Pastor's Blog
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March 30, 2015, 5:25 PM

Listen To Your Heart

In October 2013, it was discovered that I had a blockage on the front of my heart.  Because the blockage was only 40%, nothing was done.  We were told the blockage had to reach 90% or more before any action would be taken.  Knowledge of this blockage made me much more responsive to any chest pains that occured.  An episode in July 2014 resulted in tests being run which determined my blood pressure was unusually high.  I went on a low-sodium and low-sugar diet, added new medications, and made other lifestyle changes to bring about the desired positive results.  With only a few exceptions, my blood pressure has been excellent, plus I lost nearly 10-pounds without really trying.  I did well for many months.

Less than one month ago I began having recurring chest pain after minor exertion.  I knew something was amiss.  About ten-days ago, after working 4+ hours moving light furniture and sorting through rooms, it felt as if my chest was going to explode!  The pain prompted me to use the nitroglycerin pills I carry with me.  The following week, I went to my cardiologist who immediately scheduled testing.  I underwent testing and FAILED MISERABLY!  The nurses administering the stress test got quite excited when my blood pressure hit 250 over 190.  The chest pain during the test was extremely strong.  I was given several nitro pills to bring my heart back to its normal rhythm and eliminate my pain.  A few hours later, I had a heart cath.  They found the pre-existing blockage, observed it, then discovered and stented a 90% blockage which no one knew existed.  Other than having minor problems with adjusting to new medications, it appears their work on my heart was a success.

There are at least two things about my cardiac experience that have profound spiritual application.  First is the fact the expected source of my problem WAS NOT my problem!  I was aware of the weakness on the front of my heart, thought that was the source of my pain, but it was not.  The problem was elsewhere.  We each know the specific areas where Satan attacks us in our personal lives…his favorite targets with which to tempt, discourage, and defeat us.  While we must be vigilant in those areas, we must never forget to be equally diligent in the stronger areas of life.  We must never assume we are “spiritually strong enough,” because should we ever make such an error, Satan will rush in like a flood to undermine us!  1 Corinthians 10:12 warns us to be careful when we become spiritually confident, lest we fall. 

The second application is that I listened to my heart, i.e. I paid attention to the severe chest pain and did exactly what needed to be done.  I refused to ignore the symptoms.  My cardiologist indicated I was in imminent danger and the heart procedure needed to be done immediately.  Had I postponed doing what needed to be done, there was a very high risk of me dying.  When we recognize something IS NOT the way it should be in our spiritual lives or if we have grown weak at some point, we dare not wait.  It is imperative to come to the Lord immediately and take care of the problem!  Never assume there is plenty of time or that things are “not that bad.”  Spiritual drifting is a gradual process which NEVER results in us moving closer to Christ, only further from Him.  2 Corinthians 6:2 reminds us today is the day of salvation, i.e. now is the time to get everything right between yourself and God.  Tomorrow, or even an hour from now, may be too late.  Check your “spiritual heart” right now.  What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?  

March 17, 2015, 4:08 PM

"Pancake Cookies"

My primary cooking role involves a barbeque grill.  Peggy is a good cook who loves to bake, so I have never needed to cook.  In a pinch, I can cook.  However, I do not get “pinched” very often.  On occasion, I will bake cookies, usually oatmeal, which are one of my favorites.  Peggy avoids the kitchen at all costs when I am baking.  She stringently follows every detail of a recipe.  I follow the recipe, then often “adjust” it to whatever strikes my fancy.  My cookie-baking routine drives Peggy crazy!  What makes her even more upset is when my variation of a recipe turns out tasting BETTER than the actual recipe!  And YES, that does happen quite frequently. 

