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.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

R12: Are you tired of trying hard and feeling guilty?

***Thanks to Google searches, the post here that has gotten the most hits is from my series studying the book Living On The Edge by Chip Ingram on "why is the Christian life so difficult?" (Until more recently when my post, Label or Content answered the question that everyone seems to be asking: is Carolina Liar a Christian band? They're not, for the record.) A follow-up post titled "are you tired of trying hard and feeling guilty" (the titles are straight from the book) has recently been the target of spammers, receiving roughly one hundred comments in the past two weeks. When the most comments I typically see is 3 or 4, I knew something must be up. So I'm deleting it reposting the main content (minus the book Q&A) here.***


We have to remind ourselves of the context of the Book of Romans. Rome, home of pagan polytheism, infanticide, political corruption, the decay of traditional marriage, slavery, and murder for sport. As the Church grew in Rome they were the objects of severe persecution, discrimination, and in many cases outright murder. They had the reputation of saving abandoned babies, caring for the "the poor, the orphan, and the widow", for separating themselves from the corruption around them, and for being joyful doing so. To them, the commands in the Bible (not yet established as Canon) were not a list of "to dos" or "s'pozdas", but were a way of life.

Some time ago, a teen my wife and I were close to told us that he didn't want to be a disciple of Jesus because he didn't want to miss all the fun. That's what Christianity has been reduced to for many- missing all the fun. Why? Chip writes,
"I am convinced that most of us have relied on willpower, self-effort, and religious activities in our attempts to live a holy life. And eventually when we figure out that those things don't work, we do one of two things: we start faking that we're holy and develop lives of duplicity and hypocrisy [(boy, we never hear that criticism of Christianity, do we?)], or we simply agree with one another that "the bar of holiness" is too high."
Let's get this out of the way: Spiritual growth does not equal trying hard! Let me say again, spiritual growth d.n.e. trying hard! For you computer programmers, spiritual growth != trying hard! More, from the book:

  • Spiritual growth does not begin with focusing on behavior.
  • Spiritual growth does not even begin with focusing on our attitudes.
  • Spiritual growth always begins by focusing on our thinking.
  • Spiritual growth is accomplished by the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, in the context of authentic community, for the purpose of glorifying God.
  • Spiritual growth demands that we by faith appropriate the grace of God given to us through the conduits of His Spirit, His Word and His people.
And it all requires us to "be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds." We have to change how we think about holiness, about sin, about the World, and most importantly about our relationship with God. It starts with the last one and works up the list from there. I've already spent several posts on changing how we think about the World, now let's focus on our relationship with God. Remember Romans 12 begins, "Therefore, in view of God's mercy..."

I consider marriage to be a sacrament. As a disclaimer, I was raised Catholic and the fellowship of churches of which I now belong isn't much for the definition of sacraments. But I consider them to have utmost spiritual importance because they are physical things, living symbols if you will, of spiritual truths. Marriage falls into this category as symbolic of the relationship between Jesus and his Church (Ephesians 5:32). Reverse the analogy. When you're not getting along 100% with your spouse, do you suddenly decide that you're no longer married? Do you stop being married when a younger person of the opposite sex catches your eye and maybe that eye lingers a little too long? Does the marriage end when your spouse doesn't do exactly what you think he/she should? (that one actually does happen too often) Do you stop being married if you feel like you don't measure up? Do you stop being married if you don't do the dishes one night? Of course not. But this is how we treat the Church. So many give up and quit because they slip up, or there's friction in a relationship, or they don't think they can ever be as holy as the person in the pew next to them. And we all feel the same way when we fully commit ourselves to God that we do when we choose to get married- this is it, this is for life. Or at least, that's how we should feel.

Thankfully marriage isn't as fickle as our church. But why do we treat our relationship with God this way? After all, isn't the church just a group of people who all want to have the same relationship with God? If it's more, you've made it to be more than it was ever intended. The church is a means to build one another up, strengthen one another, teach one another. And that is all. If you say your a Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, or whatever and that description has nothing to do with your relationship with God, you need to check your motivations for being part of your church. Sorry to go there, but so many go to the church they do, or say they are the brand of Christianity they do because of no other reason than that's what they've always been. And we're surprised spiritual growth is so rare in the American Church (TM).

