Monday, December 31, 2012

The Five Spiritual Senses

In the busyness of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. Leading up to New Year's I'll be posting a best-of 2012. This post may not have been my favorite, but it was my favorite to write. It was from our discussion on AW Tozer's book, The Pursuit of God. For more of the discussion, follow the links or the labels at the end of the post.

In the third chapter of The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, the author observes, "We apprehend the physical world by exercising the faculties given us for the purpose, and we possess spiritual faculties by means of which we can know God and the spiritual world if we will obey the Spirit's urge and begin to use them." (pg 38) Last week I wrote about how it is our habit to only consider that to be real what we can perceive with our five physical senses. Meanwhile there is a spiritual reality that we can only perceive with the spiritual senses God has given us. Yet Tozer writes, "The soul has eyes with which to see and ears with which to hear. Feeble they may be from long disuse, but by the life-giving touch of Christ alive now and capable of sharpest sight and most sensitive hearing." (pg 42, emphasis added)

It is these reflections that got my wheels turning. What are the spiritual analogues to our physical senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling? I could find scriptures that tie each of these senses to to spiritual truths: "O taste and see that the Lord is good." "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory places." "My sheep hear my voice." "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." are four that Tozer explicitly points to for example (pg 38). But I don't think that gets us any closer to discovering these spiritual senses for they still appeal to a physical reaction. Instead, I think we need to look at why God gave us these senses in the first place in order to discern why our spiritual senses are so critical to knowing God.

Sight

Why do dogs see in black and white? Why do the eyes of cats look like mirrors in the dark? How can an eagle soaring high in the sky spot an animal hundreds of feet below on the ground? Scientific explanation of rods and cones aside, God gave the sense of sight in order to find and hunt food. Spiritually speaking, replace food with that which nourishes the soul and we can begin to understand the scripture above requiring a pure heart in order to "see" God.

How often do we read from the Word of God and say "I've never seen that before!" or as we are going through trial how God is showing us something new? We seek to do God's will. So our spiritual eyes are only strengthened through viewing of God's word, revealing His will, directing our eyes to the Son. "Fix [y]our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)

Sound

Our ears augment our sight to give us a full sense of our surroundings. We can look around and see images, but sound brings them to life. Wind rustling through the trees, Water bubbling down a brook. This is true when considering spiritual sight as well. Hearing the word brings to life what we see. We cannot have faith without hearing the Word. (Romans 10:17)

But spiritual hearing is more than just listening to the Word. In the physical world, our sense of hearing calls to attention what we cannot always see. A predator hiding in the bushes. An alarm coming over a speaker. So hearing also alerts us to danger. "Do not merely listen to the word... do what it says." (James 1:22) If seeing leads us to will of God, then listening guides us away from the dangers of sin. The voice of the Shepherd leads the sheep away from harm towards safe pasture.

Taste

How often, when you take communion, do you actually think and meditate on the taste of the bread, matzo, or wafer? Probably only when it doesn't taste good! Jesus described himself as the bread of life. (John 6:48) So what does Jesus taste like? If that sounds a little bit morbid, let me rephrase: what does Jesus' life taste like?

The flavor of communion bread appeals to our physical senses. But again, we need to look at the purpose of our sense of taste. We can taste sweet, salt, and bitter. Jesus calls us to be salt to the world that is worthless if we do not have flavor. (Matthew 5:13) We are warned against bitter roots growing in our hearts. (Hebrews 12:15) Wisdom is sweet to the soul. (Proverbs 24:14. Also God's decrees and God's words). So taste indicates to us the nature of what we're ingesting. Does it enhance flavor (salt), will it make you ill (bitter), or is it pleasurable (sweet)? But taste can also deceive; a poisonous berry may taste sweet. So we cannot rely on taste alone. "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." (Isaiah 5:20)

Smell

Our sense of smell is closely linked with taste. Plug your nose to choke down that spoonful of cough medicine. Just as hearing enhances our sight, smell adds to the flavor of which we consume. Step outside in the summer and you can tell if someone is grilling hamburgers. The shape of the wine glass is such that you can smell the wine right before taking a sip. But in the spiritual sense it is not what we consume where smell is important, but our own stench that can be perceived by God. When Noah offered a burnt offering after stepping foot on dry land, God was pleased by the smell. (Genesis 8:21) In place of a sacrificial animal, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) who may smell like death, but are actually the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

And also like hearing, there is a second purpose to our sense of smell. In nature animals use smell to identify not only food, but also their mates. Some animals release pheromones to attract and there are scents distinct in every animal that are related specifically to attraction. Just skim Song of Songs to see how many references there are to smell and fragrance. We cover ourselves in perfume, cologne, aftershave, or body lotions all in the name of attractiveness. In the New Testament, the Church is described as Christ's bride. Again, our sacrifice is a fragrant offering attractive to Jesus. And applying 2 Corinthians above, our smell is not only important to please our groom, but also to attract unbelievers into the Church.

Touch

Our physical sense of feeling can give us pleasure or pain. I've already talked about pleasure in the sense of attraction and smell, and I think in nature the sense of pain is more important to God's general design. Being able to sense pain is critical to life. Consider the leper, who is unable to feel in their extremities, sometimes rubbing their noses completely off or losing fingers because they cannot feel what they are touching. We know not to put our hand in the fire because we feel the pain from the heat. Pain actually protects.

Spiritually, this sense of pain is just as critical to the health of our soul. The consequences of sin hurt our hearts with regret and shame. Meanwhile the gospel of Jesus cuts the heart (Acts 2:37) . If we feel pain because our hand is in the fire, we act and pull it from the flame. The same should be true when we feel spiritual pain. However just like the leper suffers even more harm because of numbness, we risk eternal suffering if our hearts are allowed to become numb. "Having lost all sensitivity, [Gentiles] have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." (Ephesians 4:19) Feel the pain, pull yourself out of the fire before it is too late!


Ok, a couple of hours later writing this and my wheels are still turning. I think there is a lot more to be said on this subject, and hopefully this gives you a starting point for further study. In the meantime, consider these senses and how we need to hone them for our spiritual health and to fully know God.


Not to us, O Lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but they cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but they cannot smell;
they have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but they cannot walk;
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

O house of Israel, trust in the Lord—
 he is their help and shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord—
he is their help and shield.
You who fear him, trust in the Lord—
he is their help and shield.

The Lord remembers us and will bless us:
He will bless the house of Israel,
he will bless the house of Aaron,
he will bless those who fear the Lord—
small and great alike.

May the Lord make you increase,
both you and your children.
May you be blessed by the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

The highest heavens belong to the Lord,
but the earth he has given to man.
It is not the dead who praise the Lord,
those who go down to silence;
it is we who extol the Lord,
both now and forevermore.

Praise the Lord
(Psalm 115)

This blog is part of a book club reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Please join the discussion here and at our hosts, Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. Need a copy of the book? You can get it for free on Kindle.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Makes Me Sick

In the busyness of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. Leading up to New Year's I'll be posting a best-of 2012. This particular post was published in January and had the most comments this year (in fact, comments are still coming in!).

