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!

 

2 Corinthians 5:17

Written By: John - Sep• 08•14

I am sure that you would join me in saying 2 Corinthians 5:17 is one of your favorite verses in the Bible. Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” That is an incredible statement. Let’s look at it word by word:

“Therefore,” because of what he just said about the Gospel and the fact that Jesus died in our place,

“If”—Paul is not assuming anything and neither should we. Everyone is not included in the family of God because not everyone has believed. What Paul is about to say is limited to those who are truly followers of Jesus.

“Anyone,” what a great word. It goes back to what Paul said in the previous verses—anyone who calls upon the name of Jesus will be saved. It has nothing to do with race, social standing, looks, intelligence, nationalism, or any other flesh characteristic—it is all about God’s grace.

“Is,” another great word. It is not might, it is not possibly, it is not hope so—it is certain.

“In Christ.” These two words sum up as briefly and profoundly as possible the inexhaustible significance of our redemption. (Phillip Hughes) Paul uses this phrase over 160 times and it speaks to our security, our acceptance, our assurance, and our inheritance. We are in Christ and nothing can take us out of Christ.

“He is”, notice again the certainty of the statement, but we are introduced to another key word in the NT.

“New”—don’t you love things that are new? New car, new house, new suit, new…it has a great ring to it doesn’t it. One commentator said, “The theology of the NT could be written around the concept of newness.” (Murray Harris) Think about it—new wine, new age, new covenant, new creation, new man, new song of redemption, new name, new commandment, new heaven, new earth, and even a new Jerusalem. At the end of the Revelation John saw a new heaven and a new earth and a new holy city coming down out of heaven and he heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” Behold I am making all things new!

“New creation.”  We come to Christ we come as blind, sinful, and dead people, but He makes us new. I love this, “new creation.” In the beginning God created everything we know out of nothing and now for the first time we see in the Bible that He creates something new—us. We are new creations. What does that mean? Paul gives us a negative and a positive to explain it.

The negative, “The old has passed away.” This happens at the moment we are regenerated. Everything that was against us—the record of our past sin, the rebellion against a holy God, everything was set aside and nailed to the cross. It has died and it no longer condemns us. It has passed away.

The positive, “Behold, the new has come.”   There has been a total restructuring of our live and it alters ever fabric of our thinking, our feeling, our will, and our actions. One set of conditions and one set of relationships was set aside and brought to an end and another has begun. Passed away points back to a definite moment in time—it was at the moment of salvation, but “the new has come” is in the perfect tense—it is saying it became new and is continuing to become new and will continue to become new until we are glorified. This is an everlasting newness!

Now the problem you might be having is you read of the old being gone and the new having come, but you know that the old sure does seem to hang around. While there is a radical break in the pre and post conversion states we have to understand the Bible also teaches us that there is still an existence of our flesh that tries to battle the spirit. It is an ongoing renewal and we will not ultimately be glorified until the 2nd Coming of Jesus, but every single Jesus follower should be able to see a dramatic change in their life. We who are in Christ are no longer in the flesh, but we are in the Spirit and that changes the way we view others, that changes the way we view Jesus, and that changes us and all of those changes are radical. Is that true of you?

We will look at this verse again tomorrow, but go back and meditate on the massive truth presented here and spend time thanking God for all that He has done in you!

How to Pray the Scripture

Written By: John - Sep• 04•14

Yesterday I wrote about learning to pray the Scripture.   A few people have asked me what I mean…am I talking about just reading the Scripture back to God? What does it mean to pray the Scripture? I am not talking about just reading the Bible back to God, but I am talking about taking the Word of God, internalizing it, rewording it, and praying it back for you and for others. Let me give you a few examples.

Colossians 1:9-12, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (ESV)

You’ll notice this is a prayer of Paul, “From the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that…” and then Paul gives us the context of his prayer. What if you were burdened for a child and simply didn’t know how to pray for them. As you read through Colossians you come to this verse and pray accordingly,

Father, I come to you this morning on behalf of ___________________. I’m asking that you filled him with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… You can fill in the rest, but do you see how the Word centers your pray in the will of God?

Maybe you are struggling with a particular area in life.   Let’s say you are struggling with making right decisions or with setting priorities or with living in a Christ-like manner and you come to Philippians 1:9-11 and you find these words, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

As you read Paul’s words you realize…that’s what I need…and you take the inspired Word that the Spirit of God led Paul to write and pray them back to Him. “Father, I ask you to help me abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that I can approve of what is excellent and be pure and blameless for the day you come back. Help me Lord to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes only through you and may I live for the glory and praise of God. Amen.” Do you see how that works? You are simply finding God’s will for you in His Word and asking Him to make it happen in your life. That’s what I mean by praying the Word back to God.

