Pastor Rod's Message
"WORKING THE PLAN"
Those of you who can remember all the way back to 1967 may remember a little movie called "Cool Hand Luke". It starred Paul Newman and George Kennedy and was the story of a decorated war hero who ended up on a prison chain gang. Luke was always bucking the system and it caused him considerable trouble. Finally, he took matters into his own hands and escaped by stealing a dump truck. He and his companion (Kennedy) drove for quite a while and finally turned to Luke and asked, "What's the plan?" Luke looked at him and said, "Plan, what plan? I never planned anything in my whole life!"
Some people are good planners and others are not. It's a fact of life as immutable as sunrise and sunset. Having been in the latter category most of my life, I've envied those who have the innate ability to plan out every waking moment and, somehow, make it all count. Decision making and follow through are the key ingredients in wise planning and this is where most people run into problems.
I don't have much trouble with decisions. I'm a fairly decisive person, am not afraid to say let's do this and even have a cohesive plan most of the time. It's the darned follow through that gets me into trouble in most cases. I'm working on it, but the progress is too slow for my taste.
So, why is it so important to "work the plan"? It's simple when you really think about it. Without a blueprint to work from, it's very difficult to build a house, garage or a life. You need something to work from that keeps you focused on the job to be done and gives you the specifications for completing the task.
It's very much the same as we study the Bible. God is always working from a plan. The difference between God and us is that He knows exactly what He's doing and never, ever makes a mistake. Some people think that the sin of Adam & Eve took God by surprise and He had no idea that His "perfect couple" could even contemplate that kind of activity. God knew what they would do, the Bible says, "from the foundations of the world." Could He have stopped them? Of course He could. But then, free will for you and me would have gone right out the window and we'd all be no better than robots, doing whatever has been programmed in. I've said to myself, more than once, "How stupid could two people have been?" Then I think, "You know what, I've done some amazingly stupid and sinful things in my life." So, who am I to be talking about someone else's shortcomings? Adam & Eve were just the prototypes of who we are and of what we do every day.
There are people in this world today who consciously plan to sin. They wake up every morning looking for ways to do sinful things. Most of us, however, just slip into sinful activity. We don't necessarily have a sinful plan when we wake up in the morning, it just happens. It's usually triggered by something that someone else does or a situation that unfolds at home, the workplace, on the highway, or even in church. Someone may say something that doesn't please us and we react harshly. Without even thinking, we let the "old man" out of the box and let that person know what a jerk they are. That is a mild example of how quickly our plans go awry and all the good intentions we had for the day can go right out the window. And, I haven't even mentioned our thought life. That can be a real mess!
I know, you probably thought you were going to get an article on Easter or something at least a little uplifting. Well, I'm not done yet. I've still got space left! The point of all this is God's plan. His perfect plan for all mankind is still at work and is being carried out to perfection. I know what you're thinking: "If it's working so well, why is the world in such a mess!" It's important to read the instructions. The Bible tells us that, as we reach the last days, things will get worse, not better. With all the advances man has made in technology, medicine, and science, nothing seems to make a difference when it comes to the human heart. We are woefully inept at trying to be good people; Christians included. We stumble, we fall and we fail to measure up to the least of God's standards. That is why we have Easter.
Our loving, merciful and gracious heavenly Father knew we would not be able to attain the perfection required to enter into His presence. He knew, given the frailty of our human condition, that we were going to need a lot of help. He knew that the only way to save our eternal lives was to send a perfect sacrifice and the only individual who could meet the criteria was His beloved Son. We have no idea how God must have agonized over the decision, but, ultimatelly, it was the only choice and He made it. You and I, Christian friend, are the fortunate recipients of the greatest gift the world will ever know.
So, as you attend sunrise services (and I hope you will), sit down to Easter breakfast or dinner, relax with your family and enjoy the day, take a few moments to reflect on the plan. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:16-17) Have a blessed Easter and April!
