Friday, December 24, 2010

Loved Before the Earth Was Formed . . .

I wanted to wish each of you a very merry, joyous, peaceful, Spirit-filled Christmas tomorrow, and to thank you for sharing in my life through reading my blog, making me richer with your thoughts and sharings, and blessing me with your prayers. May God pour out His Spirit upon you this Christmas, and may the coming year be, for you, one of growing closer and closer to Him as your relationship with Him deepens and deepens.

As a simple gift to you, this Christmas, I want to share with you the thought that will be at the core of my sharing this evening at our candlelight Christmas Eve celebration. May it take you to a place of deep reflection, and may you rise from that place with a joy and security deeper than any you have ever felt before . . .

As Christians, we all know that the birth of Jesus was for a purpose—and that purpose took Him to the cross where He died for our sins. We also all know that it was love that took Him to the cross. John 3:16–18 are our guidon verses that we raise up to let others know that, ". . . God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

The Apostle John shared this recognition of God's love in 1 John 4:9-11 when he wrote, "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." John shared his awe at such love when he penned 1 John 3:1, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God . . ."

I know this, and I am filled with gratitude for God's love, that He would give me such a gift. That love is, in itself, so astounding that I could never capture with words or in my heart the amazing wonder of a God who loves me that much when I have loved Him so little, and sinned so much. But, there is something that makes it even more astounding to me, and this truth is found in Ephesians 1:3-10 in which Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

The "fullness of time" is Christmas, and the cross. Galatians 4:4-7 makes this clear when it uses the same expression: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

So, when God said the time was "full" (or had come) He sent Jesus to complete His plan—to unite us with Him through Jesus. And He did this from love. And, and here's the thing that rocks my mind, He did this from a love He had for you and I before He even formed the earth! Read again those Ephesians words, ". . . even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ." Do you realize that before He even formed the earth—before even your grandparents a hundred generations back were born—He knew you and loved you so much that He established a plan to unite you back with Him through His Son, Jesus?

How can we comprehend such love? To be loved before we were even concieved!?!

He LOVED me before He even formed the earth! He loved me before He even formed me in my mother's womb! Back when ". . . the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep" He already knew me and loved me so much that He established a plan to bring me back to Him—a plan that would cost Him His life. Then, as He watched and waited, came "the fullness of time" and He sent forth His Son on that first Christmas morn to complete His plan to unite me with Him, still, long before I was born. Of course, that applies to you as well—not just me—He knew and LOVED you before He ever formed the earth. If that doesn't tell you and I how absolutely special we are to Him, then I don't know what will. To be known, and loved so deeply that He would lay His life down for us, before He ever even formed the earth—wow! Our God is so amazing, and His love for us so incredible—it is a revelation that should alter the very fabric of our lives, focus, anxiety, values, and aim. To be loved like that, by a God who could know and love us before we ever were born. It is a wonderful God we have to lay our lives before. All praise and glory be to Him, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

God bless you all. Merry Christmas! You are loved!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It Must Have Been Amazing . . .

Maybe I'm the only one . . . but for years, hearing the story of the shepherds in their field watching their sheep by night, all my attention has been on the angel. Maybe because I know, from reading the Bible, that the angels were probably far more mighty and awesome than we usually portray them as pudgy, baby-faced, and just floating around with wings and a harp. Maybe because the Christmas pageants show mainly just the angel and because the angel is the one who delivers the message. I'm not sure why, but until recently I had glazed past the fact that something else was there that night as well . . .

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them . . .

The glory of the Lord! Wow! There they were, out at night, tending their sheep and a mighty angel from Heaven appears, and the glory of the Lord comes down also. A simple word search of the Old Testament will reveal that the glory of the Lord isn't just some "feeling" or "warm fuzzy" because an angel is around. It is the weighty, tangible presence of our holy God in some way I don't fully understand. A small sampling of the many verses in which we find it mentioned makes that abundantly clear:

Ex 24:17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

Ex 40:34-35 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

1 Kings 8:10-11  And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

2 Chron 7:1-3  As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord's house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever."

Ezek 1:28  Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

It is no wonder, then, that the shepherds were, ". . . filled with fear." There was an angel—reason enough—and the glory of the Lord. I can only imagine that in a moment these men, who were raised under the Law and who knew much about God's holiness and justice and wrath, and little about His love, were filled with terror. His glory must have, in a moment, destroyed any pretense of their own goodness or righteousness as they were in the presence of His holiness. How their righteousness must have suddenly seemed as filthy rags, and how terror must have filled their souls. But then . . .

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people...” and the message of a Savior—One to save and not condemn them, One to do what they could not, One to free them, One to make them right with God—was given! No wonder it was proclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest!" At that moment there is no chance they could have claimed any glory for themselves. His manifest presence and holiness would have stripped them of any pretense and it would have been clear to all—man and angel alike—that God alone was doing the salvation, and to Him be the glory!

How they must have been filled with joy as they went out, found this good news to be true, and returned glorify and praising God and telling what they had seen and heard! It must have been amazing . . .

Friday, December 17, 2010

For unto you is born this day . . .

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. . . ." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"  (Luke 2:10-14)

An article by Stephanie Samuel in the online Christian Post today gives Christians a pause for reflection. The article, titled, "Author: Most Evangelicals Believe Good People are Heaven-Bound," has some interesting quotes (you can read the whole article by clicking on the name of it above). Some of the things it says are (the words in #s 1–3 are quotes from the article):

1) The majority of Protestants and evangelicals believe that good people and people of other religions can go to heaven, according to author David Campbell. . . . surveys of 3,000 Americans, used to write the book, show that American people of faith, though devout, are very tolerant. So much so that most believers also believe that good people, despite their religious affiliation, can go to heaven.

2) Campbell . . . explained at a Thursday discussion of his book that the numbers can be explained with the “Aunt Susan” theory. Aunt Susan, he said, is the nice family member who is well-loved and is an all around do-gooder. “You know that if anyone is destined to go to heaven, it’s Aunt Susan,” described Campbell. However, Aunt Susan is of another religion. Rather than condemn that person to a lost eternity, Campbell said, most American believers choose instead to believe that that person is heaven-bound.

3) Land lamented that more evangelicals are being taught the doctrine of universalism. “It’s emphasized from the pulpit; it’s emphasized in the seminaries,” he decried. Universalism is the theological doctrine that all people will eventually be saved despite a relationship with Christ.

My Thoughts: This survey raises some interesting questions around Christmas that the Evangelicals who this describes need to answer. The first of these is, "Then what was Christmas, and ultimately the cross, about?" If a Savior was given to us, and that Savior was God's Son, and God allowed Him to suffer so ultimately for us, then why did that happen if there were other ways? How can anyone believing in Jesus as Jesus describes Himself believe that if there was any other way to save us that God wouldn't have taken that path?

Another question is about God's Word. Do you believe it is His Word or not? If you are going to pick it apart and decide arbitrarily which parts you believe and which you don't then who are you to state John 3:16 with confidence, or how do you possibly offer confident hope to someone contemplating suicide or struggling with hopelessness? 

Another question, equally relevant around Christmas, is, "What were we being saved from if all people end up in Heaven?" It is amazing to me how reluctant most Christians are to talk about things God was not hesitant or apologetic talking about—Heaven, Hell, fear of God, sin, holiness, condemnation, redemption, etc. It doesn't mean that we should talk about these things with a pointing and "in their face" finger, from a platform of arrogance, but we are very remiss if we don't share what God openly shares, and do so from a place of humility and love because we know that, but for Christ, we, too would be separated from God in Hell forever.

Christmas is a message of great joy! Indescribable joy! All Heaven declares the glory of God and the news! Why? Because the bad news is so bad. Because man is sinful and fallen and there is not one good among him according to God's Word. Because eternal separation from God, in Hell, is a fate to wish upon no one. Because we were helpless to save ourselves, but God came and saved us. He didn't steal us from the devil on some "Underground Railroad" smuggling us away—He recognized Satan's lawful right to us as his slaves and He bought us from him, and the purchase price was His Son's blood . . . the only innocent blood that could be shed in another's place because we were all guilty and condemned to die anyway.

