Sunday, May 29, 2011

Clouds . . .

A cloud picture I once took.
A cloud picture I once took.
A cloud picture I once took.
A cloud picture I once took.
This afternoon Mary Ann and I were sitting outside having a cup of coffee and huge, billowing white clouds were blowing by. I love looking at clouds. They fascinate me! These were especially beautiful as the sky was such a deep blue, and the new leaves of the oak trees such a vibrant green, that the clouds really stood out and made all the other colors stand out as well.

I wonder, how long has it been since you ever really thought about clouds, and stopped and just watched them. Truly, they are fascinating! Think about it—water weighs just over eight pounds per gallon . . . and those clouds hold sometimes thousands and thousands of gallons of water in them. Just picture the water that comes out of them during a good storm when you can get multiple inches of rain in a day or a weekend. And yet, at eight pounds a gallon (imagine trying to lift thousands of one-gallon water bottles!) it remains aloft, suspended in some form, floating above us!

I know that scientists can explain all of it, and they use all these technical reasons and words for it, but don’t let that steal from you the childlike simplicity and wonder of simply a cloud. If man had tried to invent a way to suspend thousands, or millions, of gallons of water above him can you imagine the size of the vessel, or container, it would require, and the amount of lift it would take to get it up there, let alone keep it up there or move it around?!

Yet, somehow, the water hangs up there, is blown about effortlessly by the wind, is visible and yet we can put our hand right through it, defies gravity, and is painted with amazing colors at sunset and sunrise. It is truly a miracle of design when you think about it. Sadly, many would have you believe that these, too, (just like they claim about you), are a chance product of accident with no intelligent design behind them. Maybe it is no wonder that God says we must come to Him as little children . . . when we get old we get the truth that is obvious to a child educated right out of us.

Take time, today, I encourage you, to simply stare up at clouds and marvel . . . and, if you need to do it through a window, stop for a moment and think of how amazing glass is also—that you can see completely through, without even noticing it, something that is totally solid, and yet totally invisible. A product of accident, or design? I don’t need to wonder. It is truly “clear” to me!

May God awaken in you today a renewed, childlike wonder at His creation and may you find your eyes and heart and hands lifted to Him in awe and worship.

Note: In my browser (I don't know about yours) you can click on one of the cloud pictures and it will take you to an enlarged version of the picture for you to enjoy. Then, simply click on the back arrow to return to the post.


The original book, when it was the
Dry Bones Youth Group (now it is the True
Life Youth Group).
Outdoor cooking fans, we need your help!

Normally I don't cross the line between this, my personal blog, and my place as the pastor and the youth leader of True Life Christian Fellowship, but Mary Ann and I are reprinting and expanding a fundraising book we did for our youth group about 10 years ago and I would value your help. The original book was filled with recipes, history, old photographs, historical anecdotes, and so much more. It was a real "treasure" as many of the photographs were never before published, and of the 15 people we interviewed for it, 10 have either moved or died since then.

Well, the book has been out of print for many, many years, and since so many people have asked for it (and our youth group needs funds!) we are going to reprint it and add about 60 new pages of photographs, history, and recipes. The emphasis of the recipe portion of this new section is going to be something our area loves to do—cook outdoors!

So, here's what I need—if I can get enough of you to help out, I would like to put in a couple of pages of outdoor cooking tips, tricks, and recipes from other parts of the country (or even the world). Would you consider, please, sending me your favorite outdoor cooking (BBQ, grilling, dutch oven, smoking, deep pit, etc.) recipe, tip, trick, etc. I think it would be so neat to give the book a flavor of what comes from other states and countries (and for the youth to see such support). I am not just looking for recipes, but also the tips and tricks and art of outdoor cooking. So, maybe it isn't you, but it is a family member who excels at this type of cooking. Would you consider sending me your, or their, recipe, tip, trick? It could be for the main course, or something else you grill (like veggies), or a special marinade or rub or seasoning.

You can send them to me in a comment. Remember to follow the comment process all the way through, including the verification step. There is a tab at the top of the blog that helps walk you through the comment process if you have trouble. Please include your name, and the region you are from (i.e., east Texas, central Oklahoma, etc.). If you have a little fun information about the recipe or tip to include I would value that (i.e., "My grandpa always made this on Veteran's Day and he got it from his father," etc.).

Thanks so much! I won't publish these comments, but I will post a comment thanking you. If you don't see that within a few days please try again. You can also try and send it to me at my email: emar (at) tcsn (dot) net. You can replace the words in it with the proper symbols, it is written like that to protect against computer spammers.

