Are you experiencing the manifest presence of God in your life?

Within every human breast rages this desire, driving him forward. Many a person confuses the object of that desire and spends his or her entire life striving for the unobtainable. Very simply put, the great passion in the heart of every human being, who are created in the image of God, is to experience the awesome majesty of God’s presence. The highest accomplishment of humanity is entering the overwhelming presence of God. Nothing else can satiate this burning thirst. -AW Tozer, Experiencing The Presence Of God

A busy religious life devoid of God’s presence

Have you ever been haunted by the idea that there should be more to the Christian life than what you are currently experiencing? I will admit that I have frequently felt that way. When I read in the Psalms how the saints of old delighted being in God’s presence I feel an ache overcome me and I want the intimacy and joy that they experienced.

We need to know the difference between the omnipresence of God and the manifest presence of God

One of the things we learn in God’s Word is that there are different ways to understand and experience the presence of God. In Psalm 139:7-12 we read this:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

What the Psalmist is describing is the omnipresence of God.  To say that God is omnipresent is to say that he is present everywhere. But Scripture also describes the manifest presence of God.

“You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” -Psalm 16:11

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and hit filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. -Acts 2:1-4

The manifest presence of God is when he reveals himself in a unique and clear way. It seems that the pathway to true joy is found in only one place, God’s presence. When we experience the manifest presence (or some refer to it as the relational presence) of God we find that our hearts are impacted and we are spiritually transformed. The reason why it is imperative to make this distinction is that we can affirm with our minds that God is omnipresent and yet never truly experience his power in our life. Our greatest spiritual need is to go beyond the omnipresence of God and into his manifest presence.

We need to be aware of what is keeping us from the life transforming presence and power of God

What are some of the barriers that keep us from experiencing God at a deep level?

  • We don’t truly have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is possible to be religious, attend church, and still not know God personally.
  • We allow distractions and busyness to keep us on the surface of knowing God. How many hours do you think you devote to a screen during the week compared to meditating on God’s Word? Social media, the news, entertainment, busyness, all work in such a way to keep us on the surface of what it means to know God deeply.
  • We numb our pain with worldly pleasures. This is a temptation that I face on a regular basis. There are hurts and wounds in our heart that we refuse to deal with. So, instead of doing the hard work of laying our hearts bare before God we self-medicate. Alcohol, shopping, TV, exercise, perfectionism, sex, and work are all ways that things that can keep us from allowing God into the deep places of our life.
  • We are stuck in a habitual sin. We have given up the idea that we can experience spiritual victory in a particular area of our life and we have grieved and quenched the power of the Spirit of God in us.
  • Truth be told, we really don’t like the idea of God being God in our life. We might not say this out loud, but completely surrendering our life to the manifest presence of God does not sound like all that much fun.

We need to know what we must do to experience the life transforming power of the manifest presence of God

So what do we do to actually experience the presence of God in our life? As I have been reading and studying God’s Word I believe these are the primary ways that we can experience God today.

  • We experience the presence of God when we are honest. Ask God to give you a desire him on a deeper level (this is where I am at right now). God already knows where we are at spiritually so we might as well just be brutally honest with him.
  • We experience the presence of God when we repent of our sin. Darkness and light can not co-exist. God will not put up with false gods and idols in our life. Spiritual renewal and revival are preceded by confessing and turning away from our sin.
  • We experience the presence of God through reading God’s Word. Are you soaking your heart and mind in the truths of God’s Word on a daily basis? One area that I want to grow in is not only reading and studying the bible but actually meditating on it.
  • We experience the presence of God when we pray. Prayer is talking and listening to God. It is in these sweet times of fellowship that we can go deeper with God. I have been challenged recently to come to God and to just be quiet in his presence. When was the last time you spent 10 minutes just being quiet in God’s presence?

The last thing I should do is act like an expert when it comes to revival. I have never lived through anything like what I have read about in the Great Awakening. But it seems to make sense to me that genuine revival among God’s people would need to be preceded by a growing awareness and desire to be in his presence.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as you ponder the idea being in the manifest presence of God.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” -Augustine

Reclaiming America For Christ

One of the primary arguments that I want to make in this brief article is that Christians in America have relied too much on politics to change the world when in fact our focus should be on the good news of Jesus Christ. How did we get to this point?

Brief history of the Moral Majority

falwell and ronald reaganThe Moral Majority was started in 1979 by Jerry Falwell, a Southern Baptist pastor, who worked to unite other conservative evangelicals to address what they saw as the problems in American society.

There were lots of things going on in American culture in the 70s and 80s that led to the formation of the Moral Majority. Abortion, gay rights, sexual immorality, humanism in the public schools, liberal Supreme Court rulings, etc.

But could there be more behind what really got the Moral Majority started in the first place?  You can go HERE to read some other theories as to what inspired the Moral Majority to move into action in the first place.

Getting involved in politics is a good thing

On a personal note, I want to say that I strongly believe that it is good for Christians to be very involved in the political world. One of my heroes is William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a British politician who worked zealously to end the slave trade that was prominent in his day. In order for Christians to live as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) they must engage the world they live in rather than retreat or withdraw.

