“Come Before Winter”

As I drove up that gusty August afternoon, Hal had just finished hanging the squirrel feeder in the backyard and restoring the dilapidated bird feeder.  I asked what he was doing and he said, “Getting ready for winter.”  Honey, it’s a long way from winter.  “Tell that to the squirrels and birds when the snow starts to fly” was his reply.  The squirrels must store up for winter and the birds need a reliable source of food when snow and ice are covering the ground.

This response reminded me of the words written by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:21 “Do thy diligence to come before winter.”  Paul was in a jail cell in Rome ministering to the saints in Caesars’ household when he ask a young disciple named Timothy to bring him three things.  He asked for his cloke, and he asked for his books and his parchments.  Undoubtedly, these things were of great importance to Paul for several reasons.  First, he asked for his cloke, which is preparation for his health as winter approached.  Next, he asked for his books.  Most likely, they were books of scripture, such as the commandments of God, which would help prepare him for holiness.  Last, Paul asked for the parchments.  These may have been words that the Apostle had personally penned about his Lord and Savior.  Could these parchments have been Paul’s way of preparing for his happiness in spite of being in the winter of his life?

I can’t help but wonder what may have happened if Timothy had been too busy to hang a spiritual bird feeder for Paul, even though winter was approaching.  The Bible is silent on the details concerning the outcome in this matter.  But what if Timothy had arrived in Rome one day too late?  What if he had been attending a leadership conference or working on a special program at church?  What if he didn’t go because he just thought it wasn’t that important and Rome was a long way off?  I would like to believe that Timothy dropped everything he was doing and took these items to his Mentor. Our Lord has many children who are going through cold seasons of their lives such as sickness, depression, divorce or maybe the loss of a dear loved one.  They may need someone willing to come before winter and provide feeders of health, holiness, and happiness. The snow is going to fly, and winter will come, the question is, are you making preparations for yourself and others also?

  Mollie Steenson 3ABN Vice President

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“Press G9 For Prayer”

Mollie and I were on vacation in the Great Smokey Mountains and we had just eaten a wonderful lunch that included a lot of onions and garlic. I needed some breath mints so I headed for the third floor of our hotel and located the snack machine. There on the bottom row was just what I needed, peppermint Lifesavers, eighty cents. The snack machine had a dollar bill changer so I pulled out a buck and carefully noted the correct number to push—I have been known to push the wrong buttons and end up with a little box of ,  or lip-balm. There was the number I needed right next to the price, G9.

Now you have to understand how my mind works, I store things that I really don’t want or need to store but I do it automatically and systematically. For me, the G stood for God and the 9 represented the 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit. So, no problem. I put in the dollar, I heard the change clink in the tray and I pushed G9 and nothing happened. I pushed G9 again and pressed the coin return several times without any results. So, what did I do? I did what anyone else would have done; I put in another dollar. However, this time the malfunctioning mint machine (by now it had sound effects and was talking and laughing at me) not only denied me of my mints; it also kept my twenty cents change. I was mad at the machine so (After being shaken a little by this irate guest,) I was about to head for the lobby.

That’s when I noticed the little sign on the snack machine stating that the hotel management was not liable or at fault for any monies lost in the vending machines and that I would have to report it to  “Joe from Kokomo!” Phooey! As I slowly walked back to my room in an garlic cloud, I pondered with a much higher intelligence than the menacing machine that the G must not have stood for God and the 9 had nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. (I Think)

It was during that short walk however, that I learned a goodly and godly life lesson. That life lesson was that sometimes we treat God like I treated that vending machine.

1. We locate what we want from God by looking through the window of   His Word.

2. We find a Scripture number verse to back us up (G9).

3. Then we put our prayer into the little prayer slot and press G9.

4. Next, we are unable to accept or explain the reasons why nothing happens and our G9 prayers aren’t answered.

5. We are mad at the management because our prayers weren’t answered but we failed to read the little sign, “Management is not responsible for unanswered prayer, and the problem is never with God.”

God is not a prayer “Vending” machine and there are no G9 prayers. God is Love and He is patiently waiting to answer our prayers, but not because of any buttons we push but because … The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16

  Pastor Hal Steenson

“Ivory Tower Living”

I have an old Amplified Bible that I have studied from for about twenty-five years. You know the kind of Bible – the front cover is gone, it is dog-eared, dirty, marked up with ink and highlighters – and is one of your greatest treasures. My grungy Amplified Bible chronicles years of promises I have received from God’s Word. As a rule, when a Scripture has a special impact, I highlight it then put the date and what was spoken to my heart in the margin.