Note: This book is completely not for profit as True Life Christian Fellowship is a 501 (3) (c) organization. All money from the book goes to the youth group and helps make the outreach we do to local youth possible. You can learn more about the cookbook project by clicking here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

David's Cry: Part 5

David on the throne . . . a king who served The King!
Part 5 of 5 in a series on David’s cry to God in Psalm 89:26, “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.”
The risk of error in our walk with God, or in our sharing of God, is great if we do not have a full picture of God. I touched on this in Part 1, showing how if we only know God as grace, or if we only know Him as King and Lord, we can react too far in one direction or another and miss the fulness of who He is, and our relationship with Him.

Of course, we will never fully grasp who He is, or the magnificent depth of our relationship with Him, but David’s cry to God gives us a very good starting place to begin to see the full picture of who He is and our relationship with Him. It makes sense to study how David saw God because David was, by God’s own praise, a man after God’s own heart.

So, if we take each of the three separate aspects of God David expresses in this cry, as we did in parts 2–4, we start to see how:

1) Each one describes a part of God
2) Each one magnifies and gives detail to the others
3) Each one helps us understand our relationship with God
4) Each one is accurate . . . but not complete

What kind of God is God? He is a God who is our Father, and a God who loves us so much He died in our place to become the Rock of our Salvation!

What kind of a Father is He? He is one who is God—holy and mighty and ferocious and worthy of our awe and worship and obedience . . . and He is one who dies for His children, who lays His life down for His own.

What kind of relationship does He save us into? One with a Father to a child. And what kind of a Father is He? He is a perfect Father who is perfectly capable and perfectly love . . . He is God.

Back and forth we could go, showing how each one magnifies and clarifies the other, and gives us the balance. Each one pulls the other toward the center, full picture of God. If we understand each one it will keep us from taking any one of them too far in a direction it shouldn’t go. It is truly and amazing and succinct cry from David to God . . . one that, when meditated upon, opens our eyes in new ways.

Back and forth, each aspect helps flush out both the full picture, and the other parts of it . . .

. . . and that is the balance of how we are to walk out this Kingdom life, declaring and representing and carrying the reign and rule of God, who is supreme, our Father, who loves us and has relationship with us, and our Rock solid Savior, who makes us secure and confident and filled with authority as we go in His name.

I hope that you have enjoyed, and been blessed by, this series. I know that it has been a blessing to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

David's Cry: Part 4

David finishes off Goliath, showing to all the power of the living God of Israel!
Part 4 in a series of 5 on David’s cry to the Lord in Psalm 89:26, “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.”

My Father, my God . . . and the Rock of my Salvation! Wow, that last one is as laden with meaning and implications as the first two, and it gives tremendous completion to the picture of God, and our relationship with Him, that we see in this three-fold cry of David.

Salvation—to recognize this about God is to recognize that we need to be saved—that there is something to be saved from, and that we are not in a good place until we are. It is to realize that there is a chasm between us and God.

To recognize that HE is the Rock of our Salvation is to recognize that we can’t save ourself, and that there is nothing we can do of our own to present ourselves acceptable before Him. That recognition brings tremendous humility, and grace toward others who are just as flawed as we are.

Ultimately this recognition leads us to the cross where Jesus paid for our sins with His own life, and where God poured His wrath at sin upon His own Son in our place, satisfying His justice, so we might be united with Him forever through faith in that as enough for us.

United with Him in what kind of a relationship, though? If you only know Him as Savior you might not know how to relate to Him. But, that isn’t all we know Him as through David’s cry. What kind of relationship does He save us into? One with our God, who is our Father.

To meditate on God as the Rock of our Salvation reminds us that His salvation was a gift of His love, not earned of our performance, given when we were completely cut off and rebellious from Him. The implication of this is huge and the most freeing one we can have—if we didn’t earn that salvation, if it was a gift of His love, and He never changes, then we can’t lose it by messing up—it was a gift, not earned. If we’d “earned” it by our performance or religious duty—if we’d "saved ourself"—can you imagine the pressure and fear we would be under needing to continue to perform lest we mess up and lose our salvation? But, if we understand, as David did, that He saved us from His unchanging love for us, we understand the freedom and joy of that gift of salvation . . .

. . . and the realization of this brings us to a place of such gratitude to Him that we find our heart burning with love for Him and a desire to serve Him and give back to Him a fraction of what He has given us.

He is the ROCK of our Salvation—there is no more secure and firm word than that. In faith in Jesus as our Savior there is complete safety and security, and that is the rock we can confidently build our life upon and frame our joy and peace over.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

David's Cry: Part 3

David, standing alone in faith in His God, slings the stone at Goliath.
Part 3 of 5 in a series on David’s cry to God in Psalm 89:26, "You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation."

If “Father” (see Part 2) is the only way we, as Christians, know to see, and relate to, God, we would have a partial picture of Him and our relationship with Him, but one that can lead us into error if we rely only on it as we can tend to ignore, grow casual to, or even walk away from a father. But, that isn’t the only aspect of God we see in David’s cry to Him—to this man after God’s own heart He is our Father, and our God!