So what was the problem with the Moral Majority?

Paul Michael Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell, wrote these words, “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Re-create the nation? Really? Does anyone today really think that our nation has been “re-created”? Ed Dobson who co-authored the book, “Blinded By Might: Can The Religious Right Save America?” wrote these words as he pondered the impact his time working for the Moral Majority had in American culture:

Did the Moral Majority really make a difference? During the height of the Moral Majority, we were taking in millions of dollars a year. We published a magazine, organized state chapters, lobbied Congress, aired a radio program, and more. Did it work? Is the moral condition of America better because of our efforts? Even a casual observation of the current moral climate suggests that despite all the time, money and energy-despite the political power-we failed. Things have not gotten better; they have gotten worse.

What are the unintended consequences of making an idol of politics?

One of the unintended consequences for being so involved in the world of politics, and losing sight of the power of the gospel, is that Christians have become known more for their political ideology than they are for mercy, compassion and love. Thomas Kidd puts it like this, “In short, evangelicals have gone from being known as born again Christians, to being known as religious Republicans.”

But there are other consequences as well. By engaging in a culture war we have alienated the very people that need to hear the gospel story. Our angry rhetoric pushes people away from us because we have been treating them like our enemy and not the lost sheep that Jesus came to die for (Luke 15:1-7).

Is there a better way?

As Christians we should long to see the world changed and actively work towards that end. Of course what we should strive to do is evaluate the way we are living and contrast it with what we read in Scripture. What do we learn from observing the life of Jesus and the apostle Paul?

Jesus emphasized serving

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Matthew 20:25-28

Jesus’ disciples completely misunderstood that it meant to be a part of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 20 we see James and John come to Jesus seeking power and glory and Jesus has to redirect them and tell them that they way that the kingdom of God flourishes is when Christians seek to put others first and serve them.

Question: How are you, and your church, serving others in your neighborhood and city?

Jesus emphasized making disciples

And Jesus came and said to them, “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 observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus spent the bulk of his ministry years making disciples who would go on and make disciples. This was Jesus’ plan for changing the world, spending time with people, helping them to become more like him, and then releasing them so that they could go and do likewise. What is our plan for changing the world? Does it look like the method that Jesus employed?

Question: Who are you discipling?

Jesus and Paul emphasized love

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. -1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that if there is anything that Christians should be known for it is love.

What does this love look like? Love is not winning an argument. Love is not an insulting meme that belittles our political rivals. Love has a heart filled with compassion that longs to see the lost sons and daughters of God come to know the grace of Jesus Christ.

Question: Are you known on social media, and in everyday life, for being a person of compassion and love?

The spirit of the moral majority lives on today

There is no doubt that some of the negative aspects of the Moral Majority, and the Religious Right, are alive and well today. The problem is that it is such a part of the air that we breath that we have a hard time seeing the error of our ways. The key will be for Christians today to refocus on the words, and the life, of Jesus Christ and how he worked to transform this fallen world.

Talking To Your Kids About Sex And Dating

It is not an exaggeration to say that we live in a highly sexualized culture here in America. Here is the scary part, this sexualized culture is discipling our kids. Friends, schools, movies, and social media are having a huge impact on our children and much of it is not good. It makes no sense that the culture is talking about sex all the time but all too often the church (and parents) have nothing to say about it. As parents we must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations with our kids about all the issues they are facing on a daily basis.

This past week I went away for an overnight trip with my youngest son. I used a resource called “Passport to Purity” by Dennis and Barb Rainey. With the help of this resource (cds and workbook) we probably spent about 6 hours talking about peer pressure, dating, sex, pornography, etc.  We also did some fun things like going out to dinner and watching the new Spider-Man movie. I consider it my responsibility, and honor, to talk to my children about such important topics. A number of years ago I did the same thing with my oldest son and Marcie (my wife) has done so with our daughter.

One of the things that I am proud of as a father is that both of my sons learned about the birds and the bees from me. Not from some friends on the school bus. Not from a dirty movie. I love the fact that I was able to step into their life and tell them about sex, dating, and what the bible has to say about it.

passport-to-purity-by-family-life

I would strongly encourage you as a parent to take the time to talk openly, and honestly, to your kids about dating, sex and peer pressure. Passport to Purity is geared for kids who are between the ages of 10-14. If they are much older than 14 they will think Passport to Purity is a bit too childish.

So Passport to Purity is a great tool for younger kids, but what do you do if your kids are older? I would like to share with you a few parenting ideas and then give you some questions that you could use to generate a good discussion between you and your son or daughter.