The tweet read "this is perhaps the biggest scandal in the history of college football." It was followed by, "Filing this report made me sick to my stomach." Obviously the first tweet caught my attention. The second made this a must-click. The tweets were from Yahoo Sports report Dan Wetzel, who broke the Gary Sandusky story. A simple recap if you're not familiar (and a simple recap does not do this story justice): Gary Sandusky was a former assistant coach at Penn State University who headed up a youth foundation out of an office there. The first break was simply a report of Grand Jury testimony describing how a then-graduate assistant observed Sandusky molesting a young boy in the Penn State football locker room. Like most things of this magnitude, this was only the tip of the iceberg. Eventually, more names surfaced, Sandusky was arrested, and famed head coach Joe Paterno was forced out of his job. Sadly, last week Joe Pa passed away with this cloud still hanging over his otherwise record-setting legacy.

It's a shame really. Just like you cannot say Catholic priest without conjuring up images of that scandal, so it is likely to forever be with Joe Paterno. Never mind anything else he had done over the course of his career, this is too awful to leave as a footnote in his biography.

I'm glad I didn't get around to posting last week, as I really didn't want to pile on. This story disgusts me, and I'm not writing about it just to get more hits to my blog. But the popular public face hiding the seedy underbelly of Penn State football, where Legends and Leaders are more important than integrity and protecting those who cannot protect themselves, kept coming to mind as I was reading the fifth chapter of Kyle Idleman's Not A Fan, "following Jesus or following the rules?" In this chapter, Kyle calls our attention to the "seven woes" in Matthew 23 where Jesus lashes out against the religious elite.

Six of the seven woes begin, "Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" While we throw around that word, hypocrite, we usually don't think of what it actually means. I've read both that it means the actors in Greek plays or that it means the masks they wear. Either way, the word is synonymous with, duplicitous, two-faced, masked, or putting on an act. As more evidence of the Penn State scandal it appears that administrators at Penn State, including head coach Joe Paterno, were more concerned about the reputation of their university and football program than exposing, reporting, and prosecuting the truth. Literally, they were hypocrites. (And to be fair, it is still not clear the extent of who knew what, but the dismissals of their Athletic Director and famed head coach indicates that they knew enough to act, but chose not to. Their motives may never be known.)

But like I continue to say through these series of posts, this isn't  a sports blog. Yet we can learn a lot from the headlines around us to cause us to pause and consider our own motives and our own religiosity. Christians are notorious for condemning vice from the soapbox while engaging in that very same vice behind closed doors; putting on our Sunday best while acting differently the rest of the week. It is the contrast between being religious and being faithful. Or in the context of this book, being a fan or a follower.

If we can learn anything from the Sandusky case, it is that not exposing the truth often leads to more hurt as bad behavior is enabled by inaction. We may be tempted to be hypocrites to protect some private sin, but that only allows the sin to grow. In the case of the Pharisees, their hypocrisy hurt not only themselves but also those whose very souls they were responsible for. The Pharisees were guilty of piling on rules upon rules that they themselves did not obey. And when we become more concerned about our spiritual image, we neglect the condition of our hearts.

The hypocrisy of the Sandusky case is stomach-turning. We need to have the same gag-reflex to spiritual hypocrisy. Our sin needs to disgust us to the point of being sick.

"So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to [vomit] you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:16)

"As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly." (Proverbs 26:11)

This post continues my series blogging through the book, Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman. I encourage you to follow along by clicking on the Not A Fan label to the right. And I urge you to pick up a copy of this book for yourself.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hulk Smash!

In the busyness of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. Leading up to New Year's I'll be posting a best-of 2012. This particular post was published in May and had the second most page views of the year.

Everyone has their childhood hero. Someone whom we could look to from our immaturity and relate or find hope. Often we find those heroes in works of fiction; epic poems, science fiction or fantasy masterpieces, movies, or comic books. Me, I was a comic book nerd as a child. And like any other child, I had my favorites and would argue with friends, "Spider-man could beat up Batman!" or "no way Lex Luthor could have fooled my hero like that."

When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started Marvel Comics back in the 1960's, they created heroes with flaws. They wanted their heroes to be human and relatable, in contrast to heroes like Superman or Wonder Woman from DC whose alter-egos were their pedestrian identities, not the other way around. Spider-man was a teenager, with teenage problems of self-doubt and self-discipline. Thor was a prideful rebellious son. Daredevil was blind. The X-Men were surrogates for minorities. And so on.

Because of this it was always easy to be drawn in to my favorite hero's adventures. For me, it was Daredevil. I related to his blindness (no, I'm not blind, but my eyesight is really bad) and that he had red hair (seriously, these things were important to me as a kid!). I related to his overriding desire to do what was right, even if it often meant doing it the wrong way and causing unintended harm as a result. And I related to his faith.

I went to watch "Thor" with a friend of mine. Like me, his favorite comic book hero shared his character. He related to Thor's pride and impulsiveness. And he was excited to see that character portrayed on the big screen.

So as I sat watching "The Avengers" with my family, I was reminded of another favorite character, whom I probably relate to more than Daredevil if I was completely honest: the Hulk. Admittedly, I never really got into the TV show, I was more a fan of the Saturday morning cartoon. And I didn't get into Greg Pak's recent run that redefined the character. But I read religiously Peter David's take on the character that focused on Bruce Banner's split personality and internal struggles with his personal demons.

I didn't bother watching either attempt to translate the character into a major motion picture, hearing that both movies stunk. But the early reviews for The Avengers all raved about how the Hulk was portrayed. And it was a single moment in the movie that caused me to almost jump out of my seat and cheer because someone actually got it. If you've seen the movie, I'll only give the line and you can fill in the context. "I am always angry."

I am always angry. That is what I relate to most with the Hulk. I have hurt people in my anger. I have broken and destroyed things. Though I have never turned green. I am always angry.

"'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." (Ephesians 4:26-27)

It took me a long time to accept that it is not a sin to be angry as this verse makes that distinction. I used to beat myself up over my bad temper, thinking God could never forgive me. But there is no sin beyond the grace of Jesus. Yet I need to be careful that my anger does not cause me to sin. I need to learn, as Bruce Banner did, to keep my anger in check. And only let my rage loose when threatened by an alien invasion.

(Stay tuned, true believers, another post to come on the Avengers in a couple of days!)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Protect This House!

In the busyness of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. Leading up to New Year's I'll be posting a best-of 2012. This particular post was published in September and had the most page views of the year.

College football is officially underway, which is great news for me because this past baseball season has completely stunk. With the length of the baseball season, or even with basketball and hockey, you can't expect teams to win every game at home. But in football, winning every home game is what separates good teams from mediocre, and being able to win on the road separates the great from the good. So winning at home is a priority for teams. You are defending your turf, you are playing in front of your fans- there is just something inherently more at stake. So athletic apparel company Under Armour has the slogan, "Protect This House" which works great on t-shirts, posters and billboards when combined with mascots and school colors.

We, too, need to protect our house:

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

It is not enough to just clean up or rearrange the furniture, we need to actively protect our house. When you made the decision to follow Jesus, there were some things that were obvious that needed to be thrown out of the house. Things in your heart you knew you needed to rid yourself of. But did you replace those things with anything else?

