Friday, March 23, 2012

"But, I Don't Feel Like it"

Note: The new header for the blog (you have to be at the blog, not viewing it in an email, to see it), shows a few scenes from my family's recent months as well as a slice of an amazing Hubble shot of a region of sky that is, at best, a tiny dot seen with the naked eye. God is awesome!

"But, I Don't Feel Like it"
At this time of year, with Easter a few raindrops and wildflowers away, I often find myself reflecting on Jesus' prayer in the Garden the night He was arrested—specifically Luke 22:42 where He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Jesus makes it clear elsewhere that nobody took His life—He gave it by choice—and here we see that it wasn't an easy choice, nor one He probably "felt" like doing. Likewise, I doubt Paul “felt” like being stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, rejected, etc., and I doubt John “felt” like living in exile. I doubt Peter “felt” like hanging out with Gentiles. But, they did, because they loved God and He called them to, and they said "yes."

So many times there are things I sense God is probably nudging me to do, but I don't feel like it. It could be a community function I should attend, or an attitude I should change toward another, or something for (or on behalf of) another, or ??? At those times I must decide what I "feel" like doing most—pleasing myself, or Him. That is, for me, the crux of it all. I may think that whatever it is in front of me is just sort of hanging there in a vacuum, but the reality is that if God put it before me it is hanging there on Him. To say I don't feel like doing it, and then not doing it, is then, if I am honest with myself, to really say, "God, I don't feel like doing what you want me to do, so I won't."

I know that we are completely forgiven as Christians. I know that our salvation and adoption by God is based simply and solely on our faith in His work on our behalf alone. And, I also know that Paul had to address those who used that grace as a license to do, or not do, things based on their feelings and flesh. I have, many times, used the, "There is no condemnation in Christ, so I won't do something out of guilt," line . . . but the reality is, I don't want to be that way. If I am choosing to act on what I feel like doing, or don't feel like doing, instead of obeying Jesus, I don't want to feel comfortable and at peace in that. Where would it end?

Jesus asked, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me," but He ended it with the most important line of all, "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." Many times I have asked God, "Do you really want me to do this?" (and sometimes He'll release me—for example, we had a wonderful family firepit night under the stars a couple months ago when I had "thought" I should go to a community function) . . . but having heard, "Yes, I want you to do this" my hearts cry is that I will always say, "Not my will, but Yours be done."

Thanks for sharing in my life. I'd love to hear your thoughts. May God bless you with a deep sense of His love for you and presence with you.   —Erick

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Using “Sacrifice” to Self-Justify Disobedience

When Saul disobeyed the Lord’s commands through Samuel to devote everything and everyone of Amalek to destruction (1 Samuel 15) it didn’t bode well for him—in fact, it cost him his kingship.

1 Sam 15:13-15   And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord." And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?" Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction."

Saul gave all the right “religious” sounding reasons for sparing the king and the best of the livestock, saying, basically, “It’s for a sacrifice to the Lord.” The problem in Saul’s situation is that God didn’t ask him for that sacrifice—He had told him to devote it ALL to destruction! (How often, I wonder, do we justify our own plans and desires that God never led us to by saying that it’s for the Lord, or that we will glorify Him in it, or that it will enable us to do more for Him? Instead of letting God lead us, we set out on our own and try and drag Him and His blessing behind us.)

Samuel countered Saul with a piercing commentary for us all to take note of (a passage later quoted from in Hebrews). In 1 Sam 15:22-23 Samuel says, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king."

How easy it can be to consciously, or subconsciously, excuse, or move past, or minimize in our mind, our disobedience (doing wrong things, or not doing right things) because we are doing “religious” things that make us feel it is OK, or balanced, or better—or that even convince us we are pleasing God? We may go to church, or a Bible study, or tithe, or write blogs, or pastor churches, or serve on church boards, or ???, but if we are doing things that are in disobedience to God, then our “sacrifices” are missing the point.

God asks for obedience. Jesus said that if we love Him we will obey Him. Obedience is a mark of a surrendered heart to God and a love for God. It is much easier for us, often, to put the check in the offering box, or to go to church, or to do some religious “thing” than it is to obey God—and yet we can fool ourselves, and even others, by doing the religious and missing the obedience.

James 4:17 tells us: So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. This is a powerful verse! Obedience to God is not just not doing bad things, it is also doing the right things. We can be disobeying God by doing that which is wrong, or by not doing that which is right (this could be as simple as not visiting someone when the Spirit nudges us to!). We fool ourselves into thinking we are good Christians (or at least neutral) because we aren’t doing anything bad (and maybe we are even doing church things), but we might be disobeying Him by not doing the service, the loving, the forgiving, the laying down of ourselves, the giving, the seeking His plans and not our own, etc., that He has asked of us. God, it would seem through Saul’s example, is saying, “Yeah, I see that tithe check and that church attendance . . . but what about what I asked you to do?”

