Wednesday, December 14, 2016


How many things happen that are inconvenient to you, and maybe irritate you or steal your smile?

We love the times we find the perfect parking place, the store has just what we want in stock, people are on time, there's no line at the checkout, traffic flows smoothly, etc.—but how quickly the times that those things don't happen can get under our skin!

I was curled up and reading a book about Christmas recently, and the way the author worded something made me really think. How inconvenient it was for Joseph—already having his marriage and life plans thrown awry and having to wrap himself around the idea that his fiance was pregnant by God, and already having to travel with his pregnant wife (imagine if everyone in your state had to return to their place of birth at the same time!)—only to finally get where he was going with his wife showing signs of labor and then to find out there was no room at the inn!

But here's the crazy part about that too full inn . . .

. . . God, who plans the most minute details of a plant, who knows every hair on our head, who designs the intricacies of a cell and the unfathomable scope and beauty of a galaxy, had been planning that Christmas moment for over 4,000 thousands of years—likely for all of time as we know it!

Ephesians tells us that the cross was planned from before the foundation of the earth. Adam and Eve's sin didn't catch God by surprise, and the cross wasn't "Plan B." Then, from the Fall onward, Scripture is filled with prophetic details accurately giving us future glimpses of the birth of Jesus centuries before it ever took place—Bethlehem (which also means the census to get Mary there), a virgin, a name—Immanuel—and so on. And the New Testament, referring to Christ's birth, calls it "the fullness of time," which to me tells me all of time prior pointed to, focused on, and awaited that fulfilling moment of Christ's birth.

And yet, the inn was full! And a food trough for animals was the only available crib! Wow!

How could God have not known about, or overlooked, that significantly inconvenient moment?!

The thing is, there is really no legitimate way I can see to realize that the focus of the Creator had been on that moment for thousands of years, with every detail foretold, and to then not believe that He knew the inn would be full, and that a manger would be the only resting place available. Which means . . . that Joseph and Mary's "inconvenience" was a part of God's greatest plan.

And so, I need to look at the irritating "inconveniences" in my life and see what God is doing in them, because they surely don't catch God by surprise. Maybe in the next aisle or checkstand over there is a divine appointment—a person needing Christ's love. Maybe in the delay there is a divine appointment coming that wouldn't otherwise, or maybe I am being shielded from something, or it is bringing my life into contact with another's that otherwise wouldn't have happened. After all, would the shepherds have even been able (or comfortable) visiting the baby if He was in a small hotel room?

Never forget, when there are "inconveniences" in your life, that the inn was full—and that it didn't catch God by surprise.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Make it All About You!

This Christmas I want to encourage you to make it all about you!

I know. That isn't what you'd expect someone—especially a pastor!—to encourage you. I'll explain.

Christmas is often a time of being around family, friends, social gatherings, etc. In any of those environments there are often people that stretch your ability to love and be patient, or whose ways or words wound or challenge or anger you. Often there are people with whom there is a history and things hard to let go of. In this most beautiful of times, often the people we are around can strain us, and the times that should be the most wonderful can become the most ugly.

An account of a time in David's life has become one our family returns to often. It has a lot of bearing on this subject. It is told in 1 Samuel 25 and it involves a time when David sent men to an awful, rich man named Nabal, asking for food. David told his men, "And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’” (verses 6–8)

Well . . . Nabal is Nabal, and he basically mocks David and sends the men away with nothing and David responds by telling his men to strap on their swords. David said, “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. God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him” (verses 21–22). In David's response his heart is revealed. He did good for Nabal, but he expected something back for it. And when he didn't get something back, he got angry and set off to sin, driven by his response to another man's ugliness and rudeness and ungratefulness—in response to another man's sin. And, this is our challenge—can we keep ourselves free from sin, despite the sins of others that drive us to anger, hurt, feeling walked on, etc.?

And so, I encourage you this Christmas season, if you are put into positions where the people around you make feelings rise in you that aren't Godly—make it all about you! Focus your heart and prayers on being the one who is Godly, regardless of how those around you might be. Fix your eyes on God and yourself, and purpose in your heart that each person's actions will be between them and God—but that their actions won't cause you to sin. Make it about you. Focus on you. Say, "I will love. I will respond with gentleness. I will not sin. Regardless of those around me. I will not let them have the power to cause me to sin. I will not change who I am with Christ in me, because of who they are."

How other people act is up to them, and between them and God. How I act is my responsibility. If I let another person cause me to sin, I have let them have more power over me then God in me has at the time. You and I can't do this on our own—we are weak, fleshly, and sinful without Christ. But with Christ in us, we can do all things. Christ showed us the way. He loved when not loved back. He served when unappreciated. He lived His life in response to God and not man. And He has promised us that in Him there is no temptation too great that there is not provided for us a way out. And to sin in response to another's sin is surely a temptation we all face.

Make it about you! Focus on you and your responses. Love others, but don't give them the power to quench the light of Christ shining out of you. It is Christmas! It is a glorious time of year. It is that time when many who otherwise might have hard and angry hearts find a little softness toward the message of Christ and we can not only tell, but we can show, the good news of great joy that is unto all people! But it begins with showing that Christ in us—our glorious Immanuel Christmas reality!—is greater than the power of the world to change us.

Friday, November 18, 2016

No Erasing

In youth group I've been teaching lately on how the youth define success for their life, how they would want their lives summed up, etc. Last night we looked at things like the parable of the houses built on sand or rock and the idea of Jesus as a cornerstone and foundation. Then I taught on the idea of our lives being like a house we build—how we have decisions like what foundation we will build on, what "materials" we will use to build it, and what our "house" will look like (our image, or His image), etc.

To start that off I gave each of the youth a stubby pencil and a blank piece of paper. I had them envision their dream house, to include location, what it is built out of, and what it looks like. Then I gave them about 10 minutes to sketch it. The requirements were that their sketch had to capture the location, the type of material used, and the general look of it.

There was also one rule, and it turned out to be the most powerful part. The pencils had no erasers and I told them that even if they brought an eraser they couldn't use it. If they made a mistake they had to incorporate it into the drawing—make it something beautiful.

I think this spoke to a lot of us. We can't erase our mistakes, or often the consequences of them. But, given over to God, they can become a part of something beautiful. They become our testimony, a testimony to His power and goodness, a place of learning and growing.

This was powerful to a lot of us, and I felt like God gave me that idea as I was planning, and I wanted to share it with you in case it might bless you, too. Thanks for sharing in my life. God bless you.

Monday, November 7, 2016

No Matter What Happens . . .

No matter what happens in the elections tomorrow, our basis of hope doesn't change. If the candidate you want to win in fact wins, you have no more hope than you did before. If the candidate you want to win loses, you have no less hope then you did before. Not if your hope is in God.

I was blessed to attend a meeting last Saturday with others who are looking at how abortion might be abolished. One video that was shown was from a lawyer in Texas and some of the things he shared were stunning, eye opening, and took me to a place of remembering the Israelites wanting a king like other nations. (Please know that in what I am about to share I am not attacking a political party, but giving Christians some much needed clarity on where our hope really lies.)

In the video (and according to web pages I researched since seeing it) this man showed how in the last 48 years the Supreme Court has, for over half of those years, been filled with a majority of Republican appointed justices. In both major decisions that have "legalized" (then upheld) the abortion holocaust in our nation (Roe v. Wade in 1973, then Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992) there were a majority Republican appointed justices—in Roe v. Wade there were seven Republican appointed and two Democrat appointed. Only two justices voted against it, and one of those two was a Democrat! Then, in PP v. Casey, a chance to undermine Roe v. Wade, eight of the nine justices were Republican appointed! And, of the five who voted basically in favor of keeping Roe v. Wade, all were Republican appointees. In fact, in many (if not most, I would guess) of the chances to "legally" undercut abortion that have reached the Supreme Court since Roe v. Wade, the majority of the court in each time that didn't grab that moment were Republican appointees. And, I would guess (without researching) that in many of the other "values" issues decisions that Christians abhor, the majority on the court has been Republican appointed as well . . . and we've seen that even during a Republican controlled Congress our nation has only shifted farther and farther from the values we believe are God-honoring.