I remember a friend of mine not buying into the addiction ministry I'm a part of. "Even if you quit drinking or smoking, you're just going to replace it with something else," he would say. Of course he's right. So what is the "something else"?

Switching gears slightly to your literal house, do you ever feel like an evil spirit has completely moved in? You know what I'm talking about, when everything seems to turn into a fight with your spouse, the kids are unusually wild and crazy, and bills are past due; when you can't seem to catch a break. So you pray and you step away and you hope that things will be better tomorrow. The problem is, if you kicked that evil spirit out of your home he is only going to come back later with some of his friends.

So what are we to fill our house with in the meantime?

Do we fill our house with things? Is that what we are teaching our kids, that they can have any toy they want, watch any movie they want whenever they want, ask for anything they see advertised on TV? More things, more movies, more toys, more games, more gadgets, more electronics. Bigger, faster, better, newer. Our children notice when we complain that our iPhone 3 is no longer good enough even though we just got it a year ago.

Do we fill our house with food? As a kid we knew which house we wanted to go play at after school because they had all the good snacks. Chips, cookies, junk food. Are we teaching our children that happiness comes from sweets? Do they see us snacking between meals when we tell them that they can't?

Do we fill our house with the World? Do we always get wrapped up in politics, news, celebrity gossip, or sports? I was convicted thinking that sports elicit a more emotional response from me than anything my family may accomplish. Do I get up and cheer their achievements as loudly as I cheer a touchdown? Are we filling our house with TV? Do you realize how much television and the Internet influence our values? Even shows that are described as "family friendly" like Dancing With the Stars, Survivor, or even American Idol teach us that modesty isn't important, that it's ok to back-stab if it helps us to get ahead, and that it's ok to mock those who are willing to step out and aspire to greatness (really the first few weeks of American Idol are appalling). Do we fill our house with pornography? Pornea in Greek means "stimulating" or "pleasure", so this is more than straight-up porn and includes things such as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Maxim Magazine and the Victoria's Secret catalogue, even much of what passes for celebrity gossip as who is dating who, who has the best beach body, et cetera. So what are you watching on TV late at night? Where are you surfing the Internet?

Do we fill our house with negativity, criticalness, or gossip? Are the conversations around the dinner table about what so-and-so did today at work, or how much you don't want to go to church tonight after dinner? Your attitudes rub off, especially on your children. Or instead are your conversations filled with encouragement or edification?  Your attitudes rub off on your children. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)

When the evil spirit comes back, he will bring all his friends. So you will need to protect your house. So fill it with something!

Fill it with the Holy Spirit and with the Word of God. That doesn't mean you hang Bible verses around the house, or buy religious trinkets at your local Family Christian, or even literally to "write them on the doorframes of your house" (Deuteronomy 6:9). Deuteronomy 6 reads earlier, with respect to God's Laws, to "impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (v 7) How much do you talk about God with your family? Do you share what you are studying in the Bible? (Are you studying the Bible?)

Fill your house with prayer. When someone enters your house do they know that they are entering a place of worship? I don't mean to change out all your windows for stained glass, but Jesus promises that when two or more come together in His Name, there he will be. (Matthew 18:20) Are you gathering together as a family in Jesus' name? Your home is a place of worship. Or it should be. Do you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another? (Ephesians 5:19) Do you pray together as a family?

The truth is, that evil spirit will come for an uninvited visit. He may overstay his welcome. You may be successful in driving him out. But he always comes back. Always. And sometimes he doesn't come back alone. You need to protect your house.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End

No time to write a new post. I have to get ready for the end of the world tomorrow.

Of course, this isn't the first time to tackle the subject on this blog. In May 2011, we braced ourselves to be raptured according to Harold Camping's predictions. Just a few months earlier, the Large Hadron Collider came on-line and some speculated it would create a black hole that would swallow the earth.

Two tries (three, if you count Camping's second try that October) and I'm still here. I figure I'll survive this one too. But just in case, I better get this post up early...

As a side note, an asteroid flew by the Earth last weekend and missed by only 5 million or so miles. I reasoned with my engineer coworkers that the Mayans did some pretty impressive math. 5 days and 5 million miles isn't too bad if you propagate small errors five thousand years.

What are you doing tomorrow to celebrate the end of the world? Me, I'm taking my kids to Legoland!

Fit to Give the King

In the busyness of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. I'm focusing on Christmas this week and will post a best-of 2012 next week after Christmas. This particular post was published back in 2010.

While we're on the subject of Christmas gifts, what do you give someone who has everything?

Little Drummer Boy is my favorite Christmas song. It has always held a special place in my heart. Watching the music video of David Bowie and Bing Crosby is a vivid memory from my youth. On my tree now are two drummer boy ornaments, one from when I was two years old and the other from when I was four. That adds to the sentimentality, but when I actually stopped to listen to the words, from the perspective of a disciple of Jesus, the song took on its intended meaning. Consider it a musical version of the Parable of the Talents (or "bags of gold" in the new NIV).

While I could show you Bowie and Bing, all they're doing is standing around a piano. Plus the medley takes something away from the meaning of the song, in my opinion. So here's an original version, and a great video from The Almost:



What gift do you bring, no matter how humble, that is fit to give the King?

Play your drum.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Matters Most

In the busyness of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. I'm focusing on Christmas this week and will post a best-of 2012 next week after Christmas. This particular post was published last year following my kids' Christmas program at school.

I admit I've been too busy this Christmas season. I'm busy at work. I'm busy at home. I'm busy everywhere in between. I put up Christmas lights a couple weekends ago, but most of the time I forget to turn them on. We finally got a tree Sunday and I appreciate my kids starting to decorate, but I haven't touched it since. And as far as all the Christmas shopping goes... I've purchased a single present. One. Out of a long list.

Sigh.

But last night reminded me to take the time to enjoy this season. Last night my kids performed in their elementary school holiday recital. There's just something about little kids dressed as reindeer and others in cowboy hats singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer out of time and out of tune that makes all the hustle and bustle an afterthought.

Sunday we dress it up a little more as my son gets to play one of the three Wise Men as they act out the birth of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. He's so excited he forgets he's also singing with his choir (which is a good thing). My daughter meanwhile, will be singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas with other 2-4 year-olds.

So last night I remembered to turn my lights on. I slowed down a took a deep breath. And I remembered that I'm actually supposed to be enjoying this time of year.

All because of a bunch of silly kids. I bet Jesus was a silly kid. And if he could've dressed up as a Reindeer, I bet he would've volunteered to be Rudolph. I wish I could hear him sing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Frank 2:8

In the busyness of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. I'm focusing on Christmas this week and will post a best-of 2012 next week after Christmas. This particular post was first published in December 2009 (and I'm very grateful the videos are still up, otherwise this post would make no sense!).

You've no doubt seen them since Thanksgiving, ringing their bells. With the Christmas spirit of giving, you may have also been accosted by a number of other "causes". Maybe accosted isn't the right word, but I'm much more willing to give to someone in front of Target than I am someone who approaches my car in the parking lot.