We must be careful, I believe, to not let our religious “stuff” numb us or fool us into thinking we are doing that which pleases God. I believe all of that pleases Him, but if it isn’t on top of basic obedience, then it would seem we’ve missed that which He calls us to, and that which is greater in His heart. The words of Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23 come to mind, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Praise God we are forgiven! Praise God for His love and mercy! Praise God that He lives in us and through us and works out His plan for us through surrendered lives! But, let’s be careful to never use that as a safety zone to sin or seeking our own ways and pleasures and plans—and to never fool ourselves that God is joyous about our religious “stuff” if we’ve missed the basic heart of God and the obedience that comes from love.

God bless you all. Thanks for reading and being a part of my life.   —Erick

Friday, March 9, 2012

Another's Job

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, "No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles."   1 Sam 8:19-20

In my reading through 1 Samuel I recently went through the time when the people of Israel cried out for a king that he might judge them and fight their battles for them. God gave them what they wanted, though it meant they were rejecting Him as their king and, it seems to me, trusting in man to do for them what God would have done for and through them.

I wonder how many times we seek another to do what we should be doing? I think that this is a real danger in Christian circles—especially organized "church." That may sound funny coming from a pastor, but I think that one of the greatest dangers of organized "church" is that it can, if not handled well, encourage the body of Christ (the true church) to pass its responsibilities on to a few instead of being the body of Christ in fullness.

I do not go so far as to reject organized religion—I believe that Acts and the epistles makes it clear the early church met both in large groups, and regularly from house to house. I believe that it is clear they joined their resources to meet local needs within the body, and to support needs out of their area within the body. I believe it is clear God appointed some within the local parts of the body to be elders and teachers and pastors within it. But . . . if leaders aren't careful they can consolidate things around themselves out of ignorance, or insecurity, or love of power, or ???

Ephesians makes it clear that leaders are given to equip the body for the work of ministry—to equip all the believers to do the work of God, not to do the work of God for them. Granted, if they are paid and full time, they have more time to do some things that someone working at another full time job might not have, but it is far too easy for the body to just say, regarding visiting others, or praying for others, or doing the stuff that holds a body together, "Well, that's the pastor's job. That's what he's paid for," or other similar things regarding church staff, or the organized church itself. But, the New Testament makes it clear, the body is only fully functioning when each person does its part and uses their unique gifts to knit the body together.

One change I have made recently in our services is that I've stopped asking who has a prayer request and started asking who wants to be prayed for (there's often a big difference). In the past I've found that we might get 10–15 prayer requests, and very few would be writing them down. Then I, as the pastor, would pray and we'd move on. I am sure some got prayed for during the week, but I don't know how many.

Now I am asking, "Who wants to be prayed for?" The Bible says the gates of hell won't prevail against the church, and we are all, as believers, the church, so we are starting to bang on the gates of hell on behalf of one another. I must admit, since I started this we are getting a lot fewer prayer requests, but I feel we are probably a lot closer to what we are supposed to be doing.

After people who want to be prayed for express their need, or the need of someone they want to be prayed for, we go in to a time of prayer, usually about five minutes. I re-read the requests and then ask that each person desiring to be prayed for has at least a couple people join with them—maybe someone who the Spirit nudged toward them, or someone who has faced a similar issue. Everyone is free to get up and join someone or stay in their seats, or come up to the cross, it is all up to them. Then, start praying in small groups, with and for the person or persons asking for it. When I feel it is time I'll go and close that, but not without saying, "If you are still in a group and you feel you need to keep praying keep doing so, even if it means you are praying through all of the worship time and through my teaching."

This is just one small step, but it seems to be a good one from my eyes. I, as the pastor, don't have any more access to God than another believer does. The body must be the body, each part doing its part, each part realizing that church leaders are simply their brothers and sisters, called to different positions and parts in the body, but not any more special, any more loved by God, or with any more access to God than them. We have to be so careful to equip ourselves and to not ask others to do what God has asked us to do. Only when the body is fully functioning as the body will the world truly see Jesus expressed through us.

God bless you all. As always, I'd love your thoughts.   —Erick

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Knee Jerk Sin

I was reading in 1 Samuel this morning and I was struck by some of the final words of Samuel to the people. He is really angry at them because they sought a human king instead of God as their king. He said, "Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king" (1 Samuel 12:17). He does what he threatens, but then a few lines later he says, despite his anger at them, "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way" (1 Samuel 12:23).

