Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Eyes Without a Face

In 'The Pursuit of God', A.W. Tozer defines faith as "the gaze of a soul upon a saving God." (pg 63) And notes that since this gaze is "but the raising of the inward eyes... then it follows that it is one of the easiest things possible to do." (pg 67) He encourages us that when we "lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us," referring to God (pg 65).

But...

When Isaiah received a vision from God his response was, "Woe to me, I am ruined... my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5) John, when seeing the full glory of Jesus on his throne fell "as though dead." I wrote before about Elijah finding God in the whisper. When he heard that sound, he "pulled his cloak over his face" before going out to meet the Lord. After Moses met with God to establish his Law, his face glowed because of God's glory; so much so that he had to wear a veil to cover it. And Jacob named the place he wrestled with God Peniel because "I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared." (Genesis 32:30)

Gazing upon the Lord casually is dangerous. I don't think Tozer's description of it being "easy" is the same as being casual. However, I think we need to keep these lessons from the Bible in mind when in faith we seek God's face.

The face of God in the Bible is also a sign of favor. Frequently the prophets warned Israel that God would "turn his face against" them. The Psalmist would cry, "do not hide your face from me" when in anguish and would often "seek [God's] face" for comfort.

"My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!'
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior."
Psalm 27:8-9

So no, when the eyes of our heart seek out God we do not just see "friendly eyes" looking back at us, we see the full glory of God's face. Yet because of Jesus, we do not need to tremble with fear or hide our face behind a veil. "But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away... And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)

Because of Jesus, we receive God's favor and comfort knowing he will never turn his face away in anger. We can see him face to face and not only live, but live a new life.

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

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.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Crunch Time

I've been putting off this topic for weeks. I look at my bookshelf and a few specific titles jump out at me. I log onto Facebook and cannot avoid it. And as I turn one more page on the calendar I am forced to face this reality.

The next presidential election is just over a week away. When I first started this blog one of my observations that drove me to this was the uncomfortable marriage between faith and politics. One show on Christian-talk defines politics as "faith put into action". I wonder if Jesus would agree. I heard another Christian talkshow host hang up on a caller who disagreed about homosexuality. No honest open debate, rather he literally hung up on the caller mid sentence as he was trying to quote a scripture. And now, six years after I started this blog, twelve years after George W. Bush and the "value-voter" Christians are identified as much by how they vote than by how they live, if not more.

I had wanted to do a series of blogs on some of the stickier issues this election but I just couldn't bring myself around to it. I hate to say that I just haven't cared that much about this election cycle. But that doesn't mean my apathy is acceptable or that my vote is not important.

I won't get around to hitting on every hot-topic between now and then, in fact I'm not even going to try. But to be consistent with the theme and intent of this blog, I do want to focus our hearts and minds towards the Word of God so that we can make political decisions based on God's Will rather than any political party.

I'm not the only one who has this ambition. I'm sure if you looked around enough and listened to enough lessons, you'll find someone who agrees with you politically. I'm not interested in that. I want to hear from someone who is going to challenge the way I think and convictions I may hold because of my upbringing, my race, my socioeconomics, or my geography.

I'm a big fan of the ministries of Living on the Edge and Ransomed Heart (just look at the buttons on my sidebar). I encourage you to listen to the series Culture Shock over at Living on the Edge and the last few podcasts from Ransomed Heart. Set aside your preconceptions. Set aside your political affiliations. Open your heart and your mind and just listen. There's a lot there to catch up on (I'm not totally caught up myself) but at least start with Chip's lesson on "The Church and Politics" and John's discussion on "Voting" and "Jesus' View on Government". Then come back here later this week and we'll talk about this some more.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

.140 Millimeters

As the days are getting shorter and temperatures are dropping, I expect my kids to come home from school with the sniffles. All it takes is one child in a room full of thirty to sneeze on a hand, touch a doorknob, drool on a toy, or stick fingers where they have no business going to spread germs that ultimately find their way home and require me to take a sick day. (The other night my children kept me up as my daughter suffered through a stuffy head as my son coughed with such fury it could be measured on the Richter scale. How do I feel today? Don’t ask)

But I’m lucky. I have health insurance. I can afford over the counter cold medicine. And my job allows the flexibility to take a sick day now and then. Not everyone is so fortunate.

