Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy New Year!

No, I haven't lost it. I'll explain in a minute. Let me first say that I hope you have an incredible Thanksgiving, filled with a deep, deep realization that it is impossible for sin to give good, since God alone is good . . . and therefore every good thing in your life is a gift from God. Every good gift, every smile, every laugh, every bit of love, every meal, every piece of clothing, every night in a warm home, every breath of air, every beat of your heart—it is all God's grace intervening against the death and decay of a sin-cursed world and giving you goodness.

Getting ready to open the jar!
Happy New Year? For our family, the last three years (including this one) we have done our Thanksgiving on Wednesday and then spent Thursday morning delivering meals to shut-ins for Thanksgiving for Paso Robles, and then going to my folks for the afternoon meal. That means that today, as the turkey cooked, we spent some hours sitting by the wood stove with coffee and hot chocolate, going through the praises in our Praise Jar. I've posted about this in years past, but in a nutshell it is a jar with a lid I made that we put praises in during the year and then spend Thanksgiving opening and reading. It is amazing how many times God has moved in our life in big and small ways that we, at the time, thought we'd never forget, but that when we read about on Thanksgiving morning we realize we'd forgotten. It is actually overwhelming to be reminded in one few hour period of the stunning number of times we have been aware of God's and others love for us. This tradition developed about 10 years ago from Mary Ann and my trying to find a way to make Thanksgiving more than a meal and truly a day focusing on God's hand in our life. It is a tradition we have come to treasure, and what is wonderful is that one day I'll be able to copy all these praises and put them in a book and give to my daughters as they start their own families a recorded testimony of God's hand and movement and love and power in their family's life. Hopefully they'll continue the tradition in their own homes as well.
At the end . . . and we were actually really bad about
recording praises this year!

As we opened them this morning I shared something I'd thought about with the family, and Mary Ann said she'd been feeling the same way. It was that Thanksgiving felt more like New Years to us than New Years Day. That day on a calendar has never meant much to me, but when we spend Thanksgiving reviewing the year of praises and emptying the jar, to start filling it again the day after Thanksgiving, we've found our year more naturally grouped from November to November. So, for us, Thanksgiving is like the dawn of a new year of praises and God's movement in our lives, and so, in fun, I wish you not just a wonderful Thanksgiving, but a Happy New Year!

God bless all of you. You are loved by the One who breathes out stars. Never let that reality grown numb or casual to you.

He Did it First

I have been often struck how it seems that anything God asks of us He first Himself did for us. He says to love others, but frequently reminds us that we were first loved by Him. He tells us to forgive others, and we are reminded He first forgave us. He tells us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, and we remember that He first presented Himself as a sacrifice. He tells us to invest eternally, and then we remember that He invested in us for eternity, and anything we have to invest is something He's first given us. He calls us to humble ourselves and lay down our rights and to serve others; and we read how He humbled Himself and didn't hold to His rights as God, how He loved the unlovable and touched the rejected and washed the filthy feet.

Last night I was studying the word "peace" in my ongoing study/teaching on different words God uses that often don't have the same meaning we might take on the surface. I was looking at how we were, as sinners, not just cut off from God but God says we were hostile to Him and enemies of Him. This passage really struck me:
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.    Romans 5:10–11 (ESV)
I think the reason that it struck me so is that I had done a word search for "enemies" and it came after multiple verses saying to love our enemies. Suddenly I thought, "I have gotten used to the word 'sinner' to describe my state before Christ, but it wasn't just 'sin'—in my sin He says I was an enemy of God. And He says to love our enemies. And He loved me first when I was His enemy."

It was just another moment when I realized how everything God asks of me He did first for me. Wow. We truly have an amazing God that He would love us that much, and humble Himself that much! What an example He has given us that the Creator of the universe would first do for me what He would then ask me to do for Him and others. A love like that is incomprehensible.