Please believe me when I say that I share this not to bash the Republican Party. For the most part I believe the Democratic Party is far worse on the values issues Christians should value, though in my heart I don't think either truly honors God. The Democrats as a party (not talking about individuals in either party) might be stronger advocates for the needy, etc., but that depends, I guess, on how you feel the needy are best helped. More on that in a moment.

My point in this is that our hope doesn't lie in any man, woman, or party. It is in God alone. As Christians we have prostituted ourselves out to anyone who'd "pay" us with some lines and promises we want to hear, then used and discarded us once our vote is secure. Many of those justices were appointed by the "heroes" of the Republican Presidents list. Many from people who promised us to overthrow Roe v. Wade. We, the army of the living God, are pandered to, paid, used, and cast aside . . . and we are so desperate for some earthly hope we keep running back for more, letting ourselves be used and soiled and sold into false hope over and over.

We keep looking for our earthly "king" who will lead us, be it a man or a party. Israel did the same thing, they wanted an earthly king that they could put their hope in—and God gave them what they wanted and said, in so doing, they had rejected Him as their king.

We can chant all the right verses, and sing all the songs, and be so theologically correct as we say this earth is not our home, etc., etc., but then we put our hope in this earth. I am not saying we shouldn't vote, but I am saying that our hope is not in man, or in a court, or in a party. It is in God alone, and God alone can save our nation. And it won't happen through any election, but when the people of this land repent, confess their sin, and cry out to God.

And we, the church, are lying in the soiled bed we have made, and we have ourselves to blame.
  1. Don't like abortion? Great. Are we willing to take in the pregnant young woman we are telling abortion is wrong to and let her, and then her and her baby, live in our home for a year or two? 
  2. Don't like the welfare system? Great. Are we feeding the poor, reaching out to the homeless? 
  3. Don't like New Age movement? Great. Are we showing people the power of God that our spiritual DNA knows is real so people don't have to look elsewhere for it? Are we healing the sick, confronting demons and seeing them flee? Are the gates of Hell collapsing against the onslaught of the church as Jesus promised they would? 
  4. Don't like the direction our youth are going? Great. Are we mentoring into the lives of the fatherless, the teens on the street, taking them in, giving them rides, hanging out with them and all their ways that are so "offensive" to us?
  5. Don't like the condition of marriage, etc., in our nation? Great. What example are we showing them when our divorce rates match theirs?
  6. Don't like their disrespect for God's written word? Great. What do we expect when we have compromised on it, said it isn't true, selectively picked the verses we believe in, etc.?
  7. Don't like how people are constantly on their cell phones, etc.? Great. What have we shown them in our homes about family meals, keeping the TV off and just being a family, etc.?

Who is it God says is the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the ones who are to serve others, take care of the least, feed the poor, clothe the naked, reach out to the rejected, protect the defenseless, etc.? The church! And if we aren't then we have nobody to blame but ourselves when the government steps into that void we were created to fill. Is that kind of ministry messy, costly, sacrificial, inconvenient? Yes. But if we simply read one of the Gospels we will rapidly see God hasn't called us to walk in any path He didn't walk in Himself . . . and if we are truly following Him, then our life will look the same.

It is time for the church to decide, are we the army of the Living God, or the prostitute of politicians? If the first, we need to start living and hoping like it. If the second, then it is no wonder the nation uses us like a prostitute. But it doesn't start with Washington, it starts with us. And praise God that His mercies are new every morning because no matter what we've been (or not been) before, God draws close to the broken and humble and promises His cooperating presence and power to those that are following Him.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Are We Upside Down?

And if we aren't, then why not?

As a follower of Jesus—and I use that word "follower" intentionally . . . not just someone whose thrown out some profession of faith, but someone who is truly following Jesus, and allowing Jesus to lead—are we a people totally foreign to, and upside down from, the world? And if not, then why not? He was.

My last post talked about the messiness of ministry. How those comfortable with the world will be uncomfortable with ministry (either their doing it, or with us if we are doing it). This morning, as I am reading through Matthew, a few more things popped out. In Matthew 10:24–25 Jesus tells (warns!) His followers, "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household." He then goes on to tell them He didn't come to bring peace, but basically to even turn members of a household against one another.

Jesus came into this comfortable world and totally rocked it, ripped it up, and turned it upside down. He talked about turning families against each other, but then talked about the new family of believers and how their love for one another would be so strong it would be sacrificial, and a defining mark of our identity as ones who love Him. He tore apart the physical "laws" of our world—multiplying fish and bread, calming stormy seas. He tore down the biological barriers we believed "solid"—raising the dead, and reversing irreversible diseases. He shattered the hold of darkness over the world, casting out demons who had held men in bondage and agony, and causing them to beg Him for mercy. He tossed about the values and "wisdom" of the world—telling us it is better to give then receive, to love our enemies, that the blessed are the servants and least, that the last would be first, and to not store up treasures on earth but to store them up in Heaven. He offended the "righteous" and gave hope to the "scum"—calling religious leaders broods of vipers and whitewashed tombs, and telling a thief on a cross they'd be together in paradise that night.

When Jesus came He blew into pieces all expectations about Himself—leaving an earthly kingdom in captivity and a few decades away from destruction, but declaring a Kingdom of God that was eternal. He declared Himself a King, but said nothing in His defense and submitted Himself to whips and spit and jeers and a crown of thorns and death. He made an instrument of execution for criminals a sign of adoration for God. He was born from a no account town, laid as a babe in a feed trough for animals, and welcomed by shepherds. 

We could go on and on with examples, but it is safe to say that Jesus came into this world and blew apart everything about it that was normal, safe, and considered "solid." He turned it upside down . . . and He now lives in believers, desiring to live through believers. He has given us His name, He has given us His presence, He has given us His authority and His power. He turned this world upside down and that leaves me with a haunting question: Am I upside down from this world?

It is a legitimate question. If He is in me, living His life through me, then why am I so much like this world when I should be completely upside down from it? Why am I so comfortable with this world, and maybe even a better question, why is it so comfortable with me? There was nothing comfortable that the world had with Jesus. He made it very uncomfortable. He made it squirm. Those comfortable found themselves wanting to get rid of Him. And those least and broken and lost and rejected found in Him love and acceptance and hope.

Am I upside down? And if not, why not?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ministry is Messy

And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him,
they begged him to leave their region.
(Matthew 8:34)
This verse is stunning to me, and a little scary, because it reveals the heart of man . . . including my own. Jesus has just set free two demonized me—men so fierce no one could pass by them. Men who, we gather from other Gospel accounts of this event, broke their chains, bruised themselves with stones, and ran naked. These men were slaves of Satan, cast out of their town, their lives destroyed, terrors to all. And Jesus set them free. But . . . in doing so, in setting these men free, the demons went into a herd of pigs and the pigs plunged off a cliff and died. The herdsmen went running back to town, told everyone what happened, and then comes the verse I quoted above.

Mark records it this way: Mark 5:15–17 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. . . . And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. Of that man, verse 20 tells us, And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Ministry is messy. And we may not be ready for the price it exacts. We shouldn't be surprised, as Jesus told us in following Him that the world would hate us, and warned that even fox and birds have homes, but He has none. Ministry is messy, and it forces us to really evaluate what it is we want. Not just the proper "Christian" response we all know we should give, but what we really want down deep.

These people saw men who had been terrorized by the devil, lives chained by Satan, and they saw them set free and in their right mind . . . and the Son of God in their midst. And they begged Jesus to leave. They were afraid. For some of them, these men being set free had cost them their livelihood.

It isn't a neat little story of men being set free that makes everyone stand up and cheer. Some begged Jesus to leave as a result of it. It cost. It made them afraid.

Years ago I heard a teaching on Proverbs 14:4 which says, Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Basically, if we want a clean stall, don't have oxen. But if we want fruit, expect a messy stall. The people had a choice—rejoice in these men being set free by the Son of God in their midst, or give in to fear and personal cost and ask God to leave. I am reminded of Moses, when God was angry with the people and said He'd have an angel deliver the Promised Land to them but He wouldn't go with them. Moses basically said, "If you won't go with us, don't give us the land." Moses is awesome! Oh that I might be like him. Offered all the worldly blessings and comfort He said, "I'd rather have You, God, than all of that. And if I don't have You, I don't want it."

Ministry is messy. Jesus turned over tables, fashioned a whip, got everyone angry at Him, suffered, missed out on a lot of comforts, had His own family reject Him, was lonely. And He saw people healed and set free. He saw lives restored, and people turned back to their Father.

