Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Real Life" or the Bible?

When teaching, be it adults, children, or youth, there seems to often be this false dichotomy that we either teach Scripture, or we teach "real life." (I use the expression "real life" the way some people talk about it, as if God and the Bible are something for Sunday and funerals and hard times, but that aren't relevant in the "real and immediate" day to day "real" stuff that presses in on us.)

The separation of Scripture and "real life" by teachers teaching any age group is a tragic error which perpetuates this trend toward doing our "church stuff," and then doing our other "life" stuff. To reference my last post, I think that this, also, has to do with a false understanding of the Gospel, and an emphasis on salvation and heaven at the expense of the Kingdom calling and war we are in.

It strikes me that in life too many people have God and church things as one of many spokes on the wheel of their life—with themselves being the hub about which all the spokes revolve. Intentionally or unintentionally, when we draw distinctions, or unBiblical separations, between Scripture and "real life" we only fuel this—and for youth determining where they will build the foundations of their life it cripples the Bible's chances of being that foundation because they don't see its relevance, and hence have no choice but to trust science, doctors, psychologists, teachers, etc., more than God and the Bible for non-religious things.

Rather, I believe that all Scripture study should end at "real life," and that all "real life" discussions should end at Scripture. We need a radical shift in which God moves to the hub of the wheel of our life, and all of our spokes revolve around Him.

There is no part of our life which Scripture should not give us insight in to, and which God should not be our source for dealing with. Be it depression, financial issues, job decisions, voting, etc., God provides our insight, our world view, our strength, and our answer. If we look at Scripture in the right way, we are hard pressed to find parts of it that don't have solid application in to our life—from practical instructions, to deeper insight about the character and nature of God that strengthen our faith we walk by. Likewise, if we look at "real life" properly, there is no part of it that God and the Bible shouldn't be our ultimate answer and perspective on, and strength we rely on and draw from going through.

There is no greater evidence of God's activity and relevance in our life than Jesus walking among us. He made us, He understands us, He faced the same temptations as us, He ate the same food as us, He got tired like us, He needed money like us—on and on and on. God is very interested in every part of our life, and every part of our life we try and "solve" apart from Him is a part we make a grave, and very costly error in.

It is no wonder that we have generations falling away from the church when we teach, and live, like there is the "God stuff" and then there is "real life." How can we wonder why generations are rising up that see scientists and teachers and doctors as the be all, end all of wisdom for anything not directly and overtly "religious" and "spiritual"? How can we truly find solutions that are eternal apart from the One who made eternity? It is truly a very grave, serious, even deadly error to allow ourselves to separate God and "real life"—and an even more serious error if we teach or model that to others. All Scripture study should end at "real life," and all "real life" discussions should end at Scripture.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Doing Wrong, and Not Doing Right . . .

Note: The following thoughts are observations and reflections from my life, my study, my talking to other pastors, my reading the Word, and my observing the church in America through conversation, reading, news, etc. They are not aimed at any one person. All, some, or none of it may apply to you. Take what, if any, does, and discard the rest—receive it as an invitation, not a condemnation . . .

I observed recently a person who was aware of someone near them that was frustrated and having a hard time emotionally. While the person who was aware of it was not actually doing anything unkind to the person having the hard time—they also weren’t seeking initiative to bless that someone else, or ways to show love to that someone else (and they were in a position to do so with a little cost and effort to themselves). In fact, they weren’t doing anything at all. That led me down the following road of thought . . .

If I were to say about someone, “that person is not doing what is right,” I think that many people would automatically assume the person I was talking about was actively doing something wrong. I don’t think, however, that this is the issue with many Christians. I think the issue is often that while we may not be doing “wrong” things, we are also not doing the right things. We are sort of existing, maybe even self-focused. Christian victory often seems to be seen as avoiding bad things and surviving through the day, week, year, and life instead of actively advancing the Kingdom and doing the works of Jesus (in love, service, witness, power, etc.).

