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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Building "Memorials"

The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is strong on the theme of building memorials so as not to forget the mighty works of God. It repeatedly talks about teaching His works to our children, and it repeatedly displays the danger (and propensity) of turning from Him when generations pass that remember His works and new generations arise that don't.

I believe the flood of Noah is one of the greatest acts recorded in the Bible for us to never forget. I believe this for many reasons, a few of which are:
1. It is a reminder that God is holy and will not tolerate sin.
2. It is a foreshadowing of Christ, our ark of refuge.
3. It is the dominate geological vehicle by which we can explain topography around us and show there is no need to run from believing Genesis means what it clearly says in its young earth, six-day Creation account. (This is the primary area the Bible is being undermined in our culture, and from there natural doubt in the trustworthiness of the rest of the Bible often follows.)
4. Peter makes it clear in 2 Peter 3 that those who doubt the initial flood will be those who scoff at coming judgment (hence at a need for a Savior).
5. Jesus and other Bible authors refer to Genesis and the flood as literal and true and if they are wrong in that area we have basis to doubt them in other areas.

Along these lines our family is experiencing a growing passion for finding evidence for the flood, and we are stunned by how much is out there. Once we start looking and asking around we are seeing overwhelming evidence for catastrophic water movement, coverage, and force around the world. This is seen in planation surfaces that are not forming today but which display tremendous evidence of massive water presence and flow, folded sedimentary layers revealed in road cuts, and the billions of marine fossils found all over the world—from sea level to the tops of our highest mountains.

So . . . the other day, lest we forget the mighty works of God, we took advantage of our blessed privilege of homeschooling and taught the girls the basic of woodshop, tool uses and safety, etc., and then we built a shelf to display a few of the fossils and similar things we have that we have either found or purchased. I hope you enjoy the photographic display and share the day with us!

Blessings to all of you, and thanks for sharing in our life.   —Erick










Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Thought Provoking Read

If you've read my blog, or known me, any length of time you know I stand strongly on the inerrancy of the Bible, and believe strongly that the reliability of Genesis (without any twisting) is a critical place to begin the defense of it. With that being my strong heart, I found a recent blog post I received to be very valuable and I wanted to share it with you in case you are interested. These two links are regarding the inerrancy of the Bible, its importance, and attempts to "redefine" the word "inerrancy." The second link is to the article (and a petition) that the first article refers to. Bill Holdridge, who wrote the first article, was tremendously influential in my life. He was the pastor who we went to for pre-marital counseling who recognized, and had the courage to address, that I wasn't a Christian. His strength and the leading of the Holy Spirit in Him put us on the path we are on today.

Bill's Blog Post

Article and Petition on Inerrancy of the Bible he refers to

I ended up signing the petition, and if you do it gives you ways to share that with others. Blessings to all of you.   —Erick

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Preeminent

Taking nothing from other blog posts I've done, I feel that this may be the most important blog post I've ever written, or will ever write . . .
He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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.  (Colossians 1:15–18, ESV)
for, "In him we live and move and have our being . . ." (Acts 17:28a, ESV)
One time I was talking with someone about a relationship that seemed hopeless. I told them, basically, that I didn't need to know anything about them to know fully that the relationship could succeed—and not just "make it," but be amazing. I could say this without knowing them because I know God, and I know what He can do. The key is, were they willing to elevate God in their hearts to the place He deserves?* I'll explain this in a moment.

Ephesians and Colossians are probably two of my favorite books in the Bible. One of the main reasons is the exaltation of God and His mighty plans and His mystery that pervades them. As one author pointed out, so many of us tend to treat the story of God as if it began in Genesis 3 with the Fall . . . as if it began with us. That is the message we share, the story we tell. We begin with how man is separated from God, etc. But, God's story the world needs to hear begins even before Genesis 1, "In the beginning, God . . ." God is the beginning of the story. In the beginning He already was. Ephesians tells us that before even the foundation of the world the cross was in His plan. His story doesn't begin with Christmas, or even the Garden. Before the foundation of the world . . . He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is outside of time itself. The story begins with God, not with man. It is far, far bigger than us.

