Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Greater Wisdom . . .

(I want to preface what I am about to write by saying that I believe we too often "blame" God for what is simply the work of the enemy and part of the enemy's attack. I believe that the Bible makes it clear that we have a real enemy; that we are in a real spiritual war; that our choices and the choices of others affect us in ways that are not always God's first desire for us; that it is the devil who comes to steal, kill, and destroy; and that we often need to fight harder, intercede more strongly, and walk in greater faith and authority to see some of the victories we want and need. I strongly believe that while can work through any situation we surrender to Him, He also allows us our choices, and that much of what we accept as "God's will" for our life is not at all from Him or His first desire for us, but rather a result of the fallen world we live in, the war we are engaged in, and choices we make. With that said, today I saw something neat about a time I didn't get what I wanted, and that I do believe God was working a greater result out in . . .)

This morning we were blessed to be able to spend a few minutes on our front deck. The sun was out, the hills were beautiful and green, the flowers were vivid, the sky was a deep blue, and the coffee was hot and good. Mary Ann and I sat in two green rocking chairs we'd been given for our wedding, and the girls were sitting on the rocks enjoying the warm sun as Mary Ann and I talked and went over some stuff. Abigail was looking at a Sleeping Beauty book she had been given last night, and Bethany was reading and doing some homework she needed to catch up on. It was a special moment, and I took a picture of it to share it with you.

As we sat there the entire region was awakened by something fairly common around here—the almost deafening roar of some fighter planes practicing over Fort Hunter Liggett just to our north. It is the sound of freedom, and I love it.

I looked up and saw those planes dogfighting in the sky—banking and turning and screaming across the wide expanse. It stirs something in me very deep because, you see, that had been my dream . . . to be a jet fighter pilot. I remember to this day walking with my dad by the ocean once when I was probably about ten and him asking what I wanted to be and my replying, "A single-seater jet fighter pilot." I carried that dream up to the day when I realized my eyes were not good enough. I then went to West Point wanting to fly attack helicopters, and while I was there my eyes slipped out of Army flight school standards. So . . . I chose tanks and ended up at Fort Ord, CA, near my folks and hometown, and there I met Mary Ann and the rest is, as they say, "history."

As I sat on our deck this morning looking up wistfully at those jets so free and fast and untethered above me I glanced back down to earth and there my eyes rested on my beautiful wife, my amazing two girls, and this land in the country God has given us. I realized in that moment that if God had given me what was above (the planes) I would never have had those things in front of me (my wife, my girls, my calling as a pastor) and I realized that, while I would still love even 15 minutes in one of those jets, I wouldn't trade them for my family or job in a million years, and I am so very, very grateful I didn't get what I wanted.

Monday, April 26, 2010

17 Years . . .

This Saturday Mary Ann and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. As I tell her often, "If God lined up all the women in the world and told me I could pick any one I'd walk up and down the line and not stop until I'd found you again." She is my bride, my best friend, my "buddy," my pal, my partner. I can't imagine my life without her, and I think she is the greatest wife I could ever have, and the greatest mom our girls could ever have.

This is not to say we have not had, or don't still have (or won't again have), struggles, rough times, disagreements, but with all of that I would do it again in a heart beat. As I look back on these years there are a few things that stand out in my heart:

1) God—not some generic "god," but the Christian Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is what has carried us through and made us what we are. I can not thank Him and Mary Ann enough for the day when we sat in Pastor Bill Holdridge's office at Calvary Chapel in Monterey. We were engaged, deeply in love, and I was seeking God, but I wasn't a Christian . . . and Bill knew it. He had Mary Ann read the unequally yoked passage in 2 Corinthians 6:14. She got part way through and, with tears, turned to me and said that she would wait as long as it took, but she couldn't marry me until I became a Christian. I can not describe the anger and hurt I felt, nor, for Mary Ann, what a wrenching decision that was for her to choose to love God more than me. But, it was a catalyst to my seeking the truth about the man called Jesus until I found it . . . and it was the greatest moment of my life to date. I can not imagine if I had entered that marriage not being a Christian, and how much we would have missed together at a level it is impossible to share apart from that spiritual union.

