February 12, 2010


I'm finally in my last semester of college, and I'm obviously doing a lot of forward-thinking. Where is God leading me? Where has He called me? What will I be doing after I finally get that special piece of paper in exchange for 4 years of grueling studying? Thankfully, these aren't new questions to me. These are questions I've wrestled with for several years now.

But there's a new question I've been facing in the past couple months: How am I qualified? Really... how am I qualified to do anything, to take a job, to shepherd a group of students? That's what college is designed for, right? To qualify people for jobs. Apparently, the letters B.A. mean PAY DAY... But this seems so superficial to me, and I don't think I'm alone here.

It doesn't seem right that because I major in Christian Educational Ministries and take a bunch of Bible and youth ministry classes that I'm suddenly qualified to shepherd/pastor in a church. If that was the case, then any ill-intentioned guy could come off the street and severely damage the people of God because he had the right letters behind his name. There has to be more!

I've been soaking up scripture lately, and I've kept a keen eye out for anything that will teach me about the character of God as I interview for jobs. I've been learning that the Old Testament stories have a lot to teach on this subject. Here are a couple things I've learned:

  1. God's presence qualifies you.

    In Exodus 3:11, Moses says to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" God's response? "I will be with you." Think about that for a second... Moses asks Who am I? and God seemingly ignores his question completely. Instead he directs Moses' attention to the more important fact: God is with him. That's it. God doesn't say, "Oh, well you are Moses the educated, the strong man who killed the Egyptian!" He says nothing about Moses himself, except for the fact that Moses will be walking in the presence of the I AM, God Himself. How awesome is that?!

  2. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit qualifies you.

    In Genesis 41, Joseph, a prisoner in Egypt who fell upon some unfortunate events and had no guilt in the matters, gets the chance to explain Pharaoh's dreams to him. No one in Egypt could explain the dreams, but Joseph was able to explain them because the Spirit enlightened him. In verse 37, it says, "The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, "Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?" Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you."
    Joseph, a Hebrew prisoner, was put 2nd-in-command over all of Egypt. I don't know about you, but that makes me go, "Say WHAT?" Again, he didn't have some education that made Pharaoh give him the job. It was the Spirit of God inside Joseph that qualified him for the job! Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with education; in fact, I think it is absolutely important. However, when we put our hope in education to qualify us for a position, we have gone astray and forgotten the One who gives us a mind for education.

Thank God we don't have to depend on ourselves and our actions to qualify us for anything in life. Don't give into the secular pressures of the world. Remember where your worth comes from! The only letters that qualify you are YHWH - God's holy and precious name.

I want to commit my life to spending time in God's presence and asking for more of the Spirit's indwelling presence. He will draw near to us if we draw near to him. That's a promise!

(As a final note, I've been listening to this song called "Burn Us Up" by Shane & Shane, and it is truly inspiring. It is a unique rendition of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel. Please listen to it, download it, watch it, love it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70PDuymQ_h0)

December 28, 2009

Book Review: "Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity" by Mark Batterson

Recently I received a book for free in exchange for a book review on my blog. The book is called Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity by Mark Batterson. And I have to say, I’m really glad I had the chance to read this particular book. I’ve had friends who told me to read some of Mark Batterson’s books, but this was the first one I had the pleasure to read. After reading Primal, I fully plan on reading his other books. But let me explain why I loved this book so much.

Primal is all about returning to the very beginning, the essence, of what Christianity is supposed to be about: the Great Commandment in Mark 12:30. To love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, is the truly the foundation of our faith. It sounds like a very simple idea, because it is! But Batterson insists that the problem within our churches is that we’re not great at the Great Commandment. Because of this, he writes about the four elements of the Great Commandment. He writes on page 7:

The heart of Christianity is primal compassion.
The soul of Christianity is primal wonder.
The mind of Christianity is primal curiosity.
And the strength of Christianity is primal energy.
Batterson notes, “But one thing is sure: loving God in one way isn’t enough. It’s not enough to love God with just your heart or soul or mind or strength.”

Along with the idea of returning to the primal form of Christianity, Batterson urges the reader to return to the first time and place where God spoke to you or did something powerful in your life.

So before going forward, let me encourage you to go backward. Go back to that place where God opened your eyes and broke your heart with compassion for others. Go back to that place where the glory of God flooded your heart with wonder. Go back to that place where thoughts about God filled your mind with holy curiosity. Go back to that place where a God-given dream caused a rush of adrenaline that filled you with supernatural energy.

Basically, the book is not an exegetical commentary on the Great Commandment found in the Gospels; rather, it is a “reimagination” of the four primal elements. Each element (heart, soul, mind, and strength) has two chapters dedicated to it, and Batterson creatively presents a new perspective on each.

That’s the book in summary, but let me add some of my personal thoughts and comments. I particularly enjoyed this book because I’ve taught/preached on the Great Commandment and the importance of understanding each element as distinct from one another. I’ve tried to stress what Batterson very creatively articulates in this great book. I know for a fact I’ll probably adopt some of his ideas into my next lesson or sermon on the Great Commandment.

I especially enjoyed the sections on loving God with our heart (compassion) and loving God with our strength (energy). In the section on the heart, one of the things that Batterson challenges the reader about is how we as Christians use our money. He constantly asks, how much is enough? When it comes to income, do we know how much we really need to live and how much we can give away? I felt convicted and excited at the same time about how I can use my money to love God. On page 44 Batterson writes:

What if, instead of sound quality or lyrical creativity, our litmus test for worship was a heart that breaks for the things that break the heart of God? What if we saw compassion as a form of worship? Worship without words. Worship beyond words.
In his section on loving God with all our strength, I couldn’t help but imagine what God was teaching me through his words. He kept talking about the “God-ideas” that the Father instills in us to pursue. At some point we have to stop thinking and second-guessing where God is leading us and finally go for it. That’s what it means to love God with our strength. On page 138 he says:

Are there any God ideas you’ve given up on? Any God-ordained passions that
you have stopped fighting for? Any God-sized dreams gathering the dust of
Through powerful illustrations and stories from his