Many years ago Mary Ann and I were so excited. We'd designed this awesome flyer we mailed to all the mailboxes in our community. We live in a very rural area, and it was a Western them—basically a WANTED poster and where the picture of the outlaw would be we listed things like jealousy, addictions, lust, broken marriages, etc. (I'll put a picture of it in this post.) We were like, "Wow! This is awesome!" It had text that talked about how all these horrible things seem innocent at first but are so dangerous as they roam, and invited people to the service and to see how Jesus could help. Instead of praise, we had people—Christians—concerned about who we were inviting into the community.

I get it. I get the fear. Everyone wants the poor and homeless and addicted taken care of, but nobody wants the shelter next to their house. I know I wouldn't. I like my privacy. I like the quiet. I like not worrying about my girls or possessions. But . . . I won't see the fruit, either, because ministry is messy.

Last night we, the elders of our fellowship, met to talk over some things and I was sharing with them my growing burden for the unborn. I truly don't believe that God will bless a nation that has a legalized holocaust in its midst. And I would hope that as believers, especially men of God, if we knew of a concentration camp down the street we'd do more than just say, "Well, it's the law of the land . . ."

But, if we really want to address the issue, it isn't enough to hold up signs and even get the law changed. What about the single teenager who is pregnant, whose family will cut her off if she doesn't get an abortion? Our we ready to open our home to her? And we can't even just stand with her until the baby is born. It's going to be a long road. Are we ready for that?

I know that on multiple occasions we've opened our home to people in a really rough place, or people who the community rejected. It has often been really hard, it has certainly destroyed the tranquility in our house, and I've more than once wondered if it would be OK or if we'd even have all our stuff when it was over. I've had people at our local Farmer's Market turn their back on me, and others hate me, because we've reached out to "those people." But, ministry is messy.

It is a question we as Christians must ask ourselves—as individuals and as local fellowships. What do we really want to see? And what is the cost we are really willing to pay? Because if we really want a clean stall, then don't go looking for oxen. But if we really want to see fruit, then be ready to shovel poop.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Loving God (How do we?) . . .

In our family worship time we've been spending a lot of time lately on the subject of loving God and loving others—basically the two great commandments given to us by Jesus (Matthew 22:37–40). What does that love look like? Is it a feeling? An act?

In 1 John the Apostle talks over and over about loving others, and repeatedly does so in the context of reminding us of God's great love for us. It seems that as we reflect on, and respond to, God's love for us we inherently love Him more, and that love gives to us a capacity to love others. It tells us that we love because He first loved us. So if our love for others is tied into our love for God (which is made possible by His love for us) then what does it look like to love God?

I asked the question this morning, "If you were to go on trial tonight for the charge of loving God would the evidence of your day be enough to convict you?"In other words, what does a life look like that loves God and has God's love perfect in it?

Obedience: In John 14:15–24 Jesus makes it undeniably clear that a love for Him will result in an obedience to Him and His words. It makes sense. When we love someone we want to please them and honor them. It is a fascinating thing that the Apostle John says, "Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected . . ." (1 John 2:4-5). When we keep His word, it perfects, completes, carries to fulfillment, the love of and for God!

Loving Others: John says, "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 4:7–8). We love others as a choice. As an action. Love is also a fruit of the Spirit of God in us, and we are given a capacity to love others because as a believer God is in us, and He loves them. Sometimes loving others is an "act" of surrendering to God's love in us for them.

Additionally, John says, "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). This is another stunning statement. When we love others, it also brings to perfection His love through us! I love this procession: God loves us, we respond to that love, God comes to dwell in us, God loves others, we love others. God's love is perfected and carried to completion by His first loving us and ultimately our loving others!

Trust: Another "perfection" statement in 1 John that deals with perfecting God's love is found in 1 John 4:17–18 where it says that when we have confidence regarding the day of judgment then God's love is perfected in us—and if we have fear of punishment His love is not perfected in us. His love is perfected in us when we completely trust Him and His work on the cross and His word and His character and promises. And this makes sense, you can't love someone fully if you don't trust them and you despise their character and nature. You can fully commit yourself into someone when you trust them completely.

Time Guarded: Some of my earliest memories are my parents taking an hour or so each day to have a cup of coffee together after work and share the day, catch up, and just talk. Mary Ann and I have guarded this "tradition" of taking time each day to have a cup of coffee and talk in our own marriage. Even when we can't just sit together, but are able to work on a project together, we enjoy each other's presence and company. We are best friends, and just being together is joyful. Ephesians 5:22–33 tells us that a Christian marriage reflects God's love to the world, and I'd like to think that in guarding time together, and enjoying each other's presence in working together, we are revealing a bit about how love for God can look.

Priorities Revealed: Back when everyone wrote checks for everything someone said, "Don't tell me your priorities. Show me your checkbook register for the last month and I'll tell you your priorities." One could say the same today looking over credit card statements, check registers, online payments, etc. Our investments represent our priorities. Be it our financial investments, our time investments, etc. Jesus said to store up our treasures in Heaven, not on earth where moth and thieves and rust destroy. He said that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. If we want our heart to love God more then we must store up the treasures that He loves. We must invest our money and time in the things that He is invested in. The things eternal. The hurting, the lost, the poor, and the defenseless like the unborn and widows and orphans. Our treasures define our heart.

Along those lines, Jesus warns us against believing the lie that we can love both God and money, etc., when He says, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). The Apostle John confirms this in 1 John 2:15–17 when he writes, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."

I do not believe this means we aren't to enjoy things. James 1 tells us not to be deceived but to know that every good and perfect thing is a gift from God to us. And the Apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:17–19, tells us God gives us things to enjoy. We just aren't to love those things, or get too fixed on them, but to rather love and be fixed on the One who gives them to us. The full passage is revealing when it says, "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."

Least of These: Jesus said that God sees whatever we do for the "least of these" as if it was done for Him—and whatever we neglect to do for them, He sees as having neglected to do for Him (Matthew 25:31–46). So, when we love the "least of these" He says He receives it as loving Him. When we visit the sick, the prisoners. When we feed the hungry. When we defend the unborn. When we spend time with the rejected. When we love them He says we are loving Him, and in 1 John 3:17 the question is asked, "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"

Inevitably in any discussion of helping others comes all the questions, "What if I get taken advantage of?" or, "What if I am enabling someone?", etc. I believe the Holy Spirit must guide us in each moment, but I can say in my own life that God has given me ten thousand fold more than I've ever had taken from me. I'd always rather error on the side of love and being taken advantage of, then miss a moment God had positioned me for. Besides, I don't know what fruit my act of kindness might bear down the road as the Holy Spirit moves on someone and convicts their heart and brings them to repentance. Ultimately, in these moments, I have to ask myself, "What is my goal?" Because if my goal is to love God in giving to another, then whatever they do with it is between them and God—I have met my goal.

These are just a few thoughts we've arrived at regarding loving God and others. Maybe you have more. It has been a special week plus talking it over, and I look forward to continuing it. Thanks for sharing in my life. In a way, now, you've sat in on family worship with us . . . you just need a good cup of coffee to "perfect" it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Catching Up, and a Thought About Planting

Hello All. I hope you are well. I am amazed at how the time has flown since I last shared here (August 5). In early August we had a very serious situation with a young lady in our fellowship; followed by the massive Chimney Fire which lasted 2 weeks (took up 3 weeks of our time) and was stopped a tad over a mile from us; and then had a special family trip away visiting both Mary Ann's family and my folks, with being loved on in the middle by the fellowship at Shaver Lake that has so blessed our family. It truly feels like the last month and a half disappeared, they are such a blur. 

Young Lady: We saw a miracle in our midst as she was caught in a serious gang incident and not only lived, but is doing amazing. God's hand is all over it, and despite some very scary days at the early part of August, we are seeing Him work in incredible ways. Prayers for the long road are appreciate.

