No Cosmic Teddy Bear!

Written By: John - Oct• 02•14

My series through Acts has taken me to Acts 13 and the Spirit has led me to stop and look at three things the early church did to be in a position to hear from God. Last week we look at the fact that they were worshiping, this week we will look at their praying, and next week we will look at their fasting. In my study on prayer I came across the following quote from Virginia Stem Owens about wrestling with God in prayer in several sermons and commentaries:

“Christians have always interpreted the splitting of the temple veil during the crucifixion as symbolic of their liberation from the mediated presence of God. Henceforth they were ‘free’ to approach him directly—which is almost like telling someone he is free to stick his head in the lion’s jaws. For once you start praying there is no guarantee that you won’t find yourself before Pharaoh, shipwrecked on a desert island, or in a lion’s den.

This is no cosmic teddy bear we are cuddling up to. As one of the children describes him in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, ‘he’s not a tame lion…We too must struggle with him just as Jacob did at Peniel where he earned his name Israel—‘he who strives with God.’ We too must be prepared to say, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.’

Consider Moses, again and again intervening between the Israelites and God’s wrath; Abraham praying for Sodom; the widow demanding justice of the unjust judge. But in this combat with God, Ellul cautions, we must be ready to bear the consequences: . . . ‘Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint, and he went away lame. However, the most usual experience will be God’s decision to put to work the person who cried out to Him . . . Whoever wrestles with God in prayer puts his whole life at stake.’

Awful things happen to people who pray. Their plans are frequently disrupted. They end up in strange places. Abraham ‘went out, not knowing where he was to go’. . . After Mary’s magnificent prayer at the annunciation, she finds herself the pariah of Nazareth society. . .How tempting to up the stakes, making prayer merely another consumer product…How are we going to tell them that they may end up lame and vagrant if they grasp hold of this God?” (“Prayer—Into the Lion’s Jaws,” Christianity Today, November 19. 1976, pp. 222-23)

The Manifest Presence of God

Written By: John - Oct• 01•14

You and I are in the presence of God…right now and we have been in His presence every moment of our lives and we will be in His presence for the remainder of our life…there is nowhere you and I can go to escape His presence—there is no place where He is closer and there is no place where He is further…we are in His presence right now.

Tozer asks an important question, “If God is present, if we cannot go where He is not, cannot even conceive of a place where He is not, why then has not that Presence become the one universally celebrated fact of the world?” He answers his question with a quote from Jacob, “Surely, the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.” Our lack of knowledge does not change the fact that God is here, but our lack of knowledge does impact our experience of His presence.

Think of how transformational this is—if we were truly aware of the presence of God every moment would be an opportunity for worship! Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and given “many blows,” but in the middle of the night, backs aching from the rods, feet aching from the stocks, they were praying and singing hymns to God in the midst of the prison. They were obviously aware of the presence of God and His presence made the difference.

Throughout the day you and I will either be in the flesh or we will be in the Spirit…we will either walk in the awareness of His presence and enjoy the manifestation of God or we will, like Adam and Eve, try to hide from His presence and miss our on the joy of worship. Day after day and moment by moment we have the opportunity to worship God.

He doesn’t have to come to you—He is already here. You don’t have to go to Him—He is already there. All that is necessary if for you to acknowledge His presence and to worship Him. I think our awareness of the manifest presence of God is the secret to learning to “pray without ceasing.” It is the secret to learning to live with worship as a lifestyle instead of seeing it as something you do on Sunday.

Stop and think of the ramifications of the presence of God. Do you need to stop something because you are in His presence? Do you need to start something because you are in His presence? He is here so talk to Him. He is here so listen to Him. He is here so walk with Him. He is here so glorify Him. He is here so enjoy Him. He is here!

Disciples Hunger for Jesus

Written By: John - Sep• 30•14

I was in a small group the other day when someone asked if one could be a Christian and not hunger for God. That’s a good question isn’t it? I have another one, an you be a Christian and not be a disciple of Jesus? In the Western World many would immediately answer yes, but if you come to the Word of God you would have to say no.

“Christian” is the main term for followers of Jesus, but it is only used three times in the New Testament. Three times, but the word “Disciple” is occurs over 260 times in the New Testament. Dallas Willard said, “The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.”

