Sunday, December 23, 2007

Suffering Heroes vs. The Man of Sorrows

I have noticed a trend in modern culture. We like our heroes to suffer and experience pain. Unfortunately, we also like them fallible. The most popular in the last few years, Frodo Baggins, Anakin Skywalker, Harry Potter all fail in critical areas. Yet many still admire them, even among Christians. How long will we forget that we have the ultimate suffering hero in Jesus, the Man of Sorrows?

Jesus was God who choose to be born as a baby in a stable. He suffered poverty, rejection, and finally a cruel death. But these were nothing compared with the weight of all our sins which made him feel forsaken by his Father. Jesus never failed in love, always spoke against injustice, he never faltered though he was "in all points tempted as we are". No fable has ever dared to go so far as to have God chose to suffer at the hands of men. Only the truth of Christianity would be so bold.

Do I enjoy other heroes more because I have come to feel that he does not really understand me, that he is not really one of us? May I banish that foolish notion! Jesus came to earth to show me that he does understand, that he does care, so that he could be one of us. I do have the ultimate hero. If I really worship him, I will talk of him as others do of their heroes. Let us truly rejoice in this season of remembering our Hero.

Merry Christmas,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Burning a hole in Selawik

I had a topic all ready for the blog and I thought I could write it today. Now that Christmas preparations are under control, I felt ready to write again. But that was superseded when I heard the church bell ringing and discovered that there was another fire.

The fire appeared to be near the Friends church and Warren went to go help, taking granola bars with him. The girls and I had breakfast, then Warren returned. It is the coldest day we have so far this winter (40 below), and I was a little uncertain for a moment that it was him, since I have never seen so much ice on his face before. "The church is burning and there is nothing we can do" he announced and we cried together.

As many of you know the Friends church is the church of Selawik. Though weekly attendance was low, it was the place for weddings, funerals and holiday gatherings. This is a loss that will change a lot about how Selawik runs. I expect the Christmas gathering will be moved to the school gym as it is the only place large enough to hold the village. Please pray for the courage of the people of Selawik. We are all deeply saddened at loss of this house of prayer.


Church with the parsonage behind and bell beside

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fighting Fires for Jesus

Friday morning I was awakened by a phone call. "There's a choir over by Friends Church" I thought I heard. "At 3:00 am?", I asked in dubious surprise. Was I expected to go sing with the choir at this time of night? "Look out the window!" was the response.

When I looked, it all made sense. Fire! A huge fireball shot into the night sky, and I quickly hung up and got dressed to go help fight the fire. Running across the river I saw a transformer explode in sparks, and redoubled my pace. Reaching the watching crowd, I found my friend Bert Foxglove. "Is everyone out?" I asked breathlessly. "I think so. Go find out!" Bert urged me. "Around back". I followed where he pointed and made my way to the leeward side of the house. A strong breeze was fanning flames and billows of smoke out from the house, fortunately away from the house next door only a few feet away.

I cautiously hurried between the burning house and its neighbor, and joined the group of onlookers. One person was spraying a garden hose from the faucet next door, on the back wall of the house. Another was calling, "Lucky! Lucky!" through a window, trying to save a pet dog. Entering the house was out of the question. The fire was a hurricane of flames.

"Is everyone out?" I again questioned. "Yes, but the dogs are dead by now" was the response. Helplessly I watched as the garden hose was sprayed first on one side, then the other, trying to keep the side of the house nearest the neighbors from bursting into flame and spreading the fire to them. Flames licked the power lines and soon the power to the homes of the surrounding neighbors went out. All was blackness except for the roaring flames.

A wail went up from the home of the nearest neighbor. Soon I saw an elderly woman being helped from the dark home, to safety some distance from the fire. Not knowing what else I could do to help, I took her arm and helped her down the steps of her endangered home.

"A knife! Does anybody have a knife?" I was glad to have something else I could do to help-- loan my leatherman I always carry. Soon I saw a firehose being dragged from the river, but agonizing minutes passed without any water coming from it. "What is taking so long?" I worried to myself. "God, please don't let anyone be killed or the neighbors houses burn!" I prayed silently.