For instance, Proverbs 24:10 tells us “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” It is circled in orange and in the margin I have written “I will never faint when adversity arises – 4/26/86.” In 1986 I had been a Christian for about nine years, my husband was the pastor of a rapidly growing church, finances were plentiful, we were young with two beautiful children, God was blessing and life was abundantly good. At that time in my Christian life, there had been no adversity to speak of. So, with great assurance I made the bold statement “I will never faint when adversity arises.” But the truth was I didn’t know whether I would or not because I hadn’t been through adversity to find out. I call that “Ivory Tower Living.”

“Ivory Tower Living” is a place where the adversities of life haven’t yet affected us and we have formed a mind-set based on theory not experience. Let me give you a few examples of “Ivory Tower” statements: A wife will say “If my husband ever does ‘that’ I will walk right out!” or a husband will say “If my wife ever does ‘that’, I’m out of here!” Until we have walked through these adversities, we don’t know what we will do. It’s easy to make bold statements when we are walking through a pleasant meadow. It is another thing to make the same bold statement when we are walking through the harsh realities of life. Have any of you parents ever said “my child will never do ‘that’” and later have to “eat” those words? “Ivory Towers” always topple and only then do we find out who we really are.

Genesis 1:27 tells us “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” You see, in the Garden of Eden a male and a female were created in the very image of God – but something happened. There was a defacing of that image. But, praise God, He sent Jesus Christ so that His image could be restored to mankind. Romans 8:29 says, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,…” Each one of us has been predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. The word “conformed” indicates a changing from one form to another. In this case, a changing from what we currently are to the very image of Christ. How can such a drastic change take place you may ask?

Isaiah 48:10 says “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” I can hear you saying, “Oh NO Mollie, please don’t start talking about furnaces and affliction!” But look closely at that scripture. Where does God chose you? It is in those furnaces of affliction you are walking through. There are no “Ivory Towers” in furnaces of affliction.

In 1986, when I was making my bold statement about something I had never walked through, it was only theory to me. Today, after my “Ivory Tower” has been knocked over and I have been in furnaces of affliction, I know from experience whether I will faint or not. It is what goes on in the furnace and what comes out of the other side of the furnace that defines who we are.

Where are you today? Are you in a trial? Are the fires in your furnace of affliction growing hotter each day? Then please know for a fact that God is right there with you. He is forming His image in you and the result will fit you for your destiny of an eternity in His presence.

  Mollie Steenson 3ABN Vice President, General Manager

“Conditional Love”

As many of you know, my wife, Mollie, is 5’8” and weighs 138 lbs. She was beautiful when I married her forty-two years ago and she’s still as beautiful today. For years, I’ve had a little saying that I can jokingly use because she looks as good as she does. I tell her, Mollie, I’d love you even if you were big, fat, and ugly, but not near as much.

Well, guess what God did one morning after I said it again? Yea, He gave me a check-up from the neck-up. The Lord challenged me about that statement and asked me if I really meant it. However, before I could answer, I heard Him say, “If what you said is true, then your love is conditional.” Is your love based solely on how your wife looks? Is your love based on her weight, her hair color or whether there are any lines around her eyes? If it is, then your love is conditional and I assure you that as appearances change, then so will the depth of your love.

I was crushed as I began to think—what if the Lord made such a statement to me. What if He said, Hal, I don’t love you as much as I used to because you’ve grown fat on the flimsiness of life and your face is showing wrinkles of weariness. Son, have you noticed there are little battle scars all over you—not like when you first fell in love with me. You don’t communicate with me as clearly as you once did and you’re not always honest with me. Let Me ask you a question Hal, is your love for Me conditional or is your love for Me unconditional? Do you love Me because of what I do for you, or do you love Me for who I am? I could only imagine what I would do if He said, “You’ve changed Hal, so I don’t love you near as much as I once did. Oh. I still love you even though you’re fat and ugly, but not near as much.”