Glory be to God in the highest! He has saved us, and He has given us His precious Word to show us the way and to make sure we understand that His Way, through His Son, is the only way—and that is the message of Christmas! God, please help us to stand strong in your Word, to not be ashamed or apologetic of what you are not ashamed or apologetic of, to be filled with joy at your message, and to shed it abroad with all love and humility.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Immanuel . . . In and Through Us

Note: I look forward to sharing more about the issue of Christian "rights" which I wrote on last time, but today I want to share something a little different. ("Rights" being those things/promises from God we can stand on in faith because God says that they are ours since we are His.)

Immanuel . . . Traditionally the day(s) right after Thanksgiving are when we take out our Christmas stuff. It is a time the girls, especially, look forward to—eagerly anticipating the movies and music and, when we are able to get it, the decorating of the tree. This year, however, a situation in the life of some friends caused us to put that off. We wanted to spend the bulk of those days helping them and our whole family participated. I felt like God shared with me a special way to talk to the girls about it, and I wanted to share it with you.

Friday morning I told the girls that we were going to begin celebrating Christmas that day (eyes wide, smiles big, excitement there, Christmas movies envisioned) . . . but, that it might not be the way they were thinking. I then asked them what one of the names of Jesus was, tied in to the Christmas story—a name that our family has used often to remind each other of God's presence. They answered "Immanuel" and, when asked what it meant, said "God with us." (Matthew 1:23)

I then talked with them about how, while Jesus was here on earth, God was with us in bodily form through Him. But, then, something amazing happened—He died and ascended to Heaven, and His Spirit came to dwell in believers! From being in one body at one time, to being in every Christian at the same time!

Through my asking them questions and drawing them to realizations, we talked about how, when a lady in our fellowship is serving as a nurse, it is really Jesus who is loving the people through her. We saw how, when someone else in our fellowship is loving someone else at their work place, it is really Jesus loving them through them. And then, how we were going to have the privilege to allow Jesus to love our friends through us as we allow ourselves to be His hands and feet.

It was amazing how the girls got it—that Christmas hasn't ended when Jesus died, just expanded! That now God (while present, certainly, around us at all times) is tangibly with us, living through us, as His children. Immanuel has the potential to be true in and around every believer at all times and, so, that miraculous aspect of Christmas continues and expands as believers surrender their lives and allow Him to live His life and love and serve others through them!

So, Merry Christmas! Immanuel! God is with you, believer . . . and He seeks to be with others through you! What an amazing comfort and privilege that is to know!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Total Dependence . . .

While reflecting on thanksgiving I was struck by the fact that in the first three Gospel accounts of the Last Supper (and in Paul's 1 Corinthians sharing on it as well) Jesus gave thanks before partaking of the bread and wine. I have passed over that so many times in my reading of those accounts without ever really giving it a pause, but this time it made me sit back and go, "Woah. There is something powerful there!"

We read, of Jesus, in John 1:,3 "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made," and in Colossians 1:16-17 it says of Him, "For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." These are statements so powerful about Jesus that they rock our minds when we realize what they are saying, and yet . . . He gave thanks to the Father for the most simple of things while on earth.

What does it say to us that the One through whom, and for whom, all things are made lived on earth, as one of us, choosing to live so surrendered of His rights and so dependent on His Father that He even gave thanks for bread? I have a sense that the thread of thought and example we could follow in this would take us to a place so deep that our entire Christian life could change if we were to internalize it. Jesus made all things, and Jesus had all rights, and Jesus could have done whatever He wanted . . . but He did not grasp those rights, or that place, bur rather laid it at the Father's feet and lived a life so dependent on the Father, and so surrendered to the Father, that He would say that He could do nothing apart from the Father, that He cast out demons by the Spirit, that He only did or said what He saw and heard the Father doing or saying, etc.

If Jesus could so lay His life down and let the Father live out His will through Him, to the point of even thanking the Father for bread, what example does it give us about surrendering our rights and life to the Father who gave His very Son's life for us? We are dependent on God for every good thing in our life—and James assures us that every good thing indeed comes from the Father. I also know that, as God's children, we have tremendous rights and authority in this dark world—rights and authority that come from the Father Himself and our identity in Christ. But, something I have wondered about for some time and have not ever really voiced outside of Mary Ann, is if the reconciliation between these two things comes in our choice to surrender. Here is what I mean, and I'd love your thoughts:

We have tremendous rights and promises from God. The Bible is clear on that. Some teachers teach on that almost exclusively, about standing in faith on our rights, and promises, etc. But, then, comes Jesus' example. Philippians tells us that He didn't grasp His right as God, but surrendered it and humbled Himself and gave up His rights to allow His Father's will to be done through Him. I wonder if it is not true that, while we have those rights and can stand, on faith, receiving them . . . if there isn't a place beyond that we could go where we give back to God the very rights He gave us, where we surrender them back and say to Him, "Here, Father. I know my rights on this earth as Your child, but I give them back to You. Let my life be Yours to do with as You will. I choose not to stand on my rights, or even to Your promises, but to surrender it all so that you might have free access to my life no mater the cost. I choose to live so that it is You alone who live through me, and I choose to live so dependent that I recognize even your love and gift in a simple slice of bread."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Entering in with Thanksgiving . . .

I wish all of you a heart of Thanksgiving this morning. I hope that your day yesterday was as special as mine was, and that thanksgiving continues to permeate your heart and soul in the coming year. I will be teaching on thanksgiving this Sunday, and as I have prepared my notes I am struck by a few things:

Daddy & his girls with the Praise Jar.
1) The thankful heart is the humble heart. Thankfulness implies a recognition of something not coming from us, but from another. God draws close to the humble heart (whereas He resists and opposes the proud heart). Romans tells us that those who have rejected God are those who have failed to worship Him as God or give Him thanks (Romans 1:18–25). In contrast to this, Psalm 100 gives us a picture of God's temple in which He sits at the center and it says that we enter His gates with thanksgiving (verse 4)! We could go so far as to say that we are commanded to be thankful when 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 tells us that God's will for us in Christ Jesus is to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks through all circumstances.

2) Thanksgiving floods the Bible. Read the Bible looking for verses on thanksgiving, or expressions of thankfulness and rejoicing, and you'll find that it is all over! The believer's heart should be a thankful heart!

3) The devil hates me (and every other believer). He hates all that we stand for and the very One within us! He is a liar, a murderer, a thief, an accuser, and a deceiver who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. If he could, he'd kill or destroy believers in a second. The obvious implication of that is then that every good thing in our life (every breath, every heart beat, every smile given, every smile received, every love felt, every love expressed, every laugh, every meal, every item of clothing, every healthy cell in our body, etc.) comes from God! No wonder James reminds us that every good and perfect gift comes from above, from our Father in Heaven (James 1:16–17). Looked at that way, that every tiny bit of goodness in our life is the Father intervening against the enemy's desire on our behalf, and we have so much to be thankful for!

Yesterday morning we did what for us is a Thanksgiving tradition we started some years back in an effort to keep God at the center of the day and our  hearts. We call it our Praise Jar. During the year we endeavor to write, each night, praises of God's hand in our life that day (sometimes we miss weeks at a time, but it is still our desire). Then, at Thanksgiving, we spend the morning by the fire with hot drinks taking turns pulling a praise out and reading it. Two things strike me about it that I'd like to share with you:

1) You'd be amazed how many things God does for you that you thought, at the time, you'd never forget—and which, even a few months later, you realize you had forgotten!

2) You will find your faith shooting through the ceiling when you spend hours at one time reminding yourself of all the different ways God has blessed your life in the past year! I was stunned how many times over the last year we have seen a physical healing in our family after prayer, how many times we have been blessed by someone reaching out and helping us or giving something to us, how many times prayers have been answered, how many times God has taken care of needs or anxieties I have had that were just special "gifts" from Him to me, how many times He has loved us in our "love language"—just gifting us with something He knew was special to us, how He has met our every need, etc.  Each of these, alone, are amazing when we realize the Creator of the universe has moved in our life in a visible way—but taken together, at one time, it is an incredible faith building and thanksgiving producing way to focus our hearts and joy! If you don't have some tradition like that (a Praise Jar, a journal, etc.), I encourage you to consider starting one. Preserving the testimony of God is a strong Biblical theme that not only builds faith, but gives God glory and speaks to generations to come (our heart is to make copies of all the praises in to books that each of our daughters will get when they leave home . . . they will take with them a record of years and years of God's hand on their family to then begin their own record as they begin their own families).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two Sides . . .