To be a disciple is a way of life. If you are a disciple you are a follower and following is not an option. You either follow and are a disciple or you do not follow and you are not a disciple. Think about what Jesus called us to do in the Great Commission—He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus didn’t call us to go and get converts—Jesus called us to go and make disciples. Jesus told us to make disciples by baptizing them and by teaching them to obey Him. In other words, He taught us to make disciples by teaching them to follow Him. That means as we follow Jesus we are to teach others to follow Jesus.

The Twelve left everything to follow Jesus—they hungered more for Him then they did for earthly things. With the exception of John, everyone one of the Twelve died a martyrs death (Judas is excluded from this, but it is true of his replacement)—they hungered more for Jesus than life itself.

Bonhoeffer saw the danger of “un-discipled disciples” in 1937 and this led him to write The Cost of Discipleship. He attacked what he called ‘Cheap Grace’ and masterfully said, “When Christ calls a man He bids him come and die.” That’s discipleship and that is what it means to be a Christian.

Can you be a disciple and not hunger for Jesus? No…you may have periods of carnality in your life, but you can’t have an entire life of carnality and call yourself a disciple of Jesus. Let me ask you—do you hunger for Him? That hunger should drive you to do several things,

  • Spend time in solitude with Him,
  • Spend time in His word daily,
  • Spend time learning to pray without ceasing,
  • Spend time in community with other disciples of Jesus,
  • Spend time making disciples for Him.

Hunger for God

Written By: John - Sep• 29•14

I’m preaching through Acts on Sunday morning and yesterday we came to Acts 13. Originally I was going to preach on the worship, prayer, and fasting of the church in one sermon, but as I studied I felt led to spend one week on each discipline. As I prepared to preach on the three actions of the church before they sent Barnabas and Saul for their first missionary journey I found myself reading through John Piper’s book A Hunger for God.

In the Introduction he said,

“The more deeply you walk with Christ, the hungrier you get for Christ…the more homesick you get for Heaven…the more you want ‘all the fullness of God’…the more you want to be done with sin…the more you want the Bridegroom to come again…the more you want the Church revived and purified with the beauty of Jesus…the more you want great awakening to God’s reality in the cities…the more you want to see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ penetrate the darkness of all the unreached peoples of the world…the more you want to see the false worldviews yield to the force of Truth…the more you want to see pain relieved and tears wiped away and death destroyed…the more you long for every wrong to be made right and the justice and grace of God to fill the earth like the waters cover the sea.

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: ‘This much, O God, I want you.’” (page 23)

Misplaced Passions

Written By: John - Sep• 23•14

Yesterday I shared an experience that I had with God several years ago. That experience began a series of experiences that have developed my relationship with God. Religion seeks to remedy man’s external problems, but Christianity seeks to change one’s internal problem—we were made to worship God and in our fallen nature we cannot do what we were made to do.

All of creation glorifies God. Psalm 19 begins with these words,

 

“The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge…” (ESV)

Tozer said,

“God made man to reflect His glory; but unfortunately, man does not. The flowers are still as beautiful as God meant them to be. The sun still shines yonder with spacious firmament on high. Evening shadows fall and the moon takes us the wonders and tells us whether the hand that made us is divine. Bees still gather their honey from flower to flower, and birds sing a thousands songs and the seraphim still chant ‘holy, holy, holy,’ before the throne of God. Yet man alone sulks in his cave. Man, made more like God than any creature, has become less like God than any creature.”

Does that sadden you? I am grieved by the thought that a bee or a bird might bring more glory to God than I do. We have been created in His image—“Redemption is to restore us back to God again…” Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, but we cannot mistakenly push the forever into the future—we’ve been redeemed in the here and now and should enjoy God accordingly.

One of the greatest mistakes we make is we forget why we are here. I love the illustration of a man who awakes from a weeklong coma. He awakes to confusion—he doesn’t remember his name, he doesn’t remember his family, he doesn’t remember his job, and he doesn’t remember what caused his coma. He lives the next few weeks or months trying to re-gain his memory—he walks with a distant memory that he can’t bring to light and confusion as to who he is.

That’s us, we were created to worship God, and yet we walk around in our fallen state confused about our purpose. Echoes of Eden ring in our mind, but we can’t quite put a finger on it. So what do we do? In our fallen state we seek to fill the void with what I would call misplaced passions. We seek to find our purpose, we seek to define who we are, we seek to worship because something in us yearns to worship.