A month ago at church we had a guest from one of our local school districts describing a need that seemed trivial on the surface, but has significant impact. Her schools represent an underprivileged demographic in our community, so you would expect the need to be school supplies, classroom volunteers, etc. Instead she expressed a single need: tissue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 22 million sick days will be taken this year due to the common cold. That’s one day for every other student in America. For an impoverished community, missing school means missing at least one if not two meals, missing being inside with heat during the winter and air conditioning in the fall and spring, having running water if that only means a toilet and sink, and most importantly receiving an education to help raise them out of their socioeconomics.

So my congregation set out on “Operation Bless You” where we took donations of boxes of tissue. Donations of winter coats, backpacks, etc can cost tens to hundreds of dollars. A box of Kleenex at Wal-Mart costs a little more than a buck. Our goal was 1000 boxes. I think we blew that out the first week. I haven’t heard a final number, but even after a couple of deliveries I think we have more tissue than we know what to do with!

.140 millimeters is all it takes to stop a sneeze. This comes to 42 millimeters total in a box (for single-ply laid flat). It isn’t much, but it goes to show that every little bit adds up. .140 millimeters can prevent the common cold. .140 millimeters can keep a child in school one more day where there basic needs can be met.

No effort so small goes unnoticed. Any little act can have big impact. No need is too trivial to meet.

‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Faith And Humility

"Almost all who preach or write on the subject of faith have much the same things to say concerning it. They tell us that it is believing a promise, that it is taking God at His word, that it is reckoning the Bible to be true and stepping out upon it. The rest of the book or sermon is usually taken up with stories of persons who have had their prayers answered as a result of their faith. These answers are mostly direct gifts of a practical and temporal nature such as health, money, physical protection or success in business. Or if the teacher is of a philosophic turn of mind he may take another course and lose us in a welter of metaphysics or snow us under with psychological jargon as he defines and re-defines, paring the slender hair of faith thinner and thinner till it disappears in gossamer shavings at last. When he is finished we get up disappointed and go out `by that same door where in we went.' Surely there must be something better than this." (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)

As a blogger it is tempting to come up with some long-winded reflection and explanation of faith. As a left-brained engi-nerd I could try and approach the subject with logic. Either effort would fall short in explaining the unexplainable.

So how should we define faith? Even Tozer admits that the Bible really only defines faith in action, not in essence. So that is probably the best place to start- faith in action.

The first three steps of AA can be summed up as I can't, God can, Let him. To overcome addiction or even psychological trauma requires a certain amount of self-awareness. The challenge is distinguishing between self-centeredness and self-awareness. They are not the same thing. Self-centeredness seeks to satisfy itself. Self-awareness on the other hand, is a humble admittance that it cannot satisfy itself. And it takes a leap of faith to jump from the former to the latter.

"Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward Whom it is directed. Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus. Sin has twisted our vision inward and made it self-regarding. Unbelief has put self where God should be, and is perilously close to the sin of Lucifer who said, `I will set my throne above the throne of God.' Faith looks out instead of in and the whole life falls into line." (ibid)

Once one becomes self-aware, it becomes clear that it is ourselves that get it the way of focusing on Christ as the source of our faith, of our hope, of our love. True recovery cannot happen until this truth is accepted. In the secular world, that faith could be in the therapist, or some "higher power" but so long as that faith is accompanied with the humility to get ourselves out of the way, recovery will be successful.

Tozer links faith with sight, citing the Biblical link of Moses to Jesus. I'm not disagreeing, but I think faith without humility is also impossible. It takes faith, just as it takes humility, to admit that I cannot fill-in-the-blank, but God can. It takes faith, just as it takes humility, to get out of the way and let him.

In our recovery group, we had someone come in who was smoking multiple packs of cigarettes a day. He was trying the patch, but it wasn't working. We pointed out that it was the same problem, just a different delivery. The patch weans you off the physical addiction, but isn't God more powerful than withdrawals? He said he couldn't quit cold turkey. We told him he had to. As we went around and around each other we finally said, "if you believe God can overcome this, then he will. Just pray to him." So he did. He had one more cigarette later that night and then he was done. Humility couldn't do it alone. Humility is what brought him to our group to begin with. Faith could not do it alone, or he could have quit any time. It was the combination of the two that had success.

Do you need faith to overcome some trial in your life right now? Add a dose of humility and see what God can do. It doesn't have to be addiction for this to hold true: You can't, God can, Let him.


