Saturday, April 25, 2015

Frisbees and Faith

Yesterday I posted on "Posture of the Heart"—a topic God has been showing our Men's Group about the relationship and balance between humility and meekness, and boldness and confidence and authority. These qualities are contradictory in the same person in a person of the world, but essential in a Christian.

On Thursday night I shared this topic with our youth group and I used the following example to help them understand it (I did this before I told them what we'd be studying): I took the youth group outside to our back parking lot, a large, mowed "field" in most people's eyes. I picked a young lady who I thought could throw a frisbee decently, and a young man who I figured could throw it farther. I had the young lady take a couple of throws for practice and then the young man. I was right in that he threw farther then her each time. I then, casually, teased another young man who I'd had in the field retrieving for me and I said, "You look bored," and I threw it far over his head, at least twice as far as the farthest throw either youth grouper had made (I played frisbee every day in high school).

I then gave the two youth groupers who I'd had throw a hypothetical situation, telling them I wasn't encouraging gambling, but asking them to imagine they both had $5 they could bet, and they'd get three times that amount back if they won. The bet? They would each get two throws and could pick their farthest throw, and the farthest one was the winner. I first asked the girl how much she'd bet of her $5 that her farthest throw would be farther than his farthest throw. Her answer: "Is zero an option?"

I then asked him and he said he'd bet it all. I nodded then changed it up. I said to the girl, "How about you and I partner? You take one of your throws and I'll  take the other, and the farthest of those two will be your farthest throw?" The boy promptly (and good naturedly) complained it wasn't fair, and she promptly decided to bet her full $5. He decided to bet nothing.

We then went inside and sat in our usual circle on the carpet and talked about it, and I believe the youth saw the concept that the girl had the humility and meekness to recognize what she could (and couldn't) do—to be honest with herself, about herself. And in that humility and meekness she was able to partner with one far stronger and more equipped then her, and that partnership gave her tremendous confidence and boldness. Had she been overconfident or arrogant about her abilities she'd probably have bet and lost it all on herself, but she wasn't. She was honest about herself and her weaknesses, and that opened her up for the colaboring partnership. And, as such, she was the blend of humility and meekness, with confidence and boldness, that God asks of us in our relationship with Him.

As I wrote in yesterday's post, that is our walk of faith—an honesty that recognizes our weaknesses, our tendency to temptation, our inability to do it on our own; and the resulting placing of our trust into God and His promises for us and presence with us. As such we can be humble and loving and serving to others, and yet confident and authoritative in the calling and words and stand God calls us to take with and for Him.

Hopefully this example helps. I believe it did for the youth. God bless all of you, and thanks for sharing in my life.   —Erick

Friday, April 24, 2015

Posture of the Heart

Over the last couple of months our Men's Group has been talking about the posture of the heart God desires in Godly men. I don't think what we've seen is limited to men alone, and I wanted to share it with you.

In a nutshell I believe we've seen that God requires His people to walk in a mixture of humility and love and service, but also in confidence and boldness and authority. In the world's economy those things are contradictory and even Jekyll and Hyde "ish"—but in God's kingdom the two are mutually dependent on the other, and essential. It has been fascinating to see how these both work together.

We looked first at Moses, a man the Bible calls the meekest of men. And yet God called him to a place of tremendous boldness (who else, but Moses, would have been most aware of what he would face in facing Pharaoh . . . of Pharaoh's power, his army, his magicians' dark power?). Each time Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3 and 4) brought up to God a weakness of his (of Moses') God didn't deny that weakness or boost Moses' self-esteem, but rather God met Moses' weakness with a promise of God's presence and provision and leading. It was at the end when Moses kept trying to get out of it and focus on his own weaknesses that God finally got angry at Moses. It is as if in His anger God has said, "Moses, you are meek, and you have weakness, but I have met each moment of such with a promise, and you are, in a nutshell, saying that I am not enough."

It is important that we see that God never tried to boost Moses' self-esteem, or tell him he was the man with the plan and skill. If Moses thought he was Mr. Right for the job he would have failed, but in his weakness God could offer him His strength and presence, and in reliance on that and not himself, Moses could walk in tremendous confidence and boldness before Pharaoh, ocean obstacles, and grumbling Israelites.

Beyond Moses we've looked at New Testament passages that call us to humble ourselves, and they come with the promise that God will lift us up. When God lifts us up we can stand in tremendous confidence and boldness when we are standing in what He has called us to do or be, whether it is to speak His words or to confront the hosts of darkness—but He won't lift us up until we humble ourselves. He actually promises to resist/oppose the proud. So . . . to be proud in our own strength causes God to work against us, which should scare us a lot; but to be humble about ourselves causes God to lift us up, which gives us every reason for confidence!

We then looked at David who was tremendously humble and broken before God (see Psalm 51), and yet bold and unapologetic toward man (see 2 Samuel 6:16–23 when his wife mocks him for worshipping God exuberantly). God gives David the highest honor known to man, to call David a man after God's own heart. And we see in David a man humble before God, dependent upon God, deeply aware of his own sin and failings—and a man who, when standing in the place God called Him to stand, was bold, confident, authoritative, and a worshipper and leader beyond measurer. Again, the "paradox" of Godly men (and women): humility in evaluating self and seeing self against others, but confidence in being who God called him to be, confident in God and not Himself.