2) Time together—making our relationship a priority—has been a rock of our relationship. I grew up watching my folks end each day after work taking an hour long cup of coffee together and sharing and catching up. Mary Ann and I have made our "coffee time" a priority that we don't let a lot get in the way of. I believe that has contributed deeply to our friendship, and I find that it is the time of day I look forward to most. In fact, given a choice with going anywhere in the world, but not having Mary Ann with me, or being with Mary Ann sharing a cup of coffee by our fireplace or on our screen porch, and I would choose the time with her every time (unless we felt God was calling me to go somewhere). In fact, I can't think of really anything that we would rather do apart than doing something together—be it stringing barbed wire on our fence, or going through papers and filing. We just love to be together.

3) Choosing love—by God's grace and help I believe that choosing to love the other over ourself has proven the turning point in many a difficult moment. Love is a force which God is all about and all over. He just comes in to its midst. When we choose to love the other more than ourself or our own flesh or rights or emotions, we have come well past half way in turning a situation around.

I could write for days on end about my marriage to my best friend, but I think I've said enough. Nothing I have written in any way says that other marriages with different choices are any less loving or true than ours—I am just sharing from a joyous heart a little about ours. Mary Ann has loved me, supported me, upheld me, and been God's voice to me more times than I can count—and I thank God for her more times than I can count as well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Not about Them and Me . . .

Over the last few months I have been studying and teaching on Jesus' commands to love our neighbors as ourselves—and, as He says in another verse, to love others as He has loved us. As I have studied this I am more and more coming to realize that my loving someone else is not about me and them, but about me and God. This is hard because (especially when someone has hurt me) I want to justify my love or response or action (or lack of any of these) toward them by their action toward me. But God doesn't give me that room. . .

The more I read through the New Testament the more I see the solitary nature of this love and how verse after verse basically says that if I love God, I will love them. I want to cry out to Him, "But God, don't you see how they are acting, or how they don't even admit their wrong, or how they will take it for granted, or . . .?" It is like He says, "Yes. I do. Now, do you love me?" When I answer, "Yes, I do," He says, "Then love them."

"But . . . , but . . ." to which I again hear, "Do you love me?" to which I answer, "Yes," and to which He then, again, says, "Then love them."

This is both freeing and constraining at the same time. Freeing in that I can love someone who is very unlovable because I am loving them for Him, not them. Constraining in that I can't use their actions to justify not loving them—I can't give myself that way out.

The more I spend time on this, the more I realize that it can't be any other way. When I love another the way He calls me to it is costly, sacrificial, not about my rights, not about their action, not about their response . . . and that is exactly how He has loved every one of us. He FIRST loved us. He loved us when we were still His ENEMIES. He forgave us when we were unrepentant. His love cost Him everything. He laid down His rights to love us. He humbled Himself to love us. He has met our needs at every level—spiritual, emotional, and physical—He didn't just "pray for us" and wish us well.

When we look at the costly love He calls us to love others with, and when we read about the love the early church had for one another in Acts and the Epistles, we realize that this amazing level of love is simply a love He has already loved us with. He is simply calling us to love others the way He loved (and loves) us. So, it really has to be that way if we want to be the image and fragrance of Christ. Everything He did for us—salvation, healing, deliverance—all came from, first, love . . . and He reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we can have all the spiritual gifts and Christian charity, but if we don't have love we have nothing. But, when we operate in love toward friends, and enemies, we truly take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him. We truly become His fragrance and I believe that He comes in all over that and loves hanging out in the presence of love.

I understand, and need to state, that a persons response to our love may dictate and affect our physical expression of that love—and that situations may require withdrawing from an environment that is, say, abusive—but the heart side of love is not about them, it is about us and God. He reminds us that even the lost love their friends . . . it is the fragrance and presence of Christ to love an enemy and it is that type of love the world desperately needs to see if it is going to recognize Jesus. The world has enough of itself—it needs something out of this world—and the love of Christ, through us, that is radically contrary to its ways and values, is where it all begins.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Adoration Night, Easter, and Some Pictures . . .

Note: These pictures have nothing to do with Adoration Night, but they were too wonderful not to share. They come from our homeschool field trip to Carrizo Plains (near California Valley) a couple of weeks ago. Mary Ann and I absolutely love the picture of Bethany and Abigail running in the field of flowers . . . of course we are both big "Little House on the Prairie" fans so that may have something to do with it!

Last night—Good Friday—we had "Adoration Night" in our home. We had done a similar thing in the week before Christmas in which we set a night aside and invited anyone in the fellowship who wanted to come to join us for a time of simply "adoring" Him. It wasn't a time to focus on us, or our own needs, but simply on Him. For the Christmas one our living room was full. Last night, about 7:15, we realized it would be just us. We poured some coffee and gathered our two girls and sat on the floor in front of the fire in our wood stove. It was a wonderful, beautiful, precious evening.

