verses, then I can say with Golde when God asks me if I love Him, “Yes, I suppose I do.” My answer does not come from my emotions, it comes from my actions, living my life in obedience.  I gave up my dreams for my life & accepted God’s will for me to preach and teach His Word, and to tend His flock by feeding them. Although I must say I have struggled to bring them in from the field. Sheep are a stubborn lot, and many prefer to just stay out in the world for whatever reason.  But for those who come I have tried my best to feed them not only the milk, but the meat of the Word of God.  And I also believe that at Pathway we have done a good job in fulfilling His greatest commission by leading His sheep into the uttermost parts of the world in order to love people and share the life changing Gospel, the good news of salvation to all who would receive. Not everyone has the same calling.  Some are called to do other things than the things that I have done.  It makes them no less or more important than me.  We are all children of God, on equal footing, seeking to be faithful to serving God’s particular call upon our lives.  The trick is in discerning what God’s will is.  What is God calling you to do? Have you been obedient to all that God has asked of you?  I can’t say that I have.  I know that I have messed up quite a bit.  But I do keep trying.  I need to lean a little more on the “teacher” “my Helper”, the Holy Spirit of God.  (John 14:26) I still struggle with the emotional part of this.  Some followers of Jesus seem to have this incredible deep “feeling” of love for God.  I wish I could experience that.  Maybe it’s my personality.  I’m just not an emotional kind of guy.  I don’t have the answer.  But I do know that I am hungering for more of Him. Mike Samarkand 1024x768
“That all may Love Him”
Pastor Mike


The Rebirth of the Church in Uzbekistan

rebirthI shared a bit of history with you last week.  It is important if you are going to understand the church & the culture of Uzbekistan.  Back in the middle ages the church in Europe had become corrupt, immoral and heretical, much like many churches in the mainline denominations today in America.  True Believers in God’s Word sought to reform the church bringing about the protestant reformation.  But while European Christianity struggled, the Nestorian Church in central Asia was blossoming.  Indeed, this place of Uzbekistan and surrounding countries were the flower of Christianity in those years.  It was a vibrant church, deep in faith & bringing enlightenment in the areas of medicine, education, astronomy, and business.  The math they learned from India, was adopted by the Muslims and later became known as the Arabic numerals.  It was India and the Nestorian Christians who advanced this.   Islamic leaders like Timur “the Great” (mentioned in my last blog) took all of this knowledge and wisdom from the Nestorians & then laid siege to them.  Timur was one of the chief despots who was responsible for the complete destruction of Christianity in Central Asia (from India to Moscow & eastward into China). He was the “ISIS” of his day. Christianity was literally wiped from the annuls of history until 20th century archeology discovered the evidence of this great Christian movement.            Now fast forward to the late 1990’s when Korean missionaries came to this land and planted the seeds of Christianity after the collapse of the USSR.  A new generation of Christians has emerged in Uzbekistan, discipled in the faith, nurtured by the spirit of God.  Then the Atheistic government discovered what the Korean’s were doing & had all the missionaries deported.  But it was too late.  You can still see & experience the impact of Korea in the culture, (I ate in a Korean restaurant last night).  But more importantly you see the fruits of their labors in a fledgling church.           Imagine the heavy hearts of these new believers as their leaders, their fathers & mothers in the faith, were taken from them, exported (not back to Korea) but to other countries in Central Asia were they continued their evangelism and church planting.  This is one of the greatest missionary efforts of our age.           One might think that the church in Uzbekistan struggled after that, but it did not.  They rose to the challenge.  They took the leadership reigns and organized themselves into a tremendous underground movement connected with other underground churches in the world.  They meet in houses throughout the country, intentionally keeping each “church” small in order to avoid detection from the government.  It is better to have hundreds of small house churches than to have larger churches that could easily be found and disbanded by the government.           The believers that I have met have all had skirmishes with the police, being arrested, imprisoned, beaten, or humiliated and released after some time.  But God’s spirit has given them courage and they are not afraid.  The authorities realize they are not afraid and can’t figure out why.  As a result, arrests are fewer and the beatings have pretty much stopped. Indeed, many of the police are curious as to what makes these followers of Jesus so committed to their faith.  But there is always that threat of arrest & the followers of quite aware of it.  They are very cautious and take great measures to keep their schools of faith & training hidden.  They continue to share their faith energetically, knowing that each time they might be compromised.  They smile about it.  “God is in charge”.           Therefore, it is not surprising to me that they never let me meet with one of the house churches.  They kept me away, and I met with the leaders in their homes for training and encouragement.  To be with them is an experience like I have never had before.  We reclined at a low table with pillows and cushions. There is always great food, and hot tea or coffee.  It is so relaxing, not like a formal teaching setting with chairs and a lectern. I would share, someone would translate and we would dialogue back and forth.           Their faith is genuine and their love for each other is so evident in all that they say and do.  It is like a big loving family has gathered together for fellowship in the midst of learning.  It was like the early church of Acts, reclining at a table.  We were breaking bread in a small room with the joy of Christ in their faces & the love of Christ in their voices.  I was touched and ministered to in a profound way. I came to share, but they gave me far more than I could ever impart to them.            They have the heart of Christ in their church.  They have the passion for the great commission in their minds.  They are reaching out to surrounding countries. They are strategizing and in a very organized way, they are bringing the Faith back to Uzbekistan after 500 years of silence. It is power-filled.  It is humbling to be with them and yet I felt like I was a part of their family.          Now it is on to Iraq.  – Love and Blessings, Pastor Mike