I scrambled to set things right and struggled to regain my senses. I said, “My love for Mollie is not conditional; I love her with every fiber of my being. I’ve never loved anyone but her and I will always love her. She could never grow anything but more lovely each day. In my eyes, she will always be the beautiful 19-year-old girl that I married. My love for her is like the love You have for humanity. Your love is an unconditional, sacrificial, and never-ending love. Father, she knows that I didn’t really mean what I said and I know You are aware that it’s just a joke.”

I believe I heard Him speak these words to my heart, “Yes I know you didn’t mean it, but stop saying it and start telling her what I tell you, My love for you is unconditional.”

It has been five years now and I haven’t said it since!

  Pastor Hal Steenson

“Read The Rules”

In the winter, Mollie and I always stay at a hotel when visiting our kids in Missouri. It has an indoor pool, hot tub, beds the grandkids can bounce on for hours on end and a nice complimentary breakfast. However, four years ago, on this particular Sunday morning, our “sleep-over grandkids” wanted Burger King© French toast for breakfast or at least my ten-year-old granddaughter, Savannah did. Max, my four-year-old grandson was in total agreement only because of their wonderful play land.

We entered the restaurant and those two immediately hit on their Papa Hal for the action toys and the “Burger King Crown” which Max pushed down around his ears. The French toast was picked at and the play land lasted longer than Papa Hal really wanted to stay—finally off we go to our daughter’s house to deliver the kids and spend the rest of the day being lazy. On the way, in the rear view mirror, I noticed Savanna reading something to Max. It was something written on the inside of the crown, but I didn’t catch what was being said.

We walked into the house, sat down all the kid’s junk, then watched Max as he approached his dad and pull the remote control from his hand. He then changed the channel from a fishing show (my son-in-law is the reason all those boring fishing shows are on television) to his favorite program. He proceeded to sit down in the floor and watch Sponge Bob Square Pants. My son-in-law, Roger, told him to give the remote back and without hesitation, Max told him “NO.” When my daughter, Dee Dee told Max to give it back–again, he declared very emphatically, “NO, I’m watching cartoons.” This attitude of course called for a visit to the bathroom (better known as the “woodshed”) for an adamant little boy name Max. He needed an attitude adjustment.

Realizing he was in trouble, Max began to tear up. When Dee Dee asked him why he was acting so disrespectfully to his dad, he pointed to the crown on his head and said, “Read the rules Mom.” “Read what,” She asked him.” Again, he pointed to the “Burger King Crown” and with tears in his eyes cried, “Read the rules Mom.” She removed the crown from his head and in shock, slowly read the message on the inside of the crown.

It read:

  • There can only be one king.
  • The King always gets his way.
  • The king makes all the important decisions governing the selection of TV channels, movies, radio stations, as well as popular activities like snowboarding, pool hopping and cow tipping.
  • The king determines who gets the remote, who rides shotgun and of course who has to pay for everything.

My daughter came out of the woodshed/bathroom in tears, trying not to laugh, knowing that she could not spank her son or even harshly correct him when his little four-year-old heart had simply been following the rules.

Isaiah 59:19 says, “…When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.” I believe the standard that is raised is the Word of God and God’s Words are the “rules of life.”

This caused me to ponder how much better off we would be if we didn’t argue with Satan, but just told him to read the rules. Let’s read together, some of the rules on the crown of our King.

Matthew 4:1-11 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

But he answered and said, (Read the rules Satan) It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,

And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Jesus said unto him, (Read the rules Satan) It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

Then saith Jesus unto him, (I’m telling you for the last time Satan, read the rules) Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

Although Max was acting according to the rules, I still think I may write Burger King a nice little letter about their RULES!

  Pastor Hal Steenson

“Missing You”

Jeremiah 29:13 NKJV “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”

I sent Dee Dee, my daughter an e-card, saying how much I loved her and missed her—she responded: “me too.”

She moved away 20 years ago, the day after her wedding, now we only see our kids and grandkids occasionally. Before their marriage, her husband Roger was stationed at Loring A.F.B. in Caribou, Maine. They were married on June 15, 1991, while he was home on leave. The next day, They moved to Maine and seemingly fell from the face of the earth.