James 4:17 says: So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. Avoiding bad things is not enough. We are to be doing good things. This is not legalistic earning of salvation or love—it is the fruit of a repentant, redeemed life born again of the Spirit, in surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, and committed to following Him in the truest, most simple sense of the word “follow” (to “follow” means to do what they are doing and to go where they are going—at least that’s what it seems to me).

For example—it is not enough to simply not be mean to someone. Jesus says we are to love them, and that is an active word. We are to be the ones to seek reconciliation. We are to be the ones to reach out. We are to be the ones to initiate love, and the first to forgive. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus—His fragrance in their life.

Jesus said in Matt 25:41-45, "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' “ There is nothing in there chastising and warning them about doing bad things . . . it is all about not doing the good things!

Jesus told us that we, as believers, would do greater works than He, and that the signs that would follow us as we fulfill His commission to us would include healing the sick and casting out demons. While I recognize that all of our situations are different, and that we can’t minister to every need around us, and that we need to follow the Spirit’s leading and work where God is at work—the reality is that the New Testament is as much, if not more, filled with what we ought to be doing as born again believers as it is about what we shouldn’t be doing.

I am in the middle of a personal study on the Kingdom of God that I believe will transition in the near future to possibly the most important series I have ever taught. I have to come realize that if we were to ask most western Christians what the Gospel is, a large number of them would probably reply with an answer limited to sin, the cross, repentance and forgiveness, ending in salvation and heaven. This, however, is not the Gospel that John the Baptist declared, Jesus taught, or the Apostles carried forth with. Their’s was the Gospel of the Kingdom—the cross and salvation was the entry point to it. They taught a message of the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God) coming down and forcibly advancing—of the King’s dominion/rule (kingdom) coming over those previously under Satan’s dominion (the prince of this world). Jesus would tell His disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons and to tell the people the Kingdom of Heaven was there. He would say that if He cast a demon out of a person by the Spirit (or finger in other translations) of God that the Kingdom of God had come upon that person.

I can’t even begin to capture the Kingdom message in this short post, but I will put up links to the audio teachings when I start it. Suffice to say that the Kingdom message is a message of a forcibly advancing Kingdom warring against a demonic kingdom that holds the world in its sway. That is what was taught, and what we are told to preach. The Kingdom is what Jesus declared and taught during His ministry, it is what He taught in the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension to start the book of Acts (1:3), and it is the last thing we find recorded Paul teaching on from under guard in Rome at the end of Acts (28:30–31).

I believe that the problem with the Gospel as we have watered it down to is that there is no concept for Lordship outside of Kingdom. We seem to have watered it down to saying the right prayer and getting saved so we can go to heaven. When that is the high mark of the message it leaves us “getting saved” (having achieved the high point) and then waiting around for the rapture or heaven, doing some Christian “stuff,” and hoping we don’t mess up too bad between now and then. But in the Kingdom message we find Lordship—submission to a King, and serving that King in a war with another kingdom. Christians should be the army of a forcibly advancing Kingdom in war, but too often we seem to be defensive, passively accepting demonic attacks with maybe a prayer thrown their way, or just trying to hold on to ground we have rather than seeking to expand the ground. We defend instead of taking the offensive, and the hosts of hell love it when we take up the castle mentality.

Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. Gates do not attack—they are attacked! This is not a verse about hell’s gates marching around and not being able to destroy or take the church—this is a verse about hell not being able to withstand the church’s attack! If we are to bear the image of Jesus in this world, and to this world, we need to be a people advancing—a people initiating—the people who are first and strongest in love, service, power, initiating, forgiving, looking for ways to bless others (including our enemies), etc.

The only way a person can sit still and truthfully say they are “following” someone is if the person they are following is also sitting still . . . and I can guarantee that Jesus is not sitting still in this time in history, with billions who don’t know the reality of hell and the awesome message of salvation, the Father’s love, and the advancing Kingdom of God. Jesus is on the offensive, and if we are following Him we will be to. Yes, of course we need quiet time—time to grow intimate with our Father and learn His voice—Jesus modeled that for us also. But, the bulk of His recorded ministry time is ministering and advancing from a place of intimacy with His Father—doing what He saw the Father doing, and saying what He heard the Father saying. These are all verbs . . . and, in His Words, if we are worthy of Him, we are to take up our cross daily, deny ourselves, and follow Him.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lesson from a Shotgun . . .

