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    Tuesday, March 26, 2013

    Stop Apologizing for God

    Awhile ago, in my blog post A Call to Something More I discussed some prophetic words Tozer said to the church then that have become our reality I was asked to share some of them and this is the second.

     In a sermon series (now book) titled And He Dwelt Among Us, Tozer brought up the issue of apologizing for God and hinted to where this could lead.

    He said:

    "The One who created all things, including the ground on which we stand and build our temporary buildings, does not need anyone running around and apologizing for Him.  Nor does He need anybody rushing in taking His part and saying: "Now just a minute, He doesn't mean that.  He sent judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah but it doesn't quite mean that, it means something else."  It means exactly that...and when the Bible tells us there is a hell where the wicked are going, it means exactly that.  It does not mean something else." (Tozer, 2009, pgs. 65-66)

      In a culture that is uncomfortable with confrontation, judgment and punishment many Christians have begun apologizing for God's wrath, Hell and many other things that we see Scripture stand against.  We've acquiesced to the cultural pressure, back-pedaled and tried to explain certain portions of Jesus words, and God's actions away as "something else".

      This back-pedaling was not something that was really going on in Tozer's day but has become a HUGE reality today.  Never was there a time that a large number of mainstream Christians were against Hell as they are today.  Never has there been so much pressure to deny certain sinful acts and call them "not sinful" in God's eyes, when Scripture says something different.

     I realize that this post can come off as me saying we need to rush out there and declare to the world how wrong they are and how dangerously close to Hell they are.  I am NOT saying that.  Nor is this a political response to the whole Starbucks debacle of this week (see picture to the right...I'm sitting IN Starbucks right now!).

      What I am saying is that Tozer was right in his assertion that Christians were beginning to apologize for God and we are now reaping the total "benefits" of generations of back-pedalers.  We must stand strong and hold fast to what God has revealed about Himself and the nature of sin, when we back-off and tell a different story we are not leading people to Christ, but rather a false version of Christ...which isn't helpful at all!

      I saw this from other religions at a recent University Religious forum here at the University of Pittsburgh.  Muslims, Jews and one Christian group denied Hell's existence, stating that their religion doesn't hold to something so cruel as all that.  I was shocked because I may know more about their religions then them because last I checked...all 3 of those religious groups believes in a literal place of torment...

     In the midst of the mess of lies being weaved there was a lone voice from another Christian group who dared disagree.  He said: "I don't think it's wrong to believe in Hell.  That is my right and I'm not afraid to say I believe it".  I think his authenticity shocked folks and the Jewish representative rolled his eyes and whispered: "Whatever".

      The reality is: Heaven is the Presence of God and Hell is the absence of His Presence. Plain and simple.  Why would God force people who don't want Him to be with Him forever?  Why are we all so afraid to stand for truth?

      Again, I know this can sound "Driscolly" (made up word for things that sound like Mark Driscoll) but I'm not meaning to say we need to punch people in the face with it and make it our badge of "righteousness" that we believe in Hell or in the wrath of God, but when questioned we needn't back away from it.

      This current generation NEEDS something strong to believe in. They need a ROCK in which to build their spiritual house on, yet most of the things out there for them are SAND and as Christians we've been adding beaches to their options rather than keeping the Rock the Rock!

      Let us no longer pander to this generations "demands" but give them the truth in LOVE as we seek to lead them to the rock of their salvation because everything else truly is sinking sand.

    Friday, March 15, 2013

    Who Needs Who?

      A few days ago, I felt led to write this post on A Call to Something More.  I literally agonized over this post for 2 weeks in thinking about it, then 4 days in editing it.  Now, as I promised at the end of that post I will embark in unpacking some of Tozer's prophetic and heart piercing quotes that many people ignored back when he said them and we ignore still.

    "God does not need anything, because when you give God anything, you only give what God gave you in the first place"- A.W. Tozer

        I think many of us Christians feel as though God needs us and so we can treat church any which way we desire.  Church is not a place for me to grow so I can go out and give to those who need, nor a place that trains me to be the incarnate Christ to a dark world.  It is a place I feel justified in making demands.  A place that if it doesn't "fit me just right" I can leave and take my tithe somewhere else.

      If the music is too bumpin' or not bumpin' enough I can move on.  If the preacher is too dynamic or not dynamic enough I can move on.  

     I've seen a ton of Christians act as if they are God's gift to the church or that they are God's gift to himself... as if he needed them. 

