The Danger of Underestimating

RELEASED--MCCM Jerry McLain, CNRNW PAO LCPO, credit as a U.S. Navy Photo by MC2 (SW/AW) Jon RasmussenThe same story is in the news on a regular basis in Montana.  The only difference is the characters, the activity, and the time of year.  The story goes something like this.  Someone goes into the mountains hunting, fishing, hiking, or skiing and disappears.  Sometimes they are found alive, but much of the time they are not.  Some are never found again.  Of the ones that are found, the response is often the same.  “I didn’t realize the mountains could be so dangerous and things could go wrong so quickly.  I just wasn’t prepared for what happened.”  The majority of the time, the problem is completely underestimating the mountains and the wilderness and going into them unprepared, as if one was going for a walk in the city park.  The result can be tragic.

Unfortunately, this is often what we do with God.  We severely underestimate who He is and do not view Him as the Bible calls us to view Him.  The result can be tragic.  When we lose sight of who God is, we begin worshipping a god who is formed in our own minds.  Typically, we underestimate several things about God.

First we underestimate that He is a holy God.  In Isaiah 6, we read that majestic creatures surround the throne of God, crying out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”.  When Isaiah has this vision of God, he cries out “Woe is me, for I am undone!  Because I am a man of unclean lips”.  When Isaiah sees how holy God really is, he is utterly terrified for he sees how unholy he is compared to God.  Hence he says “I am undone!”  The more we lose sight of the holiness of God, the more self-righteous and comfortable with sin we become.

Second, we underestimate that God is a majestic, mighty, all-powerful God who reigns in glory.  We read in Psalm 97, “His lightnings light the world; the earth sees and trembles.  The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.”  This is no mild mannered God who casually watches humanity while sipping on a sweet iced tea! He is glorious and mighty!  Perhaps one of the reasons we do not have much awe and zeal for God is because we do not see Him as the glorious, eternal King who reigns on high!

Third, we underestimate the judgement of God that flows from His perfect justice.  David writes in Psalm 7, “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.  If he does not turn back, He will sharpen His sword; He bends His bow and makes it ready.  He also prepares for Himself instruments of death; He makes His arrows into fiery shafts.”.  It is an absolute tragedy how averse we are to the justice of God.  It is in the justice of God that we find hope in the midst of evil.  The reason?  God is a God who will perfectly deal with evil and bring justice to the oppressed.  There will be a day in which God’s justice will be fully executed and evil will be no more.

Let’s not underestimate who God is!  To underestimate God can lead to great tragedy.  But, as we more clearly understand who He is, we more clearly see the beauty and wonder of the Gospel!  This holy, all-powerful, just God reaches down to sinners and rescues them for the purpose of restoring them to Himself so they can worship Him, rejoice in Him, and serve Him for all of eternity.  Redeemed sinners can live in peace and joy because of how great God truly is.  What a glorious God we serve!

El Salvador, Day 6

IMG_0512I am afraid I don’t have much to say tonight!  We all have to get up in a few hours and head to the airport for the flight home.  But, it was a great week and we were so blessed by the hospitality of everyone down here.

Today was mostly a day of rest.  We got up early and left for the beach at 6:30.  We spent the morning on the beach.  Some of us rested in hammocks (that would be me!) and others played in the surf.  Needless to say, it was quite a sight to see a bunch of snow white gringos running around in the surf!

Tonight, the Discipleship Conference came to a close.  It went well and it was a wonderful last night together.  I taught on the necessity to not sit and watch ministry, but to get involved in ministry and be a part of ministry.  Acey then shared his testimony of growth.  After the conference, we had one more dinner together at a pizza place with the Blackstocks and Pastor Mario and his family.

We are grateful for the time to get to know our brothers and sisters in Christ down here and get to spend time with them for the last four nights of the conference.  The trip was well worth it.  Well, I really can no longer think for I am very tired!  Enjoy a few pictures from the day!

IMG_0511Guess Who?

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IMG_1141  From the sea……

IMG_1142  To the table….

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El Salvador, Day 5

IMG_1113You always wonder how the day is going to go when it begins in a doctor’s office.  This is how this day began.  We arrived there at 8:30 for Acey’s appointment for his aching tooth.  While we waited in the waiting area, the dentist examined Acey and determined he needed several fillings, a root canal, and a crown.  He sent him out to go get some breakfast and then come back.  Pastor Mario decided that we needed to go to Pizza Hut.  All of us assumed it would be breakfast pizzas.  However, when we walked in, it was like walking into IHOP: A full breakfast experience complete with all you can drink coffee!