I have been been teaching recently on "church" and what God means by that. I believe that too often we attempt to conform ourselves (or we draw our expectations from) the traditions of men, rather then the Word of God. Hence, we set up a system that we think is "proper" because others do it that way, or we have expectations unmet, or we flounder, because we are not in His way, but man's, and at that point we are in trouble. I hope to finish the series this Sunday, but you can get the mp3s of the first three by clicking HERE if you are interested. I'd love your feedback!

One of the things that has struck me in my study has been the living, intertwined nature of Christ and the church (the body of Christ). According to God's Word the body is being built up into a living building, as living stones built together, for Christ. He is the cornerstone—the foundation and anchor and starting point and measuring point of it all. Interestingly, He is also another kind of stone. He is a stumbling block.

1 Peter 2:6-8 says: For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

So, for those who believe and obey He is the cornerstone, the foundational strength and the leveling point which we can rejoice in and always stay anchored to and supported by and kept on track with. But, to those who don't believe and who don't obey, He is another kind of stone—a stumbling block. To those who would seek any other way to God, or to a right life, He is in their path declaring, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

There is no way around it. He is a stumbling block to any other path to righteousness before God or even true purposeful living. But, more than that, WE (believers) are linked together with Him in such a union that we, too, take on this dual aspect (provided, I believe, that we have let the Holy Spirit fully occupy us and live through us).2 Cor 2:14-16 says: But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

Through us God spreads the fragrance (isn't that a beautiful picture to want to have describe our life?!) of Christ. If we are yielded and allowing, we become the very aroma of Christ among the world—and to the one we are the fragrance of life, and to the other the fragrance of death! What a picture of the union and identify we share with Christ! And what a powerful example, again, of that dual aspect of the Gospel: a cornerstone to some, a stumbling block to others; a fragrance of life to some, a fragrance of death to others.

Isn't this the way of so many things in life? Just this morning I was telling someone how I feel a little sad around December 20th when the shortest daylight day arrives because I know that the daylight is getting longer. The friend laughed and said, basically, that I am one of very few who feel that way. I recognize that—because I am blessed to do so much of my study and email and administration from my home, the cold, dark, winter days and nights and (hopefully!) rain mean to mean a crackling fire, a hot drink, and a cozy home. But, I don't have to go out every day driving in it, or working in it. To so many others that same weather is hard, brutal, and miserable.

What, I wonder, is before us in life that we can go either way with? What opportunity or situation are we in, or do we have, that we might choose to go two different ways with in how we utilize it or respond in it? For Paul, prison became a place to praise God and evangelize . .  for others it was simply misery to endure. For one leper his healing became a chance to thank and praise God . . . for the others it became something entirely different and much more self focused. For David the ark arriving in Jerusalem was a time of exuberant joy . . . for his wife it was a time of mocking her husband's praise and dance. What are the situations facing you and I? How might we use them? How are we responding in them? The exact same situation can, to two different people, be two entirely different things!

Note: While I believe that God can, and does, work through all things, I do not subscribe to all things being from God at the operational, daily level of our life. I believe we have an active enemy who steals, kills, and destroys. I struggle to understand people thanking God for giving them some sickness or pain and then rushing to the doctor or medicine to try and take it away. I believe in praising God through all things, and knowing He will work in all things, but I also believe that some of the things He is "blamed" for are truly the work of an active enemy and we need to be combating those things instead of thanking God for them. I know that some don't agree with this, but I needed to clarify it because some could take what I was saying above to mean I was saying we should praise God for all things. I'd love to hear your prayerful thoughts and dialogue on it. For instance, if resisting the devil makes him flee (James 4:7), then it would seem not resisting him would mean he won't. Both options are so polar opposite of each other I don't believe both can be God's desire for a person—which would seem to me to mean that the consequences of both options can't both be God's desire for us. Thoughts? Just, as the foundation for my comments, know that I believe the Bible clearly teaches that our choices matter, and if they matter it implies different outcomes are possible by them, and if different outcomes are possible by them then I don't see how all could be His desire for us.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Birthday Hike, and Reminder . . .

My Day: I was blessed on Thursday to be able to take my traditional birthday hike with Mary Ann and my girls at the Pinnacles National Monument. We left the parking lot about 1 pm and got back to the van about dark. I was so proud of our girls. In the first two miles we climbed 1,500 feet of switchbacks (to the top of the peaks in the background of the pictures), and then we wound our way across the east side of the Pinnacles and back to the van through some caves for the next 6.5 miles. It was 8.5 miles in all, and the girls did it all without complaints. It was a really special time and a beautiful day. I was able to end the evening at my parents house and celebrate my birthday with our three generations all present together, by a crackling fire, eating pizza. It was a very special day!

Bethany and Daddy, nose to nose.

For those of you who have followed this blog, you may remember my posting last year at my birthday that year's traditional "nose to nose" pictures, as well as the previous years. You can see last year's in the "Esther 3" post of Nov. 5, 2009, and the year before's in the "Esther 2" post of Nov. 4, 2009. I am including this year's pictures for those of you who know our family, or would like to know more about our family. It is fun to look at the pictures and see how the girls are growing.

My Reminder: I have been struggling a lot, lately, to understand why I can believe in my head such amazing truths—not just believe, but know, because I have experienced God's hand in ways in my life there is no other explanation for—and yet have my emotions so far behind my mind. Sometimes, when I think about what I believe in just the most simple of doctrinal statements, I can't figure out why my heart doesn't leap more, or why I can be so easily swept away by anxiety, negative expectations, fear, insecurity, etc. I find some comfort in accounts from the Bible of great men and women of God who wrestled with doubts, etc., even after intense encounters with God, but it doesn't comfort me completely. I don't seek emotion to rule me, or even to drive me, and I am grateful that I can still operate by faith in what I know without the feeling, but I would love to have more of the feeling to accompany my faith . . . more of the awe and wonder and proper perspective that keeps God and everything else in its proper size and perspective in my heart.
Abigail and Daddy, nose to nose as well.

At the Pinnacles I forced myself to just stop and look up at this one rock that was at least 1000' of straight, single rock face. The sun was dropping and the rock was red, massive, and majestic! It was so incredibly huge, and I forced myself to not just say, "That's beautiful" and move on, but to pause and reflect that, since my God made that as just one fractional part of His Creation, I truly do not need to be anxious for anything. This was something God reminded me of recently, that He commands me to be anxious for nothing, and this trip to the Pinnacles helped return that to its proper perspective. Faith has an object, and our object is God, who is the author and enforcer of His Word. Sometimes, for me, I need to pause and just ponder His wondrous, glorious, absolutely huge and stunning Creation and return Him to His proper place in my mind and heart—that place where He is God, He is huge, and there is nothing that can rival His size or power or love or majesty. It is a reminder I often need, and one that God has used His Creation many times to help me get.

Note: Many of you have seen the picture of our three cows on my blog's "Pictures" page. Well, on Monday afternoon the black one had a calf and I've posted a picture here of momma cleaning the little one about an hour after birth for you to enjoy with us.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Me and the girls in front of Bridal Veil Falls
in Yosemite.

Hello, All. I want to thank all of you who prayed for me during my time off in October. I had no idea how much I would need it! I had wonderful physical rest and wonderful time with my family, but spiritually a lot more struggles then I ever imagined as I sought answers, direction, intimacy with God, etc. I was really caught off guard by the level of struggle I would have, and I know that all of your prayers played a huge part in the work God was able to do in me. I am excited about many of the things He clarified for me, and many of the things He showed me, and many of the directions of study I believe He has led me towards . . . and I still have a lot of questions I am seeking answers to and a lot of direction I need.
Mary Ann & the Girls breaking out of the jail in the
Gold Rush town of Columbia.

During my time off our family ended it with a trip in to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We started in Shaver Lake where a church we have fallen in love with the people in "adopted us" and let us stay there and treated us as their own. It was so wonderful to be able to enjoy the majestic mountains during the day, and to soak in warm and Godly fellowship at night. After leaving Shaver Lake we had the experience repeated as friends who run a Christian camp outside of Yosemite put us up there for three nights, and we were able to enjoy Yosemite one day, and the Gold Rush country the next, and have wonderful fellowship in the evenings. In both places our girls had children to play with who also love the Lord, and we even had roaring falls in Yosemite though we understand they were only trickles just three days before. At the camp we stayed at one of our friends runs the coffee stand, and she blessed us with custom coffee drinks each morning (once even delivered to our room)! God sure knows our family's "love language"!
Our family along a stream past Shaver Lake.