I shared the following example recently with the fellowship I pastor in a series I am currently teaching on faith as our antidote to fear. I wanted to share it here as well . . .

When I was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army I was a platoon leader of a Cavalry reconnaissance platoon. Shortly after the invasion of Panama in 1989 we shipped down there to do peacekeeping in the country (it was in need of it as we had dismantled much of their police and military, and criminal elements and remnants of Noriega's forces were running rampant in areas).

As an officer of a mounted unit (we had Humvees with machine guns on top) the only sidearm we were issued were 9mm pistols. This was the pre-Christian part of my life, and when another Lieutenant and I were uncomfortable with having only a pistol we got 12-Gauge shotguns to carry with us. The young men in my platoon would have fun teasing me about the shotgun, but when we went to a live fire training before deploying they watched it shred a hallway of cardboard targets. They still teased me about it . . . but it was funny because whenever we got in to a tight, dismounted situation in Panama I would look around and they were all hugging in close to the shotgun! In fact, in those situations, the shotgun became the weapon on point (in the lead), and everyone came in close behind it with their M16 rifles. (Today I thank God that I never had to use the shotgun on anything other than fake targets.)

I share this story for a reason. While the guys had fun teasing me about my shotgun—when things got scary and real they pulled in close to that shotgun because they had seen how awesome and powerful it was, and they had greater faith in it to take care of them than they did in their rifles. Prior to the live fire training we did, they probably wouldn't have had such faith in the shotgun—but after seeing what it did up close against the cardboard targets, they gave it the credit it was due, and as a result had great faith in it.

Romans 4:20-21 says of Abraham: No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Abraham grew strong in his faith AS he gave glory to God. I believe this means that as he glorified God, as he exalted God, and as he focused on God's greatness and worthiness, it increased his faith to where he had more confidence in God than in physical circumstances around him. Why? I believe because the greater we see the object of our faith, the greater our faith in it will be.

For example, if we stood over the same 200' gorge on either a modern, 4-lane, concrete and steel suspension bridge, or on a 150 year old, frayed, rope bridge, our faith that we would stay safe would probably be dramatically different in the two separate situations. Why—it is the same gorge in both instances? The answer is, because the object our faith is in is different. The steel bridge gives us a lot of reason to have faith in it—the old rope bridge doesn't. Likewise, the men in my platoon had seen my shotgun compared to their rifles in an up close situation and found they had greater faith in the shotgun. You see, faith has an object . . . and the greater our confidence in that object, the greater our faith will be.

So, if Abraham, faced with something God said was going to happen that the world said was physically impossible, grew strong in his faith as he glorified God, might we also grow stronger in our faith as we practice intentionally worshiping and glorifying God—as we habitually exalt and lift Him up to the highest place of awe and power and glory in our life? It is not that God gets any bigger as we do that, we just get reminded at the forefront of our mind about how big and awesome He is. Then, as the object of our faith (God) "increases" (in our perception), our faith increases proportionately.

The more we worship God and His awesome, holy majesty, the more we remind ourselves how great God is, and the greater our confidence in Him will be compared to our confidence in the world, man's wisdom, national forecasts, etc. Go out and stare at the stars and remind yourself there are billions of them in a galaxy, and billions of galaxies, and that He breathes them out and knows them all by name and measures them with the span of His hand. Practice intentionally worshiping and giving glory to God—like Abraham, your faith and peace and confidence in God will increase as you do.

Note: The photo is of me in Panama with one of the local kids who asked if he could polish our boots to earn money. One of my greatest joys down there was getting to know the kids and practicing my Spanish on them while they practiced their English on me. On my days off I would go into the villages and hang out with them. They would often take me to their homes where I got to meet their families and share meals with them (I remember one home with no back door on it—the chickens came in and out and walked around us in the house while we ate!). I truly fell in love with the people of that country, and view my time there as one of the best times in my life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

So Proud . . .

