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.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Words Matter

I was reminded, while teaching at our fellowship this morning, of how important it is in the way we structure our words. Used carefully, they can establish a foundation for going forward, and used casually, they can reveal the health of our faith and how we really feel at the core. I'll get to this morning in a bit, but first let me share a few examples that have been powerful in my life in the past . . .

Example 1: What we place before and after the word "but." I forgot where I first heard this, but it immediately resonated with me as very powerful and true. Look at the following two hypothetical examples, spoken by someone who has some real problems.

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 first statement reminds me of times when someone is listing medical issue after issue and you ask if you can pray for them and you do, pouring your heart into it, asking for God to heal them, and you've barely ended with "amen" and they are already pouring out about everything wrong with them as if you never prayed. It is as if they held their breath waiting for you to finish so they could continue listing and focusing on their problems. You've just come before the throne of the most holy God, but in their mind clearly their issues outweigh the idea that He might actually have responded to the prayer and be working in them. This first example is like that. There is the ("obligatory" for Christians) recognition of the traits of God, but then the dwelling and focusing on and resting in all the problems.

The second statement is also aware of the problems (not an ostrich in the sand pretending all is Polyanna), but there is a greater awareness of who our God is. It is an honest assessment of both, and a recognition that God is ultimately God, He is active in our lives, He loves us, and He is Whom our hope lies in.

It is worth paying attention to—how the words come from our mouth and what they reveal about what place we are really in when it comes to our worship, faith, hope, etc. It is Joshua and Caleb returning from spying out the land, "Yes, the cities are fortified and the people huge, but if God is with us the land is ours!" (Numbers 14:6–9, my paraphrase). I guaranteed David was not unaware of Goliath's size and fury, but he knew, "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:37a).

Example 2: "Pro" and "anti." I remember as a young Christian the frustration of the media's refusal to change its language regarding the abortion issue. It insisted on labeling those in favor of abortion as "Pro Choice" (i.e. for something, positive, not negative) and those against abortion as "anti abortion" (instead of Pro Life, making them sound like negative, against things, etc.). The very word usage from the start painted one in a favorable and positive light and the other as against things and negative. The words mattered, and they revealed a lot about the media and its bias.

Well, this morning I realized that I'd fallen into a trap when I used some words in a certain order. I had showed the fellowship a chart of the milestones of the world's population and how it reached 1 billion in 1804, then, by the present, was increasing a billion every 12 years (see graphic). I was talking about exponential progression (i.e. take 8, the number of people on the ark, and double it only 30 times to get 8.6 billion; or give a person a penny one day and two the next and four the next and keep doubling and after 30 days the person has over 10 million dollars!). I made the point that if man was much older than a young earth Creation view we are missing billions of bodies! To the contrary, in fact, the world's population milestones completely agree with a young earth interpretation of Genesis.

But . . . the words I used were, "So, we see in the population milestones more reasons to believe in the most obvious reading of Genesis . . ." Suddenly I stopped. I realized in a moment (you know how so many thoughts can go through your mind in nothing flat) that I had by my words revealed a defensiveness—implied that we might actually need reasons to believe in a literal Genesis. I'd given huge ground to the other side simply in the way I worded it. Implicit in my words was the idea that there might actually BE any reasons to interpret Genesis differently, or that the weight of evidence favored interpreting it differently and we had to defend it. Suddenly I thought, and then said something like, "No, let me rephrase that. In the world's population milestones we find no reason to interpret Genesis any other way then the most obvious reading of it—and nor do we in any other field of science."

It may not seem like a big change, but it is huge. The first way I said it cries out, "Genesis is under attack and I need to defend why, and find reasons why, I can believe in the most literal reading of it." The seconds says, "Wait a minute. The most literal reading of Genesis is the most obvious, and there are no reasons to read and interpret it any differently."

Why am I the one defensive? My first words express having cracked with the pressure and feeling like I needed to explain why we could "come back" to Genesis when the reality is, with no internal reason in the Bible to interpret Genesis any differently, the burden is on those who would interpret it differently to show the evidence for it. And there isn't any. And in the population milestones we don't find any either.

And words matter. They establish:
1. A foundation for going forward
2. The starting point and assumptions of a conversation
and they reveal the nature and position of our heart.

Friday, May 13, 2016

What If God Didn't Show?

I know all the theology, so you don't need to correct it. I know God is with believers, etc., but the question the title asks is a challenge none-the-less. Let me explain . . .

I remember hearing a question once that asked, "How many ministries [in a given church] would continue to operate without a hitch if the Holy Spirit departed?" This question comes back to me now and then as a challenge. How much of my life? How many of our ministries at True Life Christian Fellowship? How much of what we do and try? How much depends on the Holy Spirit . . . and how much is simply our good intentions and our resources and would continue without a hitch if God simply didn't show up? How much is just "church" . . . and how much is actually the living God, poured out Spirit, at work in and through us?