As I have sought God's direction, one of the things that I do believe God would have me continue is writing on my blog as He leads it. Often it is my way of capturing in writing things God has recently shown me in my study and quiet time and teaching, and I write them down anyway. I know that many of you have said it blesses you, and I have been tremendously blessed and built up and made a better pastor and person by the people I have met through it, and the rich insight and teachings they have led me toward. I especially want to thank "Pearl" at Be Thus Minded (see "Links" at the top of the blog) for how my life, my understanding of God, and my teaching has been affected by the things God uses her to share. Mary Ann and I look forward to one day fellowshiping with her and her family in person!

I have included in this post four pictures from our trip, and the top of my blog has a new "Fall-flavored" header with pictures from our homeschool trip to Avila Barn in San Luis Obispo near the beginning of my time off from pastoring (if you are getting this through email, you'll need to click on the link to the blog's home to see the header as it only is shown on the web).
Our family in front of Yosemite Falls.

Again, thanks to all for your love and prayers. We treasure them! I look forward to sharing more, again, as God leads. As always I look forward to, and long for, hearing from all of you. God bless.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Prayer Request

Note before the post: On Sunday night I taught at the opening night of four nights of refreshing meetings at a church about 35 minutes from us, hoping for revival, tied in to the Feast of the Tabernacles (this is the third series of meetings we have done, each located around one of the feasts). Based on the number of people who have told me in the last two days that the teaching I gave really blessed them I offer a link to it here for any of you who would like to listen (it is in mp3 format). It uses the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths), and Joshua and the Israelites, as a basis for sharing what God has been recently showing me on the yielded and surrendered life.

Sunday Teaching: Sept. 26, 2010

Prayer Request: Today begins something for me which is overdue, but which I have some real hope for. I have pastored for almost 11 years now without taking any significant break in time to kind of give God a "blank page" to write on (free of having a Sunday teaching, church admin, etc., in the back of my mind). At the encouragement of others, and hopefully by the leading of God, I am doing that now, and I have different men taking the next four services for me, as well as people handling the bulk of the different administrative tasks. I can't thank them enough for their heart to help me in this (the plan at this point is for me to return to the pulpit on 10/31).

I am asking, if you feel led, for your prayer cover for this time. I need to hear from God. I need renewed clarity and assurance on many things—from theological things, to direction, to vision, to provision for my family, to the future, to decisions the church faces, etc. I need His guiding not just for the future, but even for this time of retreat and prayer. Some have called this my "vacation." I chuckle. It will probably be a very directed and focused time of study and seeking, though I do hope to rest as well (and to take some special family time). I don't know if I will blog at all during this time, or if I will blog more than ever as a perfect release and way to record, and share, things He shows me as I travel with Him. I'll just have to see.

If you feel led to be a part of a covering in prayer for this time, I am including specifics below. If not, I totally understand—I am not a good intercessor or prayer warrior, though I covet those who are! Please, just follow God's leading, and if, while praying, you feel He shares something with you for either Mary Ann or me, don't hesitate to email it to me at emar at tcsn dot net (unfortunately, I need to spell it out to avoid computer spamming)—or, you can comment me, and I won't publish it publicly on the blog if you ask me not to.

Prayer specifics:

1) Direction for how God would lead this time.
2) Direction for what I am supposed to return to, and how I am supposed to return to it as (both ministry and personal—I want to streamline and simplify my life so that each part of it counts and matters, to "redeem the time" wisely).
3) Vision.
4) Intimacy with God in worship, study, and a clarity in hearing His voice.
5) A renewed revelation of who I am in Him, what that means for me, and what, exactly, He is asking me to do and what He isn't asking me to do.
6) Courage to do whatever He asks me to do, and courage to be whatever He asks me to be, no matter if everyone, or no one, follows.
7) Rest for both me and for Mary Ann (she is trying to fill her Children's Church slots during this time so that she, too, can rest a little from that and partner with me in this time---she will still be homeschooling, and there is never a break from all the routine things of life we both must do, and as you all must do also).
8) A spiritual cover and protection. I do not think the enemy wants me to have this time and would love to see me distracted, discouraged, etc. I don't want to make any decisions, or follow any voice, other than His.
9) Theological clarity. I feel sometimes like I am driving along a road, just getting glimpses through the trees, of something majestic and mighty on the other side of the forest. I feel like there are some truths about yielding and surrender and how to finish my life strong and eternally focused that are close, but I have yet to fully apprehend.
10) Clarity on what my role as a pastor is supposed to look like, as well as my other roles: youth leader, administrator, husband, father, friend, brother, neighbor, child of God, etc. I need wisdom in being these different things, and I especially don't know what the ministry ones especially are supposed to look like.
11) Revelation on God's ultimate purpose, the Kingdom of God, and the yielded, surrendered life..
12) Revelation on spiritual authority.

Some Thoughts/Things I am Wrestling With to Give Your Prayers Background and Insight: I don't want to define my roles by some cultural "expectation" we have built that God has not given, and I don't want to look back one day over decades of pastoring and feel like I just "did church." I don't want routine worship. I don't want routine teaching. I don't want routine, hollow, Spirit-less services. Nor, am I seeking experience or emotion. I simply want God to fall all over us and a region, and I don't believe it is going to happen the way I am going right now and the way the body of Christ in general, and I start with me, is treating church and our calling and who we are in Him, and who He is in us. And, I don't know how to do it different . . . and I am afraid of how that might even look, or how we might react to what God might say.

Sometimes I look around and wonder how many of us, myself included as first and foremost, really believe what we say we do—and I mean "believe" in the way God means it, when He accused the Israelites of not believing in Him when they turned from their destiny in the promised land. I think that they would have been shocked to realize He felt they didn't believe in Him, and it makes me wonder just how much is wrapped up in the word "believe" the way GOD means it . . . and isn't what He thinks all that matters? How, I wonder, do we awaken the body, myself first, to the reality of what we claim to believe—the reality of either eternity with or without God, the reality of the Creator of the Universe living in us and waiting to live through us, the reality of the fire that will test all of our work and show what was eternal and what was just fluff, the reality of spiritual warfare, the reality of the power and need for prayer?

What is happening, I wonder, when churches can't even sustain prayer meetings, and only 25 people represent FOUR collected churches at revival meetings? What is happening? What has to happen? How does a pastor do this? If it is the Holy Spirit's job, then what is our role in it? How do we build each other up to what He calls us to, without breaking each other down with condemnation and guilt?

Why are Christians so often so self focused? Where is the joy and the peace, and how do we experience that and still be taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and following Him and the path He walked and walks? Why do we look so different from the church in Acts, which is supposed to be our model, which was CONTINUALLY together in prayer, fellowship, teaching—and saw people flocking to it and signs and wonders accompanying it . . . if this is our model, then why does it sometimes feel like there should be apologies for even asking people to gather for more than a Sunday morning service?

Where is, starting with me, the broken humility before God that causes us to love (and not judge) all others better than ourselves? Where is, starting with me, the overwhelming awe and wonder at God that causes us to fall before Him and simply cry out and worship Him as worthy of all we have, including our lives? What is God asking of me, and what part have I played in the whole thing?

These are some of the questions I am asking, and at the same time I am praising God for the wonderful people He has surrounded me with—people who do love Him, who love on each other, and who love me and my family. I thank Him for them, and for you who read this all and who share this journey with me. Thanks for your prayers and love. I long to finish strong, and I treasure your prayers along the way.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The "Rest" in Work . . .

Last night at Youth Group, and this morning at Family Worship, we talked about God's call to Moses from the burning bush. In Exodus 3:2 it says, "And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed." (Moses is in the desert because he fled Egypt for killing an Egyptian and Pharoah wanted to kill him.)

The account tells us that Moses turns aside to check it out and God speaks to him from the bush and tells him that He has seen the plight of His people enslaved in Egypt, and heard their cry. So far, so good for Moses, I would imagine. Then God says in verse 10, "Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."

Up to this point I imagine Moses is really glad God has seen and heard the people's problems and situation . . . but suddenly when God wants him to be the solution things suddenly aren't so good. You probably know the rest—Moses gives reason after reason why he's not the best guy for the job, and God replies to each one basically the same things:

1) I will be with you.
2) I am sending you.
3) I will take care of what you need (power, signs, words, etc.)

