Pastor Rod's Message
November 2018 Newsletter
When it comes to Thanksgiving, I can speak with some authority on the subject. After all, I was born in the state (Massachusetts) where the whole thing got started. You all know the story of the Pilgrims and the hardships they endured the first few years in the New World. I'm quite sure that, were you to subject a colony of 21st century settlers to similar conditions, they would head back to their native land and its relative comforts in short order. Let's look at the facts.
In the first year alone, over half the population died from disease or exposure to the harsh elements. Supplies from the motherland slowed to a trickle and they were forced to live on meager rations which, had it not been for the Native Americans and their generosity, would not have been sufficient to sustain life. Much of what they had brought with them from England was gone and to many of the people it seemed hopeless. I'm sure that, in their most private moments, the leaders of the group would despair of ever surviving, let alone establishing permanent homes in this harsh and inhospitable land. How they must have longed for England (despite the King and his cruelty) and a nice hot cup of tea from time to time. So, what did sustain them and how did they get through those difficult months before the Thanksgiving feast of 1621?
I think that faith is the operative word here. These folks believed that God had preserved them, first from the tyranny of the King of England, then, in spite of harsh treatment from the Dutch, and finally, through the rigors of an Atlantic crossing and unbelievable loss in the New World. The apostle Paul tells us, in I Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
Did they give thanks that ten of the 17 male heads of families died in the first few months? Did they give thanks that, of the 17 wives, only 3 survived the first 3 months? No, I'm sure they were devastated. Notice, though, what William Bradford writes in his journal less than one year later, "all things in good plenty". I'm sure most of us would have been moping around, wringing our hands and having a large "pity party". Not the Pilgrims! They knew God would bring something good out of a bad situation. All they had to do was stay faithful to Him and wait for His providence.
After the great loss of life in the early stages of their soujourn in the New World, everyday survival was seen as reason enough for gratitude. But, after the abundant harvest of the following year (accomplished, in no small measure, with the help of the Native Americans like Squanto), what they had been through was perceived as a trial by God, a test of faith and a triumph of the Holy Spirit, guiding the will of men.
Had they trusted in their own ingenuity, strength and common sense, they would, in all likelihood, not have survived. They, however, knew and trusted the word of God. King Solomon penned these words, some 2500 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6). Solomon knew, as did the Pilgrims, that his destiny was not in his hands. He was one of the greatest kings who ever lived and yet, all his wealth, fame, honor among men, wisdom and strategic alliances could not add one second to his life span nor affect his relationship with God. The Bible tells us that God does what is pleasing in His sight. We may not always understand it, but one thing we can be sure of, it will be perfect. And if it's good for God, it has to be good for us.
We've been through a pretty tumultuous year in these United States of America, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. We are told in God's Word that, "....In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world." (Matthew 16:33) If we truly believe that God is who He says he is and that He is in complete control of the universe and the affairs of mankind, then our course is clear and our task well known. Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15)
Now, the New Year is on the horizon and only God knows what the future holds. Let's take a few moments, as we approach Thanksgiving, to count the many blessings the Lord has laid upon us and rejoice. If He didn't forget the Pilgrims in their hour of greatest need, He certainly will not forget us as we move forward with Him into the great future he has prepared for us.
Give thanks with a grateful heart!
Pastor Rod's Message
October 2018 Newsletter
"BACK TO SCHOOL"
As most of you know, I have never claimed to be, nor have I been mistaken for, a scholar. As a matter of fact, one of the worst days of my life on a regular basis was the first day of school. Seeing my friends again (most of whom I had seen every day during summer) did not give me great consolation, in view of the fact I knew it would be 9 months of drudgery before I'd be out of "prison" again.
My sisters, on the other hand, were overjoyed to be going back to school. I suppose a lot of it had to do with the new outfits they could show off to their girlfriends and, more importantly, boyfriends (present and anticipated). Their view of the world and mine were quite different and manifested itself in the first six-week period of every school year. That's when report cards would come out. What dreaded occasions those were! The girls would come tripping home, full of enthusiasm and joy over their accomplishments. I would find every excuse I possibly could to put off the inescapable confrontation with my father.
Ultimately, the question would arise, "Well, how did you do?" I knew I would have to produce the report card. I knew he would look it over. I knew the response would be predictable. "You can't be that stupid." "How could you get three F's, two C's, and an A (the A was in Choir -- I didn't really like choir, but I had some natural ability and the teacher liked me)?" I'd shrug my shoulders, say I'd do better next time, and leave the room in shame. My dad and I both knew that we'd have the same confrontation the next time report cards came out. It was as inevitable as snow in February. Neither of us could understand it, it's just the way it was.
Dad would always say, "I know you're not this dumb." 'All of your teachers say you're a smart kid.' 'Why won't you apply yourself?' 'Don't you realize how important a good education is?' I'd always reply, "You're right, dad, I'm really going to work hard next semester." I don't really know why I didn't try harder, I just didn't like being tied down to a routine every day. I couldn't then and still can't explain it.
Years went by and I joined the Air Force. Ah, sweet relief! I knew that, as soon as basic training was over, I'd spend six weeks in technical school and be doing a job that didn't require being in a classroom 3 days a week. Boy, was I wrong. Half way through basic training, they gave us a bunch of IQ tests. I made the mistake of answering the questions to the best of my ability and the Air Force personnel people -- for reasons known only to them -- thought I did pretty well. The base commander called me into his office -- I thought I was in big trouble -- and asked how I'd like to change my training specialty. Instead of going to Mississippi to learn to load bombs on F-4 Phantom jets, they were going to send me to Monterey, California for a year to learn a new language. Oh, let me think -- Mississippi (swamps, alligators and snakes) or California (beaches, golf and girls). What shall I do? I told him, respectfully, that after considerable deliberation, I'd take California.
