Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Three Cages . . .

Hello! It has been a crazy couple of weeks. With the help of some friends we have spent countless hours working to make part of our garage a "classroom" where we can homeschool Bethany. We really felt God telling us that we needed this outside the home place to go to for "school" time. We have been working long hours, and setting aside a lot of the other parts of daily life to finish it so we can move on and begin researching curriculum, requirements, etc. We are really excited by the way the room is looking, and blessed by the help, but on the other side of it we are really tired and a lot of the "small" things we let go are starting to seem "big" to us (tiredness seems to magnify stuff, doesn't it!).

I write the above paragraph as the context to the following thought, not for sympathy or anything else. As we grew tired, watched money go out quickly, and felt the weight of all the other things that make up normal life and ministry grow, we have started to feel more susceptible to attacks, feelings of being overwhelmed, thoughts that we shouldn't entertain about ourselves (because God doesn't entertain them about us), etc. Discouragement, depression, doubt, fear, etc. are all willing partners that love to latch on for the ride when we (as Christians in general) start to open the doors and allow them.

The Bible says to take thoughts captive. I have found that this is the most powerful tool I have to combat the runaway thoughts, fears, and feelings that want to take over my heart and my walk and to steal my joy and my expectancy of God's hand in my life. Like I told the church one time, Christians have, on one hand, these thoughts that come in to our mind. On the other hand, we have God and what He offers. But, until we take those thoughts captive to what God says or offers, the thoughts run rampant. It is like having a roaming lion, and an awesome cage. The cage does no good until we put the lion in it. Then, the lion is captive in the cage.

I have found that there are three "cages" which I try and take my thoughts to to take them captive. Sometimes all three work, sometimes just one, but usually, if not always, at least one will work if I choose to let it. These three cages are:

Cage 1: God's Word or Promises—what does God have to say for me in the form of a Bible story or a promise that has bearing on this situation or thought? Often it is simply the promise that He will never leave me or forsake me. Often it is the promise that He is faithful to complete the good work He has begun in me. Other times it is often the promise that greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. Other times it is a different promise, or story, that I realize can be applied to what I am experiencing or feeling.

Cage 2: God's Character—is this thought, fear, etc. consistent with what I know about God's character? I especially look at Jesus' life and ministry and heart because He is the express image of the Father and represents the exact nature of the Father. So, I look to Him to see if what I am afraid of, etc., is consistent with who He has shown the Father to be.

Cage 3: Testimony—have I seen God act in the past in my life (or other's lives) in ways that would apply here? For example, in a fear of finances, I can look back and see that God has never let us down and take that fear captive to that testimony. Christian biography/autobiography is a wonderful place to build the testimony of God in your mind, as is keeping a record of the praises of God's hand in your life that you go back and periodically review. We have a "Praise Jar" where we record praises throughout the year and then open and read them on Thanksgiving.

So, for me, these are the three "cages" I most often use. But, here's the rub (as a Shakespeare character once said). Just like the lion cage does no good until the lion is put in it, these things do no good until we take our thoughts, fears, lack of expectancy, etc. to them and put them in them and take them captive to them. All the truth in the world does us no good until we choose to make it our highest truth. Otherwise we are captives, ourself, to a lie. But, as we all know all too well, taking thoughts captive is not always the easiest thing.

God bless all of you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How Would You Introduce Yourself?

Hello! I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this posting as it stands very near and dear to my heart, and, unless you have subscribed to this blog by email, I have no way of knowing who is reading it. Please feel free to hit the comment link and let me know if, and how, this speaks to your heart. I’d love to know you’re out there and be blessed by your reflections!

Sunday’s teaching from Genesis 17 really spoke to my heart, and I wanted to share its core with a broader audience (I will try and remember to let you know when I am able to catch the church’s web page up and post an mp3 copy of it). The teaching focused on the point in Abram’s life when God changed his name to Abraham, which means “A Father of Multitudes” (God had previously told him his offspring would be like the stars if he could number them).

Here is the situation: Abram is 99. Sarai is 90. They have already proven they can’t have children together. God changes Abram's name and says their baby is one year away—so they are at least three months from conception and four to five months from even being sure she is pregnant. The question that rings in my heart is this: “If I am Abram, what is my name for myself those first few months, and how do I introduce myself to others?”

This is huge. Don’t dismiss this quickly. Dig deep in your heart and ask that of yourself. God has declared over you something that contradicts everything physical circumstance, logic, anyone else, and even yourself says about you and your life. Do you require anything beyond God’s Word to believe something? If you are Abram, is God’s Word enough for you to proudly declare of yourself, “Hello! I am a father of multitudes!”?