May you have a wonderful, joyous, God-filled Thanksgiving reflecting on all He has done for you and given you. Thanks for sharing in my life as well.   —Erick

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thanksgiving . . . A Scope Beyond Imagination

Lately I have been reflecting a lot on what is "good" or what makes something "good." More and more I am coming to realize that things are not inherently good on their own, but it is God who gives something its "goodness." Many times in the Bible God says He has no part of things that would appear to us to be "good" or "religious" or even "Christian"—enough times for me to realize that things don't have inherent goodness in themselves, to realize that good doesn't exist on its own in a vacuum.

When the rich young ruler calls Jesus "good teacher" Jesus confronts him with the question, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:18). There is a direct forcing of a point here that we can't afford to miss as we, on our own standards and definitions, label things and acts and people "good." I believe Jesus is cutting through our loose usage of that word and asking the young ruler, "Are you prepared to call me God, because God alone is good? If I am not God, then don't call me good."

James captures to me the danger and possibility of our separating good from God when it says, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:16-17) There is such a clear warning here and message that we can be deceived, we can be wrong, we can fall into the trap of believing that good can come outside of God

The implications of these thoughts are huge and I'll try and summarize two of them as best as I can because I believe that they are essential to our understanding (and they'll make our Thanksgiving really special!).

First: In sin we are separated from God who is, Himself, life and light and good. We are cut off from He who is the very source and essence of these things and though we walk and talk and stand in bright sunlight the Bible says that we are dead and in the dark in the ways that matter and are eternal. We are cut off from God, and if God is the only source of good then we are cut off from the possibility of doing good—because good doesn't exist apart from God. Carry this out a bit and we realize why God says there are none righteous or good, and why it is impossible for us to approach God or produce goodness on our own. We can't produce what we don't have. God is good and He gives things their "goodness" and so, separated from Him by sin, we dwell under sin and Satan's dominion or rule—and it is a realm of death and decay and deception and disease and hurt and lies and broken relationships and cruel words and jealousy and lust and covetousness and . . .

This really drives home to me the heart of why Christ came. Apart from Christ I am in a situation that is hopeless because it is impossible to save myself because good doesn't exist outside of God. I can't go find and collect enough of it because it is only found in God and I am separated from Him. As a non-Christian, thinking myself "good" by some societal standard, I chaffed against that idea that I wasn't "good" because I didn't realize that at the core "good" can't be separated from God, or defined apart from God. It is not something inherent in things or acts, it is inherent in God . . . He gives it that which makes it good. Understanding this now I understand how desperately in need of a Savior I was, One who could do for me what I could not do alone.

Second: I realize in this understanding of good that in this world turned over to sin and Satan's dominion, there is no good found on its own. Sin and Satan have no good in them because they have no partnership with God . . . and, again, good is found only in God. Remember Jesus' words in John 15 where He says He is the vine and we are the branches—abiding or remaining in Him we produce much fruit, but apart from Him we can do nothing. It is His life flowing through us that produces good from us. Apart from Him, though active and "productive," I can do nothing. Nothing. Nothing that is of value or eternal life.

Sin is death. It is separation from God and from good. It is the root of all pain and decay. And it is under sin's weight that our world groans. It is impossible for it to produce good because it has no good and so, as I approach Thanksgiving, I do so realizing that EVERY bit of good in my life is a direct result of God intervening in my life with His grace and glory and power and shielding me from sin's effect and curse.

Much of what people blame on God causing I think is simply God not intervening. Of God allowing sin and the Fall to have their natural effect. When there is good in my life it is because God has put it there. Every meal I eat. Every time my cells do what they are supposed to, or my lungs open for air. Every bit of clothing I wear. Every time I smile or am smiled at. I love or am loved. Every laugh. Every beautiful view. Sin can't produce good and so I realize that everyone of those, from the smallest cellular level, is God at work in my life.

God, the star breather, at work in my life personally and intimately at the smallest level of detail. God noticing me and acting on my behalf. God caring and moving. It leaves me in awe that He would be that involved in my life, but I often haven't recognized how active He is in my life because I've not given Him credit for the tiniest level of good.

If every bit of good in my life is God at work in my life, then, wow, I have a lot to be thankful for!


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