Remember when…

During the Holidays, I always turn a little nostalgic. One of my very first320857fcaa3e147d2dfd00f06f83d6d1
memories is being in Virginia for a brief time after Dad left the Navy.  I must have been 2, maybe a little more.  But I remember walking down the street with my Dad and Mom.  We had gone down town in Hampton to do a little shopping.  I was all bundled up in my winter clothes, and a light snow was coming down so slowly that you could reach out a catch a big snowflake for a second before it desolved.  All the stores had their Christmas lights on.  Obviously I can’t remember everything of that event, but in my mind it was like a Normal Rockwell painting.  That memory has brought me wonderful feelings about the holidays ever since.  It was one of those picture book memories that shapes my attitude and feelings about Christmas.
Maybe that is why I am obsessed, (Maybe a little too strong a word – depending on who you're talking to – if you talk to my family, it is spot on),  obsessed with capturing the past so that I will remember the wonderful events of days gone by.  I guess that is why I love decorating our Christmas tree to the music of the Messiah every year. As a youth, I would buy a big calendar to put on my wall beside my desk in my bedroom.  Each day I would write down what happened – just the high points & the things I did not want to forget.  Later in college I would graduate to a journal, at first hand writtpen-and-journal (2)en.  I have boxes of stuff out in the garage, keep sakes that take me back in time.  I have things that I have purchased from all of the world on my journeys, decorating my office at work and at home. Some things especially have deep meaning & I connect them to some important event that took place.  
My memory is so poor, & getting worse.  So these things help me keep in touch with my past.  Especially my photography – I can look at those old photos, and recapture the days gone by.  They help me to remember the blessings of God and the great joy that He has allowed me to have.
There is a flip side to this.  During a very dark period of my life, that came and went for about 10 years (mostly dark) – I kept a very detailed journal of the events, my failings and my feelings. It was much easier to do since I had joined the computer age.  So I wrote a lot.  I was struggling with depression during those years.  Finally I started to get well, thanks to therapy, my wife and some very loving people at Pathway. But I wouldn’t let go of that dark past.   I would occasionally go back and read about what I had gone through and how it had such a devastating effect on me.  The worst part was not so much what had happened, but what I thought about those situations and how they affected feelings and my self-image. For years I hung on to those writings – going back to visit occasionally.  It was like going back to a garbage dump.  It was smelly. It was awful.  And it would drag me back down into the darkness.  I couldn’t really break free.  God had forgiven. I had forgiven.  But there it was, always waiting for me to return & recapture the pain, the hurt and the evil darkness. Finally I did what Jan (my wife) had kept telling me to do. (Sometimes we men don’t always listen right away to those who love us.)  I deleted it all, and threw all of the hard copies into the shredder.  I would never be able to go back now. It hurt when I did it.  But now they were gone.   It was like cleaning a wound, hurtful and yet the only way for it to heal up.  Over time, those things began to leave my conscious memories.  Then I began to experience the real healing that I so desperately needed from God. There is a great spiritual lesson in all of this.  There are things in life that God wants us to remember.  He wants us to look back and count our blessings.  He wants us to remember just how good and faithful and loving and forgiving and wonderful He really is.  Hence, we need to remember His kindness for two basic reasons. The first, so that we know where our blessings come from & can praise Him. Second, so that we can heed his warnings, and not go “off-roading” from His plan.  He wants us to keep our lives in His circle of love. The good memories keep us on track. And then there is the matter of the brokenness of our lives, the results of the darkness.  He wants to forgive them.  We need to forgive others and ourselves.  And then we need to bury those events in the graveyard, never to go back.  Not even to lay flowers.  There will come a time, when you are so healed, that you can share them with others to help them in their despair. But this is always from the side of victory, not defeat.  As a result we praise God all the more. Worship Man In the coming “holidays” focus on the good memories and try to banish the hurt and pain of things forgiven.  God has forgiven them, and buried them. We need to do the same, and then move on in the Love, Joy and Peace, that comes when we remember all the great things God has done for us, in us and through us.
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In Christi Gloriam,
Pastor Mike