With the Pizza Hut breakfast complete, we took Acey back to the dentist where he then stayed until 4:00.  Really, it is difficult to top 6 hours in a dentist chair!  In fact, Acey asked to stay until 5, but they had other patients.  Currently, Acey’s jaw is still hanging open, leaving his mouth available for spelunking flies.  Other than being a little awkward while eating, the situation is doable with his new bib to catch the dribbling food.  Thankfully, it is likely his jaw should close once again by Friday.  In all seriousness, we are thankful to the Lord, for the time in the dentist went well and Acey was able to get everything taken care of at a fraction of the cost in the US.  It certainly beat option two, which involved an ice skate and a Wilson volleyball!

While Acey sat in the dentist, the rest of us lounged at the pool and drank bottomless lemonade. (Just kidding).  Once Acey was situated at the dentist, the rest of us went over to a house that is home to a dozen or so college age students from the US who are here on a 9 month mission trip.  We spent some time with them and then I taught from James 3:13-18.  It was a great time and it was the first time teaching without a translator since we got here!  What a blessing to meet with young people who are here serving the Lord for an extensive period of time.

Today we decided to do something fun, exciting, adventurous, and daring.  We sat at the Blackstock home while Ryan got on the internet and we all gave him our orders for………McDonalds.  And then we waited.  15 minutes later, the doorbell rang and lo and behold there was…………McDonalds!  Once that moving experience was over, Blaine once again twisted our arm and got us to go over to Vive Espresso for some afternoon coffee.  After another “Divine Coffee” (in the words of Ben) we got to work on the different teachings we had to revise and work on.

Day 3 of the Discipleship Conference began with Champ teaching on the importance of being involved in the local church.  Not in the sense of just having something to do, but having yourself truly invested in the people there.  He did a great job and gave all of us a lot of good things to think about.  Ben then followed that up with his testimony of growth which was very encouraging to hear. Once again, it was a rich blessing to spend time with everyone and our times in discussion were a blessing.

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is already our last day here.  We will spend most of tomorrow at the beach as it is the one day where nothing is going on during the day.  We also want to do some research on the amount of time it takes for winter Montana Gringos to turn a bright crimson red.  Right now, the hypothesis is 13.5 minutes.

Tomorrow night will be the final night of the Discipleship Conference.  I will be teaching, followed by Acey sharing his story of God’s work in his life.  I am greatly looking forward to it!

IMG_1107  Waiting for Acey at the Dentist

IMG_1109 IMG_1111 A little Hut breakfast!

IMG_1114 Teaching at the house with college students

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El Salvador, Day 4

IMG_1074Day 4 is in the books!  Almost.  20 more minutes and it will be tomorrow!  Today was another great day with many memories.  We left the house today at 8 and drove out to pick up Ben & Acey.  Unfortunately, Acey got a bad tooth ache was not doing real well when we got him.  Thankfully, he wasn’t to the point of knocking back pints of whiskey to ward off the pain, but it was clear the tooth was bothering him.  As we drove into town, we discussed the situation.  We arrived at the Blackstocks and talked with them and decided it would be good for Acey to go to the dentist.  So, he has an appointment tomorrow morning at 8:30.  The dental care down here is very good.

We went to the Blackstocks for a meeting with a few pastors that get together there with Ryan on Tuesdays.  We had a great time discussing discipleship in the church and how to help people grow in the Lord.  Once again, I was struck with how, despite our different cultures, many of our core issues are the same.  After an enriching and encouraging 3 hour meeting (how often can you say that about a meeting!), we went to a very good hamburger place for lunch.  So far, we have had burgers at two different places and in both places the burgers were better than most we can get in the US.  (I thought we invented the burger??????)  These burgers were so large that only one of us in our group ate the whole thing (I’ll leave you to guess which gringo that was!)  The only difference between one of these burgers and a meatloaf was the bun!

After lunch, we spread out to various areas.  Blaine talked Champ, Ben, and I into going for lattes, so we went over to one of the best espresso places in the world (not an exaggeration!)  Ben and I stayed there for the rest of the afternoon and prepared for our times of teaching.

We left for church and the 2nd night of the discipleship conference at 5:30.  It was another great night.  Such a blessing to spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ here.  There were about 40 people at the conference tonight.  Blaine and Ben taught and did an outstanding job.  I was proud of both of them.  Champ shared some of his testimony as well in regards to his growth in the Lord and did a good job also.  Tomorrow night Champ will be teaching.