This is really important because God has awesome, wonderful things He has declared over our new life in Him if we have surrendered our lives to His Lordship. Words about our new identity. Words about our destiny. Words about how He sees us. Words about His new role in our life. But, these words so often stand in opposition to our circumstance, previous experiences, how others see us, and how we see ourselves. So often the “voices” that have spoken over our lives for so many years (our own, and others) are so familiar that we assume them to be true and we receive them more readily than God’s. We have to train ourselves to recognize and believe God’s voice, through His written and spoken Word in our life. It is a battle to see and receive ourself as God sees and receives us. To paraphrase Bill Johnson, “We can’t afford to have any thoughts in our head about ourself that aren’t in His (about us).”

So, sit back, pour some coffee (or whatever it is you sip while you reflect), and ask yourself, “If I were Abram could I have begun to introduce myself to others (and see myself as) a father of multitudes, simply on what God has said over my life that is still in the future and that I can’t see any evidence of?” Then ask yourself, “So, what HAS God said about me and MY life . . . and have I received it?”

The logical extension to this then becomes, “Do we see others the way God sees them, despite how they act or seem?” And that is an entirely different battle we face.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Worth Watching . . .

I thought that this short video clip of Congressman Forbes was well worth watching and that it asks some excellent questions. Our children need to see this, and we need to be reminded of it.

Congressman Forbes on our Judeo-Christian Heritage

God bless all of you.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Feeding the Multitudes

I just finished reading an autobiography of Andre Vandernberg (A Nickle’s Worth of Hope). In the last chapter it is recounted about a time it seemed God was calling him to a new position and he was hesitant to go. He basically got alone with God and told God that there were other people with better qualifications (sounds like Moses!). God showed Andre in his mind the scene where Jesus was about to feed the 5,000 (Matthew 14 actually says that it was 5,000 men and we don’t know the number of women and children). God then asked him, “Do you think the boy who gave the five loaves and two fishes was the only one who had food with him?”

As Andre reflected he realized that out of those thousands there were, very likely, others who had some provisions with them—but the boy was the only one willing to give all he had. The Lord then impressed on Andre that while, indeed, there were others with more qualifications, He wanted him to be like that boy. He told Andre, “. . . it was because that boy was willing to give all that he had that My name was glorified and others were helped.”

We have probably heard the expression, “God doesn’t want our ability, but our availability.” There is a lot of truth to that (which doesn’t say He can’t or won’t use our ability as well!). I don’t know what God has placed on your heart, but I know that He simply wants all that you have. He is more than capable of making up the rest. Early on in my pastoring I struggled deeply with not having seminary, and felt there were others so much more versed in the Bible and Hebrew and Greek, etc. Since then, however, I have come to find that God has used me tremendously when I have simply given Him all I have. All my skill in the world means nothing if it is held in a tight fist, but God can come in and fill in an open hand in the most amazing ways!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Heaven . . .

Mary Ann and I have decided to homeschool Bethany next year. This has been a long decision for us and we would value your sustained prayers for this. We are all looking at this with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. For Bethany (and for us) some of the hardest part has been the "goodbyes" that came today at the last day of school. While we hope to stay involved at some level with the school and go to some of its activities, we are all going to miss the people there a lot. Mary Ann and I alternated Wednesdays in the classroom and it was really hard to know we won't see those kids and the staff much at all. For Bethany, it was knowing she wouldn't see her friends nearly as much as she does now.

As I was driving away from the school this morning I thought about the pain of goodbyes and the hole they leave in our heart (I have long felt that "goodbye" was the worst word in the English language). As I was thinking about this, and driving toward the mountains in the distance on my way to meet with someone who has really seen their life fall apart and tasted much of the pain of life, I thought, "I look forward to heaven where God has promised us that there is no more pain, no more sorrow, no more death, no more tears." I wanted to share that with you, as a reminder, while it was fresh in my mind. I know that for those who have lost loved ones who didn't know Jesus, or who have loved ones who don't know Him, heaven holds another edge to the sword, but for right now, for just this moment, for you alone, stop and think about the place Jesus has gone ahead to prepare for you---your eternal home where He Himself will wipe every tear from your eye and where you will see Him face to face and experience His love without restriction or barrier, and just rest in that moment and let everything else around you fade away as you pause there. God bless you. Rest well. Erick

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I'm More Afraid of . . .

As I was talking with Mary Ann about Sunday's teaching on Genesis 16 (in which Sarai gave her maidservant Hagar to Sarai's husband Abram to try and get the son God promised them Abram would have) I was struck with a thought: I am more afraid of my good intentions than my bad. What I mean by this is that I don't set out to deliberately disobey God or do "evil" things and I can pretty easily recognize those things and say "no" to them. I usually know and recognize when my intentions are bad, and it is really then a simple question of choosing to obey God or my flesh. Whichever decision I make it is clear and I usually am aware I am making it.