Personally, this relates to whether the cause is a hand-up or a hand-out. And the Salvation Army offers more than just help to the needy. In fact, the Salvation Army has stepped up their marketing campaign to emphasize that they're more than just kettles at Christmas. I was surprised this year to hear the very Evangelical-like "when I was saved" in one of their spots.

What Christmas is really about:



Monday, December 17, 2012

God is Good?

It is hard to reconcile God's love with what happened on Friday. The easy question to ask is how can a good God allow such bad to happen?




I like how a friend of mine puts it: "people wonder how there can be a good God when there is so much bad in the world, but I ask how can there be any good in a bad world if there is not a good God because I know how evil my heart is without God."

It's a good point and worth repeating. If there was not a good God, how could a organism that exists by random chance, that is advanced because of millenia of survival of the fittest (ie looking out for number one), feel any empathy or concern enough for others to hide innocent children while she herself is killed? Just like the despicable act cannot be explained, neither can that act of heroism.

My friend posted yesterday on Facebook,
I know many of us were tempted to doubt yesterday that God really cares, especially in light of the shootings in Connecticut.

But then today, I hear about a teacher who gave her life saving her students in one of the Connecticut classrooms.

I see photos of local adults, students, as well as our elected officials taking a Saturday morning to place wreaths on the grave sites of our American heroes: the Veterans.
We spent the morning with a group of people at a downtown Los Angeles hospital that dedicated the better part of their day to lighten up the lives of some children who will have to spend their Christmas in the hospital because of a variety of illnesses. These folks brought lunch, a magic show, a dance recital, the Laker girls, and of course, the man of the season, Santa Claus who handed out LOADS of presents.
How do I know God cares? Because He made so many people who care as well.
God's love never fails. It never gives up. It never runs out on you.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Worshipping At the Altar of My Gun

My wife is at school today. In my kindergartner daughter's class. Kindergarten. She turned five just a couple of months ago. I cannot for the life of me think about anything else right now.

26 dead. Most between 5 and 10 years old.

My son is soon to be 8.

Why, why, why?

After Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs killed his girlfriend and then himself, Jason Whitlock questioned just what in this world we worship. To satisfy the thousands depending on fantasy football stats from a single game, the NFL chose to to tell the Carolina Panthers go ahead and play in Kansas City the next day. Do we worship the athlete? The stats? Pro football as a whole? In Whitlock's piece, he included a single line about gun control. During halftime of Sunday Night Football one of the best sports broadcasters alive, Bob Costas, leveraged that single line to pontificate about gun control and was roundly villified in social media for "self righteousness", being a "glory hound", for being "out of touch". One friend on Facebook mocked Costas by suggesting that we regulate keyboards as they are the number one cause of typos.

One day earlier was a "shooting" in Casper, Wyoming. Ironically, the killer did not use a gun but rather a crossbow. Many pointed to this incident to make the classic argument "guns don't kill people, people kill people."

But, just a little more than a week later a gunman opened fire in a Portland mall, killing two before killing himself.

And now 26 are dead in Connecticut.

The truth is that sick people will do sick things. A pastor was killed in Texas a couple of months ago, beaten to death with a guitar. Gun or not, if I store up anger and hatred in my heart, the only logical conclusion is to hurt- even kill- another.

But why do we (some, not all) come to such an emotional defense of our "right to bear arms" when tragedies like this strike? Are guns that important? Do we need them to protect our eternal security? (And seriously, I could go on and on about many I know who call themselves Christians yet their membership to the NRA is just as important, if not more so, as membership to their church. This became evident leading up to the last presidential election.)

I'm not a pacifist. I don't hold a doctrinal position on Just War. I grew up in gun country, where students would bring their guns to school just so they would be ready to leave as soon as the bell rang to go hunting. But to own those guns they were required to take hunter's safety courses. In fact, it was practically part of my curriculum, taking it in 6th grade.

I understand the arguments. I have coworkers who collect guns. I have friends who frequent shooting ranges.

But at some point we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what, exactlly, are we worshipping? Why are guns so important?

"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus told said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

What if?

In the busyness of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. Reading Multiply by Francis Chan and gearing up for a Multiply Movement study in the New Year, I'm going to select posts on evangelism this week and Christmas next. This particular post was first published in August 2011.

***
Much of what passes for doctrine in American Christianity (TM) is based off of a what-if theology. You get these kinds of responses when reaching out to others to spread the Gospel. In an over-correction to be "seeker-sensitive" churches have gone out of their way to try and answer every what-if. But you don't need to. The Bible answers sufficiently and our faith should take care of the rest.

What if there's some tribe in the middle of the desert that never hears of Jesus? Then maybe God is calling you to pack your bags to go there and change that.

"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:26-27)

But what if in the middle of the desert there's no water to be baptized? Well, first of all, people can't live where there isn't water. And we can't get too far from it and still live. Did you know that there's a military spec for building a baptistry out of boxes of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and tarp?

"Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'Go south to the road—the desert road'... As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?'" (Acts 8:26,36)

What if someone is a prisoner of war with no hope of release? Do you think God is that small?

"After [Paul and Silas] had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
 
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, 'Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!'

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'

They replied, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.' Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family." (Acts 16:23-34)

What if God creates a rock he cannot lift? Ah, the classic canard. So what if he does?

"Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear." (Isaiah 59:1)

What if my grandma was the sweetest person I ever knew? Eventually, the what-ifs become personal. But at some point we have to let go of our vested emotional interest and just trust God.

"[God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4)

What if Ghandi (or pick your strawman) was a really good person!

"No one is good- except God alone." (Mark 10:18)


What are the what-ifs you struggle with?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

If...

In the business of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. Reading Multiply by Francis Chan and gearing up for a Multiply Movement study in the New Year, I'm going to select posts on evangelism this week and Christmas next. This particular post was first published in October 2010.

***
"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said,
'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.'" (John 8:31)

There were times when I was reading Mere Churchianity that I wished Michael Spencer was right there so I could rush up to him and give him a big hug and thank him for saying what needs to be said. Better yet, I wish he was still alive to preach this message that is lost on so many churches in the tapestry of American Christianity. There are many to whom I want to give this book once I'm done. If they're not interested in the book, I'll just point them to this chapter. If this book even mildly interests you, read this chapter if nothing else.

Chapter 8: Accepting the Real Jesus draws a line in the sand and I'm sure that line will make many uncomfortable. But we have to remember, this book isn't written for the Church, though it can learn from it, but is instead written to those who have left- physically or spiritually. The established church won't like what Michael has to say, and maybe many who have left looking for Jesus won't either, but Michael has to point towards the Jesus we all need to find. This Jesus, the complete Jesus, is not the pretty picture from Sunday school, nor is he a radical marketing ploy used by evangelical churches. We are not called to follow a church. We're not even called to be Christians. Instead we are called to be disciples of Jesus. What does that mean?

That means being Kingdom-minded. That means associating with the lowly. That means making disciples (not Christians, not pew-fillers). That means "Jesus Saves", not the church. That means changing the world.

