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.


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