Recently, I was craving cookies, so I set out to bake a double-batch of oatmeal cookies.  Peggy was tired from a long day of work, so I had her sit on the couch and relax while I worked in the kitchen.  I was convinced that arrangement would make the evening more enjoyable for both of us.  I honestly do not remember the last time I baked cookies, but it has been a very long time.  Consequently, I was much more particular at following the recipe.  I followed it very closely, purposely NOT adding extra things to the mixture.  The only thing I did was double the amount of the ingredients since I was making a double-batch.  Everything was going well except there seemed to be a shortage of oats.  Peggy looked at my batter and  assured me I had plenty of oats.  I greased the cookie sheets, plopped the mounds of dough onto the sheets, and put them in the oven.  When the buzzer sounded informing me the cookies were ready, I could not believe my eyes.  The cookie dough had spread out all over the cookie sheet!  I had what appeared to be “pancake cookies.”   They stuck to the cookie sheet, were maybe ¼” high, and certainly did not look like what I intended on making.  All three cookie sheets came out that way.  While they looked terrible, the cookies actually tasted quite good! 

As I thought about this scenario, the Lord reminded me that sometimes we may do everything precisely as we are suppose to, faithfully follow the plan, yet have what appears to be a very different result than we expected.  Doing everything “just right” does not assure that we will have the result we anticipate.  When the result does not turn out as we planned, that does not mean the result is “wrong” or “unproductive” or in some way a “failure.”   That unexpected result may still be as sweet, wonderful, and effective as what we originally hoped for.  When we have done everything we know God wants us to do…we must trust Him with the results.  

March 3, 2015, 8:05 PM

Too Little To Matter

This past Saturday afternoon, I watched as tiny snowflakes began to gently fall.  The flakes were so small, I almost laughed as I considered the warnings given by the weather bureau.  They warned of an impending snow storm that would hit us with up to ten-inches of new snow.  I honestly thought they really missed it with that forecast.  As the evening hours came, the tiny snow flakes kept steadily falling.  Before going to bed Saturday night, I once again observed how tiny the snow flakes were and thought even if it snowed all night, the flakes were just too little to matter.  Sunday morning when I looked outside, I was stunned!  EVERYTHING was covered in a deep blanket of snow!  The roads were impassable!  We were forced to cancel our church services because of the deep snow that basically shut-down our entire region on Sunday! 

As I considered the small snow flakes and the resulting accumulation, my statement about them being “too little to matter” was shown to be very wrong! The Lord used that event to remind me of several important truths.  First, that among His followers, no one is too little to matter.  We all matter to Him!  We can all be used by Him to build His Kingdom!  Second, what we do for His Kingdom, no matter how small it may seem, makes a significant difference.  The steady accumulation of our touching lives with the love of Jesus makes a far greater impact than we know.  Third, we can make a positive eternal impact for the Lord through our daily, faithful service to Him.  We sometimes think we are not accomplishing much for the Lord if we are not doing something that makes a highly visible and immediate impact.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  It is the long, steady obedience which provides the greatest display of God’s grace and power.  Continue to live in obedience to Him, even in the little things.  It adds up.  

February 24, 2015, 8:00 AM

A Life Well Lived

On Tuesday, February 17, 2015, one of God’s finest followers made it Home to Heaven!  My aunt, Capitola Ball, finished her earthly journey at the age of 94-years and 3 ½-months.  She was one of my favorite aunts.  Because she and my uncle lived in California, they only made it back to southern Missouri every few years for a visit.  Even as a child, I remember Cap’s smile, her beautiful singing voice, her out-going personality, her great sense of humor, and her positive personality.  Everyone who met her seemed to love her!  You could not be around her very long before you knew of her love for Jesus Christ.  Whether she told you directly or whether her actions clearly reflected her Godly lifestyle, there was no question where her allegiance was.  As long as I knew her, she lived totally surrendered to the Lord!