We began with talking about the love Jesus showed us on the cross—a love that was given when we didn't return or receive it. We talked about how that applies in loving others for Christ—how He gives us the example of loving when it isn't returned, and then asks us to love others that same way. It is the love He showed us, and the love He calls us to model in our lives to others. Over and over I am stumbling on to the amazing fact that everything He calls us to do in our life, He has already done in His. We love others the way He loved us. We take up our cross the way He took up His. We serve others the way He served us. Maybe that is why we are called to imitate Him . . . because He has already done Himself everything He asks us to do.

We then read from my Bible the account of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. About half way through it Abigail gets out of my lap and goes over to their play area and gets her own child's Bible. She turns to the page with Jesus before Pilate and asks me to read from hers, too. There was something very precious and tender in that.

We talked about the trial, we talked about Satan and God, we talked about God's plan, about how Jesus gave His life (it wasn't taken from Him), and then we read Jesus' words, "It is finished." I asked the girls, "What is finished?" and both replied with their own wording of Jesus' paying for our sins. We then talked about how complete that is and how God's love for us, and our security in that love, can never be doubted because of the cross and the finality of those words, "It is finished."

When we were done we brought the communion elements over by the fire and remembered His body, broken and lashed and beaten and pierced for our sins, for our peace, and for our healing. We talked about His blood poured out for a New Covenant, one in which our relationship with God is based on what Jesus did and not on what we do, and how wonderfully secure that is. We then took communion.

Intermixed in all of the evening were spontaneous songs of worship and praise, sung clumsily but with love and gratitude—as well as prayers of thankfulness. By the time we tucked our two little precious ones in to bed about 8:45 we both knew that it had been a sweet, wonderful, special evening, and we thanked God for it.

Happy Easter: Many of you readers who have signed up for email notifications of new posts will not receive this until tomorrow morning—Easter. I wish you a most blessed of all days as you focus on His resurrection. I posted the following on my Facebook page today, and I wanted to repeat it here for you, "Have you ever thought how, if Jesus hadn't risen from the grave, we could only sing ABOUT Jesus, we couldn't sing TO Jesus? The resurrection not only gave life back to Jesus, but it gives life to our faith as well. I can't imagine my life without that truth . . ."

The other night at a "revival" in town I found myself in the middle of some very refreshing and exuberant worship and I suddenly, for a moment, had a glimpse of how very empty and dead the same words of the song would be if His bones were in a grave people visited, and He was not a living God. It is such a simple, but stunning thought . . . I could only sing about Him, I couldn't sing to Him. The ramifications and extensions of that are enough to reflect on for a lifetime—and it makes all the difference in the world . . .

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Walking in Faith . . .

On Monday night I had the privilege of sharing at Live Oak Christian Church in Paso Robles for the first night of their Holy Week revival meetings. I was really blessed to be able to address believers, and finally put together in to one teaching the different threads of walking in faith that I believe God has been showing me over the recent couple of years. It was actually hard to cut it down to the length it ended up because of the overflow of verses and examples I felt God has opened my eyes to, but I believe the teaching ended up as a good summary.

As I shared with the fellowship I pastor in an email I sent out, "Revival is an interesting word. I believe that we often associate it with evangelistic outreach—the lost coming to know Jesus—but the truth is that you have to have something to be revived back to it." I share in this teaching that I believe revival begins with God's children, and that walking in faith is a core of establishing that place where His presence comes in and settles, bringing about an awakening to Him that we and the regions around us desperately need.

I believe God led me in this teaching, and worked through me as I prepared and delivered it, and I believe that you would be blessed listening to it. I know the things He has shown me about walking in faith, which I try and convey in this teaching, have changed my life.

Walking in faith (not just relegating faith to some "thing" we had at a conversion moment) is possibly the second greatest practice a believer can have—coming just behind love. If you would like to listen to it, the link is below. If you click on it, it should start playing (depending on how your browser is configured). Or, you can cut and paste it in to a URL window and it should begin playing. Or, you can right click on it and save the file to your hard drive. Either way, should you listen to it, I'd love to hear your comments and thoughts and what God shows you in it. I know that I can always grow closer and closer to truth, and I believe He gives us each other to help us on that journey. God bless you, and your walk! files/erliveoakwalkinginfaith032910.mp3


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