I believe the Lord had been preparing me for her departure for a couple of years by allowing my daughter to become “the girl that lived in the room at the end of the hall.” I would only see her when she went into her room and periodically as she exited. Anyway, puff; she was gone. She did call and tell us that Caribou wasn’t the end of the world, but she could definitely see it from there. I didn’t understand the significance of that statement until we decided to embark on a “Go see our Baby” adventure. At first, it seemed simple enough; we would fly from St. Louis to Boston, Massachusetts, take a two-man dogsled to Bangor, Maine and then ride a moose the last 250 miles to Caribou. However, it was not so easy.

We arrived in Boston and I sent Mollie to pick up the rental car while I fought the baggage carousel crowd. As I approached Mollie, I found out my luggage warfare was simplistic compared to what she was going through. She was standing at the rental car counter with her hands on her hips, starring at the clerk, as he stood fixed in the same position glaring back at her. “Honey, what’s wrong,” I asked, “did they get our reservation mixed up?” She responded, “I don’t know, I can’t understand a word he’s saying.” I then asked the clerk if there was a problem and he said, “The only problem was that I didn’t understand a word she said.” They were both speaking English, but Alabamian and Bostonian are not compatible and therefore needed a translator. So, I interpreted; we got the car and got on the road. We were making good time until we noticed the “Moose Crossing” signs, so we slowed down.

After eighteen grueling hours of hard travel time and too many “Griswall Family Vacation” horrors to mention—we finally arrived at our daughter and son-in-law’s front door, living room, bedroom and the good night sleep tights. It was great to both see and be with our kids. The hardships of the journey vanished. We reveled in the presence of our loved ones, not even considering the difficulty of the trip. We were happy campers.

Recently, during a trying time at work, I said, “Father where are You?” In my heart, I heard Him reply, “Find Me. What? You know the number of hairs on my head, how many stars there are in the sky, my every thought and I’m supposed to find You.” Then I heard, “Remember Caribou, why did you go?” I heard myself saying aloud, “Because I love my daughter and I wanted to be with her—I missed her.” There was silence—then more silence, until I recalled the verse about seeking and finding Him when I do it with all my heart. I asked myself if I had to play hide and seek just to be with the Father until I thought it through. God does not hide from us; nonetheless, He does dwell in a secret place, awaiting our presence. It is in His presence that we will find love and joy unspeakable.

I turned off the lights in my office, eased the door shut and started my journey into His secret chamber. It didn’t take long until I heard myself saying, “Hello Father, thank You for being here when I needed You. Thank You for never leaving me. Thank You Father for letting me find You. Please help me to remember that you are always right here in front of me, if I will just close my eyes and open my heart and seek You.” Thank You Lord that this isn’t Caribou, Maine.

  Pastor Hal Steenson

The Beast Within

My first encounter with the beast was after appendectomy surgery when I was fourteen-years-old. I told my doctor about the beast and he said, “Encountering the beast was not uncommon for many people after major surgery.” I fought the beast the best I could as a young inexperienced teenager. Sometimes I won and at other times he won, however, it was almost a daily battle. One minute, I would be walking on beautiful white clouds of life, then suddenly the beast would tear a hole in those clouds; I’d step through the hole and fall rapidly into a pit of darkness–the beast’s lair.

I had fought this “beast of depression” for so long that I no longer had the strength to continue. I’d tried doctors that had the newest miracle pill for conquering the beast within. However, none of them worked for me—not Lithium, not Prozac, not Serizone, Zoloft or any other little pill could put the beast to flight.

So at an early age, I started drinking, drinking to calm the savage beast within; this at least allowed me to sleep and forget he existed for a little while. However, this birthed a new beast—the “beast of alcohol.” At first, the beast of alcohol seemed to have power over the beast of depression; that is until they became colleagues. They pooled their resources and paired together to drag me deeper into the despair of depression.

Fourteen years later, the beast had worn me to a weary wreck of a man. Desperate, discouraged and disappointed with life, I let the beast seduce me into thinking I’d be better off dead than alive. I would take my own life. There would be no more sleepless nights. There would be no more fear that the beast would attack me when I was the most vulnerable. The beast would be conquered because I would not be around for him to kick when I was down. I would simply be no more. I would be the winner. I thought the beast would be beat and I would be victorious.

