Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mountain and Valley Thoughts

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year, filled with a deep sense of awe and wonder at God's love for us and plan for the ages, and a deep security in His love and presence. December went, for us, way to fast. For me the Thanksgiving and Christmas season is my favorite of the year, but every year it seems to speed up and fly past faster than the last. And yet, when I look back and ask myself what about it I shouldn't have done, should have changed, etc., I can't see that there is any part of it I should have skipped. (A little secret, just between us . . . I am going to watch a bunch of Christmas movies this week and listen to a bunch of Christmas music to catch up what I missed and to try and immerse myself in the wonder of God's gift now that the flurry of celebrating it has passed. But, don't tell anyone!)

Mary Ann and I got back down "off the mountain" this Sunday night, returning from Hume Lake Christian Camp with 24 high schoolers and 4 other adults. It was a really incredible weekend, but we were sure tired. I wanted to share two things about it that might bless you—one from the mountain top, and one from after we were home.

On the Mountain: While up there I reflected on the number of youth (and counselors) we've taken there (or to other similar types of events of concentrated God time). This was our 19th winter taking kids to Hume, and I think for me somewhere around trip number 33 or 34 with kids to Hume, plus I don't know how many times as a family or to other events there. I was struck in my reflecting by one of those moments when things were very clear in their simplicity.

As I reflected on the chapel times there, and on countless similar times counseling people as a pastor, chaplain for the fire department, etc., that there is an irony in that we "get" that being good at anything takes work, and yet we seem so surprised when we invest nothing in our relationship with God and after a year wonder why we aren't closer to Him. As I looked at the youth, and thought back over the past, I saw how many of them are so diligent and make so many sacrifices for sports, grades, 4H, etc., and wouldn't expect to excel in any of them without personal discipline and sacrifice . . . and yet do little to nothing to grow in Christ and wonder why they feel so distant from Him and hear so little from Him, or fall so quickly back into old patterns. (This truth applies equally to adults.)

So, the last morning, I shared that with them and I am hoping it resonated. I told them that they understand that growing in something takes work—they demonstrate this understanding in many things they apply themselves to—and that their walk with God is no different. And I reflected . . . isn't it puzzling how such an obvious truth to us seems to so easily elude us in our Christian life. We somehow act as if simply acknowledging God will make us grow with Him and be stronger, and yet we'd laugh if someone said that simply saying they like football or school will make them a good football player or student. Anyway, it was just a thought—a moment of clarity—and I thought it might bless you or be something you could share with another in an example that would ring true with them.

Back Home: Then, this morning, an elderly gentleman who grew up in this area but now lives in town, read about our trip in the article I write for our community newsletter and called to thank us for our work with youth in these hills and valleys. I was sharing with him that we are taking 35 youth between this trip and the upcoming middle school one, and how crazy amazing that is considering how small our community and church is. We got talking about how, though, a lot of those youth don't stick after Hume, or grow, and how we have to trust that God's word was planted for later harvest, and that they know they were loved and cared for. As we talked it reminded me of a pivotal moment in my life when Mary Ann and I were very discouraged after a youth camp we put on and were talking to the pastor at the time (the man I took over pastoring for). He asked us a simple question—"Did you do what God asked you to do?"

After thinking about it we replied that we felt we had and he said, basically, "Then that is all God asked you to do. He is responsible for the results." It was one of the most freeing moments of our life as I realized that I am, indeed, only responsible for doing what He asks me to do. I have had this and similar revelations free me tremendously when, say, counseling a struggling marriage or an addiction—the problem is really God's to solve, it is not my problem. I am responsible for being obedient and usable, but ultimately it is His. This is a wonderful realization because the weight of the burdens around is too much to bear. It doesn't mean we don't care, we don't weep, we don't love—but we recognize that the results are God's to bring about, what He asks of us is to be obedient.

God bless all of you and, as always, thanks for sharing in my life!   —Erick

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

He Did it First

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thanksgiving . . . A Scope Beyond Imagination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Vast Gap and A Vast Difference

Mary Ann and the girls looking down a tributary canyon
at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Our family was recently blessed in being able to take a homeschool trip to Great Basin National Park in Nevada, plus Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks in Utah, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. We camped most of the nights we were on the road, and even were able to search for flood evidence at two trilobite fossil sites, as well as visit Fossil Mountain and find some shell fossils there. Typical of the Reinstedts, our van came back very heavy with rocks!