      I too have fallen into this trap as a pastor and have lived out this attitude plenty of times.  Yet, God doesn't need anything.  He is self sustaining, self fulfilling and has all the love he needs within Himself.

      This then leads us to ask (as it should) Why am I here?  Why does it matter if I follow Christ or not then?  The answer is that we need Him.  Every fiber of our being is bent to worship Him.  We intrinsically need to give our time, money, work, worship and love to Him.  We are built that way, by His design.  We find ourselves empty when we are not filling it with Him.  He created us way back in the Garden to walk with Him and to have a deep, face-to-face relationship with Him but this was broken and we've been trying to find our way back to Him ever since...many of us just didn't know it (and still may not know).  We try to fill it with happiness and we may go to church expecting church, the worship, the sermon or the conversations afterwards to fill us up, but we are not looking to Him to fill us as He was meant to.  God doesn't need anything and when we give to Him, it's simply giving back to Him what he already has given to us.  He is our sustainer, He gives us life, time, money, love and everything else.  It all belongs to God already!

      This idea changes the way we view everything, not just church.  

      Many churches have forgotten this, because many have been trying to be God's gift to everybody, rather than leading everybody to the true gift: God Himself, the one we all actually need.  They've pandered to the masses and have put certain things in place to please people. That was the main thrust of my first blog post in this series.

      Tozer brought this idea forth with this quote and many like it that pointed to the folly the church then (1950's and 60's) was dealing with.  He also said many things to warn folks who thought other than the quote above and how perilous that type of thinking could be to the Christian himself as well as the church at large.

     In many respects, I think this idea of God needing nothing has been lost among many American Christians.  

    Let us remember that God doesn't need us, we need Him.  We are utterly dependent upon His favor and when we realize that, the game changes.

    Thursday, March 14, 2013

    A Call to Something More

    A.W. Tozer was a prolific writer, preacher and considered by many a prophet.  He was a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor (most of his time spent in Chicago) who wrote weekly for the C&MA journal and also wrote many books (41) in his lifetime.  His most prominent time in the public eye were 1940's-1963 when he died.

      Tozer was known for his rebuke against consumer Christianity calling pastors to stop catering to the masses, and to preach the truth.  His most famous book: The Pursuit of God got him labeled as a "Mystic" because he taught what is known as the "Deeper Life" where one pursues more of God and allows the Presence of God to overtake and change a person.

      Tozer prophesied time and time again, in books and in his preaching that the church was going down a road direct to secularization where soon the church would be more like the world around it then like the God it was made to serve.  He challenged pastors and everyday Christians to go deeper with God and not to accept what he labeled: "Nominal Christianity" where a person simply has the name "Christian" but little else.

    When Tozer was alive and even more so today, we has been labeled a modern day prophet.  Many people rejoiced at his messages as many rejoice at his books today. I like many have come closer to God through reading his challenging writing.

      Just like the prophets of old however, his message has gone largely ignored.  He was honored for who he was (a prophetic voice) and is still being honored as such today but many who claim to have read and enjoyed his messages have not allowed the God  about whom Tozer preached to change their hearts to cause them to become children of the burning heart.

      As I look back and see what he called the church to become so many years ago, my heart is broken to see that much of what he proposed possible was ignored.  Also, his warnings to his listeners for not heeding the message in many ways have come true.

    Instead of deep pursuit of God in America, much entertainment goes on in the name of church.  People go away feeling like they paid for a good worship set and paid for a good sermon but it does little to nothing in their daily lives.

      Church in America is largely a consumeristic show put on to please man rather than God.  This above all else I believe Grieves the heart of God.

      We've trained many in this young generation that God is all about fun, and have largely ignored the deeper truths of the Christian life with them saying: "Oh, they can go deeper when they're older.  Plus, they wouldn't even understand it now".

     I tell you with sincerity that nothing has bothered me more in the past few years than those statements.  

      I've been wrestling with this for years on again and off again but I feel it in my gut that if we continue to entertain and make God nothing but "fun" we are headed for a greater church recession than even Europe has known.  There is a constant need to up the ante, always having to one-up our last big thing or worse, to one up the other churches big thing.

     Drawing new believers from a show is not intrinsically bad but it is dangerous.  It's dangerous because many times when a young person comes to know Jesus at something like that, their experience dictates their view of God for the rest of their Christian life. They will constantly be expecting God to be more and more fun.