We see the same thing in Paul who was deeply aware of his own sin and shortcomings, but who stood in his calling with authority, confronting enemies of the church and the hosts of darkness with boldness and confidence and God's power. We see it in Jesus who spoke not a word in His own defense, but spoke with authority and stood with confidence against the enemies of His Father's message and against the forces of darkness.

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this "paradox" is seen in the Centurion (Matthew 8:5–10) about whom God paid another highest of all compliments. Of him Jesus said he'd seen no faith to match his in all of Israel (and the Centurion was a Roman!). When the Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant and Jesus said He'd come to the his house to do so the Centurion replied, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it."

We see here tremendous humility in an obvious way (I am not worthy), and also in a way we may first miss. What is the key to authority the Centurion reveals? It is that to be a man in authority, we must be a man under authority. For example, I could not give you a speeding ticket on my own, but if I was submitted to the government as a police officer (one under authority) I would have the delegated authority of that position. Leaders in the military or workplace are similar. They have the authority they are given by the one they are, themselves, under. So, again, here is that amazing "paradox" at work (and essential) in God's Kingdom: when we humble ourselves and submit ourselves to God's authority, we then walk in God's authority as God's servants and called ones. First comes the humility that recognizes our brokeness and need of God and recognizes God's Lordship and worthiness of our surrender, and from that comes the calling to walk as men (and women) called of God in the positions He calls us to—leaders, those called to speak His truths and proclaim Him, confronters of the demonic, etc.We could go on and on with more examples—what about Gideon who said he was the least when called by God and to whom God didn't deny that, but rather promised His presence and then called Gideon to stand, 300 against over 100,000.

But in the end, to wrap it up, I see that this paradox is exactly the call to walk in faith that is on our lives as Christians. What is faith? It is the recognition of our weakness and need and inability to do it on our own (be it salvation, or daily strength). That recognition makes us humble and gentle towards others in any sense in which we must deal with them as servants, neighbors, etc. But then, in faith, we place our trust and confidence in God—God!—God who breathes out stars!—and in that trust we find tremendous confidence and authority and boldness in any and every area He has called us, be it speaking His truth and words, standing on His promises, or confronting darkness, because it is not our "strength" we stand in or our "authority" we confront in, but rather in the strength and authority of the one we have ourselves submitted to.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I hope this finds all of you well. Obviously I've not posted in many months, and I value the freedom of only posting when I feel God's leading and not trying to maintain a readership or following. If you've subscribed to my posts you are likely a friend or family, or at least acquaintance, and probably know that this blog is simply a place I began to now and then share thoughts, things God might be showing me, slices of our life, etc. It actually began as a place for me to record the highlights of these things for my girls to one day read without having to wade through all  my old teachings, etc. From there came the thought that if I was blessed by something, others might be too. Thanks for reading, and sharing, and caring.

We are well. We are enjoying quiet life in the country, horses, and the simple things that make life most special—time together, being out doors, good coffee and fellowship, friendships, and family. We are very busy with Mary Ann homeschooling the girls and still being a mom and the wife of a husband who loves every second he can get with her, the different hats I wear, the horses the girls enjoy, and the work required to keep up a home and acreage in the country.

Most of my free time, when not spent with family, has been working on a novel I've been writing on for over a year  now. It is a Christian "western" set in the 1880s and it has been fascinating to see the places God has taken me in the research for it, and the way He's been helping me (and hopefully leading me) to work in to it different things He's shown me over the years about two main areas: faith being one, and the collapse of man's confidence in the written account of Genesis being the second. The 1880s were a critical time in that collapse on the part of the church, coming mere decades after Darwin's book, which followed the church already caving in on the age of the earth issue.

I'd value your prayers for the book as I seek to be led by God and to find time to write in the midst of being a husband, father, pastor, youth leader, and volunteer fire-fighter and chaplain. These things all come first, so needless to say the novel is a now and then thing, but I did cross 100,000 words recently and from the first vision of Chapter 1 which I woke up in the middle of the night with I am feeling His hand. I just need to trust His timing and know when He says to write, and when He says to focus on others or other things.

The fellowship is moving along as a fellowship does, with some people experiencing some real growth and victories, and others struggling. I am beginning a teaching on the essential nature and role of the Holy Spirit and I hope that it will awaken in us a hunger for His leading and magnified presence. I know that the Holy Spirit has been used (by name) to abuse many in the church, but I believe we can run so far from a fear of excess that we can stray in the other direction of error and avoid Him altogether. I'd value your prayers as well on this series and for the fellowship.

One thing that has been a real blessing over the last year has been our Men's Group. A core of around seven to nine of us have met regularly, twice a month, and it has been the first time we've found a successful way to have a consistent men's fellowship. It has been a true  joy to see the developing closeness in the men and to have this place to share and grow. I believe the church in general, and this nation for sure, are desperately in need  of Godly men to stand in the places and roles in the church, community, workplaces, and families God has called them to. I will post soon about the recent line of conversation and study we have been on, which is one I think will bless you. It is about  the posture of the heart God calls His people to walk in, and how in God's kingdom humility and authority/confidence are not contradictory, but mutually essential.

God bless all of you. I'd love to hear from you. Thanks for being an extended part of my life.

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!
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