We need to change how we think. About church, about the spiritual disciplines, about our relationship with God. The Bible is full of commands. Not "to dos", but "will do because I love God so much". Until our minds change to accept that, we will forever be stuck spiritually. We will always resent deep down, maybe even subconsciously, Christianity because it is robbing us of our "fun".

Finally, again from the book:
"Can you imagine the freedom that you will begin to experience when you break
free from the performance-oriented Christian life where the focus on duty,
attendance, spiritual disciplines, tithing, and guilt management with regard to
all the things "you are supposed to do"? It's not that these things in and of
themselves are bad, but for millions of Christians they've become little more
than attempts at behavior modification accomplished through self-will and the
energy of the flesh."
So how do we do it? We need to change what goes into our mind to renew our mind.
  1. Hear God's Word (Romans 10:17)
  2. Read God's Word (Revelation 1:3)
  3. Study God's Word (2 Timothy 2:15)
  4. Memorize God's Word (Psalm 119:9)
  5. Meditate on God's Word (Joshua 1:8)
And stop trying so hard.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

God the Politician

When I was in high school I wrote a paper in my psychology class about if you apply Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Jungian psychology that religion is tied to the subconscious, then the logical conclusion is that man invented the notion of God. (In hindsight, even in high school I was a religious studies nerd.) Recent studies have gone a step further detailing how certain chemical reactions in our brains give us a sense of pleasure during worship and even create the so-called "light" that many have described seeing on their deathbeds. Even physics has its "god particle".

This only reveals the truth that throughout history we have been trying to mold God into a person that we can accept. (Maybe that was the wisdom behind God the Father sending his son Jesus?) When we see injustice we cry out to God that it isn't fair. But unfair to whom? When we find a difficult passage of scripture that is counter to ever-evolving cultural norms, we dance around it saying "God didn't really mean that." A.W. Tozer writes in The Pursuit of God, "Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image." (pg 71)

It is like a politician who will vacillate on issues at the whim of public sentiment or to capture a certain demographic. I remember President Clinton being criticized for "waffling" and the jokes about how he'd take a poll before making a decision on what to have for dinner. What many found unacceptable just a few years ago is now considered common practice. We the people, are a fickle bunch. Are we surprised that we approach God the same way?

Tozer writes later, "The whole course of the life is upset by failure to put God where He belongs. We exalt ourselves instead of God and the curse follows." (pg 76) When we fail to let God be who He is, we essentially put ourselves- our desires, our priorities, our definitions of right and wrong- above Him. We call Jesus "Lord" but only because we get something out of it. But only when we exalt God above all else, even ourselves, can we truly find peace with Him. Without doing so we will constantly struggle against God's way because we want to get our way.

God's truths are eternal. Our morals are the signs of the times and are ever shifting through history.

In the end, the only thing that really matters is whose Truth do you trust?

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
(Hebrews 13:8)


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 13, 2012

Attitude of Gratitude

(picture from Radio Free Babylon)


It was completely coincidental that this strip was up this morning from Radio Free Babylon. But it hits on exactly what I wanted to write about.

It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just over a week away. I don't know where the time has gone. If you find it, please let me know. Anyway, the popular thing to do on Facebook during the month of November is to share something you're grateful for every day. The first few days are obvious: family, friends, and so on. But as you get closer to Thanksgiving the exercise becomes harder as you really have to put thought into what you're thankful for.

I admit, I haven't done this. I'm not going to try and catch up with a list of dozen things with this post. Instead, I want to offer up a different approach.

I really appreciate my friend Dave. If there's anything the least bit wise that shows up in my posts, you can thank him. His insight into the human condition, faith, and the word is always encouraging and challenging me. But he also has a heart of gold.

He doesn't wait for November to roll around to give thanks. If he goes to a restaurant and gets great service, he posts about it on Facebook. If he sees someone go above and beyond expectations, he credits them for it. The cynic might look at such posts as trying to curry favor for his business. But he acts the same in private as well. A couple of weeks ago he took his daughter through a fast food drive-through and his daughter thought the cashier at the window was extra nice. So he had her write a letter to the manager to express how grateful she was for the friendly service.

As we were talking the other day, he challenged me to do the same thing. He did so because I have trouble expressing myself. The switch on my emotions read "angry" and "off". And just like Carl in the comic strip above, much of my anger stems from my own ingratitude and discontentment. He encouraged me to go out of my way and personally, not via a post on Facebook, reach out to others and express my gratitude for the things they do. So far this has been hard, but I've discovered several opportunities: the custodial staff at my job (really, how often do they get sincerely thanked?), the driver of my vanpool, the coordinator for my Sunday School curriculum, and several others.