According to Strongs this Hebrew word for God here means strength—as an adjective it is mighty, especially the Almighty.

God. Let that word roll around in your mouth and mind for a bit—God.

He is God. He breathes out stars and spreads the stars and galaxies out as a tent within which He dwells. He knits us together in our mother’s womb. He is holy—completely set apart from all evil or imperfection.

He is just, and He has wrath toward sin and evil. There is nothing that compares to Him, nothing we can compare Him to—He is indescribable, uncontainable, and nothing ranks above Him or even near Him.

He speaks and worlds are formed, and in His very word is the power of to bring it to life and to pass. He spans a universe, and yet knows our every thought and the number of hairs on our head. He strikes dead anywhere from 70 to 50,000 men of Beth-shemesh (depending on how you interpret the Hebrew and what translation you use—see 1 Samuel 6:19–20) for looking upon the ark of the covenant, causing the people of the village to cry out, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?”

He is God—holy and pure and ferocious, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Alpha and the Omega, the One who descends upon the mountain in fire and smoke and a great dark cloud, and who causes the people of Israel to tremble in fear and to run from relationship with Him, preferring to let Moses do it.

He is God, and all this is true about Him, and He is worthy of our highest affection, our unashamed and unrestrained worship, our reverence, our service, our devotion, our deepest love. He is God, but . . .

. . . if that is all we know about Him we relate to Him only with fear, if we relate to Him at all. We do not draw close, but like Adam and Eve we hide from Him. If all we know of Him is as God, then we tremble and wait for His wrath to fall on us and to consume us in His holy fire.

But that isn’t all we know about Him, is it? What kind of a God is He? He is our Father. What kind of a Father is He? He is God. And thus, the picture starts to become a little more complete as we add another piece. This word “God,” like the word “Father,” is also worthy of hours and hours of our reflection and meditation upon, and as we do we will find that the word “Father” magnifies and gives detail to the word “God”, and the word “God” magnifies and gives detail to the word “Father.” Together they help us start to form an even more complete and accurate picture of both Him, and our relationship to Him, and it doesn’t end there. To David He is also the Rock of his salvation . . . and we will take a look at all of meaning and implications in that in Part 4.

Until then, may you find a renewed and awesome awakening to what it means to know Him as God. May you experience a deep and new realization of what He is like and what His glory and holiness are like. God bless you, and thanks for reading.


Monday, May 23, 2011

David's Cry: Part 2

David slaying a lion while protecting his father's sheep.
Part 2 of a 5 part series on Psalm 89:26   He shall cry to me, 'You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.'

Father . . . the word carries so much behind it. For many it is not a good word, bringing remembrance of maybe an absent father, an angry father, a father they were never good enough for, or . . . for others, like myself, it brings wonderful memories and associations to mind. But, whatever that word means to us in a human experience, when we consider a perfect father, we start to get a sense of how laden with meaning that word is when we identify it with God.

As a born again Christian, adopted through our faith in the work of Jesus in the cross as our salvation, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and we are adopted by God as His own children. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

We see the remarkable (actually stunning!) complete work of Jesus in our place—a work that gives us our adoption, and His righteousness and acceptance and standing before the Father—when we see that Jesus’ very own words of relationship with the Father becomes ours in our adoption. Mark 14:36 records Jesus addressing the Father:   And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. . . ." Then, Romans 8:14–17a (see, also, Galatians 4:4–7) says of us:  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . . .

Isn’t it stunning that Jesus relates to the Father with the same expression of love and relationship, “Abba, Father,” that we are given to relate to the Father with? That should give us such absolute, mind-rocking, comfort and assurance about how accepted we are by Him as His children.

Father—first, the word implies origin. If He is our Father we are from Him, and like Him, and that realization gives us great insight into the worth that we have, the value of each and every one of us. It also destroys the lie that our origin lies in a ancient pool of muck.

Then, the word “Father” implies we have a relationship with God and that He is not just some distant “force” or “it” or “person.” It implies we have relationship, and it gives form to that relationship—Father to child.

A father provides, protects, leads, counsels, corrects, and upholds his children. He is present in his children’s life and watches over them and guides them. David’s cry to God says that God is his Father, and He is ours as well as a Christian. It is an amazing, loaded, incredible word to describe God, and our relationship with God. It is a word, and a relationship, worthy of hours upon hours of our meditation and reflection on. But . . .

. . . if “Father” is the only way we know to relate to God then we run risks, because for many people there comes a time when they believe a father either “doesn’t know as much as them,” or that he is their equal. Or, there comes a time when he is taken for granted, or is seen with condescension, or is rebelled against without fear, or is not respected, or is broken away from to form one’s own life. So, if we know God only as Father, then we have a danger, and an incomplete picture of Him and our relationship with Him . . . but, that isn’t the only aspect of God we see in David’s cry to Him—to this man after God’s own heart He is our Father, and our God, and that is what we will look at in Part 3.