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.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

It's Not About Me

Not long ago I entered a contest that relied on people voting for my blog- whoever got the most votes would win. Well I voted for myself, I think my wife voted for me, and that was probably just about it. I've never been very good at self promotion. There are blogs that specialize on having successful blogs: how to generate traffic, how to encourage return visits, how to write catchy titles, how to maximize SEO, and on and on. I'm sure if I put out the effort, I might actually get good at this thing. But that just isn't my style. That, and I'm a little bit lazy. I admit I check my site visits and feel slightly insecure when I think I write my best post ever and it doesn't take off like I think it should. I get mad at Stumbled Upon when it crashes and my scheduled posts don't go up (like last week). I get frustrated that my work firewall forces this blog to be a habit that I can really only dedicate an hour or two a day towards.

But none of that really matters. When I first started this blog I was motivated by a couple of observations. One, I saw that many in my fellowship of churches had isolated themselves on a spiritual island and two, that mainstream Christianity seemed to be more about politics and consumerism than about Christ. So I set out blogging to address each of these: by sharing to the brothers and sisters in my fellowship what I was reading/learning from mainstream Christianity and sharing my personal studies and convictions to those outside of my personal fellowship. I wasn't expecting to change the world, but I was hoping that I could at least set the bar a little higher for each of us in our walk with Jesus. And even if no one else read a word, it was healthy for me to express the many thoughts in my head and convictions in my heart.

That was six years ago. A year ago things were serendipitous for a big blogiversary bash: five years is a nice round number, I was at roughly 500 posts, and I was just shy of 500 followers on Twitter. But I couldn't shake making it all about me and I ended up doing nothing.

So here I am celebrating six years. Six, in biblical numerology, is less than perfection. I think that's appropriate.

In those six years, I have met some great friends online. Brothers and sisters who have encouraged me, taught me, and humored me. I've also won a lot of swag- books, CDs, virtual conference registrations, and so on. So here's my chance to give back.

A couple of months ago I created a Facebook page for this blog. At the time I wanted it to act like a message board to talk about my blog posts and pretty much whatever else came to mind. More importantly, I wanted to use it as a "portal" so to speak where I (and really anyone else who wanted to) could share news, articles, blogs, prayer requests and so on that encourage each of us to live a life of "Public Christianity". Since then some of my friends have liked that page, but I have only received one like coming directly from my blog.

So here's the deal: between now and Friday, if you like my Facebook page you will be entered into a drawing. (And not to keep out all 11 of you who have liked the page so far, you'll be entered twice!) Because I'm an avid reader, of course I'll be giving away books. I'm also a little bit of a small-group nerd, so there might be some small group material mixed in as well. And these won't just be any books- I have been encouraged to see many of my blogging buddies get published in the past year or so and this is my chance to spread the word.

You don't have to comment. Don't have to tweet. Just like my Facebook page. It's that easy.

And thank you all for six blessed years.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Powerful Voice

In Glynn Young's generous introduction to the folks involved in our weekly book discussion (yes, I've been away that long), he points to my short bio on Blogger that mentions I'm a comic book nerd. To stay true to form, I'm going to use a comic book reference to introduce this week's discussion on God's Voice.

In the Marvel Universe (Marvel Comics publishes Spider-Man, X-Men, and the blockbuster Avengers) one of the most powerful characters is the Inhuman named Black Bolt. His "power" is that his voice creates shockwaves that can level a city. It is so powerful that he undergoes strict meditation to ensure that he not only doesn't speak, but that he makes no audible sound whatsoever. I was always fascinated by this character because he was so mysterious while also being feared by the other heroes for being so powerful.

The Bible talks about how powerful our voice can be. While we cannot literally cause physical damage with our words, we can do significant harm emotionally and psychologically. We cannot speak things into existence like God at creation, but we can bark orders to build massive structures and machines. "Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed." (Proverbs 11:11) And this is inherent in our nature, being created in God's image. "God is not silent, has never been silent. It is the nature of God to speak," writes A.W. Tozer in the sixth chapter of the Pursuit of God, 'The Speaking Voice'. (pg 59)

And like the comic book character, God's voice is powerful- enough so to speak the world into existence. His voice is so powerful that he is even present in a whisper. In 1 Kings 19 we read about Elijah fleeing and seeking comfort from God. Here we read about God appearing not as a great, thunderous storm, but rather as a gentle whisper.