    So, as Pastors, what can we do to help solve this issue and spiritual decay we find in America?
Here are a few suggestions:

    Stop entertaining and playing games and preach the Word

    We need to talk about healing, emotional, physical and spiritual.

    We need to talk about the empowering Holy Spirit, who He is and what His role in the life of the believer is all about.

    We need to teach surrender.

    We need to preach dependence.

    We must discuss the meaning of discipleship, not just conversion, both among each other as pastors and with the people who follow us.  Bonheoffer wasn't afraid to share the Cost of Discipleship and neither should we.  I think, as pastors we fear we will turn people away if they knew how hard true discipleship would be.  Here again, I think we sell people short!  If they knew it was such an adventure, wrought with tough times and amazing victories, I think more people would buy into it as valid for their lives.  After all real life is hard...delusional religionists make things look ethereal...

      I fear that for too long many in the American church have been worried so much about conversions that they have lost sight of discipleship altogether.  Once someone comes to Jesus, that's it! Yay!  We did it!  Then that person, with very little guidance is expected to join the ranks and get some conversions under their belt as well.

      Have we forgotten that God is the ultimate goal?  The redemption happened so we could be reunited with our first love.  The Cross and Resurrection happened so we can once again have a walking side by side, hand in hand, face to face relationship with our Creator.  The Fall took that away and God offers us a way to get it back.

    He desires community with us.

     He doesn't want to be our court Jester, he desires to be our Daddy, our Coming (and present) King, our God, our Friend, our Savior, Our Healer, Our Sanctifier.  We need to re-tell the story of God for the people who follow us, not simply pander to their desires.

    As Parents of children, youth and young adults what can we do?
Here are a few suggestions:

    Live a life of surrender before your kids

    Pray for your kids and with them

    Live a life that is seeking more of God's presence

    Don't hope the Sunday School teachers will teach your children about the Word, or God, teach them yourself

    Don't be so consumeristic in your church talk, or in the way you treat church

    EXPECT God to show up in your prayer times, your church services and share this expectation with your children, so when God does show up (because he most certainly will) you can point to Him and his work amongst you

    Love your children the way God does

    Admit your mistakes and apologize when you sin against your children

    Don't pretend you have it all together, be real!

    As Christians what can we do?
Here are a few suggestions:

    Expect God to move

    Live lives of surrender

    Stop thinking of "Christian" as a title but rather a deeper life reality.

    Be the INCARNATE Christ to a world who desperately needs Him

    Think of God and others before we think of ourselves

      Tozer is one of many forefathers who spoke of things about where we'd be today.  Many of those before us didn't heed the advice and we are further than we were before.  May we as pastors, parents and Christians heed the Spirit's advice and reset a new course for the generations to come!  I think we should take a deeper look at some of Tozer’s (and other forefather’s) statements and unpack them.  So, in the coming blog posts, this will be what appears!

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

    Starbucks, the Holy Spirit and a Drunk

                A drunken man walks into Starbucks yesterday and asks for a bit of cash so he can buy more booze.  This is not the beginning of some sick joke but was my reality Thursday. 

                I was meeting with an amazing young man named David Bjanes when it all happened.  He saw us talking on the elevated portion in the back of the coffee shop and must have thought we looked like nice fellows.  He comes over to us and looks directly at me and asks for a couple of dollars.  I ask him if he needs to get food, I’d love to walk him to a restaurant and get him something.  He points to a bag and says: “I got food.  To be honest, I just need a couple of bucks to buy a drink.  It’s been a really bad week”.  I felt something stir within me (the Holy Spirit type, not the go to the bathroom type) so I said to him: “I don’t have money to buy you a drink, but I know something or rather someone who can ease you better than alcohol”.  Before asking me what it is, he goes on a long tirade about how he’s not an alcoholic, then asks: “What is it then?”  I say: “Jesus, he can heal you and help you through this painful time”.  He easily dismisses this and says “I know Jesus”.

                I didn’t know why but boldness just popped into me and I called him out.  I told him I smelled alcohol on his breath and that I’ve lived with alcoholics and I believed he was using it to ease his pain, more than he was willing to admit.   He kept trying to leave but continued to talk to me about Jesus, how he’s 60 and I’m only in my young 20’s, what pain could I know.  I shared a bit of my story and he listened.  We just kept talking and he said: “You can pray for me, but I still want to drink”.  I asked him if I could pray with him and he said after he leaves, so I let him leave and silently prayed for him in my heart.