A Few Ideas To Ponder

  • Get to know the young man or young woman that your child is dating. This is not weird! The only reason we think it is weird is because our culture has completely lost its way when it comes to the role parents should play in the lives of their children. What is weird is allowing your child to date someone that you don’t know. 
  • You need to talk to your kids about dealing with peer pressure. There is a HUGE amount of pressure at school to conform to a worldly lifestyle. You need to help your kids think about some biblical ways to resist negative peer pressure.
  • You need to give your kids a biblical reason to save sex for marriage (1 Corinthians 6:18-20, 1 Corinthians 7:2, Hebrews 13:4, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
  • You need to give your kids a biblical reason to pursue purity in general (Leviticus 11:44-45,  1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Titus 2:11-12, Ephesians 5:3-4).
  • You need to make sure that your kids know that God’s boundaries are meant to lead them to deeper joy and contentment. God gives boundaries because he loves us and wants what is best for us.
  • Talk to your kids about the importance of dating someone who knows and loves Jesus. Missionary dating is a really bad idea. Look up and discuss 2 Corinthians 6:14 (unequally yoked).

A Few Questions To Ask Your Kids

  • What are some of the ways that you feel the impact of peer pressure? Especially in regards to dating and sex?
    • Our kids are under constant peer pressure in a variety of ways. We need to guide them and help them to understand how to resist negative peer pressure. The story of Daniel is a great place to go. A teen-age boy who glorified God by standing up under tremendous pressure.
  • Read and discuss 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. Ask your child how these verses relate to dating, sex and peer pressure.
  • What kind of boundaries should you set when it comes to dating?
    • It’s best to set these boundaries before they begin dating.
  • Are there any other challenges you are having right now at school or life in general?
  • Are you struggling with lust or pornography?
    • “Finally Free” by Heath Lambert is a good resource for purity, pornography, and sex.
  • How should you respond to someone who is pressuring you to have sex (or is pushing past your boundaries)?
    • As parents we need to give our kids the tools to say no!
  • As a parent write down some of your own questions.
  • Ask your son or daughter if they have any questions.
  • If your child is dealing with some guilt and shame give them heavy doses of God’s grace (Psalm 86:15. 2 Corinthian 5:21, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 14:6). HERE are a few books that talk about guilt, shame and the gospel.

If you have any thoughts or questions I would love to hear from you!

God, Greed, And The Prosperity Gospel

Have you heard about the prosperity gospel but don’t really understand what it is all about? Are you, or someone you know, being influenced by gospel prosperity preachers? Do televangelists who make millions of dollars make you question if they love God or money? Do you want to learn more about the Word of Faith Movement? Have you wondered if the healers you see on TV are legit?

Costi Hinn is the author of “God, Greed, And The Prosperity Gospel” and he is also the nephew of the world famous Benny Hinn. Costi worked with Benny Hinn for a number of years so he understands all the secrets and lies that are a part of the prosperity gospel movement. I am about 3/4 of the way through this book and I would strongly encourage you to buy it, read it, and share it with a friend. The prosperity gospel is a false teaching and it is causing havoc all over the world.

“Today, the prosperity gospel has exploded to become one of the most popular teachings in the world. It has overtaken continents like Africa and South America as it continues to breed pastors and people who are looking to land a serious payday.” p. 159

The book is very readable, biblical, and I pray that it will cause many people to see the terrible spiritual dangers associated with the prosperity gospel.

This Might Be Making You Miserable

I am currently preaching through the book of Romans. It is the second time that I have preached through it and I can say that it is definitely one of my favorite books in the bible. The gospel is on full display in every passage. This week I will be covering one of the most well known verses in all of Scripture:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

As I previously stated, it is one of the most well known verses in the Bible, but I must add, it is also one of the least understood verses as well. The reason why I believe this verse is so misunderstood is because we fail to look at it in context. In verse 29 we read this:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. -Romans 8:29

In verse 29 I believe that Paul is describing what “good” means in verse 28. When Paul writes that “all things work together for the good” he is talking about the fact that God is at work in our lives for the specific purpose of conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.

So, how is it possible that a promise like this can actually end up making us miserable? Let me explain. Many times we will associate God being good to us when he makes our circumstances in life better. For example:

I got the promotion, God is good.

I ‘m no longer sick, God is good.

I got into the college of my dreams, God is good.

I’m getting married, God is good.

My kids are doing well in school, God is good.

My depression and anxiety have eased up, God is good.

Paul’s point in Romans 8:28-29 is that God’s primary way of revealing his goodness to us is not by making life more pleasant but by using the good and bad stuff of everyday life to make us more like Jesus. When we fail to understand this important biblical truth we become angry, cynical, depressed, impatient and distant towards God because he is not doing what we want him to do. We need to be reminded that God is not aiming for our comfort, he is aiming for our heart. God wants to change us more than he wants to change our circumstances.

One final thought. Having our circumstances improve can only, at best, make us temporarily happy. As Augustine pointed out a long time ago, the stuff of this world can not fill up the gaping hole in our heart. God is working to make us more like Christ and he knows that this is also the pathway to our deepest satisfaction, contentment and joy.

The Holy Love of God

Here are a few examples of what we frequently hear in our culture, and increasingly in our churches today…

“If God is love then there should be tolerance for my lifestyle.”

“If God is love then there can be no such thing as an eternal hell.”

“If God is love then certainly he would want me to do what makes me happy.”

The problem with these, and many other statements like them, is that they are attempts at defining the love of God from a secular perspective. Whether we are aware of it or not we are importing our subjective opinions when it comes to defining what it means when we say ‘God is love.’