Towards the end, when all of that is not enough, God gets angry at Moses' fear and doubt and reminds him of Aaron, and Moses reluctantly goes ahead with it all.

The thing that always intrigues me in this is that God never answers Moses' question, "Who am I?" He simply says, "I'll be with you." As I told the youth (many of whom have been on the school softball team I've coached), "If I sent you in to a critical position in the field during a game and you expressed doubt about yourself I'd build you up, remind you of all you have practiced, pump you up with encouragement, tell you how amazing you are, etc." But, God doesn't do that—He says, "I'll be with you."

What more do we need to know? Really? Knowing God is sending us, and we are doing His work, what more do we really need to know? This is the God who saw simply a vast void of blackness. He envisioned a universe with galaxies and nebulae and cosmic swirls and asteroids and infernos called suns; and He envisioned an earth with amazing coral reefs and sea life, with birds that fly with hollow bones, with crazy creatures like giraffes and hippos; and He envisioned a man with a mind more amazing than the most amazing computer and an eye more complex than the most complex telescope . . . and He envisioned that and, with simply a word, He brought it into existence from nothing. He is so completely awe inspiring and amazing and worthy of our praise and worship that when we know that He is at work through us (which obviously means He is with us) what more do we, truly, need to know?

The whole key is going where we are sent—doing what we are told to do. Because when we are yielded and He is working His work through us as His hands and feet and mouth we don't have to wonder if He is with us, because it is His work He is working. As Philippians 2:13 says, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." God places His desires in us, for what He wants to see done, and when we yield to those it is in fact He who is doing the work to bring His desires to pass. That means, of course, that He is with us, and that His full resources are working through us—and we can "rest" in that, because . . . what more do we really need to know?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Two Lessons from Joshua . . .

In our Family Worship time this morning we were looking at the next event after the fall of Jericho and two things spoke to me strongly from it.  As a background to it, God told the people that when Jericho fell, ". . . And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. . . . But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord." (Joshua 6:16-19).

Then, in the next chapter, it tells us: But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan . . . took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.

Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai . . . and said to them, "Go up and spy out the land." And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, "Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few." So about 3,000 men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, "Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! . . ."
(Joshua 7:1-9)

The two points that speak to me strongly from this are:

1) The tremendous cost to the whole body of Christ when one member does not walk as God calls him or her. I believe that we take the "body of Christ" wording too figuratively. We are integrally linked as Christ's body, with Him as the head. Only ONE man hid goods from Jericho against God's command, and the whole nation suffered a defeat from an enemy they should have easily beaten.

What one of us chooses to do, or not to do, dramatically affects far more than we realize. We saw this much earlier in Joshua's life when there was nothing wrong with either his or Caleb's faith, but they wandered for forty years with the others, outside of their destiny, because of the unbelief and fear and sin of the body/family they were integrally linked to. We may think our little sin, or our staying home from church, or our holding back our first from God, or our grumbling or negative expectations, or whatever that thing is that we are doing apart from surrender and yielding to Him is just about "us" when, in reality, our whole family and local body is affected by it. We are no longer ours. We have died and been born again in Christ. We are his, and when a part of anyone's body rebels or acts independent of the head the whole body is affected, whether or not they realize it.

2) There is tremendous cost in calling "good" or "OK" what God has deemed otherwise. It cost Saul his kingdom, and it cost Israel its victory in this account. Joshua and the people, not yet knowing someone had kept goods from Jericho, had every reason to cry out in confusion and fear and bewilderment. Unlike their parents, they had chosen to trust God and His promises and to enter and take the land HE was giving them! And here they were, routed and humiliated, by a wimpy army they should have destroyed! What about God's promises? What about Him going with them? What about being strong and courageous? How they must have cried out and been confused.

But, one of them had compromised. He had deemed OK what God said to destroy or do otherwise with, and it had crippled their power against the enemy, and it caused God to pull back from them. Achan kept objects that had been set apart for destruction or the Lord, by the Lord. As such, he brought the destruction of those vessels upon himself (and the "family/nation" he was a part of), and Israel became powerless against her enemies.

I believe the spiritual lesson in this is huge. Both as individuals, and as corporate bodies in regions, we battle the hosts of darkness regularly—just look at Jesus' life and ministry if you doubt that. We have God's authority and adoption. We have tremendous promises of victory against the hosts of darkness. The enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus gives us His authority and works through us against those forces, and greater is He is us than he who seeks to destroy. But, when we compromise, when we allow to remain in our life something God has said to get rid of, we cripple our authority and power against the enemy, and we hamstring the chance of victory for us and others we are linked to. The cloak and silver and gold Achan kept must have seemed miniscule compared to the wealth of Jericho—something that wouldn't even be noticed . . . but it cost a nation a victory, and 36 men their lives.

What, in your life, are you allowing that God has said to purge? Is it thoughts, is it entertainment, is it language, is it a hobby or way you spend your time, is it fear, is it a eating habit? What, if anything, have you deemed "OK" that God has said to remove? I know it is not easy, but we MUST not get casual with what God has called us to purge. We are in a war—we must never forget that! Our enemy is real, and lives and marriages and hearts are the what is at stake. We must—we must—yield ourselves to God's Spirit in total surrender because, only then, when we walk in the Spirit, will we crucify and put to death the works of the flesh.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eating the Enemy's Food . . .

A short time after the Israelites crossed the Jordan and built the memorial God commanded them to with stones from the bottom of the Jordan (from where they had crossed in dry land), but before they went against Jericho, Joshua 5:10-12 tells us:
While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

There are some key things here, I believe:

1) After the Jordan, and before the verses above, they circumcised the males at God's command. This was an act of the covenant with Abraham—whom the promise for the land before them originated in. We, too, are in a covenant with God (a better covenant, one brought about by Christ's blood), and we are strengthened by reminding ourselves of that covenant of grace, of Christ's FULL payment, of our new relationship with God and our complete acceptance through Christ.

2) They kept the Passover, the reminder of God's protection of them because of the lamb's blood on their doors. We do well to keep present in our mind the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, that died for us (on the Passover). Because of His blood, His full payment for OUR sins, we do not die, but sleep, we close our eyes here and open them in the welcoming presence of the Lord. We can say to death, "Where is your sting?" and we can live with confidence here.

3) The Israelites were on the "right" side of the Jordan because they chose faith, and they chose to trust God and His promises. It required great faith and trust to succeed where their fathers had failed because of fear and unbelief. They had the command from God, and the promise from God to give them the land, and they needed to cross the Jordan and go against a formidable mass of enemies in faith that:

a) God was big enough to back up His Word.
b) God was trustworthy.
c) God was with them and would not leave them.
d) God would direct them each step of the way as they walked in faith, obedient, not knowing HOW He would bring His Word to pass, simply trusting that He would.

Then, and only then, did they get to eat what was theirs and that which the enemy had wrongly possessed. They got to take back what they should have already had. The manna ceased (God had still taken care of them, they were just in the desert wilderness), and they finally ate of the land that was once the food of their enemy.

What has been stolen in your life that God has said should be yours? Jesus says that the thief, Satan, comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus comes with restoration, healing, joy, and peace. Is it a relationship? Is it joy? Is it the freedom of grace? Is it the rest of trust and surrender? Is it your belief? Is it the spark in your eye? Is it your courage? Is it health? Is it victory in your family? Is it peace? Is it the realization of who you are in Christ? Is it the expectancy you once had? Is it . . .?

Remind yourself of your covenant with God—one you never could earn, so one you can't lose by messing up. Remind yourself of the precious blood of Jesus that saves you from death. Remind yourself of God's promises to you. Remind yourself of the complete work Jesus did on the cross, and the complete joy and freedom and rest that allows us when we understand it. Take captive your fears, negative expectancy, hopelessness, and unbelief to the truths and promises and testimony of God. Step out in faith. Be obedient. Trust. Surrender your plans and ways and the world's advice and wisdom to a life of trust and faith, and stand in confidence. You are God's child, adopted and joined to Him by His very self in the presence of the Holy Spirit. He will not leave you. Go forth boldly. Courageously. Resting from your own work, yielded to His work in and through you.

It is God's plan. Years later we see how the Philistines tormented Israel with fear and intimidation. Then one man, David, stood in faith, reminded of God's testimony and faithfulness in the past, and—against all the common sense of the world—defeated an armored giant with a sling and a stone. His faith, and the courage of faith, inspired an army of God's people who drove the enemy from the land and came back and PLUNDERED the enemy's camp . . . they took what used to be the enemy's, and made it theirs! To use an analogy Jesus would use later, they bound the strongman and then plundered his goods.