Along the journey we were so uplifted and encouraged to be able to read from Creation guidebooks we had bought from the same people who had done the Yellowstone one we used last year.* It is absolutely incredible to be able to read about the sites you are seeing from a young earth, flood geology perspective. It is like scales being pulled from your eyes as you see the land through those lenses. And, it is in resources like that where you find that at the Grand Canyon there are no known water sources for the tributary canyons that feed the main canyon off of the north rim. Facts like that are stunning when you stand at the head of these tributary canyons and stare down them into the main canyon and then look behind you on the plateau and realize there are no rivers or water sources that can explain the canyon you are looking down! Suddenly you go, "Wow! That is crazy! There truly is no other explanation for this canyon than a massive water event!"

Interestingly, a sign at one of the pullouts on the North Rim says, "Ancient Indians knew the Canyon well. Their legends say the awesome gorge was formed suddenly by great floods. It had deep religious meaning." The, a little below that on the sign it says, "A century of scientific study indicates natural forces of erosion slowly cut the Canyon while the land was gradually uplifted. The process has taken several million years and is still going on."

Hmmm. A century of scientific study. And yet those closest to the time of origin of the canyon have it right all along, and we, in our desperate efforts to find any explanation that doesn't include God, only get farther and farther from the truth (and we pull people away with us) as we undermine what God has clearly said from the start, and what cultures around the world have conveyed in their histories—that a massive, global flood shaped the topography of this earth!

Mary Ann and me in the Narrows at Zion.
I found that contrast on the same sign to be so stark I wanted to share it. It really made me shake my head. Man is so eager to find explanations for life, its meaning, values, etc., that don't force them to have to deal with the reality of a Creator who is very present in this life that they will come up with any explanation, no matter how ridiculous, to avoid Him. And our idolization of college degrees means we trust what they say, and in so doing often drift farther and farther from truth, thinking we are getting closer and closer to it.

I praise God for resources like those guidebooks, and like the Jonathan Park audio dramas our family listens to often on road trips. We so enjoy them, and are so blessed by them, that I want to write more about them in another post. But, in a nutshell, these audio dramas take you all over the world, and into all sorts of adventures following two families, while teaching you so much about Creation Science, the geology of the flood, the history of the collapse of the church on this issue, etc. I can't begin to tell you how many things I've learned from them that I've shared in teachings, this blog, etc.—and how many things I've first heard of from them that I've further studied on my own.

We were first loaned Volume One of Jonathan Park some years back, and after listening to only the first couple episodes we knew we had to get it for our family. There are currently nine volumes with a tenth one on the way next month, and more in production (plus they have study guides for some of the volumes and they are top-notch in the way they are done). If you like adventure (no matter your age), have or know kids or grandkids, or want to learn more about Creation Science in a fun way, I highly encourage you to check them out. The web site is: http://www.creationworks.net/ Our family so enjoys these that it is almost a running joke in it that as soon as we hit the road, or the girls finish some school in the car, the question comes . . . "Can we listen to a Jonathan Park?"

Anyway, I wanted to share those resources with you as we have been so blessed by them, and we are always so grateful when others share with us tested and true resources they've discovered. God bless all of you and, as always, thanks for sharing in my life!   —Erick


* These guidebooks are published by New Leaf Publishing Group and all three are by the same four authors (Dennis Bokovoy, John Hergenrather, Michael Oard, Tom Vail). The titles are:
   Your Guide to the Grand Canyon
   Your Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
   Your Guide to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks

If you are ever traveling to any of these four locations I highly recommend buying these in advance. They are top quality, with beautiful photography, and filled with rich information that will strengthen and equip your faith in Genesis.

Monday, September 1, 2014

What is the Story we Tell?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.   Ephesians 1:3–10 (ESV)
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.   Colossians 1:16–20 (ESV)
Last Memorial Day our region hosted a major festival at a nearby lake which, it is my understanding, moved from its previous venue because of problems between it and the community. If you watch the promo video for this festival, and talk to people about it, then it becomes readily apparent that it is filled with New Age talk about our mother the sun, our being related to life on other planets, a heavy emphasis on environmentalism, yoga, native American influences, etc. At a recent community meeting to after action the event as they consider entering a contract with it the praises for the event gushed forth, and it was very apparent that the people involved with it were wonderfully friendly, the boost the local economy was very good, and other than some problems with the loud bass music throughout the night, it was pretty much fawned over. One man stood and testified that basically his life had been without purpose before and the festival had changed his life and now he dreamed about big things for his life.

My heart broke.