I said above "we read". I even said it twice. Personally, I am always looking for that booming voice from heaven; so much so that my ears are often deaf to the whisper that God is speaking through his Word.

I know that God speaks through his Word. It is an accepted fact that I too easily take for granted. Yet I know from personal experience that sometimes the whispers that are easy to ignore become shouts that demand response. I have been going to church all my life, but one Sunday while in college the Scriptures spoke to me as they never had before, sending me on a journey I am continuing to this day. Do I hear that same voice, at the same volume, every time I open the Bible? I only wish this was so! But I will never hear God's voice if I don't even open my Bible to listen.

"The Bible is the written word of God, and because it is written it is confined and limited by the necessities of ink and paper and leather. The Voice of God, however, is alive and free as the sovereign God is free...

God did not write a book and send it by messenger to be read at a distance by unaided minds. He spoke a Book and lives in his spoken words, constantly speaking His words and causing the power of them to persist across the years." (Tozer, pgs 53-54)

"The word of God is living and active..."
(Hebrews 4:12)


God is ever-speaking through his word. Sometimes we hear it, sometimes we don't. Regardless, God's voice is powerful enough to change the world with just a whisper.

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.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: Philippians Community Commentary

(Reposting because this was getting a lot of spam. I apologize for the broken external links)

Recently, a friend asked on Facebook to recommend a Bible commentary. I wanted to answer but was ill-equipped to do so. I was wondering the same thing myself quite honestly, because I get overwhelmed every time I browse the shelves at the local Christian book store or dig deep into the multiple study tools included in the numerous versions of Bible software I have downloaded. I was hoping someone would reply that would satisfy my own personal interest. Some friends on Facebook answered with the standard public-domain options- Matthew Henry or Adam Clarke- others recommended websites that are more topical Bible-studies than actual commentaries. So I am left back at square one. I go to the store and look and the numerous options, unsure of a particular author's doctrine, or feeling the sticker-shock of considering entire commentary volumes covering every book of the Bible. Other single-volume commentaries I find to be simply expository studies that are helpful to provide background for sermon preparation but lack in personal application.

Wouldn't it be great to have a commentary that offers a variety of perspectives as if the writers were sitting around a coffee table, offered not just informative insight but was also practical, that included Greek and English word studies, AND was affordable?

Well look no further because Dan King, the "chief instigator" of BibleDude.net and author of The Unlikely Missionary gathered a diverse group of bloggers to assemble a commentary on Paul's letter to the Philippians, titled simply Paul's Letter to the Philippians: BibleDude Community Commentary*.

Sales pitch aside, this is why I love blogging. Different voices from different backgrounds offering different perspectives of the same Biblical text. And because the discussion did not happen in a vacuum, the thoughts shared are in a sense peer-reviewed. So this is not some amateur effort but a thoughtful inspection into arguably Paul's most popular epistles.

As Dan puts it, "the Word of God was intended to be discussed and interpreted in community." And this commentary not only does that as the writers explore Paul's text, but it also enables the discussion to continue as it provides the tools you need for small group and personal study. Frustrated following link after link in blogs or tracking hundreds of Twitter accounts looking to get deeper into the Word of God? This commentary, unique in its scope and approach, takes advantage of social media to consolidate the advantages of blogs, tweets and online studies into a single, easy to read volume. I'm looking forward to additional commentaries to come.

*I am reviewing this book for the Philippians Community Commentary and received an advance free e-book. I am not affiliated with BibleDude.net, nor am I a contributor to the Commentary (at least not this one!). I received no other compensation for my review.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I Can Do All Things

Everybody recognizes John 3:16 at sporting events. It is so over-used it has become cliche. Another popular scripture to athletes is "I can do all things through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13) But where does that strength come from, really? EPO, as is allegedly the case for Lance Armstrong? Amphetamines in baseball? (Not only have offensive production numbers dropped since MLB started to get serious about steroids, but the ban on "uppers" has also had an effect. Look at the stats of several players and you can see measurable declines in production as the 162-game season wears on.) Or what about another baseball cliche, smokeless tobacco?