May the word “Father” excite in you, today, a wonderful new, or renewed, sense of His love for you and your relationship with Him.


David's Cry: Part 1

King David leaps and dances before the Ark of the Lord.
I would like to share, probably in five parts, some of what I shared with our youth group last week, and our fellowship on Sunday, about the need for proper balance and perspective in our view of God and His relationship with us. (See the note below about listening to it if you are interested.)

Proper balance and perspective in our view of God is, I believe, imperative if we are to walk out our unique place as His children, soldiers, and ambassadors in these days in which the Kingdom (or reign, or rule, or dominion) of God is breaking in around us, over us, and through us . . . but is clearly still not here in fullness, and won’t be until He comes back. Until it does, we are called to carry this good news of the Kingdom, to walk in its power, to share in His joy and the freedom of our salvation, and to bear His image, as citizens of one Kingdom in, and at war with, another.

Without proper perspective and balance in our view of God and our relationship with Him we can fall in to error and be crippled in our walk. If, for example, all we know is God’s grace, then we run the risk of taking that grace for granted, or not having reverence for God, and becoming like those Paul had to address who ended up using that grace and forgiveness as a license to sin. On the other hand, if all we know is His Kingship and Lordship and His holy attributes as God, we run the risk of living in fear of Him, feeling we need to always perform for Him, and maybe never feeling like we are safe with Him. We might, even, run from Him and not recognize the relationship with Him that is possible.

It is crucial that we have a balanced and Biblical understanding of God and our relationship with Him. To illustrate that to the youth, I had them break in to five groups and each describe a different aspect of the building we were in where our fellowship meets. One group described the outside, one the inside, one the activities that went on there, one how they felt there, and one the people who met and led there. I then showed them how any one or two or even three of those gave a partial picture and feel and sense of the building and what it embodied to someone who hadn’t seen it before, but it was only in the bringing together of all five that we got a true and full picture of the building and fellowship and what it meant.

Likewise, if we only know one aspect, or maybe two, of God then we have a partial, but not a full picture of Him and our relationship with Him. Granted we will never fully grasp God, but there is a verse which, I believe, captures the major essence of Him and our relationship with Him. It comes from David, a man after God’s own heart. With such a compliment given to him by God—one we would probably all love to have God attribute to us—I believe it bears studying how David saw God and related to God. The passage I refer to is from Psalm 89. Verse 20 makes it clear God is talking about David, and in verse 26 the Lord says of David, “"He shall cry to me, 'You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.' ' "

There is, in that one line, a beautiful and balanced picture of God and our relationship with Him, from a man after God’s own heart. My plan is to break each part of it down over the next three posts, and then to wrap it all together in a last one. I hope you enjoy it, and are blessed by it.

May you be deeply aware, today, of His love for you and nearness to you.

Note: If you would like to hear the teaching I gave on this whole subject, which will have, by far, more detail than this blog series, it should be up in a few days on our fellowship’s web page. You can click on the “About Me” link above, and scroll down to the link “Some Recent Teachings I Have Given (mp3)”. It will be called, “Kingdom of Heaven 15" and dated May 22, 2011.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Will God Say?

At this point, who hasn't heard of the rapture predictions for May 21st? From the Christians who believe it, to the Christians who don't and cringe at what ammunition this will give the mockers of the faith, to the atheist who set up the "pet watching" service (payment due in advance) where he is charging Christians to take care of their pets after the rapture, to the mockers who are planning parties and fun-poking throughout the weekend, everyone has heard of it.

Of course, while much of the Christian community has explained why we can't know the day or hour, and why this is wrong, and how the man behind it was wrong before, and tried to do damage control, etc., I can't help but have a deep, unsettled wondering in my heart. I wonder, what will God say to people like the 60-year-old man from New York who so believed in it that he spent his entire life savings of $140,000 to put up 1,000 ads on subways and bus stops warning people? Keep in mind—he didn't spend it on a wild, self-indulgent party for himself . . . he spent it to warn others.

Realizing that we all have skewed theology in one area or another, I can't help but wonder, "What will God say to him?" on the day he finally does meet God face to face . . . and what will we hear, who don't believe in May 21st specifically, but still do believe that the day will come when every man and woman on earth will meet God face to face and either be ushered in or cast out? I can't hear of stories like his and, behind all the jokes and mocking and panic rushes to "protect" God, wonder deep in my heart, will that man hear, "You believed too much!" . . . or might those, like the rest of us, who have been given much, and given up little, hear something else? What do I really, really believe that I would be willing to give up everything for to warn others. Don't I believe in Heaven? Don't I believe in Hell? Don't I believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father and eternal life with Him? Don't I believe that the end is near, even if it isn't the 21st (and that, even if the Rapture doesn't happen in our lifetime, we'll all be before Him quick enough).