In the Colossians passage above it says that, "For by him all things were created . . . all things were created through him and for him." He created all things, and He created them for Himself. We were created by Christ, and for Christ. And that is the basis of His claim on our life. I have no claim on your life. No pastor or person has a claim on your life. But, your Creator does. He made you and I. And He made us for Himself. That is the claim He has on our life, and in that context we can easily see the rebellion in us when we make a claim on our own life. We are His—by Him, and for Him.

The passage then goes on to say, "And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." How does a marriage hold together? In Christ. How does a family hold together? In Christ. How is the earth itself, and everything in it held together? In Christ. How do we find our purpose and meaning in life? In Christ. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. That is why I don't need to even know a person's background to know that in Christ they can be whole, in Christ a marriage can flourish, in Christ people can be set free, in Christ any life—no matter its past—can be rich with meaning and purpose. Because in Christ all things hold together. That isn't to say there aren't challenges, and oftentimes a lot of healing, etc., but in Christ all is possible because in Christ all things hold together.

The Acts passage above comes from Paul, explaining to the learned men of Athens the "unknown God" they'd made an altar to, among their other gods. He told them, ". . . what therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth . . ." (Acts 17:23b–26a, ESV) He then went on to say of God, "In him we live and move and have our being . . ." In Christ, all things hold together. In Him we live and move and have our being.

The Colossians passage I quoted above ends with, "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." He is the head of the body, the church. That is us. Believers. Why? That in everything He might be preeminent. First. Above all. The highest.

He is Christ. All things were created by Him. All things were created for Him. In Him we live and move and have our being. All things hold together in Him. That in all things He might be preeminent. That is the exaltation of Christ. That is His place. Preeminent.

No matter what situation we are in. No matter what obstacles we face in relationships, etc. If Christ is preeminent in the hearts of the people involved I believe that we can have great hope of great things. The limitations are in us, not in Him (and the exciting part is that His Word promises that He is at work in us, bringing His work to completion!). In Him all things hold together. The question is if we are willing to give Him preeminence. To kneel before Him. To lay aside our claim on our life and give Him His rightful claim as our Creator and Lord. To surrender. To step off the throne of our life and let Him have that place. To give up our rights to be "right," to be apologize to, to be loved back, to make our own plans, to dictate our own terms, etc. To give to Christ our rights.

The most amazing part is that while, as Creator, He has every right to sit in Heaven and make those claims on us, He didn't. Before the foundation of the earth He had the plan in place to surrender His rights as God, to humble Himself, to love us before we loved Him, to meet us 100% of the way before we traveled 1% of the way. Everything He asks of us He did before us, for us. And He did it as our Creator!

He then steps back and waits. He quietly asks, "Will you let me be preeminent?" It is His rightful place—and He is preeminent in the big picture regardless of our decision—but He lets us choose that for each of our lives.



* This comment/belief is not an excuse to not invest heavily in another's life. Too often we throw a few verses at people because we are unwilling to get "dirty" and invested, or because we are uncomfortable and don't know what to say or do. I believe we are called to invest deeply and long term in other's lives, but I have also found that if the issue of the preeminence of  Christ is not settled in a couple's heart, or anyone else's heart, then rarely are the changes long term. All I have to offer anyone, really, is Christ. Once Christ is preeminent in a life then I can offer a lot of love, support, and help in determining Christ's heart for them and His counsel and Words. But, in the end I can only say, "You need to do this (or not do this) because Christ says it." Ultimately it is our surrender to Him that will be that which moves us.

Monday, August 4, 2014

It IS Very Important

Here is a good article that captures some of the many reasons why our belief in Genesis is far more important than many Christians realize. I have done a study on many atheists quotes about our faith and they often seem to get it better then we do that the foundation of the Gospel almost collapses when Genesis collapses. Obviously an article this short can't cover even close to all of the reasons why this matters, but it might give some good food for thought if you don't agree with a young earth interpretation of Genesis, and encourage and strengthen you if you do. It truly is not a periphery issue, not if we want to be able to share with others a true and consistent reason why they can trust other parts of Scripture (and hence trust the God who breathed it out). Anyway, I was blessed by it and thought I'd share it. Blessings to all of you, whether or not you agree with me :)   —Erick

http://creation.com/just-preach-gospel

Friday, August 1, 2014

Oh My . . .