The result is that we create a god in our own image. Our wants and desires begin to shape who we believe God to be. It is really no different than when the Israelites got tired of waiting for Moses to return so they made a golden calf and began worshipping it. We do the same thing every time we change God from the way he is described in Scripture.

The consequences for doing this are massive. Desires and lifestyles that were once thought to be sinful are now applauded and celebrated. Christians are thought to be intolerant and unloving.

I began to understand a bit more clearly why all this was happening when I started to read David Wells book, “God in the Whirlwind.” I would say that one of the main points in this excellent book is that what many people are attempting to do is separate the love of God from the holiness of God. Wells writes:

“We want God’s love without his holiness. We want this because we live in our own private, therapeutic worlds that have no absolute moral norms. God’s holiness, therefore, becomes a jarring and unwanted intrusion. His love without his holiness, however, is one of those things in life that we simply cannot have. And, indeed, it will become one of our greatest joys to be able to understand how God is both holy and loving.”

The biblical truth that God is holy is perhaps best seen when we look at the vision of God in Isaiah 6:1-7. In this fascinating passage Isaiah is brought into the majestic presence of God. God is on a throne, his robe fills the house. Above him are the angels who cover their eyes in the presence of their Creator. The angels sing to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

The entire house was filled with smoke and then we discover Isaiah’s response:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

The very first thing that Isaiah realizes when he is in God’s presence is that he is a sinner.  Coming into God’s presence was not a boost for Isaiah’s delicate self-esteem. Isaiah saw God for who he truly is and he was filled with shame regarding his sinful condition. Isaiah was experiencing the holiness of God. Holiness means to be set apart, to be transcendent, to be completely different and above everything else. The holiness of God means that he is absolutely pure in all of his ways. So, when we begin describing the love of God we need to keep his holiness in mind the whole time.

It is easy to see how people in the world might misunderstand the nature of God’s love and holiness. But what about the church today? Has the church been impacted by a faulty view of God’s love and holiness? Again, David wells:

“In the liberalism that has so devastated the mainline denominations in recent decades, for example, God’s love has been universalized and then unhitched from his holiness. The result is a Christianity that is benign, culturally at home, racy, politically correct, and endlessly tolerant. It wants to be on the cutting edge of culture, but it is there only because it has a yearning to catch each new breeze that blows. It loses depth as it loses its hold on biblical truth. It prizes love-but it is love of a cultural kind-and it prizes holiness-but it is holiness only of a political kind. And it ends up with neither in a biblical sense.”

So when we define the love of God we have to keep it balanced with the idea that God is simultaneously holy.  When we hear people talk about the idea that God is love let’s graciously point them towards the biblical truth that God is also holy. Which means that the standards for how we are to live are outside of ourselves. These standards do not originate in our heart or mind. The standards for how we are to live come from a correct understanding of who God is, and God is holy.

There are so many implications that come from remembering the holy love of God. Here are just a few:

  • A spiritual awakening in our churches is dependent on us focusing on the holiness of God and confessing our sins.
  • We will begin to understand that God is not primarily working to make our circumstances more pleasant, instead he is working in such a way that we are being sanctified (becoming holy). If we don’t get this we are going to be incredibly frustrated wondering what God is up to.
  • We, as believers, need to be comfortable with the idea that we will be perceived as flat out weird when it comes to how we live and behave. If we understand the holiness of God, and if we too are pursuing this same holiness, our lives will look much different than most people in our culture. We need to embrace this truth and be at peace with it.

I’ll be preaching on this topic this coming Sunday (Mother’s Day)!

holy love of God

Review of “Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in a Media Age” by Tony Reinke

As a father, and as a pastor, I have a tremendous interest in how iPhones, TVs, screens, movies, video games and social media are impacting us. So when I learned that Tony Reinke was coming out with a new book, “Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age” I knew this was a book that I needed to read. I want to say upfront that I strongly recommend this book.

Spectacles Defined And Described

So the name of this book may cause you to wonder, “what in the world is a spectacle?” Here is the answer:

For this project, spectacles is confined to its second meaning: a moment of time, of varying length, in which collective gaze is fixed on some specific image, event, or moment. A spectacle is something that captures human attention, an instant when our eyes and brains focus and fixate on something projected at us.”

Spectacles can be accidental or intentional-anything that vies for our eyes: a historic presidential inauguration, a celebrity blooper, an epic fail, a prank, a trick shot, a hot take, a drone race, an eSports competition, the live streams of video games fought with fictional cannons. Spectacles are the latest video from a self-made YouTube millionaire sensation, or flash mob meant to appear as a spontaneous gathering in public.

Spectacles are part of our everyday life. The question we must ask and answer is this, how are these spectacles affecting us? What is the result of devoting more and more time to the spectacles all around us in our culture today? The good thing is that Reinke answers this question. The problem is that we may not like the answer!

Why Do We Seek Spectacles?