"Can somebody give me a hand with this hose?" I heard the Baptist pastor on the other side of the house. He had another firehose hooked up to the water mains coming to the houses, and though it was too short to reach any farther than the corner of the house, he was able to keep the side nearest the neighbors cooled with the water.

The next two hours were engaged with holding the firehose and participating in bucket brigades (using five gallon buckets filled from the firehose, since it would not reach far enough). Finally, another matching hose was located and we were able to take the hose around the sides of the house, and work on putting the fire out. Walls of the house were knocked down and the fire attacked and gradually put under control.

Working together with others for a common goal was a good experience, though tiring. I am saddened that it came at the loss of Buddy Cleveland's home and pet dogs. Visiting with him later, I asked what woke him up. He showed me a couple burns on his wrists where burning plastic fell on him while he was sleeping. He doesn't know if the fire was started due to faulty wiring or his wood stove. It was an older house and either one could be the case.

Please keep Buddy in prayer and feel free to send donations to assist him and his brother (who lived with him). He had just retired, received his payout, and made purchases which are now unfortunately gone. So, if you wish to send him donations, I'm sure they would be much appreciated.

Just use:

Buddy Cleveland
General Delivery
Selawik, AK 99770

God bless,

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Mission: Ekwok

The village of Ekwok is the destination of Dillingham SDA church members Rod and Brenda Rau most Sabbaths. No, they are not trying to get away from the Dillingham church-- they are extending its reach with a branch Sabbath school. They have permission to meet in the Ekwok city hall/post office, in a room about 20x20 feet in size. Conveniently located in the same building as the post office, they sometimes have people drop in after picking up their mail.

Ekwok is a village about 42 miles North-East of Dillingham, that has had previous Adventist work, years ago when the Aleknagik mission school was still open. At first glance, it would appear that all that remains of the original work is a small 10x20 foot structure once used as a meeting house. However, people are what make the church, and Ekwok has people who are interested in learning more about the Bible.

Please consider if you may be called to be an evangelist this summer in Ekwok.


Mission: Manokotak

The branch Sabbath school work in the village of Manokotak has made some exciting strides in the past year. But the story goes back about ten years, to when Dave & Shirley Williams befriended a man we'll call T (some names will be changed for privacy). Dave Williams, a Dillingham Adventist church member, did some mechanical work for T, an elder in the Moravian church in Manokotak, and shared some Bible studies and Sabbath school quarterlies with him at that time.

Now, fast forward to last year, 2006, when Dillingham members Margarita Merino and Florie Jewell visited house to house in Manokotak throughout the year. In the process, they found many interested people. One man we'll call A was willing to have Bible studies in his home. These began this spring, 2007, and have had around 13-14 people each week. A woman we'll call R (along with her mother) was one of those people. When R learned of the Sabbath and discussed it with her mother, she said "I've known that for a long time". R wondered why she hadn't been told about it all this time.

By June, R was ready for baptism, and she and her husband were flown to Dillingham for her baptism in June, 2007. At the baptism, her husband also seemed very interested. He also expressed his desire to begin paying tithe.

Since learning of the Sabbath, R has been active in outreach. She has shared her faith with the V.P.S.O. (Village Public Safety Officer) and also T, the Moravian church elder mentioned at the beginning. The V.P.S.O. was initially skeptical, but he studied the Sabbath for himself, he found it to be Biblical. Under conviction from the Holy Spirit, he made a decision to keep the Sabbath. Based on his convictions, the V.P.S.O. quit his job so he could keep Sabbath.

Meanwhile, the Moravian elder, T, had heard Sabbath presented at the Moravian church. When the Sabbath was presented, T noticed the reactions of the members. Some reacted with surprise, some with apparent anger, but some reacted with excitement and acceptance. T wanted more studies for his church. He wanted the Dillingham pastor to present the Bible truths from the Bible at the church, not pushing any denomination, just the scriptures. However, when the pastor called, the church wasn't ready for such a presentation yet. Nonetheless, T did request more quarterlies, further studies, and DVDs, which the pastor subsequently took over to him.

T wrote a letter in July to the Dillingham Adventist pastor, giving these details, and stating that he had begun keeping the Sabbath in June this year, and that besides the V.P.S.O., another family has also made a decision to keep the Sabbath. He has shared the Sabbath with his Thursday Bible study group, and they would like a Bible-based study given without pressure to join another denomination. Many young people, children and adults are listening to him, but fear persecution and name calling as the Adventists have received.