The strongman needs binding, the giant needs defeating, the river needs crossing everywhere we look—and God is waiting for us to ask so He can show us where He is at work and where He is ready to partner with us. All around us people are bound with fear, hopelessness, addiction, depression, loneliness, suicidal thoughts, sickness, broken marriages . . . it is time to rise up. It is time to surrender ourselves to God, hear His voice, and let Him live through us. It is time to drive out the enemy, and plunder his goods. It is time to take back what has been stolen.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jealously Loved . . .

Have you ever been jealous when someone gave their affection or time or attention or admiration to another? Be honest (and no, you don’t have to post a comment and tell us all when and why).

Seriously though, have you ever been jealous of another’s affection or attention? Has it ever been so strong in you that it almost defined who you were? Maybe it was at a younger age over the “love” of one you “loved” being given to another, maybe it is a wounding you have suffered recently when one you love gave themself to another in either heart or body, maybe it was when someone gave praise and admiration to another when you wanted to get it from them instead. You were stirred inside with feelings very deep when you saw affection given to another, from one who you desired affection from, and you felt that the affection they gave that other took it from you. The greater your affection for a person, the greater could be your jealousy toward that person—you don’t care who someone loves if you don’t love that person.

Jealousy can be a powerful, driving force when unharnessed and allowed to drive and define a person. Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” and Galatians 5:20 lists it as a work of the flesh. And yet, during our Family Worship time, or whenever we play worship music, one of our favorite songs has been Jeremy Riddle’s version of “How He Loves.” In it is a line that says God is jealous for me. Having heard it probably 40-50 times, this morning it struck me powerfully and seemed to jump out from all the rest. I thought, “God is jealous for me! Wow!”

Just to nip in the bud any rebuttals in advance—I am not accusing God of sin; nor am I saying that His jealousy for us is identical to the jealousy in us that I asked about in the first paragraph; nor am I saying that any human analogy I use is a perfect or completely correct way to look at God. But, there is the fact that God uses human relationship to illustrate our relationship with Him (Father/child, Bridegroom/Bride). And, there is also the fact that God is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14 says, “(for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God).” Jealous is one of God’s very names, and His names define a part of who He is.

Similarly, Joshua 24:19-20 records Joshua saying to the people: "You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good."

Psalm 79:5 asks: How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

Zechariah 8:2 says: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath.

Indicating that there might, in fact, be a “proper” kind of jealousy, in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 Paul writes to the believers in Corinth: I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

And, to conclude sharing just a few of the many verses on God’s divine jealousy, in James 4:4-5 it says: You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?

The word “jealous,” when used in the Scripture in reference to God, is most often used in the context of God’s anger. They are fearful passages in the Bible that talk about God’s jealousy and the consequences of His pouring out His wrath from jealousy. But, may I suggest, that there is another side to looking at this as well (not meaning in any way we should ignore the first). May I suggest that God is jealous for you because He so loves you? That if you had no worth or meaning to His heart your misplaced affections and worship would mean nothing to Him (i.e., in admittedly flawed human terms, would you be a jealous lover if someone you had no feelings for loved another?). Might the depth of His jealousy toward you be a mirror of the depth of His love for you?

When we look at the brutality of the cross in all its graphic reality, and at the spiritual horror of One who was without sin taking on Himself the sin of the world, we are forced to realize that God loves us with a love more passionate and alive and deep than we can ever fathom or capture. It is no wonder that He is “jealous” for us—He loves us!—and it makes me feel good to know that God loves me so actively and vibrantly and passionately that my highest affections and my “worship” and “service” turned to anything other than Him provokes Him to jealousy (not feeling good that I do that, but that He cares enough to care).

I think that, in our theological talk, we often lose the “aliveness” (my word) of our faith. God becomes an idea, a theology, a “topic,” when, in fact, He is very alive, very passionate about things, ferocious, wonderful, awe inspiring, Holy, able to be grieved and angered, deeply and actively loving, participatory, etc. Any true relationship with Him is alive, dynamic, and an interchange of feelings and communication because He didn’t stay in the tomb, having paid for our sin, but He rose again to dwell with us and in us! “God loves us” is a living reality, not an idea. “God is jealous for us” is an expression and a truth, not a verse. Our sin is against Him, not a Bible. “God is with us” is a physical, real, tangible, truth, not simply a “feel good” platitude. He is real. He is interactive with us. He is mighty, and alive! We get so caught up in our own “feelings” that we forget that God feels things too, and that He has invested Himself completely in relationship with us.

God is holy, and He is awesome. He is worthy of our worship and reverence (and, when appropriate, fear) whether or not He loves us. His jealousy for me is passionate and alive, and that, in some way, tells my childlike understanding that His love for me is too. And, I am glad for that. May the living reality that God’s heart burns for you touch and awaken you throughout the days ahead.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who Did the Work?

As our family goes through the early pages of Joshua for Family Worship time, I asked some questions of the girls this morning:

Q: Who parted the Red Sea? A: God (that's right, all they needed to do was go through it)

Q: Who made water come out of the rock? A: God (that's right, Moses just needed to obey)

Q: Who brought food from heaven and provided for the Israelites? A: God

Q: Who parted the Jordan? A: God (that's right, they just needed to obey)

Q: Who brought the walls of Jericho down? A: God (that's right, they just needed to obey some instructions that were completely silly to the "trained" mind)

The point becomes clear through repetition—God does the work, our job is to obey. Now, the first time (at the Red Sea) it was easy (or, easier). You have an army bent on death and slavery behind you, and ahead of you the water just parted in a miracle. Walk on!

But, the second time, at the Jordan . . . now you are not walking away from an enemy army—but toward one! Now, it requires faith to leave the place of comfort and provision (and "existing," not occupying or driving out the enemy).

But, the same God is there and our job is just the same. Obey. In Joshua 3:5, the day before crossing the Jordan, Joshua tells the people to consecrate themselves (or sanctify themselves) because "tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you." When something is consecrated, or sanctified for a purpose or use, it is set apart and made available strictly for that use. Joshua is telling the people to cleanse themselves of all else, to set themselves apart for God's work and purposes, to be simply available for His use.

That is our job. To be available. To be surrendered. And to obey and rest. God does the work. He always has. In fact, the time Moses got in trouble was when he, in anger, worked from the flesh and not the leading and struck the rock. It was a costly move for him!

When we are doing God's work (or, He is doing His work through us) His full resources are at work. We do not need to worry or be anxious, but rather we can rest in peace and joy. (It is amazing how hard it is for us to rest!) In doing God's work, we might be physically working hard, but the real work, and the movement of the impossible, is God's to do. We can't, and we  must rest in that He will and depend and count on that. Now, if we aren't sanctified (set apart) and doing His work, obeying Him, then we can't rest or count on that because we are on our own. But, when we are surrendered and obeying then we are colaboring with the One who parts oceans and topples the walls of the fortified cities of our enemies and "does wonders among us." And that is a great partnership to be in!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Commanded to be Strong and Courageous . . .

Our family has been looking at Joshua for Family Worship time in the mornings, and I find that in the first nine verses of Joshua 1 we have many keys to the Christian life. I know that this is a long post (probably my longest to date), but I believe it is well worth pouring a good cup of coffee and curling up with. (I would value feedback for the future—when a post needs to be longer, do you prefer it in one shot for you to break up and digest on your own, or would you rather I break it up in to multiple posts?)

After Moses' death God commissions Joshua to lead the people into the land He has promised them and their fathers. Three times in those nine verses He commands Joshua to be strong and courageous, and tells him not to be frightened or dismayed. In other words, He tells Joshua that, despite what lies ahead and its seeming insurmountable obstacles (wide rivers, huge cities, fortified people, leading a bunch of grumblers, etc.), Joshua is to not be afraid, he is not to feel hopeless, he is to be in faith, he is not to doubt, he is to rest and not be anxious, he is to have peace. How? How is this seeming impossible command fulfilled?

1) Doing God’s Work: The first key is that Joshua will be doing what God has told him to do. Joshua is not running off on his own work or mission—he is obeying God, doing God's work, surrendered to God's call—not living by his flesh or feelings or good intentions, but by surrender and obedience. When we are confident we are doing God's work, we can be confident God is doing it through us, and that means that all He is and has are at work with us, and through us.