Why do we seek spectacles? Because we’re human, hard-wired with an unquenchable appetite to see glory. Our hearts seek splendor as our eyes scan for greatness. We cannot help it. “The world aches to be awed. That ache was made for God. The world seeks it mainly through movies.” (Reinke quoting John Piper) -and in entertainment and politics and true crime and celebrity gossip and warfare and live sports. Unfortunately, we are all easily conned into wasting our time on what adds no value to our lives. Aldous Huxley called it “man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.”

Reinke goes on to add that we are being shaped and formed by the spectacles that we watch on a daily basis. “We become like what we watch.”

What Are Some Of The Negative Consequences Of These Spectacles?

Second, we lose the ability to disconnect from culture in order to flourish in communion with God. Prayer requires our divine-centered attention. In prayer, we take a moment (or longer) to consciously pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, through the Holy Spirit-not just in our morning entreaties or mealtime thanksgivings but in brief petitions sprinkling divine life in our days…Prayerlessness may be the fault of my media. It is certainly the fault of my heart. In the little cracks of time in my day, with my limited attention, I am more apt to check or feed social media than I am to pray. Because of my negligence, God grows increasingly distant from my life.

As Christians this should greatly alarm us. I think in the back of our mind we know that we are way too distracted by all of these spectacles. One of the consequences of being so distracted is that we don’t take the time to evaluate what it is doing to us. As parents we fail to consider what it is doing to our children. We just hope the damage is not too severe, but it turns out that it is.

Turning Our Eyes To The World’s Greatest Spectacle

To those familiar with Reinke’s writings it will not be much of a surprise that he describes the greatest spectacle as the good news of Jesus Christ. But how do we gaze upon the gospel? We do that through reading, teaching and preaching of God’s Word. He specifically uses Colossians 3:1-4 to explain how we do this:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

As we read God’s Word, as we focus on the gospel, we find the power we need to overcome sin and live a life that is pleasing to God. The great challenge we are facing is overcoming all of the distractions and putting our heart and mind on the truths of the gospel.

It Is Not Just The Obviously Immoral Stuff That Is Killing Us

We might wrongly conclude that we are OK if we avoid porn and other spectacles that are obviously sinful.

Feeding on sinful media will annul your holy affections. Yes. But pampering yourself with a glut of morally neutral media also pillages your affectional zeal. Each of us must learn to preserve higher pleasures by revolting against lesser indulgences. Our shows and movies and games lure us to give ourselves away to the screen, a video addiction Wallace called “a distorted religious impulse,” a giving of the self that must be reserved for God alone, an idolatrous giving away of the soul to the media that will never love us back…Even when our bodies are anesthetized and we “veg out” in a dream-like coma before a screen, we are being depleted. Something is being taken from us. Wallace made a profound discovery when he suggested that our entertainment sucks away our spiritual energy. Overconsuming on amusement drains our soul’s vigor. Just as my time is a zero-sum game, so is my “spiritual energy”-my affections and my bandwidth for awe.

Great And Helpful Quote By David Platt

You don’t become like Christ by beholding TV all week. And you don’t become like Christ by beholding the internet all week. You don’t become like Christ when you fill your life with things of the world. You become like Christ when you behold the glory of Christ, and you expose your life, moment by moment, to his glory,” all through God’s revelation in Scripture.

One Of The Biggest Issues We Are Facing

I don’t find this book to be legalistic at all. Reinke is not saying that it is bad to watch movies, sports or to have an iPhone. His point is that we are over doing it when it comes to all the various spectacles that we are watching in day-to-day life.

I found the chapter “My Supreme Concern” to be very eye opening. Here is what he writes:

Soul boredom is a great threat, and when our souls become bored, we make peace with sin. New distractions, which promise to temporarily alleviate our boredom, hover in our ethical blindspots. Media discernment forces us to directly face our soul’s monotony. Calling out to our boredom, this media carnival, this surplus of digital stimuli, makes us indiscriminate with our hearts. Each of us must give ourselves away to someone or something. But in this media age, our loves and affections are frozen by the ice of vain amusements. Our hearts harden as we become nothing but consumers to be manipulated by the spectacle makers.

This topic so greatly concerns me as a father and as a pastor that we are going to take one Sunday here at New Life Church and talk about it on a Sunday morning. We will talk about the dangers of media consumption and remind everyone (myself included!) that we desperately need to immerse our hearts and minds in the glories of the gospel.

treasuring Christ

 

A Mighty Weapon In The Devil’s Arsenal (A False Sense Of Security)

If you know me, or read my blog occasionally, you know that I am a huge C.S. Lewis fan. One of the books that C.S. Lewis wrote is called the Screwtape Letters. It is a fictional account of a high ranking demon, Screwtape, communicating with a junior ranking demon, wormwood. The gist of their conversation is all about how they can get Christians to give into temptation and to become ineffective in the service of God. Or, how they can keep people from ever becoming Christians in the first place. I have written a piece before about how Satan tries to get Christians distracted by politics. You can see that post HERE.