Well, if I really, really believe those things then I can't help but ask myself, and wonder, as I read articles about people like that man, "What will God say to the one who believed and gave up everything to warn others" . . . and what will He say to people like me who also believe, and just don't think I know the date, and have given up so little to warn others. It is just a thought I have, a question I wrestle with. I wonder, will God ever say to someone, "You believed too much!"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sweat . . .

Recently I was doing a personal study into the amazing privilege and high calling we have as Christians of ministering to the Lord. I found myself in the following passage from Ezekiel 44:15-18, where God has rebuked much of Israel and then says, "But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me. And they shall stand before me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord God. They shall enter my sanctuary, and they shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge. When they enter the gates of the inner court, they shall wear linen garments. They shall have nothing of wool on them, while they minister at the gates of the inner court, and within. They shall have linen turbans on their heads, and linen undergarments around their waists. They shall not bind themselves with anything that causes sweat."

And, their reward for the privilege of ministering to the Lord? Ezekiel 44:28, "This shall be their inheritance: I am their inheritance: and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession."  Wow! It is such a Kingdom of God verse! As Christians we are not citizens of this land, we are citizens of His Kingdom—we, the body of Christ, are, according to Peter, His holy nation, His royal priesthood . . . and we live here as if it is not our home, serving Him, until He calls us home into His presence, into the place He has prepared for us with Him. Until then, and after then? He is our possession and our inheritance! The question, of course, is, "Is that enough for us, or do we need the pleasures and rewards of this earth as well?"

As I looked at the passage about those ministering to the Lord I was struck by the line that said they shall not bind themselves with anything that causes sweat when ministering to the Lord. For me, the obvious spiritual meaning and picture of that was they couldn't bring any work before Him because work causes sweat. But then I went to a bunch of commentaries and got confused because none of them mentioned that. But, after doing a search for the word "sweat" I found that the only other time it is mentioned in the Old Testament is after Adam and Eve fell and God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17-19, ". . . Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree  of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,'  cursed is the ground because of you;  in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, . . ." Hmm, sounds like sweat and work/labor are tied together to me.

The more I thought about that, about what this symbolized to me (knowing how we, in the New Testament, as born again believers, would become His royal priesthood), I thought, how could we ever minister to Him if we brought any of our own works or "righteousness" before Him? It would totally take from Him the sole glory and honor He deserves. He, alone, is our righteousness because of the "work" He did on the cross and our complete faith in that as our total payment and redemption on our behalf. There is no way we can truly come before Him and minister to Him in a way He would receive if we are carrying with us any part of us that says we are OK apart from Him, or that our works give us any right before Him. It takes the glory from Him and puts it on us, and it brings Him down to our level when He, in fact, is holy and completely separated from all of our tarnished works. We come boldly before Him, in confidence, because He did the work for us. We trust completely in His work to give us confidence as His children before Him. That gives Him the glory, and us the security.

Well, can you guess what I found in further searching His Word? Do you know the only other place the word "sweat" is used? Luke 22:39-44 says, "And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."  And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground."

It sure seems to me that something was meant by that word "sweat." And, to me, it seems that it represents work, or works of righteousness. I might be wrong, and I can receive that, but it is worth meditating on. When I come to minister to the Lord there is only one "work" I can bring before Him. It is not my work, in any way. That claim can't be in His presence and stand. But, His Son's work on the cross? Yes. That is the complete work, the "it is finished" on my eternal passport. Jesus' work, His "sweat" (to use the imagery) is the only work I can claim before the Father . . . but since it is Jesus' and not mine, I am completely safe and secure in it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Wonderful Story . . .

It is hard to believe that, two years ago today, I made my first blog post. It was about the  "perfect" coffee mug, and a God who makes the impossible bow. You might enjoy it, and you can read it by clicking here. What I have to share, below, is long . . . but please give me a little grace since it's my "anniversary" and I think you will be very blessed and encouraged by it . . .

Often in the Christian life we are simply obedient, never knowing why God asked us to do something, and never knowing if it did any good. Sometimes He graces us with a glimpse of its effect, but often not. I remember one time, years ago, when Mary Ann and I were early in youth ministry and we had put on a youth camp for local youth. It was exhausting, and I had been so excited about the teaching, and I was so discouraged because I couldn't tell if any youth had heard a word I'd said. I'd called it, "Accident (big bang bam bish, look mom, I came from a fish), or PLAN?" Over the four sessions I'd taken the word "plan" and broken it down. Friday night was "P"—Planets, space, and such. Saturday morning was "L"—the miracle of Life. Saturday night was "A"—Alive, or in the tomb? (evidence for the resurrection). Sunday morning was "N"—Never had to wonder (all the things science has "discovered" that were already in the Bible).

