Monday, August 31, 2009

First Day of Homeschool . . .

(I want to state, up front, that anything I say in this blog or future blogs about homeschooling is because it is now a part of our life, and in this blog I share about my life. What I say is in no way a slam or dig on our public school employees and teachers, nor is it any kind of judgment about parents who don't homeschool. I have the utmost respect for the public school teachers and staff who love the children and toil in the trenches to give them the best the can. I have met, and know, many, many, many parents and children who go the public school route and who have wonderful, God-loving children. I recognize that we are tremendously blessed to even be in a position where Mary Ann can homeschool our girls.)

Well, many of you have been praying for us as we begin this homeschool adventure that we believe God has called us to, and today it all began. (Actually, we had a kick-off gathering Friday night in Paso Robles with the Christian homeschool group we are a part of and it was wonderful to meet so many families, and to see our girls playing with so many other children, and to see the full calendar of field trips and activities the group has planned!)

This morning we started with blowing the shofar in and out of the classroom (I'll put a link to a video of that on my Facebook page if anyone wants to hear it). The shofar was, and is, a powerful part of our Godly heritage as Christians and offspring of the Jewish faith. We then prayed and then showed the girls some of the new things we had put up in the classroom last night and some of the materials Mary Ann had laid out for them, and then Mary Ann began with talking about some of the names of God.

As I sat to the side (I wanted to be in the class this first morning---for the most part Mary Ann will be doing most of the teaching, though I hope to teach some of the history and science as able) I found myself so touched and blessed to be watching my wife instruct my girls on the name Immanuel, and how God is with us. (Actually, I forgot, we started after prayer with reading aloud the book, "How Big is God?") As the morning went on we talked about why we were homeschooling, what the expectations and "rules" would be, and how we want to instill in the girls God's central role in the fabric of history, science, etc.

It was wonderful to watch the girls scatter around and see how many edible plants they could find (apart from the vegetable garden) in five minutes. I was even amazed as we brought back five types of mints, parsley, green onions, rosemary, chives, sage, basil and, I think, more. The girls glued it on to pages for display. It was so wonderful, and I felt so blessed, to be able to just sit back and observe Mary Ann's love for God, love for the girls, and the personal instruction the girls were getting and the things that they were able to do in the environment of our home classroom.

I had to leave on a fire call during the morning so I missed the second half, but I saw enough to find myself really excited about what is ahead. We don't know if this is our long-term future, or only this years. We know that there will be many struggles in the process—we have been warned! But we also believe that the fruit of this decision will be bountiful. We covet your prayers as we continue, and we thank you for all the ones you have already lifted.

I am going to post a photo album on my Facebook page with different pictures from my first day for any of you who are also on Facebook and who would like to share it with us in a little more detail.

I Receive That!

(Thanks so much to everyone for your kind comments and wishes on my last post, "Happy Birthday to Me!". Your comments on the blog, by email, and on Facebook blessed me. God bless you all!)

Yesterday felt like a new beginning! We have been working really hard this summer (and at times gotten really discouraged) trying to get out from under the clutter and stuff in our life, and to get ready to homeschool our girls this year (we begin today). It has felt like, and been, a non-stop summer in which almost every free minute was focused and there wasn't a lot of rest or stillness. Coming home from church yesterday—the teaching over, and an afternoon of (hopefully) rest and preparation for school today ahead—felt like it was the beginning of a whole new chapter or part of our life. I feel like my summer to focus on clearing out "stuff" is over—what is done is done and what isn't just isn't—and that I am ready to begin this year with a renewed focus on this eternal battle we are waging and what God has called me to be in it---His child, a husband, a father, a pastor, and a soldier of Christ called to show His love, sacrifice, and power to the world.