I just have a moment to post, but I wanted to share something timely with those who know our family . . .

Pride is, I know, a "bad" Christian word. But, I am really proud and blessed by my girls.

Last Friday was the last day of their first year of homeschool, and they both did so wonderfully! Yesterday we went to the promotion/graduation ceremony at Bethany's homeschool group (Calvary Christian School)—the group Abigail will be joining next year as a kindergartner as well. It was my first time at a graduation that was completely Christian, and I can not describe how amazing it was to be in an environment where fathers and mothers are able to pray for their children from the front, and where there was such a sense of "commissioning" a generation to go out as Godly young men and women in to a culture that is so opposite of it.

I was brought to tears by one father's address to his daughter who was graduating high school—he was speaking such Godly blessing over his Godly, sweet Spirited daughter who is a beautiful young woman after God's heart. He was in tears, we were in tears, and that was just a part of the night. Parent after parent of children graduating 6th grade, 8th grade, and 12th grade were able to come up to speak about and to their child, and the verses they read, and the qualities they praised, were so uplifting. While these students are all academically and socially very strong, what the parents chose to praise and speak over were their hearts for God. It was so clear that, to these parents, to raise a child to love God was the highest priority—and you could see that happening.

I am including a picture of Bethany with her 3rd grade promotion certificate, and of Abigail with the books she completed this year. I am so proud of them, of the work they accomplished, and of the character they are developing. I can not thank God enough for the chance to raise them with such strong, God-centered curriculum and focus, and for my amazing wife who has just done so much for them and done such an incredible job in what was often not the most easy of tasks. I thank the Lord for all of our friends and family and the people who have stood by us, encouraged us, seeded in to us, and believed in us—whether or not they agreed with our choice. I do not think there is another man more blessed on earth than I am—though many, many are certainly as blessed with their own personal joys. Thank You, Lord. Every good and perfect gift comes from You.

Note: I share this as a part of our life. As any of you know who know me, we help out at our local public school with softball, and many people in our fellowship work at the school. We are proud of that school and its staff and nothing—nothing—I say about our love of homeschooling is ever a slam or statement about our public school or parents or students or staff there. Each family is called to a different path, and I am thrilled by the Godly influences that are involved in our special school in Lockwood.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Pad of Paper . . .

I carry a yellow, lined pad of paper with me almost everywhere I go. That, along with a .5 mm mechanical pencil which is my "weapon" of choice. I really like that I can just click and no matter where I am I have instant, new, sharp lead—and a new eraser is just one swap away!

I carry my pad of paper because I am always thinking of something I want to write down (my problem is the stack of pads I have filled up that I need to go back through and sift!). I can't stand feeling like I forgot something God showed me, or lost an idea for a teaching or study I am doing, etc. Sometimes, if I can't write something down, I feel like I am working so hard to keep it in my mind that there is no room for new stuff!

Not to long ago I went to head to bed and left my pad of paper and pencil down stairs. I was part way to our bedroom, in that tired state when just going downstairs seems like running 10 miles, and thought, "I'll just leave it there." But then I thought, "What are you saying, Erick, that you don't expect to hear something from God worth recording?" It may seem silly, but it really caused me to pause and reflect in my thoughts. I realized that carrying that pad around was, in my own personal way, my faith statement to myself that I EXPECT to hear from God because I know that He wants to talk to me. I thought, "No. I am not going to give in to the tiredness and say I don't expect God to speak to me tonight." I then went downstairs and got it and put it next to the bed.

It was neat because just a couple of days later Bethany, out of the blue, comments to me, “I like how you carry your pad of paper everywhere.” With no prompting or thought my quick reply came, “That’s because I expect to hear great things from God!” I realized after saying what I did that this reply had been prepared, unknowingly, in my heart days before when I worked it through that tired night.

