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


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


“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



I Can’t Wait!

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A long, long, time ago, Alabama sang a song that 'fit me to a tee':

 

"I'm in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why.
Don't know why I have to drive so fast
My car has nothing to prove,
It's not new But it'll do 0 to 60 in 5.2
Can't be late, I leave plenty of time
Shaking hands with the clock,
I can't stop I'm on a roll
and I'm ready to rock
I hear a voice That say's I'm running behind
I better pick up my pace, It's a race
And there ain't no room For someone in second place."

 

I remember my mother laughing at me when I was 5 years old and just starting kindergarten (a traumatic life style change for me). My question was very simple. “How long do I have to keep going to school?” After falling apart in laughter, she gently broke the news to me that it would be, at the very least, another 12 years.

 

In my mind, the starter’s gun shot out, & my “race with time” had just begun.

I couldn’t wait to finish kindergarten.

I couldn’t wait to finish grade school and then high school.

I couldn’t wait to finish college. I stumbled out of the starter’s gate & it took me 5 years, but I finally did finish.

By then, I was a follower of Jesus and had my call to full time ministry.

I couldn’t wait to get married and have our own children.

I couldn’t wait to finish Seminary & come back home to California.

I couldn’t wait to get my first church in Kernville.

I couldn’t wait to become an associate up in Yuba City. But after 3 years,

I couldn’t wait to leave.

I couldn’t wait to finish my doctoral studies, but no one seemed to notice.

I couldn’t wait to grow a large church in Orangevale, but it all fell apart right before my very eyes. I wasn’t completely broken, but I was badly bent.

I couldn’t wait to get well, to get my mind right. It is still a battle at times.

I couldn’t wait to get on the “mission field”. After several short term trips,   I couldn’t wait to get into the 10/40 window and reach those yet unreached.

 

I know what you must be thinking. “Now there is a “Type A” Driven man."

And I have no defense for that accusation. As you can clearly see, I have been impatient for most of my life.

The good news is that God has a lot of patience.

2 Peter 3:8-9 NASB

8     But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

9     The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

 

For people like me, that is incredible. He could have squashed me like a bug, years ago. But His love for me, my soul, my eternity, is so very important. He was (& is) waiting for me to accomplish the task that was assigned to me when I became a follower of Jesus.

 

For me, I just keep prodding and kicking, like a rice farmer in Myanmar, trying to get that beast of burden to move a little faster. Some might say that I am too persistent. There is a big difference between being impatient and being persistent. Impatient people like me worry so much. We are fearful that we might run out of time & thereby miss out on the opportunity. I can see it all now. They are closing the door to the plane that I should have been on. As I race to the terminal gate, I am too late. I missed my connection. And so I worry. Always thinking about what might have been.

Matthew 6:25-34 NASB

25     “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink;

nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

33     “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,  and all these things will be added to you.

34     “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Life becomes so much sweeter when we allow God to do the leading and directing. He has His own timetable.

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Tempus fugit – Pastor Mike

 



Time in a bottle

000_0014 I have often wondered what makes photography so fascinating for me. Beyond the obvious of capturing images that are beautiful and emote some kind of passion in my senses, there is the whole realm of time, and trying to capture it in an image.  In photography in some enigmatic way we can stop time and forever keep that moment.  At least that is what it feels like.  As a result I have spent most of my adult life photographing my family, capturing precious moments in time.  And now as I look at my grandchildren through the lens of a my Nikon (affectionately called “Wynona”) with a 64 gig memory card, realizing that I can take literally 1000’s of high quality photo’s at no cost, every moment seems the right time to capture their time.   At a season in life when the months and years seem to fly by there seems to be more urgency in my work.  And now I have 10’s of 1000s of images all stored and backed up in portable hard drives that hold terabits of memories, time in little bottles.  I do not have the time to edit them all, so I keep telling myself, that someday, maybe when I retire, I will devote myself to this task, leaving my family with a visual record of years gone by.   As I consider the idea of time passing by so swiftly, the clock continues to tick as if in a countdown mode until my departure into a world where there will be no moments in time to capture.  Time will not exist and our minds will be able to recall all of the beautiful moments in God’s Paradise without the aid of technology.   And in this fallen world, there will eventually come that day, when all of my earthly efforts will no longer be meaningful, and ultimately destroyed.   Ravi Zacharias says: “[Time] never moves forward without engraving its mark upon the heart—sometimes a stab, sometimes a tender touch, sometimes a vice grip of spikes, sometimes a mortal wound but always an imprint.” The Lotus and the Cross   To be sure, the capturing of those special moments is a great treasure as we live in this world.  As the ravages of time erode everything but our souls, we can look back and “remember when”.  That can bring warmth to the heart, or tears to the eye, but always with a sense that what was, will not be lost.  If it were not important God would not have given us the ability to recall those momentous events in life.   But all of this will fade away into meaninglessness as we enter into the presence of God and begin a new life, a perfect life, in a new world, pristine in all of its glory.  There will be no more sin, no more hurt, no more betray or anger, no more tears.   Will we remember those times back in an old fallen world?  No.  Not only will we not remember, but we won’t want to call up those events.  Why should we?  Even the brightest moments on earth will seem to be dark in comparison to the glories of God’s eternity.  C.S. Lewis writes about this brilliantly in his book, The Great Divorce.  The greatest loves of this world will be far surpassed by the greatest love that time has known, the Love of Jesus for His own.  What a wonderful Family that will be!   That is why Paul who had a little taste of heaven said,   2 Cor. 5:4   For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. 1 Cor. 15:54       But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.   Laus Deo – Pastor Mike