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


I Should Have Been a Cowboy…

I Should Have Been a Cowboy

At least that what Toby Keith sings. bf01f0378654694e73c42df259260c40

“I should've learned to rope and ride
Wearing my six-shooter riding my pony on a cattle drive
Stealing the young girl's hearts
Just like Gene and Roy
Singing those campfire songs
I should've been a cowboy

I might of had a side kick with a funny name
Running wild through the hills chasing Jesse James
Ending up on the brink of danger
Riding shotgun for the Texas Rangers
Go west young man, haven't you been told
Sleeping out all night beneath the desert stars
With a dream in my eye and a prayer in my heart”

That song takes me back to my boyhood days when we lived up in Eureka and the redwood forests were my playground.  We watched all of the movies with Roy Rogers, Rocky Lane, Bob Steele, Bill Cody, Gene Autry, Hoot Gibson, the Lone Ranger, Lash La Rou, Randolph Scott, Rex Allen, Tex Ritter, and of course the ultimate cowboy John Wayne. The list goes on and on.  Every Saturday we would walk to town and watch a double feature of the Western movies for 35 cents. We got our popcorn in cereal type boxes, and during the intermission, we would fold them up flat and throw them like Frisbees.  They were flying all over the theater like space ships fighting some crazed battle in the dark of the some cartoon interlude between features.  Needless to say, I was hooked.

Jan and I began serving in our first church up in the hills above Bakersfield.  It was a little old western town called Kernville, where people would retire out of the busy cities of LA.  It was certainly in vogue to wear hats and boots.  I wasted no time.  I loved it!  And it came with a lot of nostalgia for me.  Sometimes I feel like I should have been born back in the mid-19th century as a circuit riding preacher like the famous Peter Cartwright.

There is nothing that can match the dreams and imaginations of childhood.

We grow up having big romantic plans for our lives. Most of the time those childhood dreams morph into something more realistic.  After all, those heroic movies of the Texas rangers were fantasies.  It was really never that glorious, or heroic, or exciting as Hollywood made them.

But if you love the great outdoors, and can see yourself in mountains riding a horse down the canyon with beautiful stream bubbling beside, you just might have a bit of the western spirit in your heart.  Cowboys loved the idea of freedom and the opportunity to do whatever they wanted. “Don’t tie me down” with a lot of laws and regulations.  They liked making their own rules.

They had a fondness for excitement and danger.  They liked the open land and the beauty of nature. They loved their horses and a good saddle. They were attracted to the pristine wilderness and it became a favorite wandering place.  They didn’t like to be fenced in, just give them the freedom to roam.

If you can identify with these things, you just might be a cowboy at heart.

 

I believe that God loves those beautiful dreams of childhood. And I do believe that if we are following His pathway for our lives, sometimes, those dreams come into reality in one way or another.

 

Psalm 37 contains a great promise to those who choose God’s pathway for their lives.

3      Trust in the LORD and do good;

Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.

4      Delight yourself in the LORD;

And He will give you the desires of your heart.

5      Commit your way to the LORD,

Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

6      He will bring forth your righteousness as the light

 

When we allow God to take over our lives, and we begin to live in His desired pathway for us, His love has a way of intertwining some of our own dreams into His Divine plan for us.  He delights in our joy and happiness.

Many people are afraid to turn the lives over to the control of God, for fear of what their life might be like if they have to follow His leading, and submit to His rules of the road.  I want to assure you from my own personal experience, that in following God, you will have some of the greatest adventures of your life.  Far beyond your wildest dreams of childhood.

Give it a try.  You just might discover the greatest Joy of your life.

Nothing can compete with or even begin to come close to God’s dream and vision for us.  You will be amazed.

 

Riding down the canyon, Pastor Mike



Is Satan Real?

July 15, 2015devil

Most people in America don’t believe that the Devil is real. They believe that he is a fictionalized character coming out of the dark ages and used to frighten people and give them an excuse for their poor behavior. So you have the silly cartoons of the red devil with horns and a pitchfork sitting on your shoulder whispering in your ear to entice you into doing something bad. Of course those who dismiss the devil as fantasy also dismiss Hell as an invention of the church used to frighten people into obedience to them. When asked what the basis is for their disbelief, they have no ground for such denial except for their own feelings, their own thoughts about what ought to be and what ought not to be.

On the opposite side, people are more open to believing in Angels and Heaven because they represent hope for further life after this world, and of course most everyone wants to live forever. Eternity is a concept imbedded in everyone’s heart. But even here, there are a significant number of “enlightenment” people in the western world who dismiss this as fantasy as well, mainly because they don’t want there to be a God who might judge them some day. Most people rest this belief on their feelings as well.
There is nothing better than a happy ending, right?

Frankly speaking, we would know nothing about creation, Heaven, Hell, angels or demons, the life after death, or eternity itself if God who created it all had not chosen to reveal these things to us. The ultimate question is where do you find out the “truth” about creation, life and death, etc.   These are the eternal questions that everyone wrestles with. And there are a myriad of beliefs concerning these issues simply because there are an infinite number of feelings and imaginations concerning the ultimate truths about life. As it turns out our imaginations are quite fertile.

But truth is by definition exclusive. There can only be one truth. It is interesting that academics teach truth in all of science & history, physics and mathematics, but when it comes to eternal truths everyone can have their own truth & they are all true. How illogical and insane. Jesus doesn’t agree with such nonsense. He is clear about Truth. He defines Himself as the Truth about all of life. He is the Truth. His Word is God’s revelation of the Truth. If you want to know the truth about the devil, all you need to do is read God’s revelation of Truth.