Chimney Fire from our property.
Chimney Fire: It broke out near Lake Nacimiento (about 8 miles south of our home) on August 13th and from the beginning myself and one of our elders had a strong sense it could massively impact our area. I was four-wheel drivin' and scouting and helping him prepare the ranch he manages for the first week and, sure enough, one week after it started a massive wind shift exploded the fire and it began racing north toward us and many homes in our fellowship. They called for an evacuation and we sent Abigail and our horses out. The rest of us stayed (I am a volunteer fire fighter–20 years this February; Mary Ann was one for five years until Bethany was born; we have great clearance). God really used us to help the engines in our area who were from all over the state and struggled to find their way around out here. It was a long two weeks, but one we felt we were in God's hand throughout, and used of God in many ways through. Being inside the zone we not only helped fire fighters, but we could take care of animals left behind, help people get generators up and running, check on homes, assist in clearing around homes, etc. The fire is out, we have a view of black coastal mountains out part of our kitchen windows, and we are returning to "normal."
Chimney Fire from our property.

Family Trip: Besides seeing family, and some special friends in the fellowship at Shaver Lake, one of the highlights was a back country trail ride the girls took. They had honored my heart to stay in the mountains and near streams (Daddy needed it) and not go down to where the pastor keeps his horses which is in terrain much like ours—brown grass, dry, rolling hills with oaks. Well . . . the pastor and his friend brought three horses and a mule up to 9,000' and took the girls into the back country on a 10 mile ride, crossing creeks and rock faces, getting rained on, stopping to eat in a beautiful meadow, skirting a high mountain reservoir. It was an amazing gift and God truly blessed them in this act of love, and blessed Mary Ann and me as parents able to watch them have that experience.

The girls leaving on their trail ride.

We are home, and adjusting to getting back into the daily "stuff," and trying to process how one keeps up the sense of the much bigger we had while going through all of this. It is so hard not to get back into a rut of the daily, and lose the awe of serving a mighty God and having Him living in and through us. During times like we've been through—at the family level, and larger fellowship level—personality issues fade, little irritants are set aside, and the daily monotonous things go to the side. But then "normal" life returns and all the little stuff becomes "big" again if you aren't careful, and we are trying to process that as individuals, as a family, and as a fellowship.

In the future, among other things, I do hope to blog more about abortion. I feel it is possibly the most important thing facing our nation today. It is impossible to ask God to bless a nation that "lawfully" condones the murder of babies, just like He couldn't if we had "legal" concentration camps down the streets and we did nothing. And it is not simply a "woman's issue." Men are called to stand up and protect the defenseless, and the unborn epitomize the defenseless. We will I believe, as Christians, in some way answer to God for what we did—or didn't do—on behalf of the unborn—at a minimum we will reap the cost of it on our nation and lives. I would like to keep sharing my thoughts on this, and working through many aspects around it I am unsettled and challenged in—making sure a nation understands the horror of abortion while offering grace and love from God to those who've had abortions; finding each of our individual roles in the abortion fight knowing many are called into battle in many different areas of God's heart, and in many different ways; keeping my heart filled with love and joy in the midst of such a hard subject; legislating abortion versus abolishing abortion; and more. For right now I would encourage you to visit and read the petition there. If you agree, sign it. I have. Abortion must not just be legislated in degrees, it must be abolished. Right now it is the "law of the land"—but totally in contradiction to the law and heart of God. He can't bless us if any level of abortion remains legal, and if our judges and politicians actually read and believed our nations founding legal documents they'd see that abortion is not only illegal, but that they have a mandate to stop it (but, of course, many have justified their minds into thinking the unborn are not a person). We are a nation that was founded on God's laws and Word. We have left that. We now, as pagans, legally condone many, many practices completely in the face of what God says. We will reap what we sow . . . and, along those lines, in closing, a thought from my reading through the Bible this morning . . .

Today I almost finished Hosea. In Hosea 8:7 it says, "For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. . . ." As I read that I thought, "Isn't that true of seeds and everything else. What we reap is always far bigger than what we planted." It struck me as a strong warning to us to not be casual with even "small" sins because they will reap far bigger consequences. We see that in David who allowed himself to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and from that give in to temptation, then have to cover it with bigger sins, and ultimately be drawn into a path from which his whole life, family, and nation would suffer. I also believe it works in the positive. Galatians 6:7-10 says:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
What are we sowing (planting)? It may seem small and insignificant in the moment, but we will reap what we sow, and its yield will be bigger than what we planted. It is a good question to ask God to reveal to us in our individual lives.

God bless all of you. Thanks for reading and sharing in my life. —Erick

Friday, August 5, 2016

I Was

"I was." No, that isn't a misquote of the famous God "I Am" words. I'm talking about me. I'll explain the train of thought that took me to this post . . .

In my reading through the Bible I just finished Jeremiah and began Lamentations. I see so strongly the effect on a nation of turning from God, and the effect when God turns from a nation. I found myself in an internal back and forth that is too familiar to me, "God, have mercy on our nation. But if He does, then everyone will continue in their arrogant and successful life just as they are and will never come to Him. They need to be woken up. But, even 9/11 didn't do that. It only lasted for a bit." On and on that dialogue goes in me, back and forth. If God blesses this nation then everyone continues on just as they are, arrogantly assuming they or a nation are the source of their blessing. But even a true disaster only seems to send people running to God for a short time, until their lives are "blessed" again. I know, in my heart, that what our nation needs is for individuals in it to encounter the Holy Spirit and turn to Jesus. We will only truly change as a nation when the individuals in us change.

As I was thinking about our nation and its current condition I felt the familiar anger rise up. And then, suddenly, it hit me in a very powerful way. I was everything I am angered about in our nation today! I was intellectually proud, and I felt I was the one who could plot my life and make it a success. I was pro people being able to do what they wanted and not having other people tell them what to do—I remember arguing round and round with Mary Ann that prostitution should be legal because it was "their choice." I was pro abortion—not seeing a baby in the womb, but seeing only a women's body and others trying to tell her what to do with it (my perception). I thought I was a moral relativist, believing what was right for some was right for them, but it didn't mean it was right for others—that there was no absolute right and wrong across cultures. (In fact, a professor at West Point confronted me on my stand and it was a wake up moment for me. I write a lot about moral relativism in this blog, but I specifically mention that incident with my professor here, here, and here.) I mocked the Bible, God, and Christians (I flung profanity at a God I claimed I didn't believe in), and I believed in evolution and an old earth. On and on I could go, but I think the point is made. Everything that angers me today . . . I was.

And, as I look back, I realize that no law in the world could have changed me. In fact it would have angered me even more to have someone "shove" their beliefs onto my life in law (I am not arguing that laws shouldn't exist that reflect God's heart, just saying how it wouldn't have changed my heart, even if it forced my compliance). While laws have value—they regulate a society, they protect unborn and other defenseless, they model a moral code to youth—ultimately I don't believe they change a heart, and that is the only thing that changed me. God having mercy on me, an arrogant and blasphemous atheist, put Mary Ann and others into my life and the Holy Spirit drew me to Him and He changed me, from the inside. And that is, I believe, the only hope for our nation in the end—a personal encounter with Jesus by the ones who make up this nation. And then allowing Him to change our hearts into alignment with His. (Even God's Law wasn't an end in itself, it was a tutor or schoolmaster to reveal sin and point us to Jesus.)

I recognize that even among Christians not all agree on everything, but without that at least as a starting point I don't think a change is possible for us. He makes us new creations. He writes His law on our hearts. He teaches us truth. And that brings up then the question, what is my role in drawing people in this nation to Jesus, the ultimate changer of hearts? Because until He came into my heart and changed me, everything that bothers and grieves me today in others in this nation . . . I was.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Expect the Unexpected

First day of home educating for the year. Teacher and books
and, of course, coffee and hot chocolate. It's tradition!

We have started our school year, and part of it includes trying to do family devotions each morning before "school" starts. This morning I shared something that struck me during my morning reading in Jeremiah 36. In a nutshell, here's a summary of the chapter then I'll share what spoke to me.
Summary: God told Jeremiah to write on a scroll everything He'd spoken to Jeremiah against Israel and Judah. Baruch took dictation from Jeremiah and wrote all of his words on a scroll (words of warning to the people, of the coming capture by Nebuchadnezzar, etc.). Since Jeremiah was banned from the Lord's house, Baruch went and read the scroll there. A man who heard it went to the secretary's chamber in the king's house and the officials were sitting there (the Bible lists their names). He told them what he'd heard and they called Baruch to share the words with them. They felt fear (they believed the words) and went and told the king about them. The king cut up the scroll and burned it, and he and his family paid a horrible price for that.
Teacher and students and Shofar. It's tradition!
 As I read this the words about the officials in the secretary's chamber of the king's house struck me: "and all the officials were sitting there." It didn't strike me that they should have been doing something else, or were lazy, etc. What struck me is that they were probably just sitting there, talking, hanging together, with no idea that in a moment God was going to do something in their midst, and they were going to respond in a way that would get their names recorded in the Bible for all earthly time.