Now, I am not being legalistic and saying you should all carry yellow pads of paper everywhere—and I don't have stock in paper companies or mechanical pencil companies. But I would like to ask you, "What is your expectancy to hear from God?" I think that this is an important question. If we are born again through the Spirit, by Jesus' work on the cross, we are God's children. He loves us and He wants relationship with us. Sometimes the devil can maneuver our thoughts in to a place where we even doubt God would want to hang out with us, but the truth is that we are precious to Him. I encourage you to expect to hear from Him and to go through the day looking for how He might be trying to communicate to you. Look for encounters, Bible passages, conversations, incidents, "coincidences," etc. that He might be using to speak to you in and through. If we read the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke alone we see at least a half dozen ways God communicated in it alone—including through angels, dreams, prophecy, signs, and other people.

Obviously we need discernment, knowledge of God's Word and character, familiarity with God's "voice" gained through invested relationship with Him, and Godly counsel in determining what is from Him and what isn't—but we probably won't even try if we don't at first believe, and expect, He wants to talk with us and share His heart. Talking about the need to be born again of the Spirit, Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? I believe the Father wants to share with us heavenly things—and if we are born again, and abiding in Him, the primary obstacles to Him doing so have been removed.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's Been Awhile . . .

Hello, All. It has been awhile since my last post. Mary Ann and I were talking recently about how this season has been so busy it feels like our traditional November/December busy time, which we always think will end after December is over . . . what's that this new generation of people type, LOL (laugh out loud)?

I hope to blog a little more regularly in the future. I truly enjoy being able to share thoughts and things that God shows me. I miss the interaction with you readers, and I value what you have to say and share back.

We have had some really wonderful times in this last month. Mary Ann and I wrapped up coaching softball at the school Bethany used to attend. We will miss those kids. We started out with 52 signed up on the team (6th, 7th, and 8th-graders), and for most of the season the two of us worked with around 45 kids. It was really crazy, but fun, and a wonderful chance to shine some light and impact some lives. We went to the eighth-grade graduation at the school last night and we were blessed to realize that of the 22 (I think) kids who graduated, we had worked with probably 3/4 of them between Youth Group or softball or both.

One of the highlights of the last couple of weeks for our girls has been our acquisition of five chickens which we hope to starting getting fresh eggs from this fall. Within an hour of getting them I think that the girls had almost all of them named and held! It is fun to watch them running around, and today Mary Ann and the girls have begun the process of letting them out of their large pen and in to a part of the yard during the day. Maybe we'll finally see victory over the earwigs that torment our garden!

We had a really nice end of year party with our homeschool group on Monday, and next week they hold their promotion ceremony. It is hard to believe that we have finished our first year of homeschooling, but we are so glad that we did it and we intend to continue it next year. It was, at times, very hard for Mary Ann, but she did an amazing job and we are seeing such fruit from it! I can't explain the joy of teaching Bethany history, beginning with Creation, and knowing that she is getting a solid, truthful world view from the start! To be able to have lunch with your girls, and to read stories of missionaries with them during school, is a tremendous privilege. We are very blessed with the ability to do what we do, and to have still remained active with the school and kids in our area as well. This Friday is our "official" last day of school for Bethany and Abigail, and Bethany got a new bike and Abigail a new swim float to celebrate it and begin summer!

I am very excited about a study of the Kingdom of God (Heaven) that I believe God is leading me in for my personal study time. I believe that it will be shared one day in the near future with our fellowship, and that it has the potential to radically change how some of us see the world and our purpose and God's message. The Kingdom of God is really the message John the Baptist, and Jesus, and later Paul preached. Salvation was the entrance, but it was the Kingdom they preached. There is a sense that the Kingdom is already here, and a sense in which it is still coming, and that dynamic in-between place we live in makes for a very exciting place for us to be in. I believe that it is only in a Kingdom context that we can truly understand Lordship and purpose and the fact that we have a tremendous calling beyond just getting saved and then waiting for the rapture. We are representatives of a Kingdom at war with another kingdom, and whether or not we recognize it we are in the thick of it. I will keep you posted on how this develops, but I would truly treasure your prayers for me as I go through my study.Until the next post, God bless all of you, and please stay in touch. I value you and hearing from you. It is a wonderful encouragement to me.


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