I haven't done it each day like the posts of Facebook, but at least it's a start. And I am beginning to see my attitude change- slowly but surely.

Are you stressed out by the coming holidays? Are you worried about the economy or the future of your job? Are you struggling in a relationship? Share an attitude of gratitude and "wipe the snarl off of Carl."

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
(Philippians 4:6)
 
"I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers."
(Ephesians 1:16)
 
"always [give] thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(Ephesians 5:20)

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Dislocated

Even though I grew up in ski country, I have only been skiing once. Not only was I not very good, but during one of my many falls I dislocated my thumb. That may not sound like a big deal but it still affects me from time to time nearly twenty years later. When I played summer-league softball in college, every hit shot pain up through my arm as the impact of ball on bat pushed back just enough on the joint of my thumb. While playing a game of pickup basketball after I graduated, I went to the ground after a loose ball and couldn’t put weight on my hand to push myself back up. These days when I do yard work, I have to take breaks from shoveling or hacking away at wood because that tender area between my thumb and my hand hurts just too much.

That thought stuck in my mind as I read chapter VIII of A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, “Restoring the Creator-creature Relation”. Right at the beginning of the chapter Tozer writes, “the cause of all our human miseries is a radical moral dislocation, and upset in our relation to God and to each other.” (pg 70) Dislocation. The word made it so clear, so obvious. And subconsciously caused my thumb to ache.

God designed the perfect relationship: tending to the Garden of Eden together with his creation. But ever since The Fall, mankind has been dislocated from that perfect alignment. Just as my thumb hurts when conditions are just right, discomforts in this world remind us of our fallen state. The common question is why does God allow bad things to happen? The answer, based on this observation, is to remind us of our condition.

I can put my hand in a brace, isolate it from movement, take pain killers to dull aches and pains, or even just keep my hand in my pocket and never take it out, but none of those things change the fact that it is forever injured. In the same way we can dress ourselves up with religion, practice all the spiritual disciplines, lock ourselves away in a monastery to guard us from the world, but those are just physical means to medicate a spiritual injury. So long as we are in this world, our flesh will oppose a right relationship with God. So long as we are exposed to this world and its ideals, our mind cannot fully comprehend our position with God. But our hearts, guided by the Holy Spirit by the grace of Jesus Christ can desire to be adjoined with our Creator. And that is enough to bring comfort to our terminal injury.

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.

The Day After

I looked outside my window and I saw something that surprised me. The sun was peeking over the horizon. It might actually rise today. I opened by Bible and found that the words haven't changed and that Jesus is still Lord. So with that comfort I can sit back and enjoy my coffee.

I don't want to mock those whom are justifiably upset about the election results last night nor do I want to minimize their legitimate concerns. There are those whose jobs are at risk because of last night's outcome. There are lifestyles that will be threatened. I am sympathetic, but at the same time I think that would have been true regardless- just for a different set of people.

In this month's Coffee Break from the ministry of Living on the Edge, Chip Ingram asks us to imagine sitting around a table with some of the Bible's greatest heroes and to picture laying our concerns out on that table. What would they say? What advice would they give? Regardless of who won last night, half of us were destined to be upset about the results, so this exercise applies to all of us.
  • Abraham would say: "Trust God" Focus on God's promises, not the world's problems (Romans 4:20-21)
  • Joseph would say: "Forgive the Opposition" God's Will will prevail. (Genesis 50:20)
  • Moses would say: "Confront the Culture" The truth sets people free. (John 8:32)
  • Esther would say: "Risk Rejection" You are where you are for just a time as this. (Esther 4:14)
  • David would say: "Fight the Giants" God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. (1 Samuel 17)
  • Daniel would say: "Pray Fervently" God can move rulers and authorities through prayer. (Proverbs 21:1)
  • Paul would say: "Preach the Word" The Gospel is the only thing that can change people, cultures, and countries. (Romans 1:16)
And last but not least,
  • Jesus would say: "Go Make Disciples" Our work here is not done. (Matthew 28:18-20)

What do you think these heroes of the faith would say to you right now?