After each session I would ask the youth, "You decide—Accident, or PLAN?" By the end of the weekend I felt like quitting ministry, but then, a month later, God was kind enough to grant us a glimpse of something when one of the high school girls told me about being in science class that day and the teacher saying that anyone who didn't believe they came from a fish was to get up and walk out the door. She did. The teacher was startled and asked what she was doing, and she replied that she believed God had created her (how many others felt so, too, but didn't stand?). The teacher told her she could stay as long as she didn't talk about it.

It was an awesome spark of encouragement for Mary Ann and I, but the truth is, even if God hadn't shown it  to us, she still would have heard and believed at that campout, and just because we didn't know about it, it wouldn't have made it any less effective. I'll never forget the pastor we talked to that afternoon at the end of the campout when we were very discouraged, who simply asked us, "Did you do what God asked you to do?" When we said that we thought we had he replied, "Then that's all He asked you to do. Trust the results to Him."

Writing on this blog is a lot like that. You pour out and try and be obedient, often never knowing if it is making any difference, but just trying to trust. Then, at times, you'll get a comment, or meet someone, who tells you how blessed they've been by it and it feels so good. It's like the affirming nod or "amen" from someone when you are preaching that says, "I hear ya, and keep going, you're right on, brother." We shouldn't need that, but, then again, we are human, too.

Well, the other day I got one of those and I've asked permission to share it with you because it is so encouraging to me, and I believe it will be an encouragement and an example to you. I had made my post, "What's Been Stolen?", about how the enemy gets us to focus on the negative and not see the blessing in things, and I'd used our home and property as the example. I'd recommend you read it if you haven't. A friend and reader who is the moderator of a large Christian website asked me to post the same words on that site. I did so reluctantly, not very confident, and I got one of the most awesome replies I've ever gotten. With permission, I've put part of it below:
Thank you! It was like you were speaking directly to what my husband and I have been struggling with. We've got so many things to do here at the house that it's become daunting to us. We have acreage to mow, weeds to hoe, fence to mend, etc. We've been bogged down by so many things on our "to do" list that it seems so defeating at times. Your post was like a glass of sweet iced tea on a hot day. It made me stop and think. You're right. We are blessed, and back when we were first starting out twenty years ago, we would've loved to have a place like we have now. It really is a dream come true. It made me sad to realize that I've let satan creep in and make taking care of this place feel burdensome. That starts getting corrected today! Thanks for a word in due season!

I replied to her comment and said, "Wow! You made my day . . . my week! I called my wife in and said, "You've got to read this! It makes it all worthwhile!" I am so glad I went ahead and posted this, though I almost didn't. I feel like my blog is a place people come to by choice, but posting a post now and then from it here [the other web site] feels like I am shoving my stuff out there. When ___ asked me to, I fought it, but didn't want to miss what God wanted. I am so, so glad I did if it blesses you and your husband and helps you grab the devil by the tail and kick him in the teeth! Feel free to stay in touch. You'll find some pictures of our place, my family, our cows, etc. on my blog if you want to visit it. I look forward to hearing more about your new victory!"

She then replied:

I read your post to my husband, and we talked about it. He felt the same way I did after reading it. We went outside and got busy with the project we had for this weekend. We got the pool up and running from the winter layover and raked, hoed, and spread weed killer. After we sat down, we started talking about the work we'd done, and the talk started to go down the path of "but we still haven't gotten the roof finished (we're re-shingling), or this, or this", etc. It was like the lightbulb went off, and we shut it down and said, "No! That's exactly what God showed us today, and we're not doing this anymore!". Immediately we changed our tune and talked about what we had accomplished. After that, I had a very long talk with God. It was filled with repentance and a lot of tears. Then, I looked around in awe. How amazing is God!!! He has given us such blessing in our lives that I never would have thought possible before; and not just the material things, our kids, our marriage, and the most important - our salvation! And from there just worshipping Him for the gift of salvation and His love and mercy and grace. I feel better than I've felt in a while. We're going to continue to kick satan in the teeth, and battle to get rid of that root of  negative thinking.

I will definitely check in on your blog, and keep you posted on what's going on. I can tell that you have a very humble heart before the Lord. Please don't ever feel that by posting here that we will think you're saying "look at me". You have messages to give that we will love and need to hear, just like this one today! God has given you such an awesome voice to speak His truth! Please shove away!!!!
I hope that you are as encouraged by this as I was, and that it helps you see how to recognize what the enemy might be trying to steal in your life and heart, and how to take that captive to Christ and turn it around. Thanks, so much, for reading, and for those of you who subscribe by email or follow, you won't know how much that encourages me. I treasure you all and I look forward to that perfect cup of coffee in Heaven when we can sit around, get to know each other, and worship the Lord in pure spirit and truth. Until then, you all are welcome to drop by for an imperfect, but still good cup, here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Just to Make You Smile . . .