Why do you think hundreds of thousands of people gather week after week to watch sporting events? Why do they gather with their faces painted, singing the songs, and chanting the chants, and yelling the yells? Misplaced passion!

Why do men and women seek to identify themselves through sexuality, through possessions, or through work? Misplaced passion!

We were created to worship God and anything that brings more excitement in your life than the worship of God is misplaced passion and it is idolatry. Tozer said, “Idolatry is simply worship directed in any direction but God’s, which is the epitome of blasphemy.” We may not call it idolatry and we may not call it blasphemy, but if we get more excited about it, if we talk more about it, and if we spend more time doing it than we do God then that is exactly what it is.

Lately, I’ve found a renewed interest in being in the presence of God. Nothing else satisfies me like being in His presence. I watch Auburn play football, but I don’t spend the rest of the day watching other games—I just don’t feel the desire. I’m finding a desire to stay up later and get up earlier because I want more time with Him. I’m not perfect by any means, but I’ve been praying that God will help me understand what I need to understand to truly worship Him. I’m asking Him to help me by changing my likes and dislikes, my wants and my passions…I’ve been confessing the sin of misplaced passion and I’ve found a freedom to pray and be in His Word.

I’m not writing to say “Look at me!”, because I know the depth of my inner depravity, but I am writing to challenge you to get into the Presence of God and to learn to enjoy Him in the hear and now. Set aside time, set aside meals, set aside the television, set aside whatever you need to set aside and simply get into His presence and learn from the Holy Spirit how to be what you were created to be.

Echoes of Eden!

Written By: John - Sep• 21•14

I want to share a story with you that is true and is one of the most meaningful worship experiences of my life. I think it was during one of the summers between 1990 and 1992…I was working at Lake Forest Ranch. Kim and I were teaching a dating class during one of the High School weeks. The class gave practical advice about how to stay pure and how to do creative things to stay out of compromising positions.

One day after teaching a class I was walking back to my cabin and the Lord whispered in my ear, “You never do that with Me.” I wasn’t sure what He was talking about, but after some time of prayer I knew He meant spending time just hanging out during the day. I was faithful in my “Quiet Times,” but I often lost sight of His presence throughout the rest of the day. I was busy that day, but I had some time the next day so I scheduled a walk around Shadow Lake with God.

The next afternoon I took off around the two mile gravel road…as I walked I was reflecting on a sermon I had heard from the book of Zephaniah 3,

“The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness;

He will quiet you by his love;

He will exult over you with loud singing…” (ESV)

I found myself singing the chorus, “Oh Lord your beautiful,” by Keith Green. It was and still is one of my favorite songs and as I sang it to God I stopped and simply said, “Lord, that’s my favorite song…what’s your favorite song?” And then I listened.

I was on the far side of the lake, but the noise of camp was evident…the loudspeaker, the ski boat, the students, but it all grew quiet and still and suddenly I heard a songbird singing his song. It was as if the bird was on my shoulder…loud and clear and beautiful. I remember saying, “God that’s nice, but what are the words? Songs are supposed to have words,” and God asked me a question, “John, what is that birds purpose?” I answered, “Its purpose is to sing,” and God said something incredible, “John, my favorite song is for my creation to do what I created it to do.”

I’ve long reflected on that time with God. I still get chills every time I go back to the Lake and walk around to that spot. I smile every time I hear a bird chirping its heart out to its Creator, but my reflection always goes back to the purpose of my existence. The Catechism says the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. I agree, but I think I can simplify it a little more—we are here for one simple purpose—we are here to Worship God.

Satan will fill our hearts with some many things that lead to misplaced passion, but we are here to worship Him. Echoes of Eden ring in our fallen minds…we know that we are here for something, or Someone, greater than ourselves and until we fill that void with proper worship we will continue running around aimlessly like a bottle in the ocean driven and tossed by the wind. You are here for one reason and I would encourage you to learn to Worship Him as He deserves to be worshiped!

A New Cross?

Written By: John - Sep• 16•14

While reading AW Tozer’s The Pursuit of Man, I came across the following quote.  He wrote it in 1950…I wonder what he would say today?