                Interestingly enough, something else happened after that.  A young man sitting near us, Will asked what the H**** that guy was talking about and I had another open window to talk about Jesus with Will, and his girlfriend Sophia.  David then joined the conversation with Will, because the drunken guy kind of took most of the talking points and time.  David assisted me in talking about things I wasn’t sure on (Science stuff) with Will and we discussed Jesus for about another 10 minutes.  It was a really cool experience!

                I don’t share this story to say David and I are heroes or anything, but I share it because people deeply desire to know Jesus, even if they don’t know it.  The drunken man couldn’t leave (although he seemed agitated and seemed as if he really wanted to) and Will, a more or less atheist wanted to know why I was so patient with this drunken man, because to him it wasn’t normal for someone to tolerate someone like that.
                We truly are aliens in this world and when we live as Christ would, people notice and ask questions.  I’ve been in that Starbucks all semester and this is truly the first time I’ve displayed Christ in this way there…so hear me when I say I know it’s tough and not normal for us to just be bold this way.  However, I am convinced that if we desire to see God move, we must live this way.  David and I were just discussing all of that before this took place and so I believe the Holy Spirit was preparing us for that very moment.

                May we, the priesthood of believers continue to be willing to listen to His Spirit!

    Thursday, February 21, 2013

    Finding My Voice

      As I look back into my blogs (and even more so my first book), I realize that I've been searching for my very own voice.

     I believed as many young writers do that I already had my own voice and that it was a good, necessary voice.  A voice that the world needed to hear because of the profound statements it was to make.  Yet, I'm not sure my voice was or even is yet purely defined for me.

     Granted, I've been able to touch on things that are dear to my heart: my family, authenticity, leadership and current culture but in many ways, even though I've been writing since 2006-2007 I am still very much a voice freshman, one who still needs to find what is it that only I can say?

      I'm still young.  I'm still not supremely experienced, but I can see some things in which I have a voice and a platform to speak to.  I know what bothers me, I know what excites me and I know that in many ways some of the provoking things I say and will say have been said before...and have before been ignored.

      As a writer, I've always thought that influence based on numbers of readers is what makes your voice needed in this world and to some degree this is true and I still hold to it.  Yet, I've learned to that I write also for myself, I write because the thoughts bubbling within my conscience I fear will simply go away and I will not remember the profound thought, so I capture it on digital paper (or real paper).  The sad reality is that if I fail to capture some thoughts this way, they do grow moldy and forgotten, so this exercise of writing has been super helpful for me.

      Sadly, in the past, in an attempt to grow the readership, I wrote with a voice that was not my own.  I wrote what I felt people waned to hear rather than simply write what I truly wanted to say.  As any human, I fear rejection, I fear my words will go ignored, hated or worse yet, not even read.  Sometimes, I find myself writing a Facebook post and checking back every 5 minutes or so to see if anyone has said anything about what I wrote. I let the cyber approval lead and guide my day...this I am realizing more and more is unhealthy and driven by pretty foul motives.

      I am a thinker, a theologian (at least in my own mind), a reader, a pastor, a father, a husband, a child of the King, a writer and a practitioner.  Yet, for years I've been trying to isolate one or the other of these hats, when I can write as all of them at once.  I've stolen other's voices in order to sound more of one of these hats than I truly was and in that destroyed much of my credibility.

      Granted much of this was unintended and arrogantly thought to be non-existant within my writing but alas, it has been there and continues to creep in.  I hope to grow as a better writer, a better thinker and a better social interactant as I learn my own voice better and learn to grow into it. If what I say offends, it's what I truly think.  If what I say inspires, thank the Lord I can spur someone on.  If what I say causes readership to decline, so be it.  If what I say causes readership to grow, maybe it's time a voice like mine was heard...a new voice a different voice, my voice.

      You friend also have a voice.  Maybe you're not a writer of blogs, but of poems.  Share your poems with the world.  Maybe your thoughts that rattle your brain need written down.  Maybe it's time your voice is heard...even if mine isn't.  Get out there and share your voice with the world!

    Thursday, February 7, 2013

    LENT 2013

      Sadly, this picture can be how my son and daughter see me and I confess it is more me (by like a gazillion) than my wife.

