We don’t like to be uncomfortable. Unfortunately, comfort can be very limiting. There are lots of things in the world that are amazing, but not always comfortable. This Sunday at Orchard Community Church we are going to look at Acts chapter 10 and the idea of getting “Out of our Comfort Zone and into the Gospel Mission.” God has amazing things to do in and through us, but they are not always comfortable. Are we willing to lay aside what keeps us comfortable for the sake of the Gospel Mission? This Sunday we will look at how Peter stepped out of his comfort zone because he LEARNED something new about God, he RESPONDED in faith and obedience to what he learned, and this led to a new EXPERIENCE of who God is and what God was doing. Spend some time in prayer before Sunday and ask God where you might be stuck in your comfort zone and then read Acts chapter 10 in preparation for Sunday morning.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” – Psalm 34:8.
Short post today – you see in a few hours I am getting together with some guys to start the Experiencing God study by Henry Blackaby and Claude King. That study goes so well with this chapter in The Pursuit of God.
Tozer comments on the fact that there are so many verses telling us (challenging us – maybe even daring us?) to truly know God in our personal experience. Phrases such as “taste and see” (Psalm 34:8), “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27), “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) demonstrate that God can be, and wants to be, known by us. He has created us with the faculties necessary to be able to know Him.
So why is it that so many Christ Followers so often do not have an ongoing, daily relationship with God? Tozer states, “The answer is because of our chronic unbelief. Faith enables our spiritual sense to function. Where faith is defective the result will be inward insensibility and numbness toward spiritual things. This is the condition of vast numbers of Christians today” (52).
Lot’s of people know things about God, but so few press on to actually know God. We stand at a distance and study Him like a text book. We add quips and quotes from Scripture into our repertoire of knowledge as if they were magnets to be put on a refrigerator instead of God’s Word that should shatter and rebuild our hearts. We use truth like a toy for our own pleasure. Tozer states:
The Christian is too sincere to play with ideas for their own sake. He takes no pleasure in the mere spinning of gossamer webs for display. All his beliefs are practical. They are geared into his life. By them he lives or dies, stands or falls for this world and for all time to come. (54)
But we get caught up too much in the immediate things that we see. The things that clamor for our attention and scream for our affections. And when we are faced with the possible silence where we just might be able to hear God speak, we quickly fill that time with another diversion.
The world of sense intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime. It is clamorous, insistent and self0demonstrating. It does not appeal to our faith; it is here, assaulting our five sense, demanding to be accepted as real and final. But sin has so clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see that other reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of sense triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible; the temporal, of the eternal. That is the curse inherited by every member of Adam’s tragic race. (56)
Tozer says that we must “seek to be other-worldly” (57). All true reality is God’s reality. It is His world, His kingdom, and His truth. If we want to know God and not just know about God then we must accept that there is so much more than what we see. Tozer also points out that we can’t just think of this in the future sense – the coming kingdom. It is true that we will know God perfectly in heaven, but we can and must know Him now. He has given us everything we need to be able to know Him and to truly live in daily relation to Him, but we have grown weak in our exercise of these abilities and must recover strength in these areas.
Tozer in this chapter with this prayer:
O God, quicken to life every power within me, that I may lay hold on eternal things. Open my eyes that I may see; give me acute spiritual perception; enable me to taste Thee and know that Thou art good. Make heaven more real to me than any earthly thing has ever been. Amen.
photo by Flickr user Peter Nijenhuis
The first Core Value of Orchard Community Church is to be “Passionately God-Centered” which is further explained:
We are passionate about putting God at the center of everything we do as a church and as individuals. We strive to draw attention to the greatness of God and to glorify Him in what we do, say, think and plan. We will be bold in declaring our love for God, giving thanks for His many blessings and making known and remembering what He has done. (1 Chronicles 16: 8-12, 23-26; Psalm 115:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31)
The idea of “putting God at the center” might be best understood as keeping God at the center. He IS the center, the focus, the purpose, the reason for, and the ultimate goal of our lives and our church. To say that we want to put him in the center is to admit that we often put something else in His place and we are seeking to give Him his rightful place back in everything we do.