People are supposed to say those things about Jesus. About a relationship with God. About discovering their identity and purpose in their Creator—who is a very defined God, the God of the Bible.

If you haven't read my recent post entitled "Preeminent" I really encourage you to. Another post that came out this morning worth reading is one by Randy Alcorn called "We Need a Fresh Appreciation of the Gospel's Magnificience." I think it is always good for us to be reminded of the story and news we have been given custodianship of to share. It is stunning, awe and worship-inspiring, amazing, purpose and life-giving. It is truth, and in it is found the only good and true meaning to be found.

The reality is that God, and God alone, is Good. Therefore anything that is good will be found in and through Him. Think, even, of the people who have done "good" works in His name but whom He says He doesn't know and will be told to depart from Him (Matthew 7:21–23). The works are not good in a vacuum. He is the source of good and life, and anything good and of true life will have Him flowing in and through it, and will spring forth from Him.

As I said in the Preeminent post, we too often begin our story with Genesis 3, how man is separated from God. We somehow manage to take God's story and make even it about us. But it begins with Genesis 1:1 which tells us that in the beginning God already was. And Ephesians tells us that before the foundation of the world God had the plan of the cross in place to reconcile all things back to Him—all things that Colossians tells us were made by Him, and FOR Him.

He is the Beginning, and the End. In Him we live and move and have our being. He is the source of life and of good. Outside of Him there is no true meaning or purpose because we are outside of He who Created us for Him. We are outside of our created purpose when we are outside of Him. His story is more amazing and grand and stunning then any we could ever write. It is not bounded by time, or constrained by the word "impossible." He is God, and we use that word too frequently too casually. God. And God loves us. And God created us for Him, for His good pleasure. We are His, created for Him, and when we discover that we find our purpose in life.

And that is the story that should be changing lives.

What story are we telling?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"In the Sight of the Lord . . ."

I have been teaching in recent Sundays on ways we can evaluate who our audience is—whether we are living in the big picture (and in individual moments) for an Audience of One, or for an audience of someone(s) else. Maybe that is why this morning in my reading through the Bible it jumped out to me so much when I came to Judges 13:1 which says, "And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years" (ESV).

I thought, "in the sight of the Lord—that says it all. That is what (and all) that matters." I did a quick search in the ESV for that exact expression and found it occurs 71 times. My guess is that if you looked for slight variations you'd find that concept expressed many, many more times. Of the 71 it included many instance of doing what was wicked or evil in the sight of the Lord, as well as examples of things being "precious" in the sight of the Lord (a very appropriate one for today's news is Psalm 116:15 which says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints"), and multiple verses similar to Deuteronomy 6:18–19 which says:
And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.
The common theme of all these is, ". . . in the sight of the Lord" and it takes me back to a theme I have blogged on repeatedly. If there is not some uniform absolute for right and wrong (or true or false) we will live in a moral quagmire of relativism in which "truth" has no meaning, in which what is right for some is not for others, in which values and good and bad change with the times. Absent of some absolute standard for right and wrong there is no moral basis that carries any weight for saying one person's actions are right and another's wrong.

I was struck that it didn't matter if the people of Israel thought what they were doing was fine. What mattered is how it was received in the sight of the Lord.

Evil in the sight of the Lord. Precious in the sight of the Lord. Good and right in the sight of the Lord. It should be very encouraging to us on many levels:
  1. It must mean God is watching us! He is present with us. He sees and knows our life! He is not a distant, deistic God who set it in motion then sits back uninvolved. He is active and involved in our lives. Praise Him for that! "I will never leave you or forsake you."
  2. When we realize only one audience matters it helps us realize the futility and foolishness of living for other audiences.
  3. Here is a huge one for Christians in this culture today: When we declare something right or wrong (or true or false) we are not the ones judging it, we are declaring what something is in the sight of the Lord. We can be encouraged when we start to feel beat up and doubt ourselves. We are not putting ourselves in the place of judge, we are witnesses to our holy and mighty God and what He declares. What we personally believe is irrelevant. It doesn't matter. Your opinion is as valid as mine. But what HE believes . . . that is everything, and by declaring it and standing for it we are being the most loving we can to others. Because whether or not they realize it, only One audience matters in the end, and only One definition of right and wrong and true and false is actually right and wrong, true and false. The rest will fall away, but He alone will stand.

May we live this week secure in the love of our Father in Heaven, deeply aware of the Holy Spirit's presence with us, and living for an Audience of One. Blessings to all of you. Thanks for sharing in my life.   —Erick
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