I feel like there is a narrowed beam now in my life---a focus brought to a fine point---and it is the tremendous trust and responsibility God has given me to raise my girls, be the husband He has called me to be, and to draw close and intimate with Him and to carry His battle to the enemy in force. I am sick and tired of the victories of the enemy in people's lives that I know—victories in their marriages, attitudes, bodies, choices, finances, etc. The Bible says that Satan is a thief, a liar, and a murderer, and that his goal and aim and work is to steal, kill, and destroy. The Bible alludes to him and his hosts as serpents and scorpions (and even to death's "sting"), and it says we are given authority to trample on them and I am ready to start stomping!

I know that ahead there will be victories, and there will be defeats—that there will be joy, and there will be tears—but I am so tired of things being gift-wrapped and handed to the devil instead of making him fight for them, and I am so tired of acting like he (and his work) is some huge opponent when my God who dwells in me has defeated him! I am tired of it seeming like it is the devil who holds the universe in his hand when in reality it is God who so huge that He holds the universe in His hand and the devil is somewhere, some speck, down in it!

I felt excitement yesterday afternoon—like a new start, a new focus, a new passion, and a new expectancy and hope were coming over the horizon my way. I am anxious to slow down a little, draw closer to God, hear His voice more, bear His image more powerfully, and hit the devil hard and heavy. It was with this in my mind—and this sense of excitement for what is ahead just below the surface in me—that I saw something amazing, just by "chance," yesterday.

In the afternoon one of our cats wanted out of the screen porch. I let it out and as I did I "happened" to glance down toward the little fountain I made which is just outside the screen porch. This is a traditional "drinking spot" for bees (which are good!) and yellow jackets (which bite hard, swarm, ruin your time outside, and are just wicked and bad!). The day before we even saw a hatch of some new creature swarming around the fountain—they looked like baby wasps with evil looking tails/stingers. Well, down along the side of the fountain was a beautiful, green, majestic looking Praying Mantis and it was eating one of those nasty new flying bugs (see picture above). This Praying Mantis had the bug in its "hands" and it was going to town on it. I called the family out to see it and took some pictures. A little while later I went back out to check on it and it now had a yellow jacket in its "hands" and it was eating that (see second picture, below). I immediately was struck with multiple things:

1) It was a PRAYING Mantis, and it made the normally vicious looking wasps and yellow jackets look small and pitiful as it grasped them and devoured them.

2) The wasps and yellow jackets, with their bites and stingers, reminded me way to much of the allusion to serpents and scorpions and things that sting, and here they were completely overpowered and destroyed by a PRAYING Mantis.

I still believe God speaks in visions and pictures like He has throughout His Word, and I made the decision right then to receive that. I have never seen anything like it before, I almost didn't notice it, and it was utterly amazing. I told Mary Ann, "That is awesome! On the day our new 'life' is beginning we see a PRAYING Mantis devouring stinging bugs. I take that as a sign that there are going to be some great victories ahead where Satan's sting and hosts are rendered powerless and destroyed! What an awesome sign! I receive that!"

Call me crazy and way off base and theologically fractured. That is fine. We can agree to disagree. But for me it was powerful and awesome and I don't believe it was a coincidence. They may be a little gross, but I love these pictures, and I just wanted to share them with you as well. God bless.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Hello all! No, I haven't disappeared---I have just been in a very busy season as well as a season of reflection. For those of you who know me well, no, you didn't forget my birthday! You'll understand in a moment.

Not too long ago I found an old Bible that they gave me as a cadet at West Point. It remained very unused until the early 90s when, after many "nudgings" from God that I didn't recognize then but do now, I began a quest to find out about this Christian claim that I had mocked and considered a crutch for weak people afraid to die. After a long season of studying the faith, bugging people with hours of questions, arguing long in to the night, etc., I came to the most critical day of my life. I recently opened this Bible, which I had used during that searching season, and I found the following written in the back, surrounded by penned in stars:

Fri, 28 Aug '92-
Decided to ask Christ/the Lord in to my life. I still don't know he exists, I still have trouble w/ some of the implications---some of the things I'm told I should believe, but I have to take a leap of faith, and turn my life over to him, and hope I soon know and love him

Wow! What a neat thing to read and look back on. I can still remember getting up from my knees in front of the wall heater in my Pacific Grove apartment and wondering if I'd just been the biggest fool and sucker there was.