Monday, November 05, 2012

Vote Schmote

You don’t have to worry about voting tomorrow. The outcome is already determined by the results from a football field. If you think that is crazy (statistics cannot lie) some could argue the same for believing that the election results are pre-ordained, or guided by some form of supernatural providence. You could call this karma, or fate, or just open your Bible to Romans and come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what your political leanings may be- God has already chosen the victor. With such a conviction it might be tempting to sit this one out (at least it’s tempting for me). Yet despite nothing happening outside of God’s will, we are still fallen and broken humans making a choice based on feelings that therefore can only lead to an imperfect outcome.

I started a longer post, but couldn’t keep myself from ranting and raving. That’s not what this space needs and that’s not what needs to be communicated prior to Election Day. What we need are humble hearts in submission to Jesus. For the right attitude and approach, check out these posts:
And leading in to tomorrow, here are some fun quotes to keep in mind when you pull that lever:

“democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.”
–Winston Churchill

“Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half the people are right more than half the time.”
-E.B. White

“Democracy encourages the majority to decide things about which the majority are ignorant.”
-John Simon

“Democracy is a process by which the people are free to choose the man who will get the blame.”
-Laurence J. Peter

“A democratic people gets the kind of government it deserves”
-Father Charles Coughlin (interestingly after stating “A godless people will chose a godless leader” while critiquing FDR.)

Thursday, November 01, 2012

God Knows Your Vote!

Sometimes the choice seems so clear.

"God and a religious president, or _____ and no God!"

"We must prevent the election of ____. If he is elected president, you will not be allowed to have or read a Bible!"

This candidate has broken every one of the 10 Commandments, but to go into detail "would be too shocking, too disgusting to appear in print."

And if you needed any extra motivation, if you vote for the wrong candidate you "will go to hell".

None of these scare tactics are new. The first quote was used against Thomas Jefferson by John Adams in the third ever presidential election. The second was against Alfred Smith who was running against Herbert Hoover. What makes this quote even more remarkable by today's standards was that it was in a newsletter sent home from school by a local school board. Take that, separation of church and state! The third quote is hilarious in that James Polk didn't have to prove his allegations against Henry Clay because they were just... too...disturbing!

And you might not recognize the last one because it is so new. This is a reactionary headline to an advocacy ad put out by Mike Huckabee yesterday against President Obama. Never mind that Huckabee never uses those exact words, the headline is enough to get your attention.

Using religion as a tool to manipulate campaigns is nothing new. We expect candidates to sling mud. What is concerning to me however, is when sincere Christians use their faith to defend their unique political positions.


What do you think of this picture? Do you want to cheer, or do you scratch your head trying to figure out what the scripture has to do with gun control? Or how about my favorite prayer from Billy Graham:

'Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, 'Woe to those who call evil good,' but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and Set us free. Amen!'

Commentator Paul Harvey aired this prayer on his radio program, 'The Rest of the Story,' and received a larger response to this program than any other he has ever aired. With the Lord's help, may this prayer sweep over our nation and wholeheartedly become our desire so that we again can be called 'One nation under God.'
And even though someone just the other day posted this on Facebook as if these words were uttered recently, this is not a new prayer. Not only that, but neither Billy Graham or Paul Harvey had anything to do with it. This was a variation of prayer by Bob Russell in 1995 at the Kentucky Governor's Prayer Breakfast and recited by Joe Wright as the opening prayer of the Kansas House of Representatives in 1996. Sadly, neither Russell or Wright are big enough names to start an email chain or to get quoted on Facebook, so we end up with the version we see here. What really gets under my skin though, is that somewhere along the line someone claiming to be Christian chose to lie in order to advance an agenda.

If we are to believe the statistics that roughly 80% of Americans claim the label "christian" and political polls show the country to be pretty evenly divided over the presidential candidates, then chances are that you and I aren't likely to agree on politics even though we agree that Jesus is Lord. Does that mean I hate you or that you are going to hell because of how you vote? To suggest such a thing is abusing the faith that should be uniting us. Besides, if electing an alleged atheist 212 years ago didn't force closed the doors of every church in America, then the results of this election are unlikely to affect my citizenship in the only Kingdom that matters. The only thing I know for sure, is that come Wednesday half of us are going to be upset.

"Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels." (2 Timothy 2:23)

"You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow [Romney],” and another, “I follow [Obama],” are you not mere men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3-4)

"Welcome all the Lord’s followers, even those whose faith is weak. Don’t criticize them for having beliefs that are different from yours " (Romans 14:1, CEV)