It is my "good intentions" that are really, for me, the most dangerous. I believe that Sarai and Abram had really good intentions. Think about the depth of Sarai's good intentions and desire to do for God that she would give another woman to her husband. But, those good intentions---decieving in how dangerous they are because they are "good"---caused tremendous hurt and pain for those involved and have caused ripples of unrest and war to this day.

So often we step out of that place of pure faith, of trusting God completely, and don't even realize it because we are "good intentioned". But, really, our good intentions can easily be a substitute for faith and standing on God as we seek to take some level of control back, or at least to feel like we are "doing something." This isn't to say that faith doesn't require action. Not at all. But it must be God-directed action. Peter's intent to save Jesus from Jesus' fate was met with, "Get behind Me Satan" because Peter was not mindful of the things of God but of the things of man.

The life of faith sometimes seems like a scary free-fall because we are living totally in a realm of trust, but it is really the only place we are securely in the center of God's palm. I need to make really, really sure that my "good intentions" are not really a running ahead of God, or a substitute for trust and faith. The last thing I want is to be in a place where I am not in God's will, and I am finding I get that way more often acting on my "good intentions" than my "bad" ones. Thoughts? Comments? Or did this even make any sense at all?

Friday, June 5, 2009

I Had To Laugh . . .

I had to laugh.

Last Monday I posted the entry "Carrying the Presence of God" from a coffee shop in Monterey. I ended it with, "God has chosen not a building, not an organization, but YOU (if you have given your life in faith to Him for Lordship and Salvation) as His chosen vessel to carry His presence in and through the world . . . to show and represent Him to those around you . . . in all of His love and compassion and power! It is an awesome thought, and an awesome privilege. Just thought I'd share that with you---I hope it speaks to you like it did to me." Probably not 10 minutes after I finished posting that---feeling good about it (and about the coffee) I closed up my laptop and headed out the back door to the parking lot. There, right in my path, was an older man pushing a shopping cart, alone, with an oxygen bottle in his shopping cart and oxygen tubing in his nose. Right in front of me. No missing it. No pretending I didn't see it.

I walked past.

I don't like to admit that, but I find the theology of representing a kind, loving, healing Jesus far easier than the reality. The farther I got from him the more unsettled I got, and the angrier at myself and my fears.

It is amazing how much you can think about in a relatively few short steps. I found myself rehashing my own words which I had sent to some people telling them about my blog in which I said that I hoped this blog would be, "... a place where we can meditate, grow together, and that draws us in to deeper thought, growth, and, ultimately, a deeper relationship with God and a stronger walk and brighter light. I am not interested in knowledge for knowledge's sake, but in growing as His child and disciple and friend and ambassador."

Well, I laughed at myself. You can type about wanting to walk it out . . . but what do you do when it is right in front of you? Oh, how much easier it is to type!

Well, I got half way across the parking lot and realized I would be a hypocrite to not turn back. So I went back and told the man that I felt God had wanted me to come back and let him know I would be praying for him and that I had passed him and felt, "That's not right! That's not God's heart." and I came back. He was caught off guard, but I did get a thumbs up from him and a thanks.

I left feeling like I should have just asked if I could pray for him right then and there, but glad I had at least done what I had done. It was a step in the right direction. The more I thought of the whole thing, the more I chuckled. As I was writing grand words God was setting up an encounter that would test those grand words to see if they were just that, words, or if they were really my heart. Thank you, Father, that you love me so much that you will continue to draw me out of the comfortable zone where I depend on myself, and in to that awesome walk of faith where I completely depend on You as I seek to draw closer to you and represent and carry Your presence in to the world!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Carrying the Presence of God

I am sitting at a coffee shop (surprise, surprise) in downtown Monterey, and I find myself reflecting on something I heard in a teaching by Bill Johnson during my drive up yesterday after church. He was commenting on David bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). After the death of Uzzah which came after the ox pulling the cart David had the Ark on stumbled, David went back and brought the ark in the right way---carried by men. Bill said, in effect, "The Ark was never intended to be carried on a vehicle made by men, but carried on the shoulders of priests." It was one of those moments when I was just struck with an awe at something you can't quite explain, but know is big.

The Ark, in which the presence of God dwelt in the Old Testament, was meant to be carried on the shoulders of priests. Today, in the New Covenant, we know that God does not dwell in buildings or temples, but in the heart of His children. And, in 1 Peter 2:9 we are told that we, believers, are a "royal priesthood." Our greatest privilege is to minister to God, and we are God's intended vehicle to carry His holy presence about!

Stop, for a moment, and let that sink in.

God has chosen not a building, not an organization, but YOU (if you have given your life in faith to Him for Lordship and Salvation) as His chosen vessel to carry His presence in and through the world . . . to show and represent Him to those around you . . . in all of His love and compassion and power! It is an awesome thought, and an awesome privilege. Just thought I'd share that with you---I hope it speaks to you like it did to me.


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