Once the conference was over, we left the church and went to go get dinner at 9:30 (A nightly dinner time for us here).  Ben and I were blessed to go to Dominos with Pastor Mario, his wife, and some people from their church.  It was a good time with many underlying sub-stories that are not appropriate to share in this context.  You can ask Ben later on!  Here, Dominos is a sit down restaurant, very similar to Pizza Hut.  Well, the hour is nearly midnight and this boy needs to go to sleep!  There are some pictures below.  Hope they help capture the day.  If you want to see them enlarged, all you should have to do is click on one!  Until tomorrow night…..

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El Salvador, Day 3

IMG_0474The air was cool and the sun had just risen when we got in the car at 7:15 and began the 30 minute drive to San Salvador from our home.  Suddenly, brake lights were in front of us and traffic came to a stop.  Thus began a stop and go drive with Salvadorian drivers turning a two lane highway into a three lane highway.  The skill with which people drive here is amazing and thankfully those who drive us around here are very skilled as well!  The traffic was so heavy today because today was the first day of the school year for the El Salvador public schools.  One advantage to driving that slow was it allowed us to really take in the scenery and the sights.  San Salvador sits at the base of a volcano and the fog was gently moving across the top of it this morning producing a beautiful backdrop.

Once we arrived in San Salvador, we gathered together at the Blackstock home for some cultural training and learn how to better approach mission’s trip to foreign countries.  It was very good and we had some great discussion.  I was thankful for the time together.  I was also thankful for the discussion because it created a distraction from a certain couple of “Gringos” who were already at the Blackstock home and were quite disturbed by our late arrival because they felt they could have slept longer.  A quandary, to which the three of us who drove through the traffic, felt no sympathy.

We finished up the training at noon and then went to an Argentina restaurant for a quick lunch.  Then Ben and I went with Ryan over to a house in which 10 American college students live.  They are on a 9 month mission trip to serve here in El Salvador.  Ryan teaches a Bible study there and Ben and I went along to spend some time with them.  It was a great time and fun to hang out with them and hear what God was doing in their lives.  During this time, the previously discussed “Gringos” enjoyed a lot of coffee and solved many world problems, such as which caliber produced the most desired results on prairie dogs at 400 yards.

We had a short time before leaving for church and most of us took advantage of it and prepared for different teachings we were doing.  However, we had a great interruption when the bread man came by and honked his bike horn.  Quite frankly, I have never seen Blaine move that fast and probably never will unless there is a 500lb furry beast growling behind him.  Notice in the picture he did not even take the time to put on shoes!  Thankfully, the Blackstocks had a mop to wipe up the trail of drool that went out the door.

The first night of the Discipleship Conference at the church went well.  Acey did a great job teaching on the necessity for the Word of God to be the foundation for discipleship.  Blaine also did a great job sharing his testimony of growth and what things the Lord has used in His life to mold him and shape into the image of Christ.  I was thankful for both of them and what they shared.  After the times of speaking, we spent 40 minutes in small groups discussing the information.  It was great to hear what was on the hearts of the people here.

Once the Discipleship Conference was over, it was 8:30 and time for dinner.  Everyone went to their homes, except our host family and Acey’s host family, along with a few people from the church.  They took us to a little open street restaurant for some very authentic pupusas.  They were quite good, but what was even better was some great fellowship and great times of laughing with our brothers and sisters in Christ down here.  It was a full day, but a really good day.  Looking forward to what tomorrow will bring!

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El Salvador, Day 2

IMG_0462It is hard to believe another day has come and gone!  Yet, here we are at the close of another day.  The day definitely began with some grogginess!  However, we did wake up and arrived at church this morning at about 9:15.  We had a wonderful time worshipping our Lord and Savior with brothers and sisters from La Iglesia here in San Salvador.  It is a church very similar in size to The Journey.  One major difference is they know how to play their ten stringed instruments and play them with great gusto!  Ben helped lead us in song from a spare electric guitar they had.

I was humbled and blessed to be able to preach from Luke 9:57-62.  It was a joy to be able to share and once again I was impacted with the fact that though we speak different languages and live in different cultures, we love and serve the same God and are equally saved by His Son, Jesus Christ.  I also was reminded of the difficulty of language barriers that God brought as a result of sin (Genesis 11) and I look forward to when those barriers are removed and we can speak freely with one another.  This is something we don’t often think about but it will be yet another rich blessing to experience when Christ returns.