HE IS RISEN
How do I know that Christ is risen?
What proof have I to give?
He touched my life one blessed day
And I began to live.
How do I know He left the tomb
That morning long ago?
I met Him just this morning
And my heart is still aglow.
How do I know that endless life
He gained for me that day?
His life within is proof enough
How do I know that Christ still lives
Rich blessings to impart?
He walks with me along the way
And lives within my heart.
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Pastor Rod's Message
"COMING APART AT THE SEAMS"
Fifty years ago, as a young member of the United States Air Force, I was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, California. I was enrolled at Defenst Language Institute in the Serbo-Croatian (Yugoslav) department. There, I would spend 37 weeks learning to speak, read and write the language of the "South Slavs". This was no easy task! I later learned that Serbo-Croatian was second, only to Mandarin Chinese, in difficulty of the 50 languages being taught there at the time.
The mission was daunting, but the accommodations and the food were excellent. I persevered and actually graduated with fairly good grades (a solid B to be exact). For any of you who know me well, anything above a C meant I studied, which was not what I normally did in school. Language school, however, was only part of the allure of the Monterey Peninsula. The main magnet that drew me to this "Shangri-La" was, of course, golf.
One day, I met a man who happened to be the president of Carmel Valley Country Club at Quail Lodge. He invited me to play there and gave me a complimentary voucher for a friend and myself to play whenever it was convenient for us. We were there the next Saturday!
We teed off on the 1st hole and proceeded to play one of the toughest courses we had ever seen in our lives. We were doing fairly well and even made some good shots. We had just reached the green on the 7th hole. I knelt down to check the line on my putt and heard the r-r-rip. I immediately felt a cool sensation on my leg and realized that there was a gaping hole in my Italian designer golf slacks, between my mid-thigh and knee. I thought, "This is great. My one chance to play an exclusive, private country club and I'm coming apart at the seams."
As luck would have it, my playing partner had a couple of safety pins in his golf bag. With a strategic placement of these wonders of modern science, I was able to finish the round of golf, enjoying the awe inspiring beauty of the Carmel Valley in the process. I know what you're thinking: "What does this little vignette have to do with the world, Jesus Christ, the church or anything I can apply to my daily life?" I'm glad you asked.
It seems to me that, just like my golf slacks, the world is coming apart at the seams and no one has any concrete answers as to how to remedy the situation. There are wars and rumors of wars all over the globe. Every time we turn around there is a new "hot spot" somewhere. We are in deep trouble, and in no instance does the pressure seem to be easing.
The safety pins kept my slacks together long enough for me to finish the round of golf and drive home, but what's the world going to use for safety pins? We are in desprate need of short and long term solutions to these major world crises. Where are the nations of the world going to seek answers and solve problems? The United Nations certainly does not elevate one's expectations for peace. Ineffective would be a charitable way of assessing its role in bringing nations together in any meaningful dialog. It seems as if many nations feel comfortable spending days, weeks, months, and even years discussing the issues, but no one is willing to make the hard decisions necessary to stop the violence and put the world on the road to lasting peace.
The Bible tells us there will be no peace until Jesus returns and establishes His kingdom here on Earth. If that's the case, what are we to do in the interim?
Christians have a unique opportunity in this time of trouble and uncertainty. People are looking for answers to the perplexing questions of our time. They are not looking for pat answers or worn out cliches. Too many political hacks and spin-doctors are trying to tell us that everything will be alright if we just "give peace a chance". That begs the question, how can we give peace a chance if the warring parties are not willing to put down their arms and try it?
Personal peace begins with an intimate relationship with God in Christ Jesus. Jesus explained that kind of relationship in John 14:23, when He said: "...If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." If God is willing to make His home with you, it's hard to imagine a much closer relationship. Why are we keeping Him at arms length when we need Him so desperately today?