“The Problem of Pain”

C. S. Lewis on "the God We Think Will Satisfy" us, found in his book The Problem of Pain26435: "What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, "What does it matter so long as they are contented?" We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heavena senile benevolence who, as they say, "liked to see young people enjoying themselves," and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all." That sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Why didn’t God create the world that way? If you have had any experience in this world at all, you know that that is not the way things operate. And if you have been paying attention, you will realize that the world is not that way because of evil. There is a dark force in the world that that somehow plagues us. You know it is true, because, just like me, you’ve had to do battle with it. Some people have a better track record than others, at least on the surface it seems that way. But in the secret places of our hearts and lives, we find that this darkness always has a way of winning the day. That is it did, until Jesus came to in order to deliver us from that very evil. I didn’t get a chance to finish my sermon yesterday (I know, so what’s new?) So I thought I would wrap it up with my conclusion that I never reached. The most important verses in Titus 3 are 4 through 7. Here is Titus 3:4-7 in the New American Standard Version. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Notice in Vs. 4, how He came after us. As I said yesterday, we may not always be faithful to Him, but He is always faithful to us. It is just a part of His nature, His Holiness and Righteousness. It is just the way God is, He loves you and me, the crowning point of His creation. He will go to any length in order to enjoy our company for all eternity. Even if it means sacrificing His Son on our behalf. Then beginning in vs. 5 Paul gives us one of the best summations of the "Gospel" in 3 brief verses. In the Greek, it is just one long sentence describing how we are saved from the darkness, and enter into the light. It is clear that there is nothing good enough in us to merit salvation, so God delivers it to us as a gift. Out of His own deep love for us, He pours out His mercy upon us. It is described as a "washing", a deep cleansing if you will, deep enough to penetrate to most darkened soul. And what does God use for His cleanser? "Regeneration" & "Renewing" these two are mixed together in the most potent way by the Holy Spirit of God. And the Spirit pours it out generously over our lives. Remember in Psalm 23 where David says, "Thou annointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over". That is what the Father is doing to us. Pouring His cleansing power generously over our lives so that we will have His power in full strength, not only to be saved from past sins, but to be protected from any future darkness that might try to creep back into our lives. Jesus Christ made this possible when He took it upon Himself to take the punishment for our evil. Hence forth, He is our Savior, the one who pulled us out of the pit of Hell itself. Notice in these verses, the Father, Son & Holy Spirit all play a part in our cleansing that saves us from the darkness. As a result we stand, not condemned, but justified before God Himself. That means we have been vindicated and now find ourselves acceptable in His sight. And not just acceptable, but part of His Forever Family. And what is the result of all this? We become "Heirs" to His Kingdom and His Glory. The darkness, death, and the devil himself, no longer have control over us. In Christ, with the Armor of God, we have the power over him. His desire is to take us home to be with Him for all eternity. Jesus told His followers that He is building a place for them. Can you even begin to imagine that, our Holy Father, building a new Heaven and a brand new pristine world, that He wants to share with us for all eternity. It doesn’t get any better than that folks. John Wesley’s comments on verses 57 are concise and penetrating. "In this important passage the apostle presents us with a delightful view of our redemption. Herein we have, (1) The cause of it; not our works or righteousness, but ‘the kindness and love of God our Savior.’ (2) The effects; which are, (a) Justification; ‘being justified,’ pardoned and accepted through the alone merits of Christ, not from any desert in us, but according to his own mercy, ‘by his grace,’His free, unmerited goodness: (b) Sanctification, expressed by the laver of regeneration, (that is, baptism, the thing signified, as well as the outward sign), and the renewal of the Holy Ghost; which purifies the soul, as water cleanses the body, and renews it in the whole image of God.(3) The consummation of allthat we might become heirs of eternal life, and live now in the joyful hope of it. Meditate on those verses and Wesley’s analysis. It is profound! It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell, the Readers Digest version, the Cliff Notes if you will. Sunday, I shared with you that we were all a part of the "League of the Guilty". God is in the business of changing that in our lives. He indeed is Re-making us in ways that we never dreamed. This coming Sunday I want to take you into that dream. I want you to Re-think your world view! Come Sunday, and dare to Re-think, to catch a glimpse of God’s dream for you and the ones you love.
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Pastor Mike
 