The motivation for this blog comes specifically from Romans 2:17-29 (which I will be preaching from this coming Sunday). Romans 2:17-29 is a passage that is primarily about how easy it is for people to have a false sense of security when it comes to being a Christian. So here we go…

Screwtape: I have been working on a new spiritual weapon that is showing signs of keeping the lost sons and daughters of our adversary from converting to the other side. In fact, it is so successful that I am getting more of our personnel, like you, involved in this mission.

Wormwood: Tell me more.

Screwtape: To be honest, which I hate to do, this strategy is really is not new at all. Back in the days when the son of the adversary walked the earth we tried this tactic with tremendous success. The cursed Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans, in part, to stop our conspiracy against the king. This strategy has many names, but it has to do with giving people a false sense of spiritual security. Imagine this for a moment. People live most of their lives falsely believing that they have left our kingdom and are in the kingdom of light. I’m not sure how well educated you are, but approximately two thousand years ago years we were able to get large segments of the Jewish people to believe that their salvation was secure if they obeyed the law and were circumcised.

Wormwood: I have heard many stories about how this cost millions of people their eternal lives.

Screwtape: You are correct. We have been working hard in America to roll out a new version of this strategy. Of course keeping the law and circumcision mean nothing to religious people in the States. So we need to give them something else, besides the son of the adversary, to put their trust in.

Wormwood: So, what will we give to people that will give them a false sense of security?

Screwtape: I was just getting to that. The first one is to give them the idea that if they are good enough, or better than other people they know, that they are actual Christians. Humans have this wonderful habit of thinking that their good works are sufficient merit for entering the into the enemy’s kingdom.

The second one is religion. Yes, religion. If we can get people to think that church attendance and going through the religious motions is enough our battle is nearly won. A part of the religious strategy is get them to think that because they said a prayer when they were young that they are spiritually secure. Another tactic is to get them to think that because they were baptized that their name has therefore been written in the Book of Life. You and I know the Scriptures quite well and the enemy never indicates that a person is converted by baptism, yet they fall for this time after time. We have kids growing up watching their parents live compromised lives and concluding that Christianity is something they can leave behind once they get to college or out of the house.

Wormwood: I love it. I am more than happy to enlist my services for this mission. What will the result be if we are effective?

Screwtape: Great question. There are three primary devastating results that come from getting people to buy into these lies.

One, apathy. These people live lives with very little passion for the enemy. Sure, they go to church twice a month, but they love the same things that the world loves. They try to do some good things. They stay out of trouble for the most part. But there is very little zeal and excitement about the adversary’s son and the work he is doing on earth.

Two, the church is powerless. We are slowly filling up churches with goats, not sheep. The result is that churches in America are happy just doing the same old thing. They don’t want to hear about sacrifice. They don’t want to hear about living as missionaries. Instead, they have become ripe for the prosperity gospel and living a life of comfort and ease.

Three, the world looks at the church as irrelevant and hypocritical. The world sees that the people who go to church and claim the name of the enemy live just like them. The world is concluding that there is no meaningful difference between a Christian and anyone else in their culture.

Interview with Aubrey Sampson, Author of “The Louder Song” (NEW POST)

I believe one of the most important things we can have as believers is a biblical theology of suffering. No matter who we are we are going to experience pain, trials, and difficulties in this life. This is the reason why I was delighted to interview Aubrey Sampson. She recently wrote a great book called “The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament.” I hope you enjoy the interview…

Hi Aubrey! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?

Aubrey SampsonMy husband, Kevin, and I are church planters in the Chicagoland area. We have three hilarious sons, ages 12, 9, and 7. We love our city, our neighborhood, and love praying through what it means to “gospel” in our city. I am a graduate student at Wheaton College and an author/speaker- so we are usually balancing a lot. But we are so grateful for the opportunities.

In your book you mention how you are struggling with rheumatoid arthritis. How are you feeling these days?

Thank you for asking. I am feeling very good and I am praising God for that, as it’s been a very difficult last three years. Although, as most people with autoimmune diseases experience, I still have daily pain and sometimes odd issues now and again (sometimes I randomly can’t open a door because turning a doorknob is too painful). But overall, my disease is at bay. As one of my friends said, “I am in the process of experiencing healing.” I’ll take it.

I loved the story in chapter one of going to a concert and how you discovered the power of a louder song. Would you mind explaining what happened at the concert and how God was using it to teach you a valuable lesson about suffering?

That is actually my favorite story in the book! I won’t explain too much because it will spoil the book. But here is a little peek:

During a very difficult few years which I write about in The Louder Song, my gnawing questions about suffering and God’s goodness became too much to handle. My usual spiritual disciplines were no longer helping me to feel connected to God. And honestly, for the first time in 30 years as a Christian I began to wonder if I was praying to the ceiling fan…is God even real? Does God even hear me? I asked the questions we all ask in times of crisis, right?

I know God is not the author of evil but I couldn’t’ make sense of God not stopping evil form hitting my life and the lives of those I loved. My relationship with God—which was at once thriving, and beautiful and lovely, became this small, unrecognizable thing. Ultimately God no longer fit into the box I had designated for him and I had no idea what to do about it. What I didn’t realize is that God was about to blow the box wide open and reveal more of himself to me.