Nolan Ryan recently criticized Josh Hamilton's decision to quit using smokeless tobacco in the middle of the season. His statistics show an obvious difference between before and after. His decline was so great that the Texas Rangers are allowing Hamilton to file for free agency, indicating they'd be happier if he wasn't around to deal with. (Don't know josh Hamilton? Check out this post from a coupe of years ago, and this one more recently that foreshadowed this latest headline.)

Hamilton, a notorious addict, has been feeding his monster with nicotine. It even sounds better for you: "smokeless" tobacco; you know, because smoking is so bad for you smokeless is obviously better. Never mind that nicotine is more addictive than heroin, and smokeless tobacco- let's just be honest and call it chew- is a more direct ingestion of nicotine; it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the gums and doesn't bother messing around with filters on cigarettes.

The stats on the baseball field indicate that Hamilton wasn't getting his strength from God alone. And while it may be easy to cast a stone because he is a public figure, we are not immune. How many cups of coffee did you have this morning? (I had two) Aren't you convinced that you can't face the day without it? (True story: I was recently at a meeting where someone brought in a cup of coffee, a Red Bull and a Five Hour Energy. She returned from lunch with a cup of hot tea and another Red Bull. It was a long day, but not that long)

What about cigarettes? I can't count the number of times someone has justified smoking noting that it isn't explicitly prohibited in the Bible. And if I try and play the "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" card, I better also ask what your favorite comfort food is. I have two: donuts and hot wings. Neither are any good for me. And on my last business trip I explicitly stayed at a Holiday Inn Express just so I could have their cinnamon rolls.

We all have a crutch that we lean on for strength when we are weak. It may be a narcotic, it may be food, it may be shopping, it may be escaping into sports. What would happen if Jesus walked up to you today and kicked that crutch out from under you? I'd probably fall down, just like Josh Hamilton.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

God in Three Dimensions

Chapter 5 of A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God is titled 'The Universal Presence'. A difficult concept to grasp so I warmed us up last week by talking about his subjective presence- those times when you just know God is present working in your life, but there is no way to prove it. At times, even believers doubt what we see that God is doing in our lives. This week I am going to try and describe God's objective omnipresence, a trait that we take as true even if we struggle to understand it and cannot physically perceive it. Warning, there is math involved.

In geometry I learned about conic sections- shapes that are formed by intersecting a cone with a plane. (I lost you already didn't I?) Think of a flashlight. If you shine your light (pun intended) straight-on a flat wall, it forms the shape of a circle. If you shine it at a slight angle, the light forms an oval. And if you hold the light against the wall shining up it will form a parabola (think of the shape at the bottom inside of a cup). "God is light, in him is no darkness." (1 John 1:5) If we think of Almighty God as a light that shines over all creation then the manifestations of the Trinity are that very same light shining in our lives at different angles.

Another way of thinking about it was put forward by athiest-turned-believer-slash-science-teacher, John Clayton, referring back to the late-nineteenth century allegory called Flatland. The original story described a world that existed in only two dimensions and how their world defined how they perceived things. Clayton takes the allegory one step further and asks what would happen if Flatland were to encounter a sphere. If that sphere were to visit Flatland, it would not appear as a sphere but first as a dot (a line tangent to-straight against- a circle forms a point, just as when a flat plane is tangent to a sphere). As the sphere moves across the plane of flatland the dot would become a circle that would grow until the sphere was halfway across and then the circle would shrink until it eventually became a dot and then it would disappear again. (Picture a bubble on the surface of your bathwater. The bubble, a sphere, forms a circle where it meets the water.) If you lived in Flatland this experience would look like a miracle. If you asked the dot or circle what it was and it answered "I'm a sphere" you would not be able to comprehend what that meant. No matter how it was described, a sphere has no meaning in a world of only two dimensions. (for a more thorough narrative, check out Clayton's own description.)

To describe God's omnipresence, think of the sphere as surrounding all creation just like the light in the first example. The fact is, we live in Flatland and have a limited understanding just due to our limited experience. We can consider God a like a light or like a sphere (or a mother hen, or a fortress, and on and on), but those descriptions are used only because they are easy for us to understand. You and I, this side of heaven, cannot fully understand all of God's qualities. He is omnipresent- ever present- present everywhere. Describe it however you want, but the truth that God is right here, everywhere, is all that's important.

(FYI, I won't be able to respond to comments as I'm on vacation. That's also why this post is a day late)
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.