Keeping God first may seem like a no-brainer for a church, but it is actually very easy to mess this up. It is so easy to put people first instead of God. Putting people first seems like such a good thing. We want to help people. We want them to be loved. We want them to hear and accept the gospel through any means possible. We think that when we put people first we are helping them, but we are leaving unchallenged the main idol of our day – ourselves. We are a poor substitute for God’s glory and grace. Our culture teaches people to live their lives focused on themselves. The Church must teach people to take their focus off of themselves and place it squarely on God.
Have you ever seen someone on a street pointing up? What do you do as you walk by? You look where they are pointing! This is the importance of being God-centered as a church. It means that when people look at us they will see that we are pointing to Someone beyond ourselves – we are pointing to the Almighty God who sent His Son to die on the cross to save us from our sins.
This means that our ultimate goal is to display the glory of God in everything we do and that we will do this in God’s way, not ours. Jesus said that the “first and greatest commandment” is to “Love God” and the 2nd greatest is to “love others” (Matthew 22:37-39). The order is absolutely crucial because the truth is that when we do not keep God first in everything we do we will always love people less than we should.
As a church, we will be “Passionately God-Centered”. This is the first, and most important Core Value of Orchard Community Church.
photo by Flickr user dziner
All of Scripture rings with the idea that God wants to be with us. God created a place, the Garden of Eden, where He could be with us and we could know Him. Even after humanity walked away from God, God keeps reaching into our sinful world and calling people to be where He is and to live in relationship with Him. In the Exodus the Presence of God was with His people in the Tabernacle – the King dwelling at the center of His people. It is no accident that Christ is called “Immanuel” which means, “God with us.” Even in the church Jesus promises “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). In Acts, the Holy Spirit – the Presence of God – is poured out on His people who have been saved through Jesus. Finally, at the end of time and the beginning of sinless eternity, the book of Revelation records, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away'” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Tozer writes that we were created to be in God’s Presence. Every longing we ever have is in some fashion a longing for God. Every sin is an attempt to fill the void that was left when we turned away from Him. But the Old Testament Tabernacle stands as a reminder that there is a barrier between us and God. There, in that structure that was a physical representation of our relationship with God, the veil that separated the Presence of God from His people was a constant reminder of the sin that separates us from Him. The thing that stands in the way from that for which we are created – to be in God’s presence worshiping Him forever.
How profound that when Christ died on the cross, the veil that hung in the more permanent Tabernacle – the Temple – tore in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). The thing the veil represented had been defeated on the cross and the way was open for us to come, through Jesus Christ, into the very Presence of God. But Tozer asks a good question, “With the veil removed by the rending of Jesus’ flesh, with nothing on God’s side to prevent us from entering, why do we tarry without? Why do we consent to abide all our days just outside the Holy of Holies and never enter at all to look upon God? … What hinders us?” (43).
Tozer goes on to describe that the veil was not just an external thing. It is a symbol of the things we all hold on to that separate us from God. It is the “veil in our hearts…. the veil of our fleshly, fallen nature living on, unjudged within us, uncrucified and unrepudiated” (44). He goes on to say:
It is woven of the fine threads of the self-life, the hyphenated sins of the human spirit. They are not something we DO, they are something we ARE, and therein lies both their subtlety and their power.
To be specific, the self sins are self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. (45)
Because this “veil” is a part of us – our very nature – it’s removal is not easy nor is it painless:
There must be a work of God in destruction before we are free. We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross for judgment. … To tear [the veil] away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff for which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free. …God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified. …The cross is rough and it is deadly, but it is effective. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever. There comes a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that is resurrection glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for joy that the veil is taken away and we have entered in actual spiritual experience the presence of the living God (46-47).
I remember reading this as a teenager and being cut to the core. There were (and still are) so many things that I held on to and, though I wanted to “accept” Jesus as my savior, I did not want to give him everything of me. There were parts I demanded be left untouched. Salvation does not work this way. We are not allowed to put up “keep out” signs when we invite Christ into our lives. I have also learned since that there are the veils we see and know and cling to, and then there are the hidden veils that lie deeper in our lives and though they are real they are as yet unknown to us.