Years ago I read through the Bible and highlighted every prayer I could find. That might be a great benefit for you. Take a Bible and use it as your Prayer Book. Set is aside and when you pray go to the Psalms and worship God there in His Word and pray them back to Him. God to the prayers of Moses, David, Paul, or any other writer and learn to pray God’s Word back to Him.

Learning to Pray His Word

Written By: John - Sep• 03•14

Yesterday I challenged you to pray with me, three times a day, for the month of September.  I’ve always wrestled with prayer.  There have been pockets of time when I seem to be getting it together, but to be honest I just never seem to feel that I have it together.

I do better with praying as I am going.  I find myself talking to God throughout the day, but I also know from the example of Jesus that it is necessary to set aside specific time to be alone with God.

Jesus set aside time early in the morning to pray, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35, ESV)

Jesus withdrew to be alone to pray, “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (Luke 5:16, ESV)

Jesus spent the entire night in prayer, “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God…” (Luke 6:12)

Prayer was such a dominant part of Jesus’ life that the disciples came to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Now, let’s stop for a moment and ask ourselves a question, if Jesus, who was fully God in human flesh, needed to set aside time to pray…how much do we need to set aside time to pray?   The reality of it all is simple—to think that you can handle your day without seeking the wisdom of omnipotent God is the height of conceit and the pinnacle of pride.

We are given majestic promises in regard to prayer—“ And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him…”  (1 John 5:14-15)  That doesn’t mean we can name it and claim it and God is bound to give it…it means we can ask God for those things within His will and He will do it.  How can we know the will of God?  There is no better source to know the will of God than the Word of God.

If we can learn to pray the Word of God it will change us from the inside out.  The Word tells us what God wants for us and it tells us what God does not want for us.  As we come to His Word we must learn to pray it back to Him.  For example, today is September 3 and maybe you read Proverbs 3 and come to verses 5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  You can easily turn that into a prayer.

Father, help me to trust in you with all my heart.  Forgive me when I lean on my own understanding—you are omnipotent and I am not.  You are all wise and I am not.  You know the future as well as you know the present and past and I don’t.  Forgive me and help me lean upon you and trust you to make straight my paths.

You might pray that a 100 different ways, but asking God to do what His Word wants you to do delights Him and He will do it.  Set aside time to be in His Word and pray it day after day.

A Prayer Experiment

Written By: John - Sep• 02•14

On Sunday I preached through Acts 10. For the last few weeks I’ve been returning to the passage I preached on Sunday morning and preaching from that same passage in the evening. As I study I find so many things that need to be addressed, but there just isn’t enough time to do it so I’ve been able to cover some of those items in the evening time.

Last week I noticed something…an angel appeared to Cornelius in a vision “about the ninth hour of the day.” (Acts 10:3) In Acts 10:9 we find Peter going on a housetop “about the sixth hour to pray.” It is interesting because Peter and John were going to the temple at the ninth hour to pray in Acts 3. Peter and Cornelius had visions from God at times set-aside specifically for prayer.

My point was that setting aside time for specific prayer will enable us to be in a position to hear from God, to be transformed by God, and to learn to avoid temptation. I challenged our church to join Peter and John and other early Christians in setting aside three separate times to get away and seek God in His Word and in prayer. I am not trying to set up a new legalistic approach, but to set aside time—in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night to get alone with God and to hear from Him.

The greatest resource you and I have in prayer is the Word of God. Yesterday afternoon I was reading and praying through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. I came to chapter 5:18-20, “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart…” (ESV)

That Scripture led me to pray for God to supply my needs, but also for the power to enjoy the things He gives me as a gift from Him. I love the idea in verse 20 and that is where I spent my time, “For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” The writer just spoke of the toil of life and in this life there are many hardships, but as I read this verse I found myself asking God to so occupy me with His joy in my heart that the suffering would seem like nothing.

This afternoon I found myself praying through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. I did pray through it, but to be honest, I never moved from the first thing listed—love. I found myself asking God to help me love Him with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I found myself praying that God would help me love Kim as Christ loves the Church. I found myself praying and asking God to help me love my girls in a way that would demonstrate the love the Father has for them. But the more I prayed the more I found myself asking the Holy Spirit to simply help me love Jesus with all that I have.

I have to confess, I hate that I have to ask Him for help in that area—I should not have to have help loving the most glorious of all, the most wonderful of all, but I do. I’m in Christ, but the flesh is still echoing so strongly that I need all the help I can just to love Him as He deserves to be loved.

I finally just asked the Holy Spirit, who Romans 8 says “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God,” to help me by simply loving Jesus through me with all that I have. I share this with you because I want to encourage you to pray with me during the month of September. I call it a Prayer Experiment because I want to urge you to set aside, for the month of September, three specific times every day to get alone with God, to get into His Word, and to pray His Word back to Him. Will you join me?