A brother was sharing recently how he was reaching out at our local mall. He met a man who was attending seminary and was at that moment studying Greek. The conversation was started, "what is the difference between a Christian and a disciple?" The young scholar could not turn to his Greek lexicon or any of his former courses for an answer. He couldn't rely on any ministerial training. So he couldn't come up with an answer. I love my friend's response, "I'm not out here looking for people to go to church with me, I'm looking for people who want to be disciples of Jesus."

The Scripture above gives us an outline: Believe, hold, disciple. But there's an important word that makes us uncomfortable, that turns religiosity on its head: IF. Jesus didn't die so that there could be hundreds of churches all proclaiming his name but look nothing like one another. Jesus didn't die to produce generation after generation of Christians. Jesus died to usher in His Kingdom, occupied by His disciples. IF...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Conclusion of the Matter

I'm not a very good closer. Whenever I write reports for work I always get stuck at the conclusion. Even my blog posts will often ramble on for one or two paragraphs too many because I don't know how to finish my thoughts. I can't even imagine trying to conclude and summarize the themes of a book.

This is the last week we're discussing A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God and concluding with his chapter, The Sacrament of Living. It is a lofty goal to even begin to describe the holiness of God and then to follow up with practical application to pursue that holiness in our own unique spiritual walks. So I have to admit I was expecting this last chapter to summarize the rest of the book and leave me, the reader, with marching orders to go forward in my own pursuit of God.

Just looking at the chapter titles, you can tell Tozer is building his case: Following Hard After God, The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing, Removing the Veil, Apprehending God, The Universal Presence, The Speaking Voice, The Gaze of the Soul, Restoring the Creator-creature Relation, Meekness and Rest, and finally The Sacrament of Living.

I often state that Romans 12 gives most comprehensive description of Christian living in the Bible- talking about sanctification, humility, applying our spiritual gifts, generosity, and forgiveness. But that chapter doesn't just come out of nowhere. It begins "Therefore..." The lifestyle Paul describes in Romans 12 requires Romans chapters 1-11. "Therefore, in view of God's mercy..." There it is, our Christianity needs to be motivated by God's character and what he has done on our behalf. "Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship." (Romans 12:1) Paul could have stopped there.

So how does Tozer conclude his premise of the pursuit of God? What does he write after his "therefore"?

"the sacramental quality of every day living." (pg 90)

Like I said, I was expecting some lofty conclusion, some kind of new wisdom that I could apply to my own spirituality. Yet I should not have been surprised that Tozer came to the same conclusion as Paul (and Solomon for that matter): that our lives, our everyday lives, should be lived for the glory of God. That is how you pursue God, by seeking to glorify him in all things no matter how big or small, how routine or extraordinary, how mundane or exciting. A fitting end for this blog as well, whose overall theme is that of living out our faith in the day-to-day.

"We must practice living to the glory of God, actually and determinedly." (pg 87)

Tozer closes with this prayer:


Lord, I would trust thee completely; I would be altogether Thine; I would exalt Thee above all. I desire that I may feel no sense of possessing anything outside of Thee. I want constantly to be aware of Thy overshadowing Presence and to hear Thy speaking Voice. I long to live in restful sincerity of heart. I want to live so fully in the Spirit that all my thought may be as sweet incense ascending to Thee and every act of my life may be an act of worship. Therefore I pray in the words of Thy great servant of old, 'I beseech Thee so far to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee.' And all this I confidently believe Thou wilt grant me through the merits of Jesus Christ Thy Son. Amen.


This blog is part of a book club reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Please join the discussion here and at our hosts, Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. Need a copy of the book? You can get it for free on Kindle.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Six Degrees of Jesus

In the business of the Christmas season, I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts and scaling back my original content. Reading Multiply by Francis Chan and gearing up for a Multiply Movement study in the New Year, I'm going to select posts on evangelism this week and Christmas next. This particular post was first published in September 2009.

***

You’ve probably heard of and likely played the six degrees of Kevin Bacon where the theory goes, you can link any actor to Kevin Bacon in six moves or less. For example try Marilyn Monroe. She was in Some Like it Hot with Jack Lemmon. Jack Lemmon was with Kevin Pollack in Grumpy Old Men. Kevin Pollack was with Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects and Kevin Spacey was in 21 with Laurence Fishburne who was with Kevin Bacon in Mystic River. Fun, isn't it?

This is based on the theory of the Six Degrees of Separation that holds we’re all separated by everyone else in this world by six people or less. With 8 billion people living on Earth, that seems daunting and may not be practical considering those living in poverty in the Third World. But on the surface, it is a sound theory. Throw in Facebook, Twitter, and the like you might even be able to reduce those six degrees to only three.

Now, apply this theory to the spread of the Gospel and you can easily see how the Early Church was able to spread throughout the entire known world within a generation of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Today, we can apply this theory to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-21 (go and make disciples of all nations) and we can have hope that “the gospel... be preached to all nations.” (Mark 13:10)

Looking at it numerically, compare a minister who is the only one preaching the Gospel in his church and converts a person a day through his preaching with a disciple of Jesus who only converts one person a year. But that person then goes on and converts one person and so on. Maybe you've seen these numbers before. After ten years, the minister has brought 3650 people to Christ while the church that started with one has only grown to 1024. But after twenty years, the first church has grown to 7300 and the second has over 500,000 disciples! Within a generation (say, 30 years) this second church will have converted a billion people.

Now consider the six degrees theory and there’s no reason to not believe that the Gospel cannot be preached to the entire world in our generation. When you pass a stranger on the street, you don’t know who might be connected to him or her within these six degrees. For example he may be within six degrees of a former president (2 or 4 depending on whether you’re considering friends or acquaintances), a movie star (3), a Playboy Playmate (2), a TV star (4), a rock star (4), John F. Kennedy (5) and a former major league baseball player (2). That’s celebrity, but looking at your average joes, this person could also be within six degrees of a kidnap victim (1), a missing person (3), a victim of a school shooting (3), a cancer victim (1), a cancer survivor (2), a victim of spousal abuse (1), a murderer (2), a gunshot victim (1), and a gang member (2). Spiritually, this person could be within six degrees of a minister (1, obviously), a Christian author (1), a Christian recording artist (2), a foreign missionary (1), a renowned Biblical historian (3), and a Christian apologist (3).

If you haven’t guessed, in the numbers I’m talking about myself. I don’t run these out to boast. In fact, I’m pretty convicted because I know for a fact that my Christian influence does not reach as far as most of who I describe above.

Think about your sphere of influence. You never know who you may be linked to. More importantly, you never know who that stranger in the checkout line may be linked to. What's stopping the Gospel from being spread? Our closed mouths. I rant and rave on this blog that a lack of authentic Christianity hurts the Gospel message and I strive to call us higher to a public authentic Christian life. But it doesn't matter how we live if our mouths are still closed.

Despite the unlimited reach of the internet, this blog isn't enough either. Besides the overall lack of traffic, I'm not necessarily sharing the Gospel with anyone. This blog isn't geared towards unbelievers, but believers. Yet I rely on this blog as an evangelistic crutch. It’s one thing to put these thoughts to paper (or computer screen) but it’s a whole other to share my faith with a stranger, a neighbor, or a co-worker. So this blog is a cop-out for not sharing my own faith. But I’m convicted to change.