This is part of the wonderful gift of faith. By faith we can ask God to show these things to us. By faith we can, however painful it may be, repent of those things when they are shown and allow God to rip away that veil as well. By faith we know that though the ripping hurts, God knows exactly what He is doing and we are safest when we are completely laid bare under His skillful hand.
Some of us have richly decorated our veils until they have become acceptable to us and their ripping is that much more difficult, but they must be torn down and we must come to God and ask Him to do it.
Tozer ends this chapter with the following prayer:
Lord, how excellent are Thy ways, and how devious and dark are the ways of man. Show us how to die, that we may rise again to newness of life. Rend the veil of our self-life from the top down as Thou didst rend the veil of the Temple. we would draw near in full assurance of faith. We would dwell with Thee in daily experience here on this earth so that we may be accustomed to the glory when we enter Thy heaven to dwell with Thee there. In Jesus’ name, Amen. (47)
Picture from Flickr user failafo0sa
Edit (10/26/11): Sermon now available online.
What if…? This is a powerful question. When you couple “What if…” with “…is true?” it can be even more powerful. We often like to talk about whether or not something is true or is real, but then we stop. We don’t go on to the essential issue of so what. What difference does it make?
In Acts 9:1-31, Saul is confronted with a truth that changes everything he believes, everything he lives for, and everything he does. Paul (Saul is his Hebrew name, Paul would have been his Greek name – I’ll use Paul from now on.) did not accept that Jesus was God’s Son. He did not accept that Jesus was the Messiah. He absolutely did not accept that Jesus had risen from the dead. So imagine his dilemma when he sees a light brighter than the midday son and hears a voice that says “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5)! This one statement changed everything for Paul. If Jesus was alive then he had risen from the dead. If Jesus had risen from the dead then he was the Messiah. If he was the Messiah then everything he said and taught was absolute truth. The very foundation of Paul’s life was being pulled out from under him. The thing about foundations, though, is that if they can be pulled out they are probably too weak anyway! Paul was about to get a much better foundation for his life. A foundation built upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ which proves that he is the Messiah (Acts 9:22 – “the Christ”) and that he is the Son of God (Acts 9:20).
In Acts 26:9-14, Paul is retelling his meeting with the risen Jesus to King Agrippa. There he says that Jesus states, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). Goads were sharp sticks that were used to direct animals. In a world that believes the highest goal of human existence is to be happy the idea of “goads” is somewhat unacceptable. A goad hurts. A goad even causes bleeding. A goad limits our freedom. But if it is God that is holding the goad, and the path that he wants us to stay on is the path of life – the path we were created for – then maybe the pain of the goad is much better than the pain we will face if left to our own wanderings. The other thing we learn from this idea of the goad is that Christ was at work in Paul’s life long before this incident on the road to Damascus. Jesus had evidently been pricking Paul’s conscience for some time. Maybe it was guilt about what he was doing, maybe it was some unanswered questions or doubt. I don’t know, but whatever it was, Paul had been kicking against it and feeling the pain. Maybe we kick against the goads in our lives as well.
I absolutely love Jesus’ creativity in dealing with people. In this passage he teaches someone who thought he saw everything clearly that he was absolutely blind to the truth by causing Paul to be blind for 3 days. He also uses one of the people that Paul was going to arrest and possibly put to death as the instrument of Paul’s healing and his commissioning to spread the truth about Jesus.
Think about this encounter from the perspective oo Ananias. Ananias knew that if Paul was in town it was to arrest Christians (see Acts 9:14). I made the point in the sermon that we all have people that we think are “too tough to save.” It could be a spouse, co-worker, or friend, or maybe an enemy. They are the last person in the world we think will ever accept the gospel. For Ananias, I imagine Paul was someone who was “too tough to save.” How could this persecutor and killer of Christians ever accept that Jesus is the Messiah? There is no strategy or plan that could be made that would end in the conversion of someone like Paul. But the resurrection of Jesus really does change everything!