"Were sitting there." Think back over the most significant moments in your life when God worked either in it, on you, or through you, on another. My guess is that many, many of those times weren't in some big, anticipated, ministry event or activity. My guess is that many of them were in an unexpected meeting with someone, or phone call, or external event, that started a chain of events that was life changing. And God works that way so many times . . . Moses, just out in the desert tending sheep. Gideon just beating out wheat in the winepress. David out tending sheep. David just taking food to his brothers.

Principal and coffee. It's tradition.
On and on we could find those moments, totally unexpected, when God suddenly moves and everything changes. (Often we don't even realize the significance of the moment at the time.) Think of the calling of the different disciples—just out mending nets, fishing, another day on the job at the tax booth. And suddenly, without warning, a moment of decision or opportunity arises that could change the world—and don't take that too lightly, because one person's life being changed could easily ripple into lives changed across the globe, especially in this day and age of interconnected people through technology.

These men sitting in the secretary's chamber heard about God's word and responded. They believed and acted. The king heard the same words and responded. He burned it. Two groups, both heard the same words, both had it brought "out of the blue" to them, both reacted differently. And I doubt either group of men got up that morning anticipating a huge "God moment." It just suddenly happened in their midst. Suddenly brought before them.

In June 2010 I wrote a blog post called "My Pad of Paper . . ." In it I write about why I carry a pad of paper and a mechanical pencil everywhere with me. It is because, for me, to not do so say I don't expect to hear anything worth recording from God. And why would I not expect to? God loves me. God lives in me. God is at work in me, through me, and around me. God has plans for me. God desires to lead me in truth.

For that matter, why would we ever not expect the unexpected moment? There is a real, unseen spiritual world, good and bad, that interacts with ours. There is God in us, and a devil pacing about. There are people all around us whom God loves. There is the natural cause and effect of living in a sin-cursed world. It is always the perfect storm, the ripe conditions for the unexpected to happen. And we must ask ourselves, "Am I ready for it? Or, like Bilbo, am I content in my Hobbit hole, stunned by, and totally unprepared for, any adventure that is suddenly thrust on me?"

We have a speaker coming in this Sunday I am really excited about. He is a friend who is a Ph.D. scientist who tells us why we can trust the literal Genesis Creation account. I am anticipating Sunday morning. I am ready .  . . But what if the big moment God is planning this weekend is that neighbor I'll bump into at the mailbox, and whether or not I follow a nudge from God and just wave, or stop and talk, could change lives and the world forever . . .

Friday, July 22, 2016

Anger Without Sin

Note: I will still post more of my thoughts, reflections, and struggles regarding abortion (See "A 'Floating' Controversy: Parts 1, 2, and 3") in days ahead, but I wanted to share this today. Thanks so much to those of you who have taken the time to talk with me, or email me, or comment with your prayerful thoughts about abortion and how we are to address it. You have blessed me. I am truly shaped, by God, through Godly friends, in so many ways.

Well, I did it. In my anger and frustration I posted something sarcastic on Facebook, and later took it down . . . though at the time I posted it I even felt in my spirit a caution (which I ignored). Basically it was a meme (or whatever they are called) that was a reference to Ted Cruz's convention speech the night before, and the boos and hate that came when he didn't endorse Trump. It said, "Dear Trump Voters . . . Here is the most critical question of all for those who didn't like Ted's speech. When he asked people to vote for a candidate who shares your values and would defend the Constitution, why didn't you think he was talking about your candidate?"

I know about "the pledge" Ted took. I know he refused to endorse Trump. I know all that. This isn't about Ted. This is about my frustration and the biting sarcasm God has really helped me come free of all coming together in a perfect storm and causing me to sin and have to relearn a lesson.

As a background I am so tired of the biggest reason anyone can give me to vote for Trump being that it is a vote against Hillary and to save our Supreme Court. These are powerful reasons, I get it, but what does it say when the strongest arguments "for" a person are the arguments against their opponent? I am sick of a nation more concerned about allegiance and blind loyalty to a political party—even one that no longer reflects them—then to God (one of the reasons I went from the Republican party to no party affiliation toward the end of the primaries). I am tired of being made to feel like if I don't vote for a man like Trump I am voting to destroy a nation I put my life on the line to defend. I am so tired of people who I know love God (even some candidates I used to respect) singing Trump's praises simply to beat Hillary, knowing that, despite a few token "God" references thrown out, he is proud, a self-proclaimed lover of money, rude, arrogant, seemingly unrepentant, if what I have heard about his book is true then a boaster in sexual exploits, and his financial success is in part tied into an industry that preys on people at their most desperate and lost place (gambling and the associated lives, entertainment, and industries around it) . . . to mention a few things.

God opposes the proud! God! God does! I am supposed to vote for a candidate who God is going to oppose? My doing that is going to "save" America and make it great again? Really? If we ever thought our greatness came from anything other than God's blessing and favor then we are more ignorant than I thought.

More and more I am seeing how this world is not my home. It doesn't reflect me or my values. I am an alien and stranger in it. My citizenship is in Heaven. I am seeing things called "okay" that I never thought I'd have to prepare my daughters to deal with in a mainstream society. But, I shouldn't have been surprised. I guess that is what verses like this are talking about:

2 Timothy 3:1-5   But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

2 Timothy 4:3-4   For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Isaiah 5:20-21   Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!
I guess, if I'm honest, I want to be able to "win" in this world and I should have never expected to be able to. I want to be able to vote for a candidate I believe in and who I feel like God will bless, and not feel like I am betraying my country (and even my daughters' future, if Hillary gets to pick the Supreme Court). I can't win. And so I guess I have to choose—trust (and fear) God more than man and vote for who I believe He will bless, or vote my "wisdom" and hope God comes behind my choice.

But here is the crux of this post, and the real reason for it. I have many friends, who I love, who are probably voting for Trump—and my falling to sarcasm in my anger and hurt and frustration was not love toward them, or toward anyone who feels they are doing the right thing. These are people who I do believe love God and treasure this nation, and I let my hurt cause me to be sarcastic and biting toward them.

Cutting sarcasm is something I struggled with in my early Christian days. Before Christianity I loved to debate. I loved a chance to verbally dissect someone without having to use profanity or things like that (an ignorant way out, I felt). Oratory was something I studied for fun. A hero was Winston Churchill who supposedly told the lady who said that if he was her husband she'd poison his tea, that if he were her wife he would drink it. I took pride in that zinger that left somebody floored. And I was good at it. After I came to Christ I really had to reign that in. To be OK not getting in the last word. To let someone get me with a zinger and to hold back the one I had for a reply—one I knew would knock out their verbal knees from under them.

At first I reigned it in with sheer will, but gradually God has helped me to where it isn't even a first thought anymore. I don't want to "zap" people. I want to love them and show them Christ. I don't have to get in the last word or line. It is OK to just love and take it. Just like Jesus did.

But yesterday, seeing all the hate coming towards Ted for failing to endorse Trump, and the blind party loyalty we are "demanded" of just to "stop Hilary," and feeling trapped in a no win situation, I saw someone's meme and thought it biting and, lashing out, I shared it. And in doing so I let my anger cause me to sin. To be unloving to people I care about. To go the way of the world and not love. Scary, isn't it, how close that "old stuff" still often is in our new creations?

I don't believe loving means compromising on truth. But God says in Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger." I have found—unfortunately too many times—that I can be as well-intentioned and even scripturally "right" as can be, but if I am not acting in love it is worthless because God is love, and He won't bless or be a part of that which isn't.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A “Floating” Controversy: Part 3

Note: The background for this series of posts is found in Part 1. I would deeply value you reading this series, as well as your prayerful thoughts and input. These posts reflect something I’ve been processing for a while now, and am still trying to work through.