How though? I recently heard a series at Living On The Edge titled "Going Public With Your Faith". Unfortunately by the time I got around to writing this post, those lessons are no longer archived but you can get the lesson on CD or MP3 by going here.  Some practical advice: write out and practice reciting a short five-minute testimony. Sharing our faith is more than an invite to church, it's sharing what God has done in our lives. Next, memorize the basic scriptures on salvation. John 3:16 is an easy one, but overused. Revelation 3:20 sounds good, but is out of context and doesn't apply to non-believers. Romans 3:23 is key for our need of a savior. But if you really want to cut right to it, why not turn to the first sermon ever preached? Everything anyone needs to know is right there.

My church follows a similar outline: establish the Bible as the trustworthy, reliable word of God, define what a disciple of Jesus is versus what the world defines as a Christian, define sin and its consequences and then define grace through Jesus, describe the sacrifice of Jesus and our redemption, and finally what our response should be to the Gospel: "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.'" (Acts 2:37-39)

You can trim that down and share it with someone in one sitting. Who knows what that seed may produce and who knows who may hear the same message six connections away?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Flashback Friday: Converter (again)

***I've reposted this before, but I'm on an evangelism kick, so here it is again. Interestingly, since this was first posted in 2010 the couple I mention below have left the church. My wife and I have been in several Bible studies with others since- but that has been a lot of seed planting and not much harvesting. The lack of seeing tangible "fruit" has caused me to become cynical and faithless (which I talk about here) something I'm working on leading into the New Year.***


My wife and I have been fortunate in the last couple of weeks to baptize a couple of our friends into Christ. Leading up to the first baptism, I was telling someone I was with that I needed to leave for a Bible study. When asked what about, I stumbled for an answer and said, "conversion." (wrongly thinking that the arbitrary titles given to our studies are meaningless unless you're in them) Naturally, that answer raised an eyebrow. The word conversion has negative connotations bringing images of the Crusades, cliches like converting the heathens, and highlights one of the most common negative images of Christianity in our culture- that we're right and everyone else is wrong.

The book unChristian uses several surveys, many by Barna Research, to identify preconceptions and misconceptions of "outsiders" and Christians, respectively. (I share the author's hesitancy in using the term "outsiders" because it is a loaded term, but is most illustrative of the purpose behind the study) A chapter titled, Get Saved!, brings the attitudes towards conversion to light. A telling number, emblematic of the disconnect between Christianity and our culture, is that "only one-third of young outsiders believe that Christians genuinely care about them." While, "64 percent of Christians... believe that outsiders would perceive their efforts as genuine."

Love-bombing visitors then dropping them like bad habits once they become full-fledged members of the church is all too common and only adds to this stereotype. The attitude of "I'm right and you're wrong, so therefore you're going to Hell" that is portrayed when we try and share our faith doesn't help this image any either. Add to that the infighting and competition for numbers within and between churches and you begin to see why outsiders would have a polar opposite opinion of our intentions.

While the word conversion may sound holier-than-thou, it shouldn't. Think of the word. Conversion means change. You need a power converter when traveling overseas so that you can use your hair-dryer (120 V) in foreign wall sockets (220 V). You need to convert electricity from alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) to use most electronics. In both of these cases, the electricity is changed into something useful. It is still electricity, but is put in a form that we can use.

Religious conversion is really the same thing. It's not about "I'm right, you're wrong." It is about being changed into something useful to God. Jesus told Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3) Being born again implies a new creation, i.e. change. Ironically, Barna defines a "born-again Christian" as one who has only "accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior." The term "Evangelical" narrows down this definition by adding the conditions of "1) saying their faith is very important in their life today; 2)believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; 3) believing that Satan exists; 4) believing their eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; 5) believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; 6)asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; 7) describing God as the all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today." Neither of these definitions say anything about change, even though Jesus said, "unless..."

Paul instructs us to "be transformed" (Romans 12:2) and reminds us that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). That is conversion. That's why I so appreciate the ministry of Paul Washer. His emphasis is that simply praying the Sinner's Prayer doesn't convert you. Without evidence of change brought about by the Holy Spirit, can you really argue that you've been converted? [Ed: and since this was first written, David Platt has taken up the same argument within the SBC] I always joke that praying Jesus into your heart works. It's just that once Jesus is there, he's hanging out asking "now what?"

So when I share my faith, of course I want to convert them. But that doesn't mean I want them to conform to my way of thinking, or my personal theology/doctrine/denominationalism. It means I want to see the Holy Spirit come into their lives and change them. Maybe that is still judgemental, thinking that they even need change. But I see addiction, abuse, selfishness, and pride on a daily basis. Our media drowns us with greed and lust. I see no evidence in the world-at-large to make me believe that others don't need change. I can't do it. I can only offer it. I'm nothing special. But Jesus Christ is.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Glory of God in Secular Work

"Nor will that old serpent the devil take all this lying down. He will be there in the cab or at the desk or in the field to remind the Christian that he giving the better part of his day to the things of this world and allotting to his religious duties only a trifling portion of his time." -A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God


Do you ever feel like you're wasting your time? Do you sit at your desk at work watching the clock tick by until you can call it a day and go home? Do you ever go home with the weight of the world on your shoulders wondering if it is all worth it?

I calculated not too long ago that I've spent more than 20,000 hours at my job and have commuted 200,000 miles in the past ten years at my job. Meanwhile, at best I've spent 3650 hours in prayer and 1040 hours sitting in church.

We can read about missionary heroes, or bold preachers, or successful authors and then ask ourselves, "why can't I do that?" Then we look at our jobs and the responsibilities of life and answer back, "oh yeah, that's why."

But that is only Satan talking. God created this world and called it good. Before the fall, Adam and Eve tended to the garden- worked, if you will- together with God. And it was a good thing. After the fall, God promised that mankind would toil in labor- yet God's creation and God's design is still good.

My evangelist here once preached (paraphrasing), "of course work is hard- it's called work! If it was easy and pleasant they'd call it something else. Like, I don't know, Disneyland!"

Work is hard. It is tedious. It is toil. But that does not mean it is not good. And the best part is, we don't have to work alone.

A friend of mine related it to apple orchards: if you allow an apple tree to grow up all on its own, it will bear fruit but it will likely be sour. But when you take the branches of another tree, even for another kind of apple, and graft it in with the tree then the fruit will be sweet. This is an example of God and man working together to gain a better result. God's creation plus man's innovation leads to the delicious fruit I pack in my lunch bag.

Maybe you view your work as too secular, that there's no way for you and God to work together in that environment. Going back to the illustration of sweet fruit, you can exhibit the fruits of the spirit in your workplace: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Of course, you cannot bear those fruits without the Holy Spirit- so there are the two of you working together.

"Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

This isn't impossible. Don't listen to Satan's lies trying to convince you that your labor is in vain. Smile. Be generous. Work honestly. Pray. And your work will be a fragrant offering to God.