(There is an important caveat here—Joshua was responding to God’s direct command. He would have been, in a sense, “correct” if he tried to cross the Jordan or take Jericho by his own plan or strength because he would be trying to take the land God wanted them to take, but wrong because He didn’t do it God’s way. Similarly, in Acts 16 Paul would have been fulfilling God's commission to "go in to all the world" had he gone to the regions he wanted to, but been wrong since God's Spirit was telling him a different course. Just think of the problems Abraham caused when, in good intentions, he tried to "help" God's plan by doing it his own way! Intimacy with God and time for Him to lead us and speak to us is paramount, or our best intentions will be fruitless because, apart from Him, we can do nothing. We need to make sure we are as intimate with the author of the Word as we are with the Word He wrote, or we may fall in to the trap of believing we are in His will when we are not.)

2) Promises: The second key is that there are promises from God. God can not lie. He has promised them the land. By faith the land is already theirs (later in the story the commander of the Lord's army will say that God has already given Jericho to them, days before it ever physically fell). If God has promised something then it is done in His book—it is past tense to Him. It only awaits our faith and obedience to bring the life from the promise, and, in faith, we can stand on the promises He has given us.

3) Being OK with Not Knowing “How”: A third key is that there was nothing in any of God’s command that told Joshua how He (God) would take care of all the obstacles, simply that He would. Joshua was commanded to trust and be strong and courageous without any knowledge of how the promise would come to pass. How often do we remain anxious until we see HOW (the mechanics and plan and way) something will work out, instead of being at peace before it has?

For Joshua this will be a step by step obedience. He’ll get to a river, and then God will part it. He’ll get to a city, and then God will tell him how to take it. Step by step is usually, I find, how God will take us and carry us. Rarely will we know the end, or even the path, but rather we need to trust Him moment by moment and WALK by faith. Isn't this the heart of Proverbs 3:5–6 . . . that, as we trust Him, lean on His ways and not our understanding, and acknowledge Him in all things, He WILL direct our paths? Only the walk of faith—of completely trusting that promise—can take us ahead in these times.

4) Obedience to Word (and keeping the Word at the front): God gives Joshua another key in verses 7–8 when He says: . . . being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

There are two keys here—obedience to God’s Word in every area of our life (sanctification—being set apart for Him and His purposes), and keeping His Word at the forefront of our hearts and minds continually that we may know it and obey it.

5) God With Him: Finally—and this is the key to it all, provided the above things are met—the reason God says that Joshua can be strong and courageous is because God is with Him. He can be assured God is with him because all of the above points are fulfilled (he is doing what God asked and how God asked it, God has promised him, he is okay knowing it will be step by step, he knows and keeps God’s Word in every area of his life). That done, knowing God sent Him and God is with him is all he needs to know.

Read verses 5, 6, and 9 of Joshua 1 where God repeatedly assures Joshua that He will be with him. This is the assurance God ties in to His command to be strong and courageous and not to be frightened (unbelieving, faithless, fearful, not at peace) or dismayed (overwhelmed, anxious, hopeless).

"I will be with you." What more assuring words do we need to hear and know than that the Creator of the universe—the One who has shown us such love that He willingly died on a cross at our own hands for us—the One who has shown us such power that He rose from the dead though all the hosts of hell would have fought to keep Him down—is with us?

Are not these the same words He gave a fearful and doubting Moses in Exodus 3 when He commanded him to lead His people out of Egypt? There was no description of the plan, or how He would free millions of slaves from a powerful and harsh Pharoah. Of all the Israelites, Moses (having been raised in Pharoah's court) would have been most familiar with Pharoah's power, and that of Pharoah's magicians, and of the scope of the problem. For Moses, according to God, there was simply those two most precious and essential things that he, and we, must know—and that are, really, ALL he, and we, must know: "I have sent you, and I will be with you."

Interestingly, as in the case of Moses' knowledge of Pharoah, of all the Israelites save Caleb, Joshua (having been a spy in the land), would be most familiar with the obstacles before him and the scope of the enemy's strength. Doesn't it seem like, sometimes, God is more willing for us to see the size of the problem than He is to tell us how He will take care of it? I believe this is because it keeps us in faith and dependent, and not running on ahead in our own good intentions and ideas. The safest place in the Christian walk, and the most powerful, is the place of total faith, dependence, and surrender where we can truly say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ is living in and through me—and I live this life by faith."

Many years later, Jesus came bearing the name Immanuel, which means “God with us.” He came, encased in a human body, and walked among us. But then He left and said something better was coming. He would come to dwell in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Now, not only is God with us, but He is IN us. No wonder it is the "better” covenant, and no wonder God can say to us, "Be anxious for nothing"!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Set of the Sail . . .

Early in August I wrote a post called "The Wind and the Sail . . ." This must be my season to write about sailing metaphors . . .

Last week in Los Angeles I found an old hardcover biography of William Borden, first written in 1926, called "Borden of Yale '09". I was sharing it with Mary Ann the other evening and was drawn to the back cover. It has a line which reads, " 'tis the set of the sail, and not the gale that determines the way we go."

I found that really speaking to my heart. With the proper set of the sail you can even sail almost straight in to a strong wind. What that means to me is that God can be moving in a direction—strongly moving, in fact—and if my "sail" is not set to catch that wind I can move in a totally different direction. I can struggle and work and force my own direction and way, or I can set my "sail" to catch His wind and go in the direction it is blowing.

God has been talking to me a lot about surrender lately. About letting go, and just letting Him. Letting Him work His work through me. Letting Him carry my burdens. Letting Him take care of me. Simply laying down on the altar, a living sacrifice, saying, "Here I am, my precious Lord." I don't want to sail against His wind. I want to catch His wind and go with it—to travel with the Father's full force behind me and propelling me. To run with His wind and let it carry me. To quite striving, and start enjoying the joy and the peace that I know total surrender will bring, and yet which I find myself fighting against so much.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The "Normal" Christian Life

Does anyone else feel like we sometimes make things way too hard? . . .

As Mary Ann and I were praying last night it was like a veil was pulled away and I suddenly saw things with such clarity (things that sometimes seem so confusing). I don't know that I can capture them here in the simplicity and clarity with which I saw them, but I'll try. I preface this by saying that I know there is difficulty sometimes hearing (recognizing?) God's voice, and that we war with the flesh, but all that aside, I think we just make it too hard, too often, and we avoid the simple choice of surrender that would make it all clear through the change in our life.

When theology gets confusing to me I look at Jesus. He said that if we have seen Him we have seen the Father. He was the express image of the Father. What, then, should the Christian life look like? As a follower of Jesus, we probably ought to look at the One who is the root of the word "Christian"—the One we are supposed to be following (ever think how confusing we make the word "following" alone when it is really simple in its most obvious form?)—and see what He did.

1) He surrendered all of His rights. Philippans 2:5–8 tells us that Jesus did not hold on to His rights as God, but surrendered them. He humbled Himself and walked in obedience to the Father, to the point of death.

2) He walked and spoke only as the Father walked and spoke. He said repeatedly that His words were the Father's, and He did only what the Father was doing. He so emptied Himself that He even said He could do nothing apart from the Father. Therefore, if the Father wasn't working, He wasn't either—He did nothing on His own, apart from the Father. If He did any work it was completely the Father's work because He only did what the Father was doing.

3) He operated completely dependent on the Holy Spirit for power. He said that He cast out demons by the Holy Spirit, and Acts 10:38 says, ". . . God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."  (Underline mine.) He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power by God (He did not bring it with Him because He was God), and He did good and healed all who were oppressed because God was with Him (not because He was God). He so completely surrendered His rights and place as God that He lived completely dependent on God.

4) Because He surrendered all of Himself to God, God had all of Him. Hence, He was filled with the Holy Spirit and out of Him the Spirit flowed. Sickness fell away. The lost found love and grace. His words reverberated with authority. Demons cried out in His presence. Oceans bowed at His Words.

5) Why did Jesus have the success rate He did in healing, casting out demons, speaking to Creation, etc.? Maybe because He did only the Father's work, and when He did the Father's work the fullness of the Father's resources were with Him and behind it.

6) Was Jesus anxious for anything? It doesn't seem like it (except, in the Garden, when He faced separation from His Father). Why not be anxious? Because all He was, and all He did, was the Father's. He lived completely dependent on the Father and as such He was completely dependent on that which is perfect and unfailing. So, in utter dependence He found perfect sufficiency. (No wonder the world does not understand—it goes in total contradiction to the world which says in order to have peace we must be in control.)