I arrived in Monterey on February 1, 1968, and immediately realized I'd made a big mistake. I was given my assignment and saw that I would be spending 6 hours a day, 5 days a week in THE CLASSROOM!!! Oh, no! There had to be some mistake. They wouldn't do that to me. They couldn't. But, they did. And there was no way out. How could God let this happen to me? He knew how much I hated school and now I'd have to study and learn -- the Air Force doesn't take kindly to sub-par performance. All the things I'd been running from caught up with me and I'd have to go through the drudgery while living in the most beautiful place I'd ever seen. Not fair!
I did survive and actually learned a foreign language well enough to use it in my work in the Air Force for the next four years. I traveled to Europe (Italy), then back to Monterey for more schooling and finally to Washington, D.C. It was a lot of fun and I met some really interesting people along the way. Now, what in the world does this have to do with my relationship with God or His purpose for my life? A lot!
Had I not gone through all the experiences of my youth and young adulthood, there is no way I would have ever ended up in Miramonte as pastor of Hilltop Chapel. God used, not only my early learning in His Word -- taught by my parents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, youth leaders and Christian teachers and professors -- but also, the mistakes, blunders and sins of my past to bring me to a place where I gave Him control of me. It was a long, hard struggle, but now it's over and this newsletter is just one of the results.
I hope that some of you, who read this, will be challenged by it and think about where you're headed right now. Is it where God wants you to go, or are you just running away from what you know He wants you to do? I keep thinking back to Jesus' words in John 9:4, "I must do the work of Him who sent me while it is yet day, for the night is coming when no one can work." The task is before us. What will you do with the talents and gifts God has given you? Will you waste them, or use them for His honor and glory?
P.S.: I've heard from many of you, as to your enjoyment of our monthly cartoons. So, not being one to rest on my laurels, I decided not to do one this month. Instead, you will receive the essence of my wisdom about life. When my mother died, I found a little poem among her collected books, hymns and memorabilia. I've quoted it, ad nauseum, to our congregation over the years, but I truly think it applies to this article.
"Just one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last."
Pastor Rod's Message
September 2018 Newsletter
"The falling leaves, drift by the window, the autumn leaves of red and gold". I'm sure many of you remember those lyrics from the song of the same name. It was a reminder of the end of summer and all that entailed, from the return to school, closing down the summer cottage at the lake and pulling down the snow tires from the rafters in the garage to get ready for winter weather. Maybe not a California tradition, but certainly a reality where I hail from.
The Berkshire Mountain range in Western Massachusetts is recognized as one of the best places in the United States to view the most colorful autumn foliage. People travel from all over the world to photograph and try to capture on canvas the breathtaking profusion of color produced by maple, oak, birch, and other varieties of trees scattered over the landscape. Everywhere you turn, you eyes are drawn to nuances and shadings produced by light and shadow that dazzle and amaze at the same time! It sounds too good to be true, right? I assure you, you have to see it to believe it.
There are things in this life that defy description. Sometimes, you just have to take someone's word for truth or go and see for yourself. It's very much the same things with Christianity and whether you should believe its claims or not. Why are these Christians so sure that what they believe in is right for everyone? Could it be that there is more than one way to experience a relationship with God?
Many people are touting the idea that many roads lead to God and if you live a good life, love your fellow man/woman, and do good deeds, He will accept you into His heavenly kingdom. Well, that would be nice, but there's only one small problem. God's word--the Bible--tells us a different story. Just as sure as I know that, very soon, the autumn leaves will be turning to red and gold, I know that God's word is the absolute authority for what He will allow or disallow. And, the Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus is the only one through whom each of us may gain access to heaven.
Jesus told His disciples, in John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father, except through Me." Pretty emphatic, isn't it? Some might even say the statement is exclusionary. Guess what? It is very exclusionary, except that it's absolutely free to anyone. "Jesus also said, on the very last page of scripture: "whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17). So, whosoever will, may come! One can contemplate later, with deep thanksgiving the mysteries of the divine call, but first he must come, and if he so wills, he may!" -- Henry M. Morris
We are living in a very contentious and troubled world. It seems as if civility and harmony are no longer part of the lexicon of modern society. If people have differences of opinion about issues, there is very little room for discussion or dialog and lots of room for division and animosity. So, the question becomes, how in the world do we reach out to people in the name of Jesus and not risk causing a small riot in the process? The second part of the equation concerning the conversion process has to do with "the call".
In 1 Peter 2:9-10, the great apostle writes this: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light: who once were not a people, but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." So, even though we decide to answer the call, even as the disciples answered affirmatively when Jesus called them to be "fishers of men", we are called by God to come to Him and live lives that are pleasing in His sight.
To some reading this article, it may seem suspect that God would do anything other than wait for us to accept Jesus as our Savior. After all, God sent His only Son to die on the cruel cross of Calvary so that we might have forgiveness of sin, victory over death and eternal life with Him, so why is He calling us? Why not just sit back, relax and say, "okay, I've done my job, either take salvation through Jesus Christ or leave it." When you figure God out, send up a red flag and let the rest of us know, okay? God does what He wants to do, when He wants to do it, and we're not in any position to question Him. He holds our lives in His hands and we're totally subject to His love, mercy and grace.
The very essence of God's purpose is predicated on the proposition that, from the foundations of the world, He desired a relationship with His creation --mankind--and is determined to bring that to fruition by what He did 2,000 years ago in sending Jesus into the world to die for our sins and through those of us who have believed in Jesus, telling others about Him as we live our daily lives.
May we proclaim the gospel of Jesus, loud and clear, until he comes to take us home to be with Him. I believe that day is close at hand and is as inevitable as the autumn leaves starting to fall!!
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