This blog is part of a book club reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Please join the discussion here and at our hosts, Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. Need a copy of the book? You can get it for free on Kindle.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Three Prongs of Evangelism

The Great Commission can be divided into two parts: “make disciples” and “teaching everything [Jesus] commanded.” In other words, sharing your faith and discipling- the two pillars on which my fellowship of churches are built. Most definitions of evangelism can be summed up by these two acts of faith. However, focusing only on these two parts of the Great Commission leave out what I believe to be a third “prong” of evangelism.

In John 13 Jesus instructs his disciples, “A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (v 34-35) If our “great” commission is to make disciples, shouldn’t we be living consistent with the primary calling card of discipleship? You could extend this thought to argue that sharing your faith and discipling another are acting out in love. Of course, concern for the eternal destiny of another should be rooted in love. And discipling without love is at best legalism, at worst abuse. But love goes beyond this as John (same author, mind you) argues later: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18) Later in the same letter John continues, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” (v 5:3a)

Which takes us right back to the second half of the Great Commission, to teach everything Jesus commanded. But I fear when we do so, we often restrict ourselves to Jesus’ words, unintentionally neglecting his actions. In Matthew 4, setting up the famous Sermon on the Mount, Matthew introduces Jesus’ ministry writing, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) We are familiar with the call to evangelism that comes later in Matthew 9: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’” (v 36-37) Yet we easily overlook the “bridge” verse that precedes it. “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (v 35) Between these identical verses in chapters 4 and 9 is a sampling of “the day in the life…” showing Jesus doing just that- teaching, preaching, healing; the “three prongs” of evangelism.
Preaching and teaching are explicit in the Great Commission, but healing is not. Yet it is clear in the ministry of Jesus and in the example of the earliest accounts of the Church in Acts. Extending the definition of healing to include meeting material needs, we see the Peter preaching the first sermon, the fellowship of believers being “devoted… to the apostles’ teaching” and “[giving] to anyone as he had need.” The result? “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (vs 14-36, 42, 45, 47) implying that these actions were, in fact, forms of evangelism even if it doesn't follow our traditional view.

Preaching, teaching, healing- three prongs of evangelism. If we focus solely on preaching, we may grow in number but not in spiritual maturity. If we over emphasize teaching then we create a culture of academic and religious snobbery that does not grow. If all we concern ourselves with is the poor, then we are nothing more than a charity devoid of the Gospel. All three ingredients are crucial to the spiritual health and growth of the Church.

How has your approach to evangelism reflected either of these three prongs?

Friday, November 30, 2012

You Want Me to Do What Now?

I was raised Catholic so evangelism was never a priority. I believed in "lifestyle evangelism" where I was taught to live life in such a way that reflected Jesus to others. When I started to really get serious about living out what the Bible taught, I was challenged by Jesus' last command to his followers: go and make disciples. That was an active command, not passive where I could just live my life as I pleased and leave it to others to choose to follow Jesus. It meant I actually had to reach out to strangers and share the Gospel.

In my mind that was no different than the crazy street preacher predicting the end of the world, or the annoying door knockers interrupting my Saturday morning. And I wanted no part of that.

I remember walking across campus with my friend Jim talking about this challenge and my opposition to it. We stopped at a table set up to the side of one of the major thoroughfares between classroom buildings. There, his campus ministry was handing out hot chocolate (it was the middle of winter) and offering a friendly invitation to come to church on Sunday.

That's it? That's all it meant to evangelize? (Well at the time, yes, that was all it meant.) So I eagerly  went- most of the time- around the dorms knocking on doors and stopping people coming to and from class to strike up conversations. I wasn't very good at it. I seldom met anyone who said, "why yes, I have been looking for a church!" Yet every so often someone would sheepishly sneak in to the back of our Sunday morning service and when asked who they knew they'd answer "some guy named Frank invited me." I didn't bear much "fruit" (our codeword for our legalistic approach to filling seats on Sunday) however and I slowly became cynical about this idea of making disciples.

As I continued to soak in the Bible like a sponge, some convictions began to gnaw at me. I grew to the conviction that evangelism was not the same as inviting someone to church, and that "sharing my faith" was literally sharing my faith. ("Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have." 1 Peter 3:15) I also became convicted that the Great Commission said more than just to go and make disciples. Matthew 28:20 continues the command with Jesus saying, "and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." I looked around and I didn't see that. Then I read Sticky Church by Larry Osborne in which he talked about the danger of focusing on bringing people in through the front door while ignoring the many who were leaving out the back. So I made teaching a crusade, so to speak.

Yet instead of these growing convictions producing a godly sorrow (earnestness, eagerness, indignation, alarm, longing, concern, readiness- 2 Corinthians 7:10-11) it produced cynicism and a hard heart. I would have flashes of eagerness, sharing my faith with a coworker here or there or talking to another parent at the park, but nothing in my heart that would ever last. But then my wife and I started our Crazy Love group, opening up our home to anyone who wanted to come and grow together in Christ. It didn't matter what church you went to- I prayed God would sort that out (and over time he did!).

I was struck by something one of the brothers at church shared one midweek right around the same time. He was out "sharing his faith"and he ran into a theology student studying Hebrew in the food court at the mall. He said to him, "I'm not looking for someone to come to church with me Sunday morning. I'm looking for someone who wants to be a disciple of Jesus."

That approach, simple and straightforward, tore down the walls of division that pitted my church against yours and brought us together for the same cause- to be disciples of Jesus. I was inspired, encouraged, and my faith was renewed. I was studying the Bible with others like never before (and it wasn't that much, which says a lot). I was joyful. My wife and I were inviting people into our home, we were serving the poor, I want to believe we were actually making an impact.

Then life happened. Long story made real short- kids, family, work- every facet of our lives took a hit. And everything came to a screeching halt. You could say that Satan was actively opposing our new found faith and conviction. I'd argue instead that we were due to reap what our lives have been sowing.

After a year of taking blow after blow, I have grown restless; knowing what God has asked me to do but feeling unable to do it. Then I read that Francis Chan and David Platt were collaborating on a book. I couldn't imagine a better pairing and waited eagerly for the book to come out. I soon found out it wasn't just a book, but "movement", hmmm, that caught my attention, and the book wouldn't be a convicting challenge to my heart like Crazy Love or Radical, but would instead be an almost catechism with an emphasis on evangelism and discipling.

Well, sign me up. Book after book have been written on evangelism- how to, where to, what to- but really all we need is a renewed commitment to what Jesus commanded. Yeah, I'm going to study this to death, that's my nature. But I'm not going to wait until I finish a book or have the perfect study written up. I am pledging to go and make disciples in 2013. Who's with me?


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Burden of Worth

I keep all my books. I'm know it drives my wife crazy as the bookshelves overflow and every other nook and cranny is filled. But I like being able to go back and reference what I've read. Often circumstances, mood, or even just a different attention span will bring new insights to light.

So it was with this chapter of The Pursuit of God by A.W, Tozer. Had I reviewed it any other day, at any other time, this post would likely be completely different. You see yesterday I had a rough day at work. And as I was struggling to identify just what it was that put me into my funk I read:
"Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol. How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart's fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of a friend and enemy, will never let the mid have rest. Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable." (pg 79, emphasis added)
Looking back, I realize that I have taken some circumstances at work, that really have nothing at all to do with me, personally. And this is a burden I've been carrying for far too long. I've let the atmosphere of funding cuts, budget slashes, and future uncertainty cloud my heart with insecurity. I've allowed what others think, or at least what I think others think, to define my worth.