How do we engage the public and expose/place the reality of what abortion is in a position that it can’t be pushed under the table . . . and still engage, and be welcoming to, and offer love and hope to, those (female and male) on the other side of an abortion? This is something I’ve thought a lot about, but not gotten a clear answer to. Each time I’ve addressed abortion in a group environment I’ve been aware of, and deeply sensitive to, the pain in the eyes of some in the group that my guess harkens back to an abortion they had, or maybe a part they played in one, or something they didn’t do to stop one. And these are people, often, who have sat and heard of God's love and forgiveness for years.

I’ve struggled with the idea of signs showing photos of aborted babies in public places. I know for me those images were a graphic wake up call that this is real, those are babies, and that the murder of babies is happening daily, all around me. There is no way to avoid the issue when you see one of those. But I've also had that same effect from Ultrasound photos (though, if I'm honest, not as powerfully). But . . . what about the small child that walks by and sees it, who isn't in a place for that subject yet? What about a parent's right to raise that issue with their child when they are ready? And, of course, on the other side, what about the rights of the baby inside the womb that needs people to defend him or her?

Too often I feel like myself and the church at large are too
much like this cow we saw on our anniversary—trying
to stand with feet on both sides of the fence.
And, what about the person who walks by a sign like that and feels waves of shame and guilt for an abortion they took part in, and maybe because of the bluntness of the signs and message feels too ashamed or intimidated or condemned to talk about it? What about when they go home filled with shame and guilt and isolation—or turn to sex or drugs or alcohol or even worse to try to escape or numb the pain? God loves those people as much as He loves the babies being aborted. And, while I believe that those babies will be in Heaven, many of those people might not be.

I don’t know how to handle the issue of abortion—and I mean by this the rubber meets the road nuts and bolts of walking out a stand against it, and the love of God for those who've already participated in it. I know the ideal "theology" of it that works so well sitting around a cup of coffee and talking, that it must be a mix of truth and grace. That is what Jesus modeled for us. But, I am talking about what does this mix of both look like on the street, in real life? Because, honestly, what is happening in this nation today isn't working—babies are still being legally killed and handling the issue "softly" and "non-offensively" isn't changing it.

So, for those who love babies, and who also love God and His work on the cross dying for the lost and for our sin, how do those two messages (truth and grace) mix, in a practical way? I remember talking with my friend about the float when it was in the "thought" stage and asking about the Gospel/forgiveness message. He made a good point. If there are too many messages on one float they all get diluted and all get lost. It reminds me of Mary Ann and my early days doing desktop publishing. The first instinct was to cram as many messages as you could on a sign or flyer, but the end result was a crowded mess that said nothing. We ended up fighting to preserve the "white space" (blank parts of a page) so that what was written would stand out. [Note: Danny intended to have people with Liberty Bell bags with gospel literature walking behind the float looking for people who seemed bothered so they could stop and talk to them, but it didn't happen with all the hassle they were given.]

It is easy to “pick on” abolitionists who stand there with "those" photos. The internet is full of people hating or attacking them (even many “Pro Life” people). And, if we are honest, they make us uncomfortable. But is the warm fuzzy approach working? Is this nation turning from abortion? Are churches having those hard discussions and being active in the issue beyond a few dollars to a C.P.C.? Will people confront this issue if they aren’t forced out of their comfort zones and ostrich holes?

Ultimately I know that the Holy Spirit needs to lead and direct every encounter, street moment, etc. Jesus rarely did the same thing twice the same way. Each encounter was different and unique to each person He faced. But if we aren't careful, "letting the Holy Spirit lead" can become a way to avoid the whole thing. How many of us are, really (be honest now), listening for Him to say, "Go and take your sign and stand at that intersection"?

And so I return to the original question that I am still trying to work through: How do we—how do I—confront this issue in a way that the nation can no longer let it exist in the background (and that Christians uncomfortable with the issue will still face the elephant in the room) and, at the same time, make sure that every person who is on the other side of an abortion (or participation in some way with one) knows the love and forgiveness and freedom from shame and guilt that God offers (and feels safe talking to us about it)? How do we do both?

Friday, July 15, 2016

A “Floating” Controversy: Part 2

Note: The background for this series of posts is found in Part 1. I would deeply value you reading this series, and I would value your prayerful thoughts and input. They reflect something I’ve been processing for a while now, and am still trying to work through.

I recognize the heart of one complaint against the float, that they (some of the people complaining) want to introduce to, and discuss with, their kids, on their time of choosing, the issue of the womb, etc. I understand that. One of the main reasons we homeschool is to obey God’s command to train up our children and so we can direct and monitor what our girls learn and when they learn it, and to make sure that they understand the Godly foundation of all subjects. I get the person’s complaint . . . but I have to ask, “So, are the discussions happening?” Are they talking about the ugly truth of abortion at any point?

Here is the comment I put on the web sites and Facebook pages of the two newspapers I am aware of that covered the float. It said:
I truly understand parents wanting to introduce subjects to their children on their time, and under their direction. It is a legitimate parental concern, and one of many reasons we homeschool. But the issue remains for those who believe that life begins at conception, and this is, “Then when is the right time?” We celebrate the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July, and it has almost at its very beginning the statement that the Creator has given unalienable rights to all men, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For those who believe that 3,000 or more people a day are having those rights taken from them with out being given a choice in the matter (meaning 3,000 plus babies whose “choice” is not considered in the “pro-choice” position) how could anyone stand by and not try and change that? Not putting the issue before people isn’t working, obviously. Our nation continues on its course. So what is the time and the place, then? At what point would people stand up and confront an issue if it was legal rape or a legal concentration camp or something like that in our midst? I’d hope that this nation of people who love freedom would rise up and do something, and not celebrate the freedom as if nothing is wrong. Again, I do understand the concern of parents, and I can think of many potential floats that could have gone by portraying things I would find offensive or not want my children exposed to. I really get that. But then I wonder. If not then, then when is the time? Again, being silent isn’t changing anything. And for people who believe those are defenseless babies that are being killed, it is morally wrong to just stand by and do nothing.
Based on the responses to my comment and others' it quickly became apparent that while there were probably some people who agreed with the float’s stand but simply didn’t like the timing or their kids being exposed to the issue at that point, for the most part the core of people’s complaints was really the subject matter. As one lady replied to me, “The right time to shame people for making choices that effect their own body is NEVER. Mind your own uterus.” It wasn’t the float being in the Fourth of July parade (i.e., the timing). It was the float. Period! For most of them, the float would have never been OK!

And, so, what about the timing? Is it inappropriate to have a float like that (seemingly controversial, depressing, difficult topic, maybe or maybe not age appropriate, etc.) in the midst of a joyous, family time parade? Again, if have to ask, is the conversation happening elsewhere? Are the ugly and horrible facts being addressed? Would there ever be a “good” time in the eyes of those complaining? Would they have complained if it was a gay pride float, or if cross dressers were parading? Or is it only tolerance and love for the born but not the unborn?

I know I’d be angry if a float with gay people kissing or one showing sexually suggestive stuff went by a parade I took my girls to . . . so I understand the heart of the complaint (if the timing argument is the real heart and not just a way to push the issue aside). But, again, the float portrays a reality! If that reality didn’t exist there would be no reason for the float. I wonder, could we have a joyous, family parade celebrating the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness our Creator gave to “all men” a block or two away from a known concentration camp where innocent and helpless Jews were being starved and gassed? I’d hope not! Wouldn’t there be some hypocrisy in that? Rather, I’d hope we wouldn’t bury our head in the sand and pretend, like Voltaire’s Candide, “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” No, we, as Christians, know evil is real, and suffering is real, and that the devil preys on the weak and innocent. I’d hope we’d liberate the camp, set them free, and then celebrate together the freedom for everyone!

Three thousand plus abortions a day in America. So, when is the “right” time to discuss it? If people aren’t outlawing it, then what option is there besides making them aware of the stark and real horror and reality of it? And what are we, ourselves, doing about it? Do we throw a few dollars at a Crisis Pregnancy Center and feel better about ourselves? (There will be more about C.P.C.s and some different thoughts on the Pro Life and abolitionist's works and stand in a future post in this series.) Our family and our fellowship both support in different ways a local CPC, and I believe that many babies are saved and people brought to Christ through it, but I also know that there are times I’ve let myself off the hook from things more uncomfortable and said to myself, “Well, I give to ____ and they fight abortion.”