After church we went to a great restaurant and several of us discovered our limit with food consumption and a few of us managed to push past it.  La Burro with pastor especial (Doesn’t mean the pastor of a church….thankfully) is quite good.  It is a burrito that is covered with cheese and then grilled.  There were many….many TVs in the place and all of them had the same soccer game on.  However, near the end of our meal, the TV that faced our table got turned to the NFC Championship pre-game show.  Perhaps they noticed all the gringos at the table and thought if the TV turned to American football, we would stay longer and order a round of beers!

Waddling out to the car was a chore, but one we all managed with the exception of one.  He had to be carried but to protect his identity, I will not disclose his name.  We then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at the Blackstock home and enjoyed watching football, eating pupusas, and laughing together.  It was a great time.  However, many of us admitted, after some contemplation, we definitely ate one to many pupusas.

Well, that is all for tonight!  Tomorrow the Discipleship Conference begins at the church and Acey will be the opening speaker for that.  Please be in prayer that the conference goes well and the Lord would use us as He chooses!
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El Salvador, Day 1

We are grateful for a very smooth and safe trip down here to San Salvador, El Salvador.  I don’t think our flights could have gone any smoother than they did!  We met at the airport at 5:45 in the morning and arrived in El Salvador at 9:05.  The church was so thoughtful to have sandwiches ready when we arrived there at 10:30 at night.  We were some hungry guys as our “dinner” came at Ruby’s in Houston at 3:30.  After the late dinner, we began to scatter to the different homes we are currently staying in.  Blaine and Champ are staying with the Blackstocks and I am staying with Mario, the pastor of the church.  Ben and Acey are staying with two different families from the church.

Today was spent running some errands in San Salvador (one of which was going to Wal-Mart….yes even here!) and doing a little sight seeing.  Champ and Blaine sat around all day and drank iced tea….I think.  Mario took Ben, Acey, and I up on the volcano that overlooks San Salvador.  Once on top, we got coffee and desserts at a house turned restaurant.  It was quite good and the view was beautiful as well.  We could look out across the city and see the shore of the ocean.  One other really nice thing about up there:  Cool air!  I am a fan of such things!

From the top, we came down to the church for the men’s purity conference.  Acey spoke first followed by a time of small groups.  That was a neat time and it was so encouraging to be with men thousands of miles from Montana who love the same Jesus and battle the same battles.  There were about 30 men there.  After the small groups, we had the second session of the conference during which I spoke.

After the conference, Ben and I came back with Mario for a late dinner before heading for bed.  In the morning, we will be blessed to worship Christ with our brothers and sisters here in San Salvador.  I will be preaching in the morning as well.  After that, we are planning on spending time with the Blackstocks and watching a little football!

Below are some pictures from the day.  Some are from the top of the volcano while the others are during the conference.

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Wait…Why Did Christ Come?

all-about-me-boyI was driving through town this week listening to Christmas music on a Christian radio station.  In the gap between the songs, a lady came on and said “Jesus comes to make us free from all the things that ruin our lives.  That’s what I try to remember this time of year.”  With that another Christmas song came on and I was left yelling at the inanimate radio.  (A problem that occasionally occurs in my vehicle!)

Is that true?  Did Jesus simply come to make us free from all the things that ruin our lives?  What did this woman mean by this statement?  It would seem she meant what many “me centered” Christians think:  Jesus came to make our lives better and happier.  He came to take away the yucky things that can foul up our lives.  However, could we have all the yucky things taken away that ruin our lives and still perish in Hell?  Absolutely.  Not only that, but if Jesus simply came to free us from that which ruins our lives, what does that mean if we live a life of hardship in which our life seems ruined?  What does it mean for the Christian in Iraq who lost their daughter and is permanently displaced.  Wouldn’t it mean Christ ultimately failed then?  Would the 10 Apostles who were killed affirm this woman’s statement?