What a journey it has been from that day! I can remember my early days as a Christian thinking I had so much to offer God---to the day they asked me to pastor the church and I realized, in my fear, that I had come completely to the point where I realized I had nothing to offer God other than my willingness. I remember my early Christian days trying to reconcile evolution and Creation and saying the two could co-exist, to the point where I now know, beyond doubt, that God created the world in six days as His Word declares and to eagerly defending that position. I still remember in my early days wavering on the abortion issue, to today where I believe without wavering that life begins at conception and is worthy of defense.

I remember the hesitation and embarrassment I felt telling some intellectual giants in my life who had been so familiar with my Christian criticisms that I was now a Christian---and now how I love wearing Christian t-shirts and the conversations they generate in Walmarts, grocery stores, etc. I remember being arrogant and proud, and now I feel so insecure at times that it is only who I am in Christ that keeps me going. I remember writing about God with a lower case "h" in "him" (see the entry I typed above from my old Bible)---to now where I am passionate about making it "Him" or "His". (I don't say this legalistically like others have to do that, only as a reflection of how I have changed.)

It has been such a journey---and it has just begun! That day, 17 years ago today, I was born again! My eternal life as God's child began and it will be just that, eternally with Him. I can't thank enough all the people in my life who have been a part of this journey---from the best parents a guy could ask for; to Mary Ann, the most amazing wife I could have ever imagined (one whose faith and love for God were the catalysts for bringing me to Christ and have upheld me many times in the years since); to Bill Holdgridge, our pastor at the time at Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay, whose faith and love for God led him to make the most courageous stand to remind Mary Ann that I wasn't a Christian when she agreed to marry me, and who walked with us and stood with us in the coming hard months as I wrestled myself to the point where I could receive Christ and we could get married; to the people in our little church in Bryson who nurtured and grew me through arrogance to walking in grace; to the friends and family and fellowship I have shared in these recent years pastoring in Bryson and Lockwood---to all who have loved, encouraged, been iron sharpening iron, been friends and family; and to my beautiful girls, Bethany and Abigail, who are, already, blessing me with their love for God and the way He uses them to speak to me even at their young ages.

I could go on and on thanking all those who have seeded in to my life. Some of you reading this have only know me recently, and others of you have known me from before that day 17 years ago. Remember, Amy, that night Mary Ann and I stayed up half the night with you and I kept arguing and arguing with you two and how that night I had that dream where sheer, terrifying evil was coming up from a pit at me and I had to be woken by you guys because I was wimpering like a little puppy?

Like I said, I could go on and on, thanking person after person. I will just say to you all---I love you and while I may let you down, while I may be often wrong, while I may not be the best of friends, I consider myself blessed and privileged to have you in my life and I can't thank you enough for your love and friendship and encouragement.

If I could offer one thing that might help anyone reading this to whom what I wrote in my Bible 17 years ago today sounds really familiar to their heart, I would say that the key for me to going from there to here (and I still have a long way to go!) was that I took that decision seriously and brought my life captive to it. The constant refrain of my thoughts from that day forward---whether in doubt or not---was, "I made the decision that Jesus was who He said He was and I need to make this decision or take this action based on that." I began, even though I still had doubts at times, to read the Bible to see what God had for me, not to see if it was true. As I honored my decision to give my life to God, He honored His Word to draw near to those who draw near to Him and to be found by those who seek Him and He revealed Himself to me in deeper and deeper ways as I lived, simply in a faith that felt blind at the time, in respect to my decision.

So, my final reflection and thanks goes to the One who made me, died for me, and gave me life again. To my God---THE God---Jehovah, God Almighty, King of Kings, Immanuel, Lord, Jesus, I say, "Thank You." You have taken me out of darkness and in to your marvelous light. I love You and only wish I could love You more and serve You better. You are everything. You saw me and knew me before You formed the earth, You knew all my mistakes and rebellions and rejections and blasphemies, and still You formed me and lovingly knit me together in my precious mother's womb---knowing all along that Your own Son, Jesus, would need to come to earth and be murdered for me. You have sealed me in His precious blood, You have given me a righteousness and redemption I could never have afforded, and You have born me again as Your precious child and I will know You and love You and be with You forever. Thank You, from the bottom of my heart.

