Saturday, October 15, 2016

Loving God (How do we?) . . .

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

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

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

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

Loving Others: John says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:7–8). We love others as a choice. As an action. Love is also a fruit of the Spirit of God in us, and we are given a capacity to love others because as a believer God is in us, and He loves them. Sometimes loving others is an "act" of surrendering to God's love in us for them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Catching Up, and a Thought About Planting

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

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

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

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

The girls leaving on their trail ride.

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 5, 2016

I Was

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Expect the Unexpected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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