T has stated that while he doesn't want to change his denomination, he wants to keep the Sabbath and be faithful to the truth of the Bible. He is also aware of many other non-Biblical teachings in his church, such as the use of graven images and communication with purported spirits of the dead (forbidden by scriptures).

This fall (2007), child dedications have been given for 3 of R's children. Decisions are also being weighed by many, to follow the Bible more fully. Please keep them in your prayers and consider whether you may be called to dedicate some time this summer to evangelism in a village.

There are always challenges to deal with, and some of them are physical. Manokotak consists of an old village and a new village, which are about five miles apart. They could really use two groups of evangelists going out, rather than just one. Alternately, a light vehicle such as a moped or even a bicycle could be helpful for transit between the villages at least in the non-winter months.

Most of all, however, dedicated volunteers are needed who see that the fields "are white already to harvest." (John 4:35). "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:37-38)


Mission: Togiak

We have been wanting to share with you some of the exciting things that the Dillingham church is doing in the surrounding villages, especially Aleknagik, Togiak, Manakotak, and Ekwok, but we wanted to get our stories straight from those who are involved. Here is our first from Judi Thompson that we received last week.

Hi folks,

This morning (Sabbath) we checked the weather on the computer, and when I saw that it still looked pretty windy and rough between here and Togiak I prepared to stay here today, and enjoy fellowship lunch for the second week in a row, here in Dillingham :) But Gavin (Thompson) did a little more digging, and Dave (Williams) said he thought the weather was good enough to make a run for it, so after church, we came home, and I changed clothes and we headed for the airport. (The church here has decided to change the services around, to try and get more of us "village people" to be able to participate here too. This week was the first week of the new program, and they started with church at 9am, and then Sabbath School, finishing the entire service by 11, when Rod and Brenda (Rau) usually head to Ekwok. We still have to leave a little earlier, but I think overall, it's going to be a good change.) We were pretty fully loaded (we took the Cherokee, as it was Manakotak's turn for the Hawk).

But it went well, and I got to practice a short, soft field landing with a 20 mph wind! There weren't very many people today, about five adults and three children, but we had some really good discussions with the ones who were there, so I think it was good that we went. One young man, who is almost completely deaf, has a sister with several young children, who was arrested recently for drinking, and is now in jail in Anchorage. So he now has the responsibility of caring for her three children while she is gone. He lives with his father and sister, but he says they are not a lot of help, and he ends up looking after them too most of the time. Sometimes he gets so fed up with them all that he comes over here to Dillingham, to get away from it, and spends the whole time here drinking! Today, we talked to him for a long time, and had special prayer for him before we left. I asked if he'd like us to dedicate the children and him next Sabbath, and have special prayer for them as a "family", and he said he'd really like that. So we'll be having a dedication next Sabbath :). I really wish that the Lord would provide a couple who could not only be spiritual leaders there, but could also volunteer to open an Adventist school there too. If they could volunteer their time, the parents wouldn't have to pay huge school fees, and some of these wonderful kids could be in a Christian school!



Mission: Dillingham area villages

The next few posts will discuss missions work in the villages in the Dillingham area. The Dillingham church has a number of members involved in branch Sabbath school work in Togiak, Manakotak, and Ekwok. The church has adjusted their schedule so the participants can attend at least part of the Dillingham service before going to one of the villages. Here are the villages and the groups that have been going out:

  • Togiak: Judi & Gavin Thompson & Jim Bingman
  • Manakotak: Florie Jewell, Margarita Merino, Linda & Wendell Downs
  • Ekwok: Rod & Brenda Rau
The Holy Spirit is really at work in the villages, and we'd like to see that work go forward with power. While there has been talk of having ShareHim meetings in Dillingham itself, in the past, interest has been hard to arouse there. While we do not wish to limit the Spirit of God,
ShareHim meetings may work better in the villages than in Dillingham at this time. In any case, we hope to reach people while their interest is at a peak. Read on to learn more about how God is working in people's hearts.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Basis of our Salvation

Sometimes I come across people who are concerned that because I emphasize obedience to God, I may not understand the basis of salvation. Thus, I am writing this short Bible study on the subject. I'd be interested in feedback, additional Bible references (whether you agree or disagree), etc.