“The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it. The old cross brought tears and blood; the new cross brings laughter. The flesh, smiling and confident, preaches and sings about the cross; before the cross it bows and toward the cross it points with carefully staged histrionics—but upon that cross it will not die, and the reproach of that cross it stubbornly refuses to bear.” (page 53)

 

In Christ

Written By: John - Sep• 15•14

Over the last weeks I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to be “in Christ.” I’ve meditated upon Romans 8 for most of the year and the idea of being in Christ and not in the flesh just sort of jumps out and slaps you every time you read it.
This weekend I read AW Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of Man. I’ve read The Pursuit of God more times than I can count, but somehow this book escaped my notice…I can tell you it will be one I will read again and again! In one section of the book Tozer talks about how the Spirit enters us and shares a story from “the old devotional writers of several hundred years ago.” He said,

“We place a piece of iron in a fire and blow up the coals. At first we have two distinct substances, iron and fire. When we insert the iron in the fire we achieve the penetration of the iron and we have not only the iron in the fire but the fire in the iron as well. They are two-distinct substances, but they have co-mingled and interpenetrated to a point that the two have become one.” (page 66)

I wonder if that description is true of you? I admit that you can still clearly see the line of demarcation in my life—the line where John stops and the Spirit begins or the Spirit stops and John begins, but I desperately want to see Him so melt me that I am in Him and He is in me in such a way that you can’t see anything but Him.

A 2 Corinthians 5:17 Prayer

Written By: John - Sep• 10•14

For the last two days we’ve looked at the wonderful truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17.  Last week I spoke to you about learning to pray the Scriptures.  When you come to a verse like this, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold the new has come,” the great truth presented shouts at us to pray!  Let me show you what a prayer based on this passage might look like.  (If you haven’t read the first two blogs on this passage I’d encourage you to stop and read here  and here.)

Father,

I come to you in the name of Jesus Christ, the One in whom you have placed me.  The One in whom I am made new.  The One who died in my place so that old things could pass away.  The One who rose from the dead so that new things could come.

I don’t want to just be declared new—I want to act new, I want to think new, I want to walk new, I want to talk new, I want to even smell new…like what Paul spoke of when he said “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

I know that I can’t do any of that on my own so I am asking that You who made me new and You who now indwell me, through Your Holy Spirit, to fill me and enable me and empower me for a life that brings You glory!

When that happens I’ll be tempted to say, “Hey, look at me!” and when that happens remind me that I was made new because the old me was dead, depraved, and disillusioned.  Remind me that I am only what I am now because of Your grace and help me as I come back through repentance of my pride to once again dance in your grace and to start all over again in the newness of You!

In Christ,

John

God’s Action in the Field of Human Catastrophe!

Written By: John - Sep• 09•14

Yesterday I discussed the massive truth presented in 2 Corinthians 5:17.  On Saturday morning I sat down and read the beginning of The Pursuit of Man by AW Tozer.  In the first chapter he floored me, as he often does, with an insight that I should have seen, but never saw.  It is a reminder of the great truth in 2 Corinthians 5:17, that anyone in Christ is a new creation.  Tozer said,

“Redemption is not a strange work which God for a moment turned aside to do; rather it is His same work performed in a new field, the field of human catastrophe.  The regeneration of a believing soul is but a recapitulation of all His work done from the moment of creation.  It is hard to miss the parallel between generation as described in the Old Testament and regeneration as described in the New.  How, for instance could the condition of a lost soul better be described than by the words, ‘without form, and void’ with darkness ‘upon the face of the deep.’ (Genesis 1:2)?  And how could the strong yearnings of God’s heart over that lost soul be more perfectly expressed than by saying that ‘the Spirit of God brooded upon the face of the waters’ (see 1:2)?  And form what source could light come to that sin-shrouded soul had God not said, ‘Let there be light’ (1:3)?  At His word light breaks and the lost man arises to drink of eternal life and follow the Light of the World.  As order and fruitfulness came next to that ancient creation, so moral order and spiritual fruit follow next in human experience.  And we know that God is the same and His years fail not.  He will always act like Himself wherever He is bound at work and whatever work He is doing.” (pages 11-12)

I love the idea of God doing to us in our regenerative new-creation just as He did at the very beginning in the Genesis account of Creation.  That’s the beauty, the depth, and the glory of what He has done in you and me at salvation.  Glory in that and praise Him for all the great things He has done!