So, if we are to have that mind in us which is ours in Christ Jesus, and look to Jesus for the model of what the "normal" Christian life should look like, we find a life that completely surrendered its own rights. This life lived completely dependent on the anointing and power of God to accomplish anything of eternal worth. This life walked in intimacy with the Father and did and spoke only what the Father did and spoke.

What is the result of that life? Tremendous fruit; tremendous intimacy with the Father; tremendous power; tremendous rest; tremendous peace (even in the midst of storms); and tremendous glorification of the Father because, when the world saw Jesus, they saw the Father in Him because He had surrendered Himself so the Father could live completely through Him. (I tend to think that Jesus had tremendous joy as well. Hebrews 1:9 says that of the Son the Father says: You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions. And, He said, He was leaving His joy for us—you can't give what you don't have.)

Yes, I know that we still sin and Jesus didn't deal with sin in His life. But we have the utter and complete sufficiency of the cross as its payment, and the promise of 1 John 1:9 which tells us that when we confess that sin we are completely forgiven and cleansed of ALL unrighteousness. So, if we keep a short account with God, that keeps us very close to Christ.

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit will only flow out of what He fills. And, He can't fill what isn't surrendered (or given) to Him to fill. So, for the promise of rivers of living water flowing out of us to be fulfilled in us, we need to be filled. To be filled we first must be surrendered and emptied. Might the reason we lack joy and peace and the other fruits and products of the Spirit be because we have not surrendered so that the Spirit which brings those can fill us? Might the reverse be that, the more we surrender and empty ourselves, the more the Holy Spirit will fill us, empowering us and bringing with Him the joy and peace He produces?

For a look at the Christian life from other angles, I suggest reading:
"Surrender" is a Beautiful Word . . .
The Wind and the Sail . . .

I also suggest visiting Pearl's blog, Be Thus Minded, which you can access through my Links page. The things she shares have been what God has been using to move me in to a greater understanding of the true Christian life as God intends it, and Jesus models it.

A Note on Daniel: I was asked to elaborate on what I meant in my post "A Sacred Moment . . ." when I said, "I told Daniel what the Holy Spirit's voice will sound like as opposed to Satan's." Without getting into the bigger picture of God's voice, I will just say that what I shared with him was what I felt God was giving me for him, specifically, at that moment. He battled with the idea that he was crazy, and based on his confessions in prayer he felt the weight of a lot in his past. I don't remember my exact words, but they were something to the effect that if he hears voices telling him he is crazy, a loser, lost, bad, (or condemning voices), etc., that those are not the voices of God, and that he should rebuke them in Jesus' name and state emphatically that he is God's child, a child of the King, set apart by God, sealed by God's Spirit, and that they don't have authority over him any more (and to break any agreements he made with them). I told him that the Holy Spirit may speak to him about things he is doing wrong, but that it will be to teach and grow and protect him, and that it will be a voice of gentleness and love, because God loves him deeply.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Sacred Moment . . .

I am in Los Angeles visiting family (please pray for our trip home tomorrow). I had, this morning, a sacred moment down here which I wanted to share . . .

I took a walk up a street this morning to a hardware store to get some tools for a project at the home we are staying at. I don't remember consciously asking God for an encounter on the walk, but I have been studying a lot about the surrendered life and simply letting Jesus live through me. I was so caught off guard by what happened next that I don't even remember the exact order, or details.

I was on a corner with some other people (it was a bus stop). I think I was waiting to cross the street. I don't even remember if I noticed the heavy set, sort of dirty man on the low cement wall a little behind me or not. I may have smiled at him as I went past, but I don't remember. All I know is that he asked me if I would pray for him. He had a Bible with him and I had a little trouble understanding him, and I thought maybe he was asking if he could pray for me. But when I went to him and leaned closer and apologized for not hearing what he had asked, he asked if I could pray for him. He then began telling about how he ended up at that spot and was staring at a fire truck across the street and he didn't know why it was there (it had some meaning to him). He asked how he could know how to be in heaven and he said that I looked like a man who could help him.

I have to say that I was caught so unexpectedly that I was not sure what to make of it, but I soon began to realize it was a divine encounter. I had a decision and, while a part of me wanted to move past and on my errand, I remember thinking that it was likely that Jesus wanted to use me—to be Himself through me to this man. I thought, "This is what I have been studying about. Simply resting and surrendering and being available!"

I stood next to the man and listened to him, sometimes having to ask him to repeat himself. It became clear he was seeking spiritual truth and that, while he'd had some church background somewhere in the past, he was confused and needed answers.

I ended up sitting down next to him on the wall he was sitting on. We talked as the traffic and people went past. His name is Daniel, and he says that people have told him he's crazy. He has started to believe it. I told him that Jesus was bigger than all that and that Jesus could take care of him and set him free, no matter what was at work.

I explained the Gospel to him, and shared about what it means to not just say some prayer, but to surrender our life to Jesus' Lordship. I talked about faith instead of works for salvation. We talked about God's Word, and about Jesus' power, and about Satan's attacks. He then, almost abruptly, said he wanted Jesus and he bowed his head and prayed. He did great! I didn't need to coach or anything, he just poured out his heart to Jesus, asked Jesus' forgiveness, told Jesus he was sorry about things he'd done, and asked Him in to his life. At one point, while he was doing that, he cried out real loud, "Jesus, come in!" I had my head bowed, but I am sure that if I was looking around I'd have seen the people around us at the bus stop all looking and maybe stepping back. I chuckled and told him, "Daniel, you don't need to yell. Jesus has good ears."

When he was done I put my hand on him and prayed over him. I asked Jesus to pour out upon him, and for His power to come against anything wrong with Daniel or attacking Daniel, and to lead him in truth and to help him find a wonderful circle of Christian friends and church. (It bothered me how afraid I found myself as I prayed of how churches would react when he walked in with his dirty clothes and hard to understand speech . . . it is sad to think how many Christians, myself included, often judge or avoid those who drew close to Jesus).

Before I left, I told Daniel what the Holy Spirit's voice will sound like as opposed to Satan's. I taught him about responding to the enemy's voice in authority, and about reading God's Word to learn to recognize God's voice—about finding a good church—and some other stuff. I asked him how he'd ended up in that spot and he said he'd come there to pray (he lives down the street in a boarding house). He said he'd stopped in that spot because the homeless people farther up the street didn't want him there. I told him that I thought God had stopped him there so we could meet and he lit up and smiled and said something to the effect of, "Yeah! I think so, too!"

It was a sacred moment. I can't explain the radiance in my heart and the moment. I hadn't done a thing to bring it about, other than, maybe, being available. I was walking down the street in a town not even my own and a man, out of the blue, asked me to pray for him as I walked past. A man confused and seeking and wanting to know about heaven. A man who looked like the kind you often walk around and hope they don't talk to you. A man who, for some reason, thought I, of all the people passing by, looked like a man who could help him.

I can't explain the moment in any words that are adequate. I share it only because this is my personal blog, and this is my place to share about me and my life and my God, and because if you read my blog you probably care about these things and about me. It was truly amazing to be walking down the street, and 15 minutes later to be leading a new brother to Christ on the corner of a busy intersection, surrounded by people going in and out of a business and waiting for a bus. I don't know how to capture it. It was holy. Even as he yelled out loud I didn't mind. God was there and He was moving.

As I left and walked on my way I marveled. Then, I started to doubt—the voices coming in telling me he was just making me his next mark . . . but then I realized he'd not asked me for a thing, other than prayer and answers. He hadn't told me he needed anything, other than assurance. He hadn't even shared that he lived in a boarding house down the street until I'd asked.

I looked for Daniel on my way back, to just give him a hug, but he was gone. I realize I love Daniel in a strange way. I miss him already. He is my brother. He came to Jesus . . . on a street corner . . . holding his Bible like a treasured possession . . . shirt and pants dirty . . . humbly and simply praying in a prayer so beautiful it made my heart sing . . . and he looked up when he was done with such a smile and an eagerness to read His Bible and do the things I suggested to him.

If you are a Christian, you have a new brother. His name is Daniel. Please pray for him. I stand in awe at my awesome God. If this is what it means to live surrendered and available, resting in God and not striving, simply being there for Him to use, then I want more of it.


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