How much of my life, and how much of our fellowship, operate dependent on God? I know ultimately we are, of course, but the point being made is one to ponder for each of us, and for each fellowship of believers. I think it is very easy to simply do things because we've always done them, or to convince ourselves it isn't God talking to us when the thought comes to do something radical or that stretches us. How much of what we are doing, saying, etc., requires God to bring it to completion?

For example, ultimately salvation is something that must happen between a believer and God. But I wonder how many people have been pressured or emotionally hyped into saying some "magic" prayer. I know, as a fire department chaplain, that many, many times when I've asked about someone's faith who has died, the answer from loved ones has been something like, "Well, they prayed a prayer when they were eight" . . . and now in their middle ages there has not been any fruit of any true interaction between them and God. (I know it isn't our place to judge the salvation of someone, but we are given discernment, and I do believe it fair to comment on what I've observed, not drawing any ultimate conclusions about a person.)

I know when I am in a place where I am really following Jesus—submitted, allowing myself to be the sail that rather than tacking against the wind of the Holy Spirit is running with it steering me at full strength—it is actually unusual for Him to not lead me into very uncomfortable places or discussions or attempts at something . . . things that take me way out of my comfort zone and absolutely require Him to bring them to completion. I also know that when I am struggling, or in a rut, or hurt and withdrawing, I find it too easy to "turn off" the dial to His still, quiet whisper and to remain in my "safe" shell.

One of the first acts of Jesus recorded in Mark 1:21–28 is His casting out of a demon in a synagogue. I have a penciled in note next to that account that causes me to pause each time I read it. It says, basically, "The demon was comfortable in church until Jesus showed up!" Wow. May my life, and my fellowship, never be so devoid of the Spirit's anointing and power that a demon is quite OK around me. May I never quench the Holy Spirit.

A passage that is a strong warning to me is in Acts 19:11–20. Paul is casting out demons, healing the sick, etc. Then the seven sons of Sceva try the same thing, using Jesus' name like some magic word, and they get jumped on and beaten up and driven out of the house naked by one demonized man. What a strong reminder that Jesus isn't just some magic "open sesame"—He is the living God and when I am submitted to His authority I then walk in the authority He has delegated to me. Demons aren't afraid of me . . . they obey the authority and name of Jesus when Jesus has given it to me to use, and I am under His authority.

May my life, and the fellowship I pastor, live in a place where we are operating completely dependent on the Holy Spirit's anointing. If we aren't, if we only stay in the realm of what we are comfortable doing on our own (comfortable, because we know WE can do it so we don't have to live in a place of faith, knowing that if He doesn't finish it then it won't happen), then we will not experience the edge of what He is doing. Of course "church" will be really comfortable then . . . but is that what any of us really want?

I know for me, I have to repeatedly ask about different ministries, events, youth group activities, etc., if God still wants us doing something. It is very comfortable to do something you've done over and over, and if we aren't careful we can assume God wants us to do something just because He has in the past. I don't think it is a mistake, however, that the Old Testament records God delivering His people in almost every instance in a different way—each time they had to hear from Him His plan for that specific moment. In the New Testament we see Jesus healing people, and in instance after instance He does it one way one time, then another way another time.

If we get to that place where we just kind of do what we've always done, we stop listening for the whisper that says, "This time, spit in the mud and wipe it in the eyes . . ." This doesn't mean He won't guide us to do something the same way we have before, but how affirming and faith building to have heard His fresh voice on that and to know we are living/acting in the freshness of His life and power and leading, and not simply in some comfortable religious tradition. He is life, He is breath, He is living water. The Holy Spirit is living water, fire, a wind. These are words of life, of movement, of dynamic relationship. And asking and living in dependence keeps us in relationship and not just in some religious "mode."

It is not comfortable to live in complete dependence on God, but the alternative . . . to live so comfortable in doing it like you've always done it, because you've always done it, runs the risk of living within your self and your means . . . and I don't ever want to do it. I do it too many times. It is safe . . . but I don't want safe—not really—I want to see miracles, I want to see His power poured out, I want to see addictions broken, marriages restored, fathers and prodigals returned, bodies healed, depression crushed, demons fleeing in terror, the lost saved . . . and I can't do any of those things. Only He can.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

On a lighter note . . .

On a lighter note . . . if you've known or followed me any length of time you know that I am passionate about fossil hunting. I love to uncover evidence of Noah's flood and Genesis' trustworthiness, and to find things that no human eye has ever seen. I love doing it with my family because the only cost is getting to a place to look, and you have the thrill of the hunt and the exultation of discovering a treasure.

Well, being the hopeless romantic I am, for our anniversary last weekend Mary Ann and I did some poking around for fossils (no, that wasn't all we did, we had other great adventures, so no comments chewing me out).

Look what we found some 31-plus miles from the nearest coastline of the Pacific Ocean, and over 1,300 feet above sea level . . .

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