We all need to smile more, at least I know I do. So, here are a few things that might help you do that today. No, they aren’t “theological”—but, then again, this is just my personal blog to share and have fun and reflect with you, whatever the day or season calls for. Enjoy, and may God bless you with a deep awareness of His love and nearness to you . . .

The other day I got one of those SPAM emails from someone trying to get me to click on their link. It is below. Hmmmm, does anyone else find this ironic or humorous in any way (getting past the sadness of the industry it represents). I’ve pasted it just as I got it . . .

“Im a charming blue-eyed blonde, brunette with brown eyes, and I'm looking for an intelligent man to communicate by e-mail, Skype, or on real dates!”

(I can only imagine, if I had tons of readers, the comments that one would generate!)

And, now, some pictures I stumbled on going through some our family has taken over the years . . .

Hamming it up in Carrizo Plains a few years ago. Not sure why I can’t get a wireless network!

A friend’s power steering fluid cap went missing. No problem. We are resourceful (or redneck?) out here! Anyone want to set up an appointment to have their car worked on next?

We take guarding our girls seriously out here!

Just too cute. From some years back.

That’s my girl! NOBODY touches that coffee cup!

Friday, May 13, 2011

What’s Been Stolen?

Recently someone was at our house and twice, while they were here, they looked over the hills, through the oaks, and down the valley (standing somewhat close to where this picture was taken last January) and said something to the effect of, “It’s so beautiful!” Once they added, “It’s so peaceful! I’ve looked all my life for a place like this!”

When they said that I was rattled. I realized that the same view they saw as beautiful was, too often to me, a sea of “to do” items—broken fence wiring going back to when a neighbor’s runaway bison crashed through it, a broken gate a neighbor’s bull smashed, weeds that needed mowing with fire season knocking on our door, ground squirrels that needed controlling, a dam that needed fixing, firewood that needed hauling and cutting and splitting, a well that needed electrical work . . . all that and more, and, it felt like, limited time and money to do any of it. Amazing . . . we were looking at the same view, and yet the viewpoint was so different!

Many times Mary Ann and I have said, and had to remind ourselves when we get drug down by things undone, “If we had visited this place before we owned it, we’d have said that if we ever had a place like this we’d be happy for the rest of our lives there!” It is a two-fold reminder:

1) No thing, or accomplishment, or position will ever make you or me permanently happy. Only God can do that.

2) The enemy seeks to always take what is good and steal it, and if we aren’t careful, we let him. Too often, if we aren't careful, we can start to primarily see the negative side of things. Granted, in the case like our property, I am the one who has to deal with those things and they don’t, but there is still tremendous good and blessing in it (it is a gift from God!) and if I am not careful I can miss, or lose that. Philippians 4:8 tells us, “. . . whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Other translations say to "meditate" on these things, and I believe to meditate on it we, ourselves, must first see it. That is something we must practice because, all too often, it doesn’t come naturally.

So . . . take a look around you. What blessings from God—maybe a person, or persons; a job; a home; a situation; your body; your imperfect church; or ???—have you either taken for granted, or started to see only the negative in, or allowed to be stolen from your thoughts? I encourage you to refresh and renew your gratitude for it, and lift a praise and a thanks to God, from Whom every good and perfect gift comes (James 1:17).

Wishing you intimacy and joy in the Lord,

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Christian Tension . . .

The more I study Christ and the early church's central message, or gospel, of the Kingdom, the more I realize how much of a "tension" we live in as Christians. By tension I mean a pull in two directions, or two separate ways.

The Bible makes it clear that when we are born again we are no longer of this world. It doesn't just say we aren't "like" this world, but that we aren't "of" this world, and the distinction is huge. In fact, when we are born again, or born from above, or made alive unto God, we are transferred into Christ's Kingdom and reign and rule. We, the body, become His holy nation, set apart for Him. No longer does He dwell in a temple in an earthly temple, but we, the body of Christ, become His dwelling place and residence. The reality is, as a born again Christian, we are more closely knit with, and have more tie with, a Christian in Iran than we do with a non-Christian in America.

This is the reality of the Kingdom. We are of a new Kingdom, with a higher authority and call. Yes, we are to obey the government of our land, and to give unto Caeser what is Caesar's, etc., but if our nation's laws or commands ever pulls us into conflict with God's laws or reign on our life we must choose God's Kingdom over any earthly nation.