Paul is going to go on to be one of the superhero’s of Christianity. He is someone that we read about in Scripture and think, “if I could only be more like him…” There are some “Pauls” in the world and they are important instruments that Christ uses in the Gospel Mission. But I think there are a lot more Ananias’. These are the people that serve in small ways wherever they are. These are the people who traveled with Paul and worked in the churches he started. These are the people who kept the Gospel Mission going, slugging it out in the trenches of day-to-day life. God may not call us all to be Paul – to leave everything behind and go from place to place sharing the gospel – but I think God does call us all to be Ananias. We should living daily for Christ and be ready and willing to be used by God whenever and wherever. We should trust that if God says to go talk to the guy that might put us in jail or even kill us then we go. If God says to live for Christ in our secular world then we will (oh, and by the way, He does say to do this!).
One last thing that struck me from this passage is that Paul immediately begins telling others about Jesus. The mere fact of the resurrection of Jesus was all that Paul needed to start telling others that Jesus is the Messiah, the way of salvation. I didn’t get this into my sermon yesterday, but Paul does go away for about 3 years during which time I assume he is discipled and spends time relating what he knew from the Old Testament to what he now realized about Jesus. This takes place sometime before he leaves Damascus for Jerusalem (see Galatians 1:17-18). I am sure that this time of training was good for Paul. I am a big fan of training and education as tools and preparation for effective ministry. The problem is that so many believers use the lack of training as an excuse to not share the gospel with others. In Acts 9, as soon as Paul understands that Jesus is risen from the dead, he immediately (as in before any training happens) starts telling others that Jesus is the Messiah! The fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is more than enough to get us going on the Gospel Mission. It really does change everything!
I ended the sermon yesterday with the following lengthy quote from C.S. Lewis that is from his book, Mere Christianity (which I I found on Wikipedia):
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
Jesus has risen from the dead. This proves he is the Messiah, the Son of God. It proves that he has the authority to say “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This is not just some truth that we can stick into our bag of interesting facts to pull out at our convenience. It is THE truth that really does change everything! What difference is it making in your life?
Here are the devotional readings and questions from the back of the sermon notes:
Monday: Read Acts 9:1-19. Why was this such a big deal for Saul (aka, Paul)? Has Jesus made a big difference in your life? Why or why not?
Tuesday: Read Acts 9:20-31. Why could Saul now proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God when before he was arresting people who believed this? Why do you think Saul immediately begins working at telling others about Jesus? Has your relationship with Christ had this effect on your life? Why or why not?
Wednesday: Read Philippians 1:12-26. How did Paul’s (Saul’s) encounter with Jesus change his life? What do you think he means by verse 21? Is this true of your life? Why or why not?
Thursday: Read Philippians 3:4-11. What things might Paul have been tempted to trust in before he met Jesus and how did he feel about those things after meeting Jesus? Why? Do you see this in your life as well? Why or why not?
Friday: Read Acts chapter 10 in preparation for Sunday.
This Sunday at Orchard Community Church we will be looking at Acts 9:1-31 which is an amazing account of a man named Saul (a.k.a. Paul). He was absolutely against Christ and all Christians until he met the risen Jesus on the road one day and it changed his life forever. In fact, saying he was “against” Christians is way too weak. He went door to door arresting Christians and putting them on trial which sometimes ended in their deaths. This man goes from being one of the biggest enemies of the church to being it’s main spokesperson. He changes from arresting those who speak about Christ to being one who is willing to give his own life so that others can hear about Christ. His story is a reminder to us that none of us and none of our friends or relatives is beyond the reach of the great power of God for salvation! The sermon is called “This Changes Everything” and is about how the fact of Jesus’ resurrection really does change everything.
Another great thing this weekend is that in about 5 hours I am taking a group from the church to Pennsylvania for a one day mission trip on Saturday to help victims of the recent floods. Another group is coming on Saturday morning for a total of about 15 in all. This trip was completely planned and implemented by some wonderful volunteers in the church. They found the need just a few weeks ago and immediately put plans in action to see who could go. I am really looking forward to it and I’m so proud of the people of OCC for their love for God and for others!