One night, in God’s perfect timing, a friend invited me to a concert—and I needed a night out, so I went with her….to this little theater in the round….we walked in, grabbed our seats, the lights dimmed and a screen descended from the ceiling with a trigger warning—the screen began to show disturbing images of pain, starvation, poverty, oppression. And I was thinking, “What is happening? Why are we here?” Then this choir in dark robes walked on stage and started singing this ancient funeral dirge–low, slow, and depressing. And as you can image, the mood- in the audience shifted. We were initially excited for the concert to start, but this moment kind of took the wind from our sails. I turned to my friend- and was about to suggest we leave–this was just too much emotion for me to handle at the time.

What I didn’t realize was that another choir was actually planted in the audience, surrounding the entire theater, posing as audience members. Suddenly they stood up and started singing over us this hopeful, joyful, triumphant song. It was startling but not scary; they sang over us like they were performing life saving surgery. The dirge was still being sung. The suffering images still being displayed. But the hopeful song was growing louder….and that song began to overpower the dark heavy song in front of us…and suddenly, from within the deep places of my soul that had been so grieving, so hurt, feeling so betrayed by God, avoiding hiding…, I felt God say, “Aubrey, this is what I do. I don’t pretend like evil and pain and suffering don’t exist and you don’t have to either. But I sing a louder song over them – a song of hope and joy and renewal and restoration and healing.”

I sat there and bawled like a baby–finally releasing my fears and worries and sadness to God.What I didn’t realize at the time is that concert was a LAMENT concert and it was the first time I was exposed to the spiritual discipline and biblical language of lament. And from that night on- for the next three years, really, lament became the language, the disciple, the experience that God used to move my heavy heart back to a place of hope.

And now- three years later- I don’t have many clear cut answers- but I understand that there is a mystery to suffering- that if we allow it, can actually draw us deeper into intimacy with our God.

In your book you talk about the tendency we have to act as if everything is OK and hide what is really going on in our hearts. What can churches do to create a safe environment where people know it is OK to admit that they don’t have it all together?

That’s such a great question. I think, especially in the west, we tend to want to see the VICTORY! The MOUNTAIN TOP! The TRIUMPH, The SERMON APPLICATION! We want to get to Easter and skip over Good Friday. And of course, it’s a good instinct to live into our hope in Christ. But sometimes we do this at the expense of acknowledging and honoring our pain and the world’s pain. I’m totally guilty of wanting to slap a Band Aid on and pretending like everything is okay. For real transformation and healing to take place, church leaders need to model vulnerability. We certainly don’t have to share our whole messes with the whole world, but we can practice authentic vulnerability in the midst of struggle, so that our folks can learn what it means to endure in the messy middle—not just on the other side.

I also think it’s important not to try to “balance the scales” for people’s suffering. What I mean by that is, sometimes we want to say to our people, “Yes, you’re suffering this incredible thing, BUT, look at all of the wonderful things that will happen because of it. Look at the testimony it will be! Look at how many people will be encouraged!” I think that is a super kindhearted instinct, but when folks are truly grieving, it’s often more loving to simply sit with them on their mourning benches, or climb down into the pit with them and grieve with them. We have to be less awkward around other people’s pain—we can declare hope without invalidating or “fixing.”

You point out that in the bible there are more lament songs than there are praise songs. Why do you think it is so important that Christians learn the power of lament in everyday life?

When Christians lament, we do so to a God who lets us. Our cries—even our cries of doubt and despair—fall on his loving, listening ears. In fact, what’s remarkable about Christianity is that we have a King who is also a steadfast, loving Husband and Friend. He not only permits lament; he gives us the language of lament. We have a God who desires and deserves our wholehearted praise. But he is also a God who wants an authentic, meaningful, intimate love relationship with us. We have a groom who gives his bride a voice.

I actually believe lament is a powerful evangelistic tool- because even if our lament is impolite, raw, or bitter, even if we express sorrow or verbalize anger, even if we make demands, as we lament, we actually preach to the world (and to ourselves) that it is possible to have a fearless, deeply intimate relationship with God. A God who not only is worthy of our thanksgiving and our joyful worship but also wants every part of us—not just our “pretty” selves, but our sharp edges, our sin struggles, our suffering, and our sadness.

On top of that, if we never acknowledge our pain to God, we will never truly know what it means to praise him on the other side of suffering. It is in our honest crying out to God about our pain that our worship of God grows more authentic. It is in this kind of relationship, this kind of honesty with God that our walks with him become real. Lament is part of the rhythm of a deepening relationship with him.

Lastly, lament, especially communal lament, helps open our eyes to the sufferers around the world. We have brothers and sisters experiencing persecution and oppression everyday. We can and should be lamenting with and for them.

In chapter 11 you talk about “the end of all laments.” Can you explain what you mean by this?

For this question, I’ll leave you with a direct quote from the book, if you don’t mind:

“Here’s the hope of all laments: Generations after the events of Lamentations, Jesus left the comfort of heaven and entered Jerusalem’s long years of suffering. He willingly, voluntarily became both the object and subject of lament. In taking upon himself the consequences for all of our sin, the penalty for the world’s idolatry, the power of death—and in taking on the principalities and forces of darkness—Jesus didn’t hesitate to expose himself to the worst any person could face. Instead, he willingly bore the full weight of it all on the cross. After years of longing, after generations of lament—through the suffering of their very own King—the Israelites were, as we are, healed.