But what am I doing? Me? I am not saying that everyone is necessarily called to stand on a street corner against abortion. I do believe God calls His body to many different areas of activism for the hurting and defenseless and downtrodden (poor, addicted, widows, orphans, homeless, etc.). That is the idea of a body—many members, each doing its unique gift and calling. But . . . if I’m really honest . . . the magnitude of the abortion issue calls me to do a lot more simply by the horror and scope of what is happening. How can I, in good faith, ask God to bless a land that does what this land does to babies? How can God bless a church—a body of Christ—that lives in the midst of concentration camps and does nothing, or just throws a few dollars towards it?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A “Floating” Controversy: Part 1

Note: This post will set the stage for multiple posts on the abortion issue. I know they are long, but I would deeply value you reading this series of posts, and I would value your prayerful thoughts and input. They reflect something I’ve been processing for a while now (and struggling with), and am still trying to work through.

My heart is heavy. I like to be comfortable, and my heart gets heavy when I am confronted with something I know is right, but I am uncomfortable doing. In the issue I am about to write about, I know I am not doing enough.

A float that was in the recent Templeton Fourth of July parade is causing quite a stir in local papers and on Facebook for such a small “hometown” parade (Templeton is about an hour from us). The float was made by a group opposed to abortion (more about them and a petition they have in a future post) and it consisted of American flags, an eight-foot tall Statue of Liberty (without the torch lit), lots of baby dolls, some banners (one read, “Where the Spirit of God is there is Freedom! Let Freedom ring!” and the other talked about how abortion is America’s holocaust), and some photos of babies in the womb. Because of the venue of a family patriotic parade these were beautiful photos of babies in the womb—“fetuses” according to the newspaper—and not photos of aborted babies as some of the critics accused them of doing. That being said, if any young adult or adult is not fully convinced that abortion in fact kills a baby (not a “fetus”), seeing photos of aborted babies will quickly change that because even a child will immediately know that they are truly babies and not just a “fetus.”

The designer of the float—Danny—was quoted in a local paper saying, “Our hope is to create a juxtaposition between the freedom we hold in our ideal and the freedom that is still being withheld to so many around the world. With the flag of our country flying over an eight foot statue of Lady Liberty we see the ideal of American freedom we hold in our minds. At the base of the float [where the baby dolls were] we see those still in need of being liberated. With the Liberty Bell following and ringing out to call our nation out of its slumber and to attention. To wake the nation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Join us in the ongoing fight for freedom!” [Note: because of controversy when the parade director tried to block the float they were not able to follow it with the Liberty Bell and the literature about Jesus they had for people who might seem to be struggling after seeing the float.]

I know Danny. Fairly well. And he and his family are some of the most humble, God-loving and obeying people I know. I have rarely met a family so committed to live out and act out what they believe God is calling them to. We may not agree on every theological issue, but I have a sense that God is far more pleased with Danny’s actions in faith than any theological correctness I may have that I’m not acting on (see A Stunning Realization for more on that really, really important idea . . .).

As I read many of the comments about the float complaining that the Fourth of July parade wasn’t the place for it I kept thinking back to Danny’s comments regarding the “ideal” of freedom we celebrated that day, juxtaposed to the reality that over 3,000 babies a day in the United States have no freedom to choose life (the “Pro Choice” movement never seems to talk about the baby’s choice). I then thought about the Fourth of July which is the celebration of our Declaration of Independence, and the words of the Declaration itself, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness . . .” Ironic that people complain about the public defense of a baby’s freedom and life, on the day they celebrate a document that established us with the idea that a CREATOR has given to ALL PEOPLE the gifts of LIFE and LIBERTY and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. I guess that pursuit only applies to the mother and not the baby. But, of course, those who feel that way don’t consider it a baby but rather a “fetus” . . .

And this is a core question of this whole issue. Is he or she a baby, or is “it” a blob, a fetus, a bunch of cells? Well that all hinges on when life begins. As a Christian I believe it is untenable to believe it begins at any place other than conception. To believe God would create life, in His image, to be “life” only when it can be medically supported outside the womb is to bind God’s hands to mans’ science. It is to say that a baby went from fetus to baby at, say 8 and a half months a couple centuries ago, but goes from fetus to baby maybe at seven months today (I am just making up figures to make a point)—or that, say, an 8 month “fetus” in America is a baby, but it is still a fetus in a third world country. That is nonsense for people who believe it is God that gives life in the first place. Besides that common sense reason for life being life in the womb, we have only to think about John the Baptist, in the womb, leaping at the entrance of Mary, who was carrying Jesus in the womb. Or about David’s Psalm 139 where he marvels how God knit him together in his mother’s womb, or God’s comment in Jeremiah 1:5 when he tells Jeremiah that He knew him before He even formed him in the womb.

No, for a Christian, life must be considered to begin at conception, and as such it must be defended as the epitome of the defenseless. And so, what does that defense of life look like? And here is the point at which it gets uncomfortable. I will post more about this and thoughts I am struggling with in coming posts, but hopefully this post has given the background for what I am going to write about.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Stunning Realization

I understand the faith that God looks for to be far beyond simply a belief that He is real. The Bible tells us even the demons believe that and tremble. When the Israelites chose fear instead of trusting God, and His promise of the Promised Land as well as His promise to be with them in the occupation of it, God said they despised Him and didn't believe in Him (Numbers 14:11). He also says that their failure was because they didn't have faith (Hebrews 4:2) and this was, in His eyes, disobedience (Hebrews 4:6).

Did the Israelites believe God existed? Absolutely. But they didn't believe in Him (as in His nature and character and goodness and love). When we say we believe in another person we aren't saying we believe they exist, we are saying we have confidence in them. The Israelites didn't commit themselves and their life choices into a relationship of trust with Him. And so often God calls us the same way. He points us in a direction, and says, "I'll be with you." Often we are acutely aware of the obstacles in front of us (as was Moses, Joshua, Gideon, etc.). Then He waits for our choice—sight, fear, etc., or a commitment into a trust relationship with Him and the promise of His presence . . . faith.

How important is this type of faith relationship to God, where we act in our life based on our trust in Him? Romans 14:13–23 is a stunning revelation of it—one that will rock our "religious roots" to their core. Paul is saying how he knows all food has been made clean, but that some brothers in Christ aren't convinced. He warns against grieving them in our choices, or to make them stumble (lead them into eating something they are convinced in their heart it is OK to eat). Please read the following verses and then I'll share what to me is an amazing thought about them . . .

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:20–23)

On the surface—the first read—what God is saying through Paul is simple enough. "You know that food is OK. I've made it OK. But don't cause them to stumble though, if they don't think it is OK." But then we realize what God is really saying, and it challenges everything in us that is still tied to works instead of relationship as a basis of our salvation and acceptance before God.

What is God really saying here? How about, "I would rather have a child theologically incorrect but living in a committed faith/trust/love relationship with Me that directs their life, then have a child be theologically 'perfect' and not be living in that faith relationship with Me." Wow! Our faith is more important to God than our getting every theological point perfect! And the true is same of love. He is going to far more bless something we do in love that may not be just right, than the perfect act or words we do/speak that aren't in love. This is a stunning insight into God's heart, and it makes sense. Trust and a commitment in love and trust to a person—a commitment that drives our life—is far more important than getting it all perfect (all the right words and theology and works) apart from love and trust. And, if we think about it, we'd value the same things in any human relationship we were involved in as well . . .

Saturday, June 18, 2016

We Must Decide . . .

I am reading in Jeremiah this week and it begins with God calling Jeremiah and telling him what He wants him to do regarding prophesying to the people of Judah (never a popular job). In fact, God tells him, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). Very similar to Moses and Gideon (and others) when they were called, Jeremiah starts pointing out why he's not qualified for the job. And, just like the others, God tells him what He will do for him, and promises the most important promise of all—the one God expects to carry beyond all others and to make all the difference—when He says, "​Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you . . ." (Jeremiah 1:8a).

God then tells Jeremiah a little more about what's ahead, and then says these words that are so powerful—and such a statement of the choice we as Christians each face. He says to Jeremiah, regarding the people God is calling him to prophecy to, ". . . Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them" (Jeremiah 1:17b).

And therein lies the choice. The reality. We must decide: "Who will I trust, fear, and serve?" It can't be both God and man! That's it. God says, basically, "I've called you. I've addressed your fears. I've promised My provision and, even more, My presence. So now you must decide—who will you trust, fear, and serve? What will affect your attitude and your outlook—man, or My promise and presence? What will have the weight in your life?"