Here's a guy really steamed at the people (righteously so, they have rejected God) but he doesn't have a knee jerk reaction to their sin that causes him to sin. I am reminded of David after he took care of Nabal's men and sheep in the wilderness and then Nabal mocks him and blows him off and doesn't give anything back to him (1 Samuel 25). David is angry (again, righteously so) and arms up his men and sets off to kill every male of Nabal's household, saying, "Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good" (1 Samuel 25:21).

Hearing David and his men are coming, Nabal's beautiful wife Abigail meets him and stops him, imploring for his mercy and saying, ". . . my lord [David] shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord taking vengeance himself . . ." (1 Samuel 25:31). David sees that she is speaking truth and turns aside, saying to her, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from avenging myself with my own hand! For as surely as the Lord the God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male" (1 Sam 25:32-34).

David was hours away from knee jerk sin—from going from being right to being wrong—from letting another person's sin pull him into sin.This, and many other instances in the Bible and in my life and the news around us make me wonder, "How many times do we, starting out right, become wrong because we react to another's sin with our own sin?"

It is so easy to start out right and to become in sin ourselves because we react to another's sin. My question for your reflection this morning is, "Are you in any way being pulled in to sin (in your thoughts, actions, lack of love, lack of prayer, the way you treat another) because, though you were right, you are now starting to be wrong in reaction to their wrong?" If you are then that person is controlling you—you are allowing them to make you wrong.

Samuel wouldn't let their sin or his anger stop him from praying for them and instructing them. David wouldn't let Nabal's arrogance and ingratitude and lack of returning David's kindness cause him to take vengeance into his own hands (interestingly, Nabal fell dead a short time later and David married the beautiful and wise Abigail!).

It is a good question to ask the Holy Spirit to help reveal in us, "Where am I in danger of sinning because, though I am right, I am starting to react wrongly to another's sin?" God bless you all, and thanks for reading and being a part of my life.   —Erick

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Gen 6:13-22   And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it . . . Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them." Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

We can, if we aren't careful, make inaccurate assumptions that will influence our thoughts and choices down the road. Take, for instance, the tree Adam and Eve ate from that they were told not to. I wonder how many people think it was an apple tree, because they've been told that or seen pictures of Eve about to bite into a shiny, red apple. As far as I know, the Bible doesn't say what kind of tree it was. In fact, I've read a pretty convincing argument that it was probably a fig tree—after all, when they realized they were naked they covered themselves in fig leaves (possibly the closest tree), and it is a fig tree Jesus will wither as He ushers in the New Covenant that ends the old Covenant of the law. Whatever type of tree it is, it is possible we have all made assumptions about it that aren't founded in the Bible—and possibly we are missing imagery or lessons because of our assumptions.

Likewise, I've wondered for years how Noah and his sons, with maybe their wives help, built that ark. Then, the other day, I saw a painting advertising the Ark Encounter (the lifesize ark being built in Kentucky by Answers in Genesis). In the painting they have many, many people working on the ark and suddenly it struck me, "Does the Bible actually say only Noah and his family worked on it?" I started looking and I can't find a verse that says that (if you know of one, please let me know!). The more I thought of it the more I thought it was very likely that Noah hired a large crew to help. People are more than ready to take another's money, even if they think the person is a kook. Imagine how many non-Christians have poured slabs, done drywall, supplied sound systems, painted walls, and roofed churches for a paycheck. They might have mocked the believers the whole time, but took their laughter to the bank with their wages.

We know from Genesis that civilization prior to the flood was advanced with cities, metal working, etc. They could have had very advanced tools and there was certainly a large workforce to draw from. Be willing to pay enough money and you can probably find someone for about any job! Besides that, we know from genealogy that Methusela and others were alive until right up to the flood. Who knows how much help Noah could have had!

At any rate, the point isn't whether or not Noah had more than his family or not, it is more about the assumptions we make because of pictures, flannel graphs, etc. that we have been raised on or exposed to. I remember a couple years back when we took the girls and measured off 450 feet, the length of the ark. It was mind-boggling! I had seen so many cute little ark models as toys and nursery decor that I'd allowed myself to lose the reality of the size of that boat.

It is easy to allow our mind to have certain pictures, and to make assumptions, that later we can realize are not founded on Scripture. It is something we have to be careful about, and, as always, keep God's written Word in a place of supremacy in our lives and hearts, taking everything back to it.

God bless you. Have a wonderful day! Thanks for reading and sharing in my life.   —Erick


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