That’s what we’re doing this weekend…what about you?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:3.
Is it wrong to have things? Is it somehow anti-Christian to own stuff or to enjoy that stuff? Some answer this question by saying that all stuff is evil and should be discarded. Some say that all stuff is a blessing from God and you should get as much as possible. Personally, I think they are both missing the point.
Chapter 2 of A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God is called “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing”. I remember reading this chapter and being struck by the thought that it is not so much about the stuff that you possess but rather the stuff that possesses you. Anytime we hold on to something as being essential we are giving that thing a power over us – in seeking to possess that thing for ourselves we are also allowing that thing to possess us. The problem with this is that we already belong to someone. We were created for a relationship with God. We are His and everything we do is to be an act of worship declaring that we are His and everything we have is His.
So how can we possess stuff, but not allow the stuff to possess us? Tozer calls this “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing” – I like to think of it as living life with an open hand. Everything we have ultimately belongs to God and is to be used for His glory. At any time He has the right in His wisdom to remove anything in our lives if He thinks it is best. If we are living life with a closed hand and seeking to hold on to everything for ourselves (and therefore being “possessed” by those things), God still can (and will) remove those things if He so chooses – but it will hurt.
When a child takes something he or she should not have and the parent asks for it to be returned, there are two options – the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is the child recognizing that what they did was wrong and offering the object to the parent freely. The hard way (and by far more common way!) is for the parent to ask over, and over, and over again until finally the parent must grab the hand of the child and take that thing out of his or her hand. This can be painful, and not just physically. When the child holds on to that object and refuses to let go, he or she is asserting their own power, their own authority, their own control. When the parent reaches in and takes the object away it is a not-so-gentle reminder that the child is not as in control as he or she thought.
It is the same way with us and God. We like to think we are in control. We like to think that if we just clench our fist a little tighter then we will never lose what is in our hand…but it is a lie. We are not nearly as strong as we think we are.
Living life with open hands means that we may have something in our hand (in our life) but we are not seeking to hold on to it. We know that it all belongs to God and that He has the right to give and to remove things at His will and according to His wisdom. We understand that when we hold these things with an open hand, it is difficult if they are taken away, but God does not have to pry them out of our hands to do so – they are freely given.
Tozer cites Abraham as a great example of this idea in Scripture. He had a great deal. He had a son who was a miraculous gift from God. But when God asked him to sacrifice that son, he didn’t seek to hold on tighter. He understood that Isaac belonged to God, not him. Abraham showed this by being willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice and God stepped in and stopped him from following through. Now Abraham was holding Isaac with an open hand. A constant, living sacrifice to God rather than a possession of Abraham’s. Tozer writes:
I have said that Abraham possessed nothing. Yet was not this poor man rich? Everything he had owned before was his still to enjoy: sheep, camels, herds, and goods of every sort. He had also his wife and his friends, and best of all he had his son Isaac safe by his side. He had everything, but he possessed nothing. There is the spiritual secret. There is the sweet theology of heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation. (27)
Well-meaning followers of Jesus Christ will often talk about needing to “give something to God.” I would respectfully suggest that we should instead realize and admit that it is already God’s. Living life with an open hand is a constant admission that all we have and all we are belong to God. It is His to give and take as He pleases for His glory which is also always what is best for us.
I’ll leave you with Tozer’s prayer at the end of this chapter:
Father, I want to know Thee, but my cowardly heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus’ name, Amen. (31)photo by Fickr user moominmolly
There are many ways to arrive at a destination. If you are on a baseball team and your “destination” is to win the game then you could tie all the opposing team’s shoes together, put butter in their mitts, and replace their bats with balsa wood. This just might win the game. The problem is that it would cross all sorts of important boundaries in order to do so. While there are many ways of arriving at a destination or achieving a goal, not all are the best or the right ways and sometimes we can arrive at the destination having lost who we are in the process because we ignored these boundaries.