This tension was made very evident to me this week in the reflections on the death of Usama bin Laden. I found the twin, and opposing, pulls very powerful. I have always been very patriotic, and the pain that man unrepentantly caused to our nation is too large for words. When I saw the cadets at West Point (my alma mater) cheering in the quad on TV I found myself drawn to the celebration and the joy and the relief. When I saw the American flag flying, I felt pride. While I am very concerned about the current direction of many trends and leaders in America, I still believe we are a great nation with a tremendous amount of generosity and willingness to sacrifice for others. There was, as an American, a sense of justice and pride in the elite team that pulled off that operation and helped America stand a little taller and be a little safer

But, pulling the other way, and causing a turbulence of emotions in me (and not all Christians agree with me on this), was the "other" Kingdom—God's—and I couldn't, in any way, envision Jesus dancing with joy at the news of a human being, created in His image, whom He died for on the cross, taking a bullet and dying amidst his family. I can only imagine grief . . . grief at how the world has become, grief at how people treat people, grief at the sin that continues in the face of the work His Son did on the cross to make a way for all men to come to Him, grief that it had to end that way when Usama could have chosen Jesus. This is not to say that what we did was wrong—as a nation God has ordained authorities and those authorities protect their nation and he was a man who chose evil against our nation. But, I had to ask myself, was the instinct to pump the fist in the air in victory justice, or revenge? Was the celebration for justice, or revenge? And do we, as Christians, realize that we all were deserving of death and it is only by God's grace that we have life?

We must not forget that justice—the true and final justice—did not happen when the trigger was pulled and the bullet struck, but would happen when he stood before God and found his name not in the Lamb's book of life and was sent from God's presence into eternity apart from God. That is the justice, and it is eternal. All of us deserve it, but some will escape it because we have trusted in Jesus' death on the cross as our substitute and only basis of righteousness before God. I think, in times like these, the temptation is to compare ourselves to someone like Usama bin Laden and start to, subtly, pump ourselves up a little as, "not so bad as him." We must never forget that there are none righteous the Bible says—not one. "There but for the grace of God go I," as the expression says.

Proverbs 24:17-20 says: Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him. Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out. Usama bin Laden has met a far worse fate than simply death on this earth. Justice was done—eternal justice—because he chose to reject Jesus' work on the cross. We, as Christians, must be careful in the heart with which we receive such news.

So, therein lies the tension—at least for me. America did what America needed to do. I am proud of those who went in and pulled it off—their training and dedication every day and the countless jobs they do that we never hear about to keep us safe to worship Jesus, raise our children, vote, and walk our streets. But, as a citizen of God's Kingdom, I also find sadness. Sadness at what this world is, at why it even had to happen, at those who reject God's love. I find no joy in another person's death. Death, of a person separated from God, is only for me a place of grief. I have no place to lift myself above anyone. If God hadn't pursued me so diligently and relentlessly, and if others hadn't loved me through my cocky arrogance, and if . . . I, too, might face eternity apart from God and my loved ones who loved Him. He has done all the work. He has revealed Himself. He has paid the price. I have nothing to boast in.

I live in tension. There is a constant pull of the world in one direction and the pull of God in the other. May I always choose Him and His ways as my highest allegiance and love.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

God is Love

God doesn't just choose to be good, to avoid evil, to act morally, etc. God is holy. He is transcendent from those things—totally set apart and separate from them. It is not just some moral code or ethical law that we find in His law and commands . . . it is the very nature and character of Him. There is such a powerful realization in the truth those few sentences above contain. If someone simply chooses to be a certain way then there is always the option of them choosing not to be that way any longer. But when someone is that way—inherent in who they are, in their very being—and they are completely cut off from, and separated from, the alternative—then we can know with assurance they will always be that way.

The Apostle John tells us twice in 1 John 4 that God is love. It is part of who He is. It is not simply that God chooses to love, but that He is love, and there is a big difference. So, when we don't love another we are partaking in a something that God can't be a part of. He can't be a participant in, or an advocate of, or lend His hand to it when we don't love. So, while I know that He won't ever leave me, and that I am sealed in adoption as His child by my faith in Jesus, there is a sense that each and every time I don't love I am separating myself from God—or separating Him from what I am doing . . . not to mention I am not honoring Him by my choice to disobey Him, and I am failing to love one whom He loves enough to die for.

When I choose to not love another with a love that is patient, kind, not self seeking, not keeping a record of wrongs, not rejoicing in evil, etc., I am, in a sense, choosing to step outside of Him because, He can't be part of "not love" when He is love. I don't know the full "theological" implications (or explanations) of the concept I am trying to convey, but to me it is pretty clear that, up to the edge of losing my salvation, I am separating myself from God in those times (or at least moving outside of Him in my actions, or causing my actions to be outside of His cover and blessing and presence). I don't know if this is what the Bible talks about in quenching the Spirit and grieving the Spirit and things like that, but I do know that if I truly desire Him to be my breath and life, and to bear His image, and to have His voice and Spirit lead me, and to have Him work through me, then I must love. When I don't, in some way He pulls back, because He can't be a part of that because it is against who He is.

Matt 22:37-40   And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

1 John 4:7-8   Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:16   So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.


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