It was her Christ-dependent life which empowered her to deal with tragedy after tragedy and do so with an optimism that cannot be contrived by human will-power.  The Holy Spirit enabled her to deal with her youngest son’s prolonged battle with leukemia and his death as a young man.  It was God’s Spirit that empowered her to care for my uncle at home for years as he died a slow death.  She refused to put him in a nursing home as long as she could care for him.  Then while in her 80s, she became the primary caregiver for her other son who had a lengthy list of health problems and was in a wheelchair.  She literally sold most everything of value in order to provide for him.  When he unexpectedly died while in a rehabilitation facility, she was left alone.  Yet Aunt Cap was quick to tell others of God’s faithfulness to her.  Her own physical needs were many.   She was legally blind due to macular degeneration, suffered consistent pain in her feet from neuropathy,  had heart problems, battled a sleep disorder, and had a potentially fatal disease that struck fear in her doctors.  Aunt Cap took it all in stride, testifying to her doctors that as much as she appreciated them, she was under the care of The Great Physician. 

The news of Capitola’s death was bittersweet.  For the past several years, I have made it my practice to call her about every four-weeks just to chat and let her know she still has family that loves her.  My last conversation with her was on Thanksgiving Day of 2014.  She shared how she had been evicted from the house she had rented for the past 20+ years because the landlords decided they could get more rent money from someone else.  At age 94, with limited income and no family nearby, she was being thrown onto the streets.   In such dire circumstances, she reminded me the Lord would take care of her and He would provide.  Once again, she demonstrated a life that was totally surrendered to the Lord.   Although I tried repeatedly to call her after Thanksgiving, her phone was disconnected.  I later learned the Lord  DID provide a new place for her to live.

Aunt Capitola was not a perfect human being, but she definitely was one who clearly reflected Jesus Christ!  Her life was a shining example of what it means to live a holy life, a life fully surrendered to the Lord, and a life of absolute faith.  Her love for others was seen in the fact that at her funeral, she requested NO FLOWERS!  Instead, she had a large basket of candy placed on her casket and asked everyone at the funeral to take some candy as one last gift from her.  My prayer is that I will be that type of example to those who observe my life. 

February 15, 2015, 7:01 PM

Investing In Lives

This past week, my personal schedule was altered due to a death.  Lois Vavak, my high school English and Drama teacher, passed away quite unexpectedly.  Because of the impact she had on my life, I felt a very great need to attend her funeral.  I was surprised that I experienced profound and prolonged grief upon hearing of her death.  I knew her as the mother of one of my classmates long before she ever entertained the idea of becoming a school teacher.  Her son and I have been friends since Third grade.  Few educators have touched my life quite like Mrs. Vavak did.  When I was her student in the 1970s, my unbridled comedic humor was at its strongest.  She took my wise-cracking and my jokes in stride.  In Drama Class, she tapped-into my comedic talents, giving me free reign to improvise and ad lib my lines in the comedy plays we presented for the community.  My friends in the drama group knew what the script was suppose to be, but never knew what to expect from me because of the freedom she gave me.  She would tell the class, "The lines he comes up with are funnier than what is in the script!   Follow whatever he says or does!"  I think that liberality is what made our Drama Class the most popular in the history of the school.    

As I attended her viewing, the sheer volume of people who came through to pay their respects spoke volumes about her.  Those who spoke at her funeral service did an excellent job summarizing her life.  She was one of the most loving, concerned, caring and respected teachers the Advance, Missouri, school district has ever had.  As they shared about her life, I quickly recognized that what I felt for her as my beloved English and Drama teacher, was shared by thousands of students who were touched by her across her 31-years teaching in that small town high school.   She always had time for the students...time to talk...time to listen...time to be a safe person for every teenager.  I graduated high school in 1977, but have kept in touch with Mrs. Vavak across the years.  I have visited with her numerous times.  She was always excited to hear what was going on in my life and was proud of me for following God's call into the ministry.  I have referred to her as being somewhat of a "second Mom" to me, although I am certain she never knew that.  

Reflecting on Mrs. Vavak's life this past week has reminded me once again of how important it is for each of us to invest ourselves in others.  Her consistent decision to love teenagers touched and shaped thousands of lives.  She never saw just how profoundly her life affected most of us.  This week, choose to consciously, purposely take time for others.  Choose to invest your life in other people.  Let your Christian influence be used of God to lead others to Him.  The shadow of your life reaches farther than you know.

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