My wife and I were talking about this not too long ago: the difference between value and worth. If you put something up for bid on ebay, that something is worth whatever someone else is willing to pay for it. But if you hold a reserve, it has a different value to you. Another way to look at it is if you have a precious jewel. It may be worth millions if you were to sell it. But it is more valuable to you so you do not. Worth depends on another's opinion, but value is inherent to what it is. So when it comes to insecurities, we allow others to define our worth and forget our intrinsic value. Ironically, as we were talking, I was concerned with my wife's self-esteem, and completely missed the opportunity to take this lesson for myself.

Tozer puts it this way: "He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own." (pg 80) The "he" Tozer describes is him who understands what it means to be "meek" by allowing Jesus to take on his burdens and that his value is as a new creation in Christ.

I like this description best: "He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring." (pg 80)

I will finish this week at work. Then the month. And soon the year. In that time I will come to terms with the fact that no one is out to get me. Prayerfully, my heart will lower its defenses and allow Jesus to define my value- not my job, not my successes (and failures), not my coworkers or colleagues. I pray that I will come to grips that the world will never see me as God sees me, and pray that I will stop caring. That simple quote may be the most important thing I've read in a long time.

This blog is part of a book club reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Please join the discussion here and at our hosts, Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. Need a copy of the book? You can get it for free on Kindle.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reproduce Yourself

How did you get to where you are? Chances are, you have someone to thank for it. Maybe it was a favorite teacher or someone who took you under their wing. If you are successful at anything, it is unlikely you figured it all out yourself.

Somewhere along the line, participating in countless clubs and organizations through school, I learned that to propagate the values, skills, or ideals you bring to that organization, you need to replicate those in others. And if you leave an organization, you should replace yourself if you want to leave a legacy.

That is all well and good for organizational philosophies. But shouldn't the same be true for our spirituality? You can't come to know Jesus by yourself- "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:14) When it comes to discipleship the goal shouldn't be to replicate ourselves, instead shouldn't we be trying to reproduce Jesus? "One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:12-13) and later in the same letter Paul writes, "follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (11:1)

When you read the Bible and something new jumps out at you from the page, don't you want to share it with someone? Or if you read an inspiring story or practical how-to on a blog, don't you want to share it? (That's what is behind the increasingly popular social media site Pintrest) Or maybe a better question would apply the Golden Rule- wouldn't you want someone to share those things with you?

This is not a new idea. I quote Paul above, but the principle goes all the way back to the time of the Israelites wandering the desert, building monuments to God to remind them to share their stories with their children and their children's children. More importantly, this instruction comes straight from Jesus' own mouth: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (most of us know the Great Commission up to this point, but it continues) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Churches get in the bad habit of focusing only on the first part, emphasising growth in numbers, to the neglect of the second part. When that culture dominates a church's membership, the result is a congregation full of immature Christians, many of whom will eventually leave much like a seed planted on rocky ground that may germinate, but will die for lack of deep roots. (Mark 4:5-6)

To get around this some churches have programs, others have anointed teachers, still others organize themselves into small/family/prayer/discipleship groups. In each of these, the responsibility of passing along spiritual knowledge is delegated to one or a select few individuals. Yet Jesus' command above is for us all. It is each of our responsibilities to raise up and teach others to be like Jesus.

Does that sound intimidating? You are responsible for teaching someone else to be Christ-like. Where do you begin? What do you do? How do you do this? This may be a foreign idea, a 'hard teaching', a new concept to many of you. The truth is, a majority in the American Church are ill-equipped to take on such an important role.

So in comes Francis Chan and Mark Beuving with their book, Multiply: disciples making disciples. This isn't a book review (yet), but an introduction. Chan has partnered with David Platt to form Crazy Radical. Just kidding. To start what they call the Multiply Movement, an effort to encourage the Church to get back to discipleship as Jesus defined it, to plant seeds of the Gospel around the world, and to pass on those teachings and experiences to others to go and do the same.

If the idea of leading another to Christ, or to raise someone up to be Christ-like, is intimidating or if you don't know where to start. I encourage you to pick up this book, check out their online materials, watch their videos. More importantly, I encourage you to do this with someone else.

This is a theme you're going to see more and more on this blog in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. Later this week I'm going to talk more about evangelism and later write my own book review (I have a few chapters left!). In the meantime, I pray you take these words from Paul to heart:

It was [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:11-16, emphasis added)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jesus the Philosopher

That Jesus, he's such a nice guy!

He sure taught a lot of wise things.

Jesus was a great teacher and philosopher, the world would be a better place if we lived out what he taught.

Do any of these sound familiar? I've heard those responses, or variations thereof, countless times when talking about the deity of Jesus Christ. My favorite is when someone responds that we should follow his teachings, like to love your neighbor or to turn the other cheek, but that doesn't mean he's the Son of God. My response is usually to turn it right back on them- do you love your neighbor? How about your enemies? Do you really turn your cheek when someone is mean to you?

It is easy to pick and choose favorite one-liners from Jesus' teachings and turn those into a philosophy of how we should live. But no matter how many may say so, few really do. Even among the ranks of Christians are few who can honestly say they are living out every one of Jesus' commands. I haven't sold everything I have and then gave it all to the poor, have you? If we take out the hard teachings (eat Jesus' flesh?) we are usually left with something that looks an awful lot like the Sermon on the Mount.

I guess if we cling to something from the life of Jesus, it might as well be this, right? But even these instructions are hard to keep (cut off my hand?). So Jesus' teachings are usually boiled down even further to the Beatitudes. Even before I took the Bible seriously, I could recite every one of these. But to live them out? A.W. Tozer writes in A Pursuit of God:

"In the world of men we find nothing approaching the virtues of which Jesus spoke in the opening words of the famous Sermon on the Mount. Instead of poverty of spirit we find the rankest kind of pride; instead of mourners we find pleasure seekers; instead of meekness, arrogance; instead of hunger after righteousness we hear men saying, 'I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing'; instead of mercy we find cruelty; instead of purity of heart, corrupt imaginings; instead of rejoicing in mistreatment we find them fighting back with every weapon at their command." (pgs 77-78)


Let's check our attitudes against the beatitudes: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted because of righteousness. If I were to measure myself against these I could confidently lay claim to two; on my best days. I'm not going to go into detail defining each of these and writing up a mini-sermon supporting it. Instead I encourage you to check your heart. Do Jesus' descriptions of a blessed heart match yours, or do you more closely resemble what Tozer describes above?

Do not be discouraged by your conclusion. Instead be inspired by the rewards, the blessings, Jesus promises: the kingdom of heaven, receive comfort, inherit the earth, be filled, be shown mercy, see God, and be called sons of God.

Now can a mere philosopher promise such blessings or can these only come from the Son of God himself?


This blog is part of a book club reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Please join the discussion here and at our hosts, Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter. Need a copy of the book? You can get it for free on Kindle.