 

Satan was created as a holy angel.
Isaiah 14:12 possibly gives Satan’s pre-fall name as Lucifer.
Ezekiel 28:12-14 describes Satan as having been created a cherubim, which is apparently the highest order of created angels. He became arrogant in his beauty and status and decided he wanted to sit on a throne above that of God (Isaiah 14:13-14; Ezekiel 28:15; 1 Timothy 3:6).
Notice the many “I will” statements in Isaiah 14:12-15.

 
Because of his sin, God barred Satan from heaven.
Satan’s pride led to his fall. It is no coincidence that most of our sin revolves around pride, our ego, our desires and wants.

After his fall, Satan became the ruler of this world and the prince of the power of the air (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2).
He is an accuser (Revelation 12:10), a tempter (Matt. 4:3; 1 Thes. 3:5),
and a deceiver (Genesis 3; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 20:3).
His very name means “adversary” or “one who opposes.”
Another of his titles, the devil, means “slanderer.”

Cast out of Heaven, he has set himself about the task of taking the highest order of God’s creation, humanity, and dragging them down into Hell with himself for all eternity. It is akin to kidnapping a father or mother’s child and making their child’s life miserable for all eternity. I can think of no greater pain in life, than to see a beloved one ripped out from arms of love and cast into the great abyss of evil and darkness. Jesus came to rescue us from that very darkness.

Satan is the ultimate source behind every evil, every false cult and world religion. Satan will do anything and everything in his power to oppose God and those who follow God. Hence the world continues to persecute the true followers of Jesus.

Why is there evil in the world? Simple, Adam and Eve, the head of all humanity, chose to follow the great Deceiver. Separated from God down through history, most of humanity has chosen to serve self, and in doing so they are really following the plan of their father, the author of all evil.
To the degree of their rebellion, is the degree of evil and sin in the world.
Satan’s destiny is sealed with all who follow him, an eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).

Jesus is the only One who can deliver us such slavery & destruction.   It is God’s greatest gift, a miracle of love and salvation for His beloved. Blessed are those who listen to the call of the Great Shepherd and come back to the Fold.

Veritas vos Liberabit!
Pastor Mike


Sheep in the Fold

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I am known for wearing boots and a cowboy hat. I really can’t explain it, except that I just never wanted to grow up. I wanted to be a cowboy. I think I was born a century too late.
At our first church in Kernville, California we were up in the mountains about 3,000 feet off Lake Isabella. It was an old cowboy town and people went there out of LA to retire. It was just natural in that environment to wear cowboy hats & boots. When we left Kernville, I decided to take my boots and hats with me & we have been connected ever since.
 
Here in Sacramento it can bring some confusion to people. They aren’t used to seeing a pastor in boots and a hat. So when I meet a stranger and they ask what I do for a living, I simply tell them that I am a rancher.
They say, ”Do you mean you have steers?”
And I say, “No, I have sheep”.
“How many sheep do you have?” they ask.
And I tell them that I have about 200 head of sheep.
That always intrigues them and they say,
“It must be a hassle to keep so many sheep in line and cared for”.
And I say, “You have no idea how difficult it is!”
Depending on the situation I can keep the charade up for quite a while.
But eventually I tell them that I am a pastor and my sheep are the members of the flock of which God has put me in charge. It can be a lot of fun.
In John 10:1-10 Jesus gives us a parable about the sheep in the sheep fold. At night, the sheep were ushered into a barricaded area, where they could not wander off and the Shepherd could watch over them to keep them from harm. There is great danger out in the world for unprotected sheep.   They have no way of defending themselves and cannot run very fast.   Hence they are easy prey for mountain lions, coyotes, wolves etc. For their own good and safety the sheep need to be penned in from the dangers of the world.
But the sheep aren’t the smartest of animals. The sheep do not know that they are penned in for their own safety. They do not appreciate the fence at all. They want to be free to graze and roam wherever they would like. They are not content with the food provided in the enclosure, they are more interested in getting out, getting free. They are oblivious to the dangers of the world. So they spend their time looking for a hole in the fence, even the tiniest crack were they might be able to squeeze through and escape their captivity.
And so it is with the people of the world. They don’t like the “sheep-fold” that God has created for their own good. They think they know better than the Good Shepherd. They want to set their own fences. rules and guidelines. In essence, they don’t like God and His way, they want to be god and create their own way. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, God gave them everything but one thing. But they wanted to be like God and have that one thing. We see the results of their fatal mistake in the world today.
Why is there so much unrest and anger and hatred and crime in the world? Basically it is because people aren’t happy with God’s rules, they want to be free and establish their own way of life totally ignoring the ways of God.
They genuinely dislike the God of the Scriptures. They detest Jesus and His claims as the Savior Messiah who came to deliver them from evil. In fact they are so rebellious that they have taken what God has called bad and malevolent, and they call it good and glorious. There can only be one tragic end to such a scenario. The wolves of the world will devour them. They have sown the wind and now are about to reap the whirlwind. It is only a matter of time.
May God have mercy on them and their misguided lives. May God have mercy on America, for those rebelling against God will take the whole country down.
Praise God that our first allegiance is to His Country, His Kingdom and His Glory. Regardless of what happens to this country, the very best is yet to be for those sheep who are content to live in the fold of the Good Shepherd.
 
May He come back soon and straighten things out.
Maranatha, Pastor