So I did it. Late one night, I took the entire bottle—sixty sleeping pills at three hundred milligrams each. Ten should have killed me. Sixty didn’t. I had sat down to die in the living room–what a paradox—dying in a living room. They didn’t work. I wasn’t sure what had happened; I hadn’t thrown them up; I hadn’t been to the hospital or had my stomach pumped. I just simply woke up. I woke up at six o’clock on the morning of November 8, 1976 and walked to my car, opened the door, slipped in the early morning dew and fell on my knees between the car and the car door.

This was when I screamed at God and asked, “Why couldn’t You just let me die and get it over with; I’m worthless and my life is worthless?” That was when I heard someone say, “Hal, I’ll take it; I’ll take your life.” This is where what happened next may get complicated for some people because it was complicated for me. I felt like Paul in two Corinthians 12, when he said “(whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)” Through the years, I’ve only shared this a few times, but when I looked upward toward the voice that had spoken, I saw the Lord standing on the other side of the car door. He spoke again and said, “I’ll take your life, I’ll take it just like it is for my Kingdom.”

He then handed me a blank sheet of paper, blank other than a signature on the right-hand bottom—it was signed in red, Jesus Christ, Lord of Lord and King of Kings; it looked as if it had been signed with blood. I didn’t know what to do or what to say, I just stared at Him. I could see the holes in His wrists; I could see the brilliant color of His skin and the radiance of His hair—I’ve never seen a picture of Jesus that came close to looking how He looked. He spoke softly saying “Hal, this is our contract; this is our covenant—sign it and ask me to be Lord of your life.” I looked at the sheet of paper and there was nothing on it except His signature. I responded, “Lord there’s nothing written on it, how will I know what you want me to do?” His reply was that we would fill in all the details as we went. I signed it. I don’t know how, I didn’t have a pen or ink, but I signed it—my name was on the covenant along with His.

Then Jesus started adding amendments to our covenant. I wanted to be obedient because I loved Him and I had willingly signed the covenant. I went from being a Southern Baptist boy to an Assembly of God college student, then to a Charismatic pastor for fifteen years. By the addition of another revision, I embraced the truth of the Seventh-day Adventists Church, where I remain today, working in the Pastoral Department for Three Angels Broadcasting network.

This would be a wonderful time to say everything started coming up roses and the beast within was conquered, but not so. He was subdued, waiting in the sub-shadows of my life, waiting for me to try to lead and not follow Christ. Now I felt like Paul when he said,“…there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

For the last thirty-two years of being in the ministry, I have encountered numerous Christians who have trouble understanding why they still have frontal attacks with demons from their past. I have seen them give up on themselves and I’ve witnessed the church separate them from the rest of the flock because they didn’t have the answers for their depression. The ones without the beasts couldn’t understand the ones that fought their beasts and the ones fighting theirs beast couldn’t understand the ones who didn’t understand. This is like the social drinker will never understand the alcoholic and the alcoholic will never understand the social drinker.

My wife, Mollie, loved and comforted me whenever the beast within would attack me. However, she told me that she could sympathize, but not empathize—she had never experienced a day of depression. Then, as she was driving home from work one day, she asked the Lord to help her understand what I was experiencing. She had been ministering to a woman on our staff that was also fighting a beast of hopelessness. She told me that she drove into a cloud so dark that it seemed like it was nightfall. She pulled over to the side of the road and just sat there confused and a sense of hopelessness enshrouded her for several minutes. Then it lifted. Somehow for a brief moment she had stumble upon the beast within. She met what I had been fighting since I was fourteen. She had encountered the beast.

I believe that many of us have familiar beasts, even after we’re born-again—they’re just different sizes. The, my dog’s bigger than your dog and my beast is bigger than your beast within.

Yes, the beast is still here today, just waiting close by, hoping that I’ll start sitting in the front seat and put Jesus in the backseat, and yes there are times I still battle depression. However, I no longer fight these skirmishes alone and I no longer fight them for weeks on end–as long as I allow Jesus, The Captain of the Hosts of the Armies of God to stand out front, between the depths of depression and me. This is what allows me to open my window shades, turn on the lights, get up, go outside, and tell the beast that Jesus and I will conquer this depression once again. We will not allow it entrance and therefore cannot have its way with me. The beast of depression knows all the reasons I should give up again. However, it’s not going to happen. I will not give the beast the pleasure of robbing me of my joy in the Lord.

Proverbs 24:10 If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.

Pastor Hal Steenson