For the past several Wednesdays I have been writing about the Mission Statement of Orchard Community Church which is “We exist to make and become fully devoted followers for Christ through the renewing and transforming power of the gospel for the glory of God”. You can read more about the Mission Statement here: part 1; part 2; part 3. The Mission Statement sets a direction or a destination. It is what we believe God wants to do in and through us. But just like a baseball game, there are many ways we could go about doing this and some are much better than others. We need boundaries, like guardrails on a highway, to keep us on track. These are provided by the Core Values.
The Core Values of Orchard Community Church are:
1. Passionately God-Centered
2. Dependent on God
3. Rooted in the Word of God
4. Grace-Driven Transformation
5. Becoming Fully Devoted Followers of Christ
6. Committed to One Another
7. Actively Serving
8. Intentional Outreach
9. Authentic and Passionate Worship
For the next 9 weeks, I will take one of these Core Values each week and look at why it is important, how it keeps us on track, and how we are seeking to do this as a church. My hope is that we will weave these things into everything that we do and that they will become the fabric that holds all of our ministry, worship, and fellowship together. For this week, just look over the list and see if these things are present in your life. Do you see them in your church? Why are they important?
I look forward to working through these 9 things and thinking and praying about how to incorporate them into everything we do as Orchard Community Church.
One of the books that has had the greatest impact on my life (other than the Bible!) is The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. When I was a Junior in High School I received a large envelope in the mail from someone I had never met. It was a man in my church that said he had been talking to the Youth Pastor and my name had come up as someone who was really growing in their faith. He sent me the letter and a gift to encourage me to keep on growing and following Christ. The gift was a copy of A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. It was not a book I would normally have read as a High School student, but a statement in the preface really caught my attention. It said that Tozer would read all sorts of things “on his knees, asking God to help him understand their meaning.” This really challenged me and I decided to do this with The Pursuit of God. This book was a tool used by God at just the right time in my life to help me down the path of following Him. In fact, this book was an important part of my decision to become a pastor. It continues to be a challenge and a reminder to me today of not being complacent in my following of God.
Over the next few weeks I will periodically share with you some of the quotes and ideas that have really stayed with me from this book. It is not Scripture, to be sure, but I have found that the best books, speakers, music, churches, etc, have driven me to Scripture rather than served as a substitute. Hopefully I can do the same for anyone reading this blog.
The first chapter of The Pursuit of God is called, “Following Hard after God” and explains what it means to pursue God. Here are some challenging quotes:
Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him. … We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit (11).
All the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: “Thy right hand upholdeth me.” In this divine “upholding” and human “following” there is no contradiction. … God is always previous. In practice, however, (that is, where God’s previous working meets man’s present response) man must pursue God (12).
To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart (15).
Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking (15).
In the midst of this great chill there are some, I rejoice to acknowledge, who will not be content with shallow logic. They will admit the force of the argument, and then turn away with tears to hunt some lonely place and pray, “O God, show me thy glory.” They want to taste, to touch with their hearts, to see with their inner eyes the wonder that is God. I want to deliberately encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain (17).
We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to the essentials (18).
And lastly, at the end of each chapter Tozer writes a prayer:
O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus’ name. Amen. (20)
I highly recommend this book as a catalyst to faith and spending time with God. You can buy it here or download a copy from Project Gutenberg here (various formats).
Bibliography on my copy: Tozer, A.W., The Pursuit of God. Christian Publications, Inc.: Camp Hill, PA, 1982.
I called this sermon “World’s Colliding” because I see a collision between our idea that we are in control and the truth that God is in control. I was really struck by the stubbornness of the religious leaders. As I read through the passage, studied, and spent time in prayer, I saw a pattern of control emerging. They thought they had all the answers. They thought God had to work through them on their terms. Their attempts at staying in control are like us creating our own “world” – like blowing a bubble – and then living inside it where we think we reign supreme. What really convicted me was that these were religious people. They believed in God, but in their minds God was just a part of their bubble and they were still in control.