Finding Holy In The Suburbs by Ashley Hales

February 22-23, 2019, we are going to have Ashley Hales come out and teach at our Women’s Retreat. One of the moms, Jenna Moffatt, who attends New Life Church, knows Ashley fairly well. So I asked Jenna if she would be willing to share a little bit about “Finding Holy” via my blog. So here you go! BTW-Great job Jenna!

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My third child will be six months old in a few days. I had expected our son’s birth to usher in the highest amount of stress, since research shows (of course) that three children are more stressful than any other number—higher or lower. In many ways, having three has been harder, my husband and I are outnumbered, more time spent nursing than attending to my two daughters or cleaning the house. But, in other ways, number three has ushered in an easier season. I no longer feel the need to strive for perfection around the house, socially, in parenting; rather, three has shown me that these lofty goals are impossible.  I cannot fix myself or parent in such a way that my children will turn out to be the cutest little moral beings that you ever did see. In many ways, Ashley Hales’ book came at a pivotal time for me as a new mother trying to find my place in the craziness of new life.

As I’m feeling temptation of “keeping it all together” slip through my fingertips and combating the guilt of a disheveled stay-at-home mom with discolored grout creeping up my all-white bathroom tile, I wonder what higher calling God has for me in this time. Have you also wondered how the gospel is relevant for where and how you live? In her new book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs, Ashley wrestles with temptations of everyday living in America and graciously orients us toward the story we ultimately were created for. I found that one reviewer stated it best, “[Ashley] only cuts where it can bring healing.” Throughout her beautifully written words, most often with first being vulnerable herself, she consistently points us back to our redeemer, Jesus.

If you’re not from the suburbs, don’t stop here. Her words are relevant for anyone who lives in any community with at least a modest income in America (including in rural communities like my own). The book consists of three sections: common idols that suburban Americans face, living in repentance and belovedness, and then counter steps to take when pursuing holiness.

Idols of the Suburbs

Through these chapters, I discovered that I had fallen victim to idols I had previously fought to identify. Ashley writes in a way that puts words to and holds up a mirror to clearly reflect our sinful desires. In four chapters, she highlights the idols of consumerism, individualism, busyness, and safety, all as means we use to fill healthy hungers like, “having good work to do, to be significant or safe.” Each is a counter-narrative to finding our identity in Christ, who wants us to come home to Him like the prodigal son and celebrate grace from the Father, rather than trying to earn our way like the elder brother.  

The discussion on busyness was particularly convicting. Ashley writes, “instead of trusting in a God who is with us even in the wilderness, in the suburbs we use our busyness to stiff-arm God.” We fall into the belief that our actions will save us, even if they are true and good. When the world is racing madly on, how do we as Christians take a step back and find true rest? The anecdote to all of these temptations is to turn to Christ’s work on the cross: the Gospel.

Now What?

Weaving in Biblical stories of exile of God’s people and then provision for their every need, Ashley points us to the true One who will quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger. At the end of each chapter, she shares practical ways to orient our hearts back to Christ.  She also shares how we can partake in God’s great adventure even if we aren’t called to missions overseas but rather a middle-class cul-de-sac. In the second section of her book, the first steps forward to finding holy are redemption and belovedness. First, to participate in God’s beautiful story and find his kingdom on Earth, we are called to repent. This, “is both a turning from [sin] and a turning toward [God]”. These are the first small steps to being embraced by your Beloved and, consequently, having the ability to extend forgiveness to others in community.  We are also called to quit chasing belonging through what we look like, buy, or do, rather resting solely in being beloved by God. Here, our greatest failures fall away and we find true rest, beauty, joy, and hope.

In the last portion of the book, Ashley presents the practices of hospitality, generosity, vulnerability, and shalom that train our hearts to be fed by God wherever He has us. We must begin small, finding ourselves content in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross to propel us outward, bringing glimpses of the kingdom to our neighborhoods. It requires that we switch the narrative from my story to God’s story. As Ashley states,

The work of beloved is a constant returning to the story of creation, sin, redemption, and glorification. It is in remembering and embodying the story together in our local churches. It is in starting daily liturgies that draw us in to a beauty that overwhelms and is even present through pain.

Only then can we practice true hospitality, give of our time, money, and resources generously, be vulnerable in a way that brings healing to both people and the place we live in, and bring shalom or God’s “faithful presence within” our communities. These exercises give us a taste of the glory of the ultimate Kingdom we await: God coming down to live among us, with no more tears or pain. It is the culmination of joy and beauty and love.

If you, like me, struggle to find the plan God has for you in the trenches of early motherhood, or question why God has brought you to your hometown, rather than the inner-city or abroad, there is hope. You can find Holy in the Suburbs.

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If you are interested in attending the retreat with Ashley please be watching for more details coming soon on our Facebook page.