Why did Jesus come?  This is a deeply important question and one we should ponder, especially as Christmas approaches.  The Bible is crystal clear on this point.  Paul states in I Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  Jesus came to rescue us from eternal damnation and reconcile us to God the Father.  You see, our biggest problem wasn’t and isn’t things that ruin our lives.  That is contemporary “me-centered” Christianity.  Our biggest problem is that we are dead in sin and enemies of God who rebel against God.  Yet, because Christ came, we can be made alive and our rebellion can be forgiven.  We can be reconciled to the God who made us and loves us!  “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:6, 8-10)

The reason Jesus came is far greater and more grand than to make our lives easier and take away things that ruin our lives.  He came to rescue us so that we can be spared the judgment of God and spend eternity with Him!  How can one experience this reconciliation with God?  Romans 10:9-10 states, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Now that’s good news!  That is a reason for celebrating Christmas, even in the midst of heartache and pain, suffering and grief!  So, this Christmas, let’s biblically reflect on why Jesus came and praise God for this marvelous, undeserved gift!

King Forever

Simple-gold-crown-collection-for-women-wearI was coming down a mountain last year during hunting season and was starting to get a little concerned.  I was alone and in an area I had never hunted before.  I was waiting for the timber to open up so I could see exactly where I was, but it just didn’t seem to be happening!  In my mind, I began to second guess myself.  “Maybe I had gotten myself turned around?”, I questioned.  Yet, I was pretty sure I was going the right direction.  I was reminded of my handy new app on my phone that had a forest service map on it.  The app told me exactly where I was on the map.  I pulled it out, found my exact location, and realized I was indeed going the right direction.  I just hadn’t gotten as far as I assumed I had.

So often we need a quick reminder of what we already know.  Sometimes we need a perspective check.  We need to be reminded of the truth that guides us.  Psalm 29:10-11 is a great reminder of truth we already know.  It is a great perspective check.  It states:  “The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood, and the Lord sits as King forever.  The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace.”

What a great reminder!  Sometimes life can feel like such a roller coaster ride and leave us feeling tossed to and fro.  We need to be reminded:  “Oh yeah!  God sat enthroned at the Flood”  Even when the world was at the height of chaos and destruction, God sat enthroned.  He sat as the King then and He sits as the King now.

So, be reminded this day.  God sat as King before, He sits as King now, and He will sit as King forever.  What does this mean?  Look at verse 11.  He will give you strength.  He will give you peace.  He can do give you these things regardless of what is going on in your life because He is the eternal King who forever will reign!

An Ordinary Life?

Tree“I’m just trying to prove that maybe, just maybe, I can do more than what I was built for.”  This is a line spoken by a little crop dusting plane named “Dusty” from the hit Pixar Movie “Planes”.  This theme is developed and expanded upon throughout the movie.

How should Christians think about such things?  What is the biblical approach to how one lives life?  There is much truth in what Dusty says.  Unfortunately, as the movie develops, it becomes clear that to live a life doing menial tasks, such as dusting crops, is unacceptable.  The movie seems to end teaching that if you aren’t following your dreams and doing amazing things, you are living a dull and boxed in ordinary life.  The person making parts for a car is not as important as the person driving a race car.  The farmer working in his field is not as important as the 5 star chef.  This mentality is disastrous to a society.  In this mentality, one’s identity is tied not to their motivation and effort, but the glory of what they do.

While it seems the movie takes the theme far beyond what is wise and biblical, it is helpful for us to consider what it means to not just live an ordinary life.  The first question that would need to be answered is what are we called to?  Ephesians 1:4 states, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.”  What are we called to?  To live for the glory of God.

The second question that needs to be answered is how does the Bible define an extraordinary life?  It is clear from the Bible that ordinary is not defined by task.  In other words, a farmer is not less ordinary than a 5 star chef.  A slave is not less ordinary than a wealthy master.  Biblically, ordinary is defined as living for self.  Wow!  That is a twist on our society’s way of thinking isn’t it!  When speaking to slaves, Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”(Colossians 3:23-34).

The final question is how do we live an extraordinary life?  Psalm 1 states that blessed is the man whose “Delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  How do we move beyond an ordinary life?  Pursuing God through His Word and living in accordance with His Word.

So, in conclusion, how do you escape living the ordinary life?  You live a sacrificial life pursing God, living in service to Christ, for the glory of God, regardless of your task or career.  Are you a secretary?  A janitor?  A business executive?  A stay-at-home mom?  A manager?  Whatever task you have been called to, you can live an extraordinary life by pursuing God and living for the glory of God.

Casting Crowns captures this well in their new song “Thrive”.  The chorus states “Its time for us to more than just survive…we were made to thrive!”  They define thriving as pursuing God through His Word and living for His glory instead of our own.  Give it a listen and examine your life!  Are you living an ordinary life?