“Regrets? I’ve had a few”

You might recognize those words from one of Frank Sinatra’s hits,
“I did it my way”. I’ve always disliked that song. I thought it was egotistical, an affront to the Face of God, and just plain arrogant.

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

If you are like me, you have had some regrets in your life. I have had more than a few, and more than I care to admit. There are a couple of things that I have learned about regrets in life:
First of all, you cannot go back in time and fix it. It is far too late for that. The decisions that you made back then, that felt so good and right at the time, turn out to be something that you will never fully recover from. You can seek forgiveness, and that will help with the healing. But some choices we make, we are bound to live with and that can remain a very hurtful part of your life, for the rest of your days on this earth. It is true in relationships, careers, moral choices, and the list can go on and on.
Secondly, I have discovered that the biggest hurts of all come from the ones you love the most. I have counseled many people in the course of my career, and it is unbelievable how much pain we cause for the ones that mean the most to us. Why is this so true? Why do we hurt the ones we love so deeply? The answer to those questions vary from hurt to hurt. Most of the time it comes from our childish immaturity. We want it our way. And we are willing to do just about anything to have it our way.
As I look at my life, the end is very near. Every day now, I hear of people dying of this or that, who are far younger than I am. And as I perform my duties as a pastor, laying them to rest, I can’t help but contemplate my own life. Because of my great insecurity, I always turn to the things that I messed up. The things I could have done differently or at the very least, better. You see, unlike the song, my regrets are “far too numerous to mention”. I could write a book about my own failures and lack of accomplishment. Too often, I see myself before God, feeling ashamed, trying to hide my face from the One who sees everything.

It is much more difficult to see my successes. They seem so small, so few, and so far in-between. That is what happens to us when we just have to do it our way. It is the oldest trick in God’s book, having it our way. It comes from the pride of the serpent, feeding Eve the great lie of life, “You can have it all, your way.” You get to be God.

It reminds me of a story I once heard:
A young, enterprising store clerk convinced his boss that a ten-cent sale would be a great way to reduce the overflowing inventory. The boss agreed, and the sale was a tremendous success.
This gave the young man an idea: He would open his own store stocking nickel and dime merchandise! So the young man approached his boss and asked him to invest in his idea for a portion of the profits.
The boss said no. He thought the idea was ridiculous, and told the young man, "Honestly, where would you find enough merchandise to sell for a mere nickel or dime?"
The determined young clerk went ahead with his plans anyway.
And eventually, F.W. Woolworth had stores all over the country!
Later, his former boss said with regret, "As far as I can figure out, every word I used to turn Woolworth down cost me about a million dollars."

Do you have some things in your past that you regret? Perhaps it's losing contact with someone you love or holding a grudge. Or losing a relationship that meant all the world to you. Or being unforgiving. The good news of Jesus Christ is that every day is a new day for His followers! His blood has cleansed us from all of our sins and Jesus gives us the amazing opportunity to start anew every day! That's the power of His Amazing Grace!

Thank God for the cleansing power of the cross to erase all your sins.
And then you ask Him to help you with any past regrets you might have.
By His grace you can start anew one day at a time It won’t feel that way at first, but if you are persistent, it can happen. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” --2 Corinthians 5:17 Perdonare Per Diem  - Pastor Mike