Monday, August 10, 2009

You Never Let Go . . .

Tonight I put on Matt Redman's song about God called "You Never Let Go" and I turned it real loud (it is a good thing we live in the country and don't have neighbors!). I clicked the button to send it in to the kitchen where Mary Ann was working and then looked at Abigail who was sitting in the living room and singing along. I held my arms open to her in our "do you want me to pick you up?" posture and her face lit up and she beamed and jumped up and in to my arms. I picked her up to the ceiling and then swung her around and around and put her on my shoulder and spun around as we sang and danced to the song about how God never let's go of us, through the highs and through the lows.

Soon Bethany runs in to the room laughing and calling out, "My turn!" and she got the same as we laughed and sang and danced around. Soon both girls were on my shoulders being spun around at the same time as we restarted the song for a second play through. After I set the girls down and we laughed while the song played I "ambushed" Mary Ann who had come in to the room and soon SHE was on my shoulder being spun around laughing. As I spun my girls and sang to the song I had a thought---I believe from God---which I shared with my girls after the song was over.

I said, "You know girls, you could have never enjoyed that if you were afraid of me letting you go." They paused. I then added, "If you were afraid of me letting you go what was intended to be joyful would have been fearful."

Bethany says, "Like the song is about."

Yeah---out of the mouth of a babe. She gets it. We got it. We can't have the joy God intends us to have if we are afraid He will let us go. What He intends to be joy will be fear instead if we don't trust Him. Good thing that His Word promises that He will never let go of those who have invited Him to be Lord of their life!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Love Ya!

I was just sitting on the computer, working on some stuff and catching up on a few people on Facebook, and I saw my blog and I thought about all of you out there reading it, and I suddenly just felt a wave of love for you all (not because you read my blog!) and I just felt led to tell you all that I love you and I just sincerely and deeply hope that today is a wonderful, blessed, God-filled, joyous day for you. What a privilege it is to be your brother in Christ. I feel honored.

That's all.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thank You . . .

Thanks to all of you praying for us and our youth "camp." God really answered all the prayers. I am posting here two pictures from the fire so you can see what you were praying against. One is a view (slightly zoomed) from our driveway. The tiny dot in the smoke just above the trees is a very large air tanker! The second picture is from the lower part of our property looking over our property to the plume behind it (our home is just behind the hill in the center). The wind changed, the fire turned, and our community was saved. Thank you! Thank You God! (For you who are signed up to get this on email, I am sorry for posting two pictures. I hope it didn't take too long to download, I tried to make them small. I just felt you would value seeing what we were seeing since you were with us here in prayer.)

The youth arrived back here about 9 am (including the one that wasn't answering her phone or door) and we had a great meal of pancakes, etc. We then settled in to the classes. We taught the kids about the battle around them, and for them; about how you can't build a solid house that is bigger than the foundation you build it on is able to support; about spiritual warfare; about the example Jesus set for taking time away from ministry to be alone with the Father; about understanding how the Bible is laid out and how to read verse references; about how God does not despise their youth and how they can be revolutionaries to dream big and change a generation and a nation---at the age they are at now; and so much more.

Three times during the camp we sent the youth out around our yard and home for quiet time. For many of them it was the first time they had ever taken it---just them and God alone together. We wouldn't let them take watches or anything. The first time we kept them out a little over 20 minutes (we added 5 minutes each time) and most came in amazed because they said it was too short. We had first read them the parable of the seeds and soil, and then we had taken a walk where we showed them places that birds had snatched seed we had planted and scattered; soil where we had planted grain in the last rain and it had sprouted but then withered and died, fields where the thorns and weeds were choking out the good grasses, and our garden bed where we water it, fertilize it, and tend it. Their first quiet time we asked them to ask God what kind of soil their own heart was, and then to just listen to what He might tell them.