All the signs point to the return of Jesus Christ at almost any time. Are we so blind that we will not accept the fact that the things prophesied in the Bible could very well happen in our generation? If these things do come to pass while we're still here, don't you suppose that it might be a good idea to be prepared? It is my firm belief that the clock of history is about to strike midnight and there is much more at stake than a "glass slipper".
If you are not actively engaged in the process of getting the Gospel message out to others, there is no better day to start than today. Don't be afraid. God will give you the strength and courage. All you have to do is trust Him and "just do it!"
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Pastor Rod's Message
This newsletter now is mailed to about 150 homes and is posted every month on our website, hilltopchapel.org. I wonder, sometimes, how many of you actually sit down in your easy chair or at your computer and read the article and the rest of the "rag". When I try to figure out the effectiveness of our ministry, here at Hilltop Chapel, I'm left with the overwhelming feeling that it is really none of my business. My primary concern, I believe, as far as God is concerned, is to prepare others for the work of evangelism and whatever type of ministry He calls them to. This newsletter is just another aspect of the ongoing ministry of Hilltop Chapel.
Just recentlly, as I contemplated our outreach, I asked myself, "How effective have we been in reaching out to the people of Miramonte, Pinehurst, Badger, Dunlap and Squaw Valley?" I had felt a little doubtful about the impact we were having. Then, comments from deacons and deaconesses, Sunday School teachers, AWANA leaders and others, from over the years, came flooding back to me. These folks had related story after story of instances when they had been in conversations with people whose lives had been touched by the ministry of Hilltop Chapel. These people were not only from the mountain communities, but also towns like Reedley, Selma, Dinuba and even Fresno. People are amazed that a "little mountain church" like ours can do the things we do with the resources we have. Let's face it, you can't call ours a rich congregation! It was gratifying to hear their perspectives of our outreach and its overall effectiveness.
As I continued down memory lane, it became obvious that this ministry was and is making a difference. And then it hit me! That is exactly what I need to see and understand. It is never about us, as Christians, and our preconceived ideas about what should or shouldn't be happening. It is all about God and what He wants to do in a given situation.
Because we are a small community and there is very little industry here (logging has all but disappeared, many of our people travel down to Fresno or Visalia for work each day. Our ministry outreach extends to each of those workplace situations. You would be surprised at the number of people who have accepted Christ as their Savior through the witness of one of our congregation on the job. It's amazing to contemplate the awsome power of God as He works through the lives of believers in many different circumstances every day. We are not capable of comprehending the scope or magnitude of God's ongoing work in the world today. All we can do is marvel at the stories of changed lives, healed marriages and relationships, families pieced back together and friendships restored as people realize their need for the Lord and reach out to Him in faith.
The real measure of any church body is not the number of people occupying pews on any given Sunday morning. What makes or breaks any congregation is attitude. If we are in a body that is loving and caring, that, in essence, is what is expressed to the community at large. The apostle Paul tells us, in I Corinthians 13:1-2, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."
We are not good and kind because we were born that way or because mom and dad did such a great job when we were kids. The truth is, we are only loving, good and kind when we come to the "foot of the Cross" and receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. His love, compassion, grace and mercy become ours the moment we turn to Him in simple faith and say, "I believe in You." It's really that easy. When we do truly believe, the portals of heaven are opened up to us and all of God's blessings begin to flow our way. As we receive these heavenly gifts, we are to pass them on to others. In I Corinthians 2:12, Paul says, "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God." We are not passing on worldly things, but things directly from the heart of God. The little chorus goes like this: "Freely, freely, you have received. Freely, freely, give. Go in my name and because you believe, others will know that I live."
How long has it been since you gave the idea of sharing your faith any real consideration? There is a whole world out there that still needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. You may be the only one standing between some poor soul and the gates of hell. Yes, I realize we're making a difference, here at Hilltop Chapel, but there is so much more to be done. Let's not rest on our laurels. Let's see how many more we can rescue before Christ comes again.
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