I've often made a sticker for my office or laptop that says, "Do it all for an audience of One." I don't always live up to that—I want to be liked, popular, fun to be around, thought well of, etc., but it is my goal. God has told us that we can't serve both Him and mammon (money), and it is also true that we can't serve (in the sense of allowing them to dictate our lives and hearts) both God and man. His call will put us in conflict with our flesh and with its desires for pleasure, acceptance, comfort, popularity. Jesus warns us, the world will hate us as it hated Him . . . and His life experience shows us that even "religious" people can come against us when we teach truth.

The Israelites at the Jordan River faced a similar decision. Ten spies spoke doom and gloom about the inhabitants of the land across the river God had promised them. Two spies spoke faith and trust in the God Who'd promised it and promised to go with them into it. In this case the people chose fear—to allow the fear of man to outweigh the promise and presence of God. And they missed the promise. It lay there, dormant, just across the river and they never watered it with faith. As such it continued to lay there, dormant, waiting for someone of faith to bring it to life, while the Israelites wandered in the wilderness until they died.

In Act 4 Peter and John are called before the religious leaders and threatened and ordered to stop teaching or speaking in the name of Jesus the two men replied, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19–20). The early church. The prophets of the Old Testament. Christians in persecuted countries today. All of us seeking to love and follow God in a world of people we want to be liked by, and comfortable in, must decide—"Who will I trust, fear, and serve?" It can't be both God and man. And all of us Christians have the same promise given to Moses and Gideon and Jeremiah and Joshua. We have God's promise that He will be with us, that He will never leave us or forsake us, that He will be with us even unto the end of the ages. Not only "will" He be with us in the trials ahead when we must choose who we will serve, but He is IN us now, and He will be IN us then. No wonder they say our covenant with God on this side of the cross is even better than the Old Covenant!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Feeling Crabby

One thing about having to be on the road a lot lately is that it gives us a chance to stop now and then and check out some road cuts for fossils. On Monday Mary Ann and Abigail and I were blessed to do a little fossil hunting, and then Mary Ann and I did some more in a different location yesterday. I thought you might enjoy seeing the treasures we found. God is so good, and the Bible so trustworthy. He told us how He created the world. He told us how He flooded it. And He put the evidence of it all around us to just find. Enjoy a slice of our life with us. God bless you.
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Proverbs 25:2
Crabs found after we split open an "innocent" looking rock.

Probably a sea urchin. Still in rock matrix.

Huntin' together.

Clam like shell still in rock matrix.

Missing God in the Midst of God Things

I was blessed last evening to be able to sit in on the final chapel session of high school LIFE Camp when we went to pick up our oldest daughter. The speaker, as a part of his teaching, talked about Peter in Acts 10. In preparing Peter to minister the gospel to the Gentiles, God gave him a dream of all kinds of animals and then told him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."

Peter's reply? "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." God goes on to let Peter know that he shouldn't call "common" what God has made clean, and then to lead him to a Gentile home to share the news of the Jew's messiah (Jesus) with people Jews would have never thought could have been "eligible" for their God's salvation.

The way the speaker (a pastor from, I believe, Vintage Community Church in Templeton) put it really struck me. He said something to the effect of, "Peter told God 'no' because Peter was being religiously proper." Basically Peter called God "Lord" which means, basically, "You are Lord and I'll do whatever You want," and then told Him "no" in the same breath. It gave me pause . . .

How many times do we miss God in the midst of doing "religious" stuff? I have often taught and reminded others (and needed reminding myself) that church services, worship, teachings, Bible studies, and even the Bible, are not the end. They are all to point us to the One who is the end—Jesus, the living Word, the Truth. He is the end, not stuff about Him, and we can, if we aren't careful, replace Him with stuff about Him and never even realize we've done it because we are so immersed in "God stuff."

Think of the Jews. They crucified Jesus because He didn't match their religious expectations and ways. Think of John the Baptist, the one who baptized "the One who sets the captives free" and is sitting in jail, wondering if Jesus is the One. Jesus tells him, "And blessed is the one who is not offended by me" (Matthew 11:6). Basically, I believe, "Don't be offended or made to stumble in your faith because I am not doing what you expected Me to do, or being how you expected Me to look." This is John the Baptist! The one who leaped in his mother's womb with the baby Jesus, still in Mary's womb, entered the room! "Are You the One?"

I am reminded of Acts 12 when Peter is in prison and the disciples are gathered in a home, praying (you have to believe they are praying, at least in part, for Peter's release!). An angel comes, frees Peter, and he goes and knocks on the gate of the house. Rhoda, a servant girl, heard Peter's voice and in her joy forgot to let him in but ran and told the others. Their response to her news that Peter was outside, free? Acts 12:15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!”

So caught up in praying, they missed the answer to their prayer right outside the gate. It is ironic, but a warning to us as well. God is alive, in believers, and at work. Everything must make Him the end, the ultimate goal and purpose of our life. He is the living water, the breath and bread of life. He alone. We can be so caught up in religious "stuff" about Him that we miss Him, what He is doing, what He is trying to lead us into, what He is trying to tell us, and then wonder why we are so burned out and spiritually parched when we've been doing all this religious stuff!

He is the end. Him alone. This isn't against church, Bible study, etc.—those are all important, and Biblical. But He is our end. Intimate, personal. Him. That is why, I believe, Jesus asked Peter why he doubted on the water and said he was of little faith. If faith was just some religious "thing" then Peter had a lot more than the others who stayed in the boat. They should have been rebuked. But if faith is deeply personal and relational and at the core of what we believe is true about God, His love, His nature and character, then Jesus' question to Peter is one of a deep and personal nature. And it has to be. Because it isn't about religious stuff. It's about Jesus.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Few Good Examples

In my last post, Words Matter, I shared some thoughts on what it says/reveals depending on where we place the word "but" in our sentences. I used the following hypothetical sentences, both about the same thing, as an example:

1. "God is good and powerful and loving, but I am dealing with x, and y, and z."
2. "I am dealing with x, and y, and z, but God is good and powerful and loving."

The two are dramatically different in where we are putting our final emphasis, hope, and view. In the first, our big picture is our problems and we've kind of inserted God like a slice into it. In the second sentence, our problems are a slice, but the big picture and backdrop is God.

Over the last many months I've been trying to read (admittedly, not too successfully) one section of Psalm 119 a day. When I finish, I go back to the start. It is a powerful Psalm, easily broken down into short daily readings. There is a tremendous theme of hope in it based on God and His words to us. We can't have that hope in His words/promises to us unless we ultimately have hope in Him (a promise given from a liar or someone with no means to fulfill it means little, but one given from a person with the ability and history and character to fulfill it means a lot). Faith always, ultimately, has an object. We never simply "don't have enough faith"—we must always finish it with, "I don't have enough faith in ______."

The other day, reading through Psalm 119, I was suddenly struck with the use of "but" in exactly the way I'd shared in my last post. I thought I would share a few of the many examples in that Psalm alone with you. Notice the power in the passages as they share about problems and then say, "but . . ." Notice what comes after the "but" and how that leaves you feeling (in some cases it is an reminder statement about God, putting it all into perspective—in other cases it is an affirming of a choice they will make in spite of the problems they face). I especially like verses 150–151. In the ones that are affirming statements about God (perspective) try reversing them in your mind and see the amazing difference.

Psalms 119:51 The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.

Psalms 119:87 They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts.

Psalms 119:110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.

Psalms 119:143 Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.

Psalms 119:150–151 They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from your law. But you are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true.

Psalms 119:161 Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words.

There are many other examples in the Psalms, and another interesting reversal of this as well. Doing a search for the word "but" in the Psalms I found many, many that talk about the love and grace and protection of God and then say, "but . . ." and talk about the fate of those separated from God. It is a powerful reminder that while God is love and as Christians we treasure the grace He shows us, He is still holy and He still hates sin and there is still judgment coming for those outside of Christ. It is a powerful reminder and prompting to urgency for us.

And here's a couple wonderful and affirming examples of the use of "but" from other Psalms to leave you with.

Psalms 3:1–3 O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. — Selah. But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.

Psalms 4:2–3 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? — Selah. But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

God bless you, and may He and His promises and eternity always be the big picture in which you view everything else.


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