The conditions of salvation remain the same as they have always been-- "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). The word, "believe" is used in the strongest sense. This is active faith. "We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak." (1 Cor 4:13) God wants us to share what we believe. This is not like "the devils also believe and tremble" (James 2:19), nor can those who are saved "hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. " (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Those who believe must "hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." (Hebrews 3:6) and not harden our hearts (Heb. 3:8), not "departing from the living God." (Heb. 3:12). We may not think we are departing from God or hardening our hearts, but we may "be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13) if we do not "Watch and pray, that (we) enter not into temptation" (Matthew 26:41). Further, we are especially warned, "Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." (of Christ's return, Mark 13:33). Because of this danger, Hebrews 3:13 warns us to encourage each other daily to remain faithful.

God says, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:17-18) and Paul encourages us, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Cor. 7:1) by becoming "partakers of His holiness" (Heb. 12:10). We can only do this by being "in subjection unto the Father of spirits" so we may live (Heb. 12:9). We are to be like Jesus: "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; " (Heb. 5:8-9) and we are to learn obedience in the same way.

We cannot do any of this in our own strength, but we can through claiming His "exceeding great and precious promises" by which we may "be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." (2 Pet. 1:4). We do not need to fear for our salvation as long as we submit to God (Heb. 12:9). Instead we can be "confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."

We can "stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:11) by putting "on the whole armour of God", which consists of:

  • The belt of truth (Eph. 6:14). Our clothing (the robe of Christ's righteousness, Isaiah 61:10, imputed to us when we repent and turn to God for salvation) must be sustained by our faith in God's truth.
  • The breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14). Our obedience to God will be the result of our trust in His righteousness.
  • Shoes of The gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15). The good news that God wants to make peace with us, will be too good for us to keep to ourselves.
  • The shield of faith (Eph. 6:16). Trust in God's promises will protect us from the devil's lies sent to discourage us, and his attacks on us.
  • The helmet of salvation (Eph. 6:17). Knowing we have God's salvation as a free gift gives us assurance.
  • The sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). The word of God (the Bible) divides truth from error and separates us from our sin.
  • Praying without ceasing (Eph. 6:18, 1 Thess. 5:17). Faithfulness in prayer is like regular breathing. It keeps us spiritually alive.
It might be helpful for us to remember that God asks us to be "faithful" as well as to have faith. This means more than "full of faith" in the way we usually think of faith. It means, staying with the task God has given us. (See the parable of the faithful and evil servants in Matthew 24:45-51).

It is clear that God expects us to overcome sin in our lives:
  • "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21)
  • We should not be overcome by sin (2 Peter 2:19-22)
  • We should at the same time never claim to be free from sin: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:8-9)
  • "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). God wants us not to sin, but He has provided a solution if we do.
  • God gives us the victory over the wicked one (1 John 2:13-17)
  • "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, [even] our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4-5)
  • In Revelation, those that overcome God will "give to eat of the tree of life" (Rev. 2:7). They "will not be hurt of the second death" (Rev. 2:11). They are promised the "hidden manna" and a "white stone" with a new name on it. (Rev. 2:17). They are the ones God will "give power over the nations" (Rev. 2:26) and the are the ones that will "be clothed in white raiment" and God "will not blot out his name out of the book of life" (Rev. 3:5). God will make the overcomers a regular feature of God's temple (Rev. 3:12) and will be given a seat on God's throne (Rev. 3:21).
  • Finally, "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." (Rev. 21:7)
However, we need not fear that it is impossible for us to overcome. "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of [our] faith without wavering; (for he [is] faithful that promised;)" (Heb. 10:22-23)

Our desire should be, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if [there be any] wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24) As David, we should pray, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me [with thy] free spirit. [Then] will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee." (Psalm 51:10-13)

If you are God's child, there is a joy in letting Him lead in your life, not just in removing the more obvious sins, not only in cleaning out the secrets of your life, but also in cleaning up the "little things" that most people don't even consider sin. If you pray for God to show you His will for you life and listen for the still, small voice, God will be happy to communicate with you. I can tell you this from personal experience, one that is ongoing as I write this.

God bless in your lives as you let Him live in you.