Stephen’s speech is an incredible overview of the Old Testament showing how God is in control, He works according to His ways, He works wherever He wants, and He works through whomever He wants. It is His world and we get to live in it. The fact that Stephen was willing to give this speech knowing it could lead to his death shows he was completely trusting God. He was not consumed by this “bubble world” of our own making.
My main take-away from preaching this sermon is this question: Which world are we really living in? Are we as believers living in our world, of our own making, where we are in complete control or are we living in God’s world for His glory, and under His authority? One huge difference I see between the church in Acts and the church in western culture today is that we seem to have too much invested in this “bubble world”. It seems that the church in Acts was so effective because they were living out the reality of God’s kingdom, not just trying to tell people about it. Their goal wasn’t to point people to the kingdom of God using any technique of this world possible, it was to BE the living example of the kingdom of God according to power of God’s presence and the gospel at work in their lives. Sometimes the techniques undermine the message.
I think we have become too technique driven. We think that if we do MINISTRY A and maybe MINISTRY B then God will bless us with X number of converts or at least Y number of attendees, which should result in Z increase in giving. This is “bubble” thinking. This is us being in charge and expecting God to bless our methods. This was not how Stephen and Philip did ministry. They simply showed up, lived and spoke the gospel in any and every situation. For Stephen, it meant his death. For Philip, it meant the beginning of the Samaritan church and the church in Africa. In our “bubble world” we would say that Philip was effective and Stephen was not, but that’s certainly not what God’s Word is saying. It was because of Stephen’s testimony and then his death that the church moves out of Jerusalem carrying the gospel with them wherever they go.
I used to think that the believers in Jerusalem were not fulfilling Christ’s charge to them in Acts 1:8 to take the gospel to “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” I was ready to preach this passage according to this understanding, but the more I studied the more I saw the passage differently. I see now that Acts 1:8 wasn’t just a list of goals for the church, it was a road map for how God was going to work in them. Each “stage” in the gospel mission was a preparation for the next. The church needed to spend time in Jerusalem building a firm foundation on God’s Word (the teaching of the Apostles) and learning to live out the gospel as a community of believers. They also needed to see how God worked in various situations. At the beginning of chapter 6 we see that cross-cultural issues were needing to be dealt with and the church (guided by the Holy Spirit) responded brilliantly. This prepared them for the next stage of their mission. I don’t think that what happened to Stephen was God’s way of kicking them in the seat to get them moving, I think it was a sign that God knew they were ready for the next step in their mission because they had learned the lessons they needed to learn in Jerusalem.
This aspect of the passage didn’t really come out in my sermon yesterday – there just wasn’t time and there is always more that could be said about a passage than what can fit in any one sermon. But it has been on my mind a lot over the past few days. It’s easy to look at Acts 7-8 and ask how we might be missing our mission and wonder if God might have to take drastic measures to get us moving. But now I think there is a better way of looking at it. We should ask what God might be preparing us for and whether or not we are learning the lessons He is teaching us. Maybe part of our “bubble” thinking is that we think it is our job to figure out how to get the mission accomplished when the truth is that it is God’s mission and He will accomplish it through us if we are allowing Him to do the work in our lives that He is trying to do. Is it possible that we are so busy trying to accomplish God’s mission that we have missed the importance of being God’s people? Is it also possible that this will be the most effective way of accomplishing the mission?
What “world” are people seeing in our lives, in our churches, in how we do things? Are they seeing the authority of God and absolute dependence and trust in Him? Or are they seeing an unspoken belief that we are in control? I mentioned in the sermon that at the cross the world of God and this bubble world of ours collided. The cross not only shatters the reality of our bubble world, it provides a way out – salvation through Jesus Christ. We see in Revelation 21 that our world will pass away. The bubble will be popped and shown for what it is – nothing. God’s world (His truth, His authority, His glory) will endure for ever and ever. We live in the time of the collision. We must decide if we will accept the reality of His world and the gospel as the bridge and then we must live this out and be witnesses of this “world shaking” truth in everything we do.
Robert Frost said in his poem “The Road Not Taken” – “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” This is a very poetic reminder of a much stronger truth expressed in Scripture:
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12)
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36).
Edit (10/26/11): listen to this sermon online