        I love to portray myself as a really good Daddy and I think in a lot of ways I am a pretty decent Daddy but here is where I fail: I am distracted by my phone...a lot!

      My wife posted a blog on her Facebook the other day that struck such a chord with me that I felt the pain of being the person the blog author was mentioning.

      The author was describing how parents can miss their children's childhood by being distracted by the screens we place in front of our noses.  Here's one thing the author said:

    "Carry your phone around so much that when you happen to leave it in one room your child will come running with it proudly in hand—treating it more like a much needed breathing apparatus than a communication device."

    MJ does that with my phone and before I read this line of this blog I felt as if MJ being excited to bring me my phone was simply cute.  Now I feel ugly, disgusting and like a neglectful parent because something so STUPID looks so IMPORTANT to my son.

      My wife has mentioned my addiction to my phone plenty of times but I've ignored it (and her).  I am just as likely to answer a text while talking to her as I am my son.  I neglect the loves of my life in order to answer a text that could wait?

      A problem is that I am lauded for my ability to respond quickly by many and it's that praise that keeps me distracted from the things most important.

      If you think this is how I am with my family...you should see some of my devotion times.  I like to do my devotion times on my phone or iPad, which are not inherently bad but when it's buzzing, beeping and changing screens every 5 seconds with a new message, new Facebook update or a new tweet I miss time with God.

     So, I've prayed about this and God smacked me with an answer.

    I heard clear as day: "Take Facebook and email off of your phone for lent.  Use it for calls and texts ONLY"

    Imagine only using my phone (or you using your phone) for only calls and texts!  Sounds so 1999, right?  But for me, it's going to be liberating.  When I'm home, I'm going to turn my text noise off and leave my phone in my room, instead of in my pocket!

     I may find emails from the day before in my inbox *gasp* or a Facebook comment un-liked for a day *DOUBLE gasp* and I may even get a mean message or so stating I am hard to get ahold of but you know what?  I will be PRESENT with the people I am with and that means more to me than any old nice comment about my "quick replies".

      I will definitely find more QUALITY time with Jesus too and to me that time is my LIFE BLOOD and sustains, lifts up and grows every other aspect of my life.

    Well, that's my Lent story and I'm gonna stick to it! Who knows...I might even like it!

    Thursday, January 31, 2013

    Sojourn: Days 30 and 31

     Well, the end is nigh!  I've officially to date lost 29 pounds, saved over $150 in excess food and have not cheated!

      As I reflect on all I've learned, I see that there is still so much to be learned and so many more sacrifices to be made in order to continue to support the efforts of great people like Chris Coakley and Danny Yourd.

      Tomorrow, I will celebrate with a Nutella and Peanut Butter Toast "sandwich" and a tall glass of coffee with some chocolate creamer in it!  Below are some Before and after pics of me (which is embarrassing) because I promised I'd pop those up here for folks to see just how crazy eating like this is for the people around the world.

     It is not a sustainable diet.  It is not safe to eat this way...yet millions of people do each day and we rarely think about them in our day to day lives.  I think it's important for us to see just how deep this deathly area of life can be and that is why I ventured on this sojourn to starvation.

      I was supremely tempted several times, but the accountability of writing this blog helped me stay the course, as well as my reliance upon God in moments of deep, deep temptation to eat the things I said I wouldn't. Today, sitting in Starbucks in Oakland is the hardest it's ever been because I so desire a cup of coffee.  My body has craved it for the entire month and I am so ready to give into my body right now!  Yet, knowing it's almost over helps tremendously.

      I think I am going to make a jar that will hold the $$ that I would be spending on random fast food trips.  By that I don't mean times I decide (rarely BTW) to have a meal (Breakfast lunch or dinner) at a fast food restaurant, but those times I know I would give into a random stop for an unnecessary meal and when it's full, I will send that dinero right to my friend Chris Coakley for Grain of Hope!

      Hilary and I also decided to cut our food budget by $50 and hope to use that extra to help in ways we couldn't before.

      It's been a great journey but I know I wouldn't wish living like this on ANYONE.  Finally, let me say that this is NOT a weight loss plan!  I said this early on, but this type of eating is dangerous.  For a person to lose almost 30 pounds in a month (unless they are morbidly obese) is un safe. So PLEASE don't do this sojourn unless you are monitored and have a failsafe person to pull the plug if needed!

    Day One: 213.5 pounds
    Day Thirty One: 184.5 pounds