Well, the distinction between the atheist and Christian world views has taken on even more clarity. Check out this article:

IRS Strikes Deal with Atheists to Monitor Churches

Churches aren't supposed to endorse candidates . . . but now we can't talk about abortion or gay marriage? There are a lot of articles out there on this agreement, and I've only read this one, but even if it doesn't cover the whole story what it does cover is scary enough. Here's a quote from the article:
A lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) asserted that the Internal Revenue Service ignored complaints about churches' violating their tax-exempt status by routinely promoting political issues, legislation and candidates from the pulpit. The FFRF has temporarily withdrawn its suit in return for the IRS's agreement to monitor sermons and homilies for proscribed speech that the foundation believes includes things like condemnation of gay marriage and criticism of ObamaCare for its contraceptive mandate.
Here's the thing. This is about something far bigger than politics. It is about the moral fabric of our nation. If there is no God then there are not absolutes. Nobody has any right to say anyone else is right or wrong. And everything about any issue is simply "politics." But . . . if there is a God, then there are absolutes. We can choose to ignore them, but it doesn't make us right. God defines right and wrong, good and bad, truth and lies.

This is at the core of it all. Again, it is world view. The issue transcends politics. It is not political. It is an issue of supreme truth. If God is real then we are fools to ignore Him or what He says. If we put ourselves or politics above allegiance and submission to God we have become fools. When we speak against something God speaks against, or stand for something God stands for (providing we are Spirit-led), we are not being "political," we are putting God forth as supreme. But to someone who doesn't recognize then we are, inherently, being political. It comes down to who we recognize and who we are serving in the action and words.

That is the ultimate question our nation faces. We can say nobody can be discriminated against for their religious or non-religious views, and that is fine (see next paragraph for caveat), but if we don't submit to some higher standard of right and wrong we will crumble in the decay of society as we inherently seek our own selfish good. The only other alternatives to determining right or wrong are things like a dictatorship, or majority rule, or simply saying that the strongest/biggest/baddest will prevail. All of these have been tried and are scary.

At some point we must decide, "What is discrimination?" This is a huge question, far bigger then we might realize. The reality is we all—even atheists—advocate discrimination at some level. We discriminate against people who want to murder and rape. We discriminate against people who want to steal. The issue isn't discrimination, it is what is right and wrong. Then, in the realm of right we don't discriminate, but in the realm of wrong we all do by forbidding that action. Where those realms divide is the question of the ages, but all the "tolerance" people are being hypocrites. They all have things they don't tolerate, they just have a different line then others do. The key question is who, or what, draws the line? That is at the heart of it all. For those who see homosexuality as OK then it is discrimination against them to forbid marriage. To those who see it as sin in God's eyes, it is legislation against a wrong (and everyone legislates against wrongs—the real issue is, "What is wrong?"). The same for abortion causing contraceptives. If you see the baby as simply a fetus then you see it as discriminating against women and their choices. If you see the baby as a life then you see it as legislating against wrong and sin and protecting the defenseless.

Atheists are ticked because churches have tax exempt status and can then talk about, in their eyes, politics. Well, can you imagine the pressure the government could bring on churches if they could tax them? Especially this government in this era? They could drive them out of existence as recognized organizations. But are we, as they see it, talking about politics when we talk about a candidate or issue in terms of God's laws and heart? Or are we, as we see it, talking about God and bringing His views into the issues we face? It is a key, pivotal question that there is no way to come together on with such divergent world views. No way. Period.

What kind of pastor could truly lead and equip a fellowship if he didn't talk about the issues that we face and how God sees them? If our faith is simply for stained glass windows and seminaries and funerals then we've missed the faith Jesus brought. He came into this world, into its pain and brokenness, into its people, and He brought the Father's heart and words and life into it. Our faith can—and it must—impact every area of our lives or we are not being true to it and our world view. If we compartmentalize God into the "proper" boxes then we've missed the God who breathes out stars and speaks life. My God can't be boxed, and He is interested in and involved in every issue of my life.

Who is right, or who is wrong, in this issue? It is a question that will define our nation and our future.
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