The second quiet time we had them read about Peter walking on the water and then asked them a bunch of questions about it---what is the most beautiful verse in it to you? Is there a promise in there for you? Is God asking something of you in it? What is your response? Plus, a lot more. The third quiet time we just let them go out unscripted. It was amazing how God spoke to those youth, and I believe that many of them were amazed that He did as well.

We watched some videos on a 6' screen out on the lawn at night, including an incredible presentation from the Passion tour about how huge and amazing and indescribable our God is and how the heavens reveal that. It was really, really awesome to do that under the night sky (a sky clear of smoke, by the way!). We ended up, totally unscripted, watching a second Passion presentation the next morning about God and how amazing He is and how that is revealed in the size of the stars and in the intricate center of our molecules. Those videos really grabbed the youth and we have decided to show them on the big screen at church in the fall and see how many people we can bring to see it. The youth are really fired up about that.

I could write all day about what happened, but I wanted to just share a slice of it with you. Probably one of the best parts was when a former youth grouper who we had as a counselor picked up his guitar in the morning and started playing it. A girl in the youth group who is on our church's worship team sat down and started singing, and we brought our keyboard down for her. We debated calling the kids in, but then decided to let them play or whatever while we were cleaning up breakfast and just see what God did. Soon, totally on their own, every person at the camp was in the living room singing worship songs! Man, God's Spirit was all over it! Everyone, from Bethany and Abigail, to the youth, to the staff, was touched and changed by God. Thanks, again, for your prayers.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Prayer Update . . .

Hello All---please keep your prayers coming. The fire engine came to the house yesterday just as we were starting the camp and said an evacuation was being ordered. Obviously we sent the kids home, and our two girls went to Lockwood with a family in our church. They lifted the evacuation at 9:30 last night and we are going to make a run at doing the camp in 26 hours (what is normally done in almost 48). The kids are arriving back here at 9 am and we really need your prayers as we will be totally going on the fly as we can't keep all the classes, etc., that were planned. What really made this camp back in 2004 when we did it was the 2nd day and the building quiet time. Please pray for safety, God's Spirit, that the one girl we can't reach this morning is able to come, for the Holy Spirit to lead us (the staff) in a mighty way, and for the kids to hear God's voice powerfully in their quiet time. Thanks so much!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Request for a Prayer Cover . . .

We are in the final stages of preparing for having 10 youth and an adult helper spend the next two days at our home for a "Solid Foundations" time. We did this in 2004 three times, with 8 youth each time, and it changed some of their lives. They arrive at 3:30 today and go home at 11 am on Wednesday. We hang out, have some teachings on solid foundations of our faith and walk, teach them to take quiet time (and make them!), go to a pool of a couple in our church on Tuesday afternoon, eat great, watch God-centered movies on our lawn from around 9 pm to 11 pm, share, hang out, etc. When we did this in 2004 the "evaluations" the youth filled out almost without exception said that the quiet time we had them take (we don't tell them how long it will be, and we add 5 minutes each time, starting at 20 minutes and ending at almost 40) was the best part. Most had never done it. The things God told them were amazing, and they were amazed to hear them. We will be having 7 youth, grades 6 - 9, here who have all shown a real heart to grow in God. There will also be three older youth helpers, two still in high school and one a former youth grouper who graduated two years ago.

So, to wrap this all up, we would covet your prayers over this time and in the days following it that God would continue the work we are confident He will begin. The enemy wants to steal it---yesterday there was a fire a couple of miles away that I heard reached almost 1,000 acres. It was so close I didn't even feel comfortable leaving to fight it as it could have reached our home within hours if the wind shifted and we would have been fighting for our property, animals, etc. Obviously the Solid Foundation time would have been cancelled. As it was, the wind stayed in our favor the whole time, and there were a ton of air assets there to fight it because they were already in the area fighting another fire farther north. Wind blowing the other way. . . Airplanes already in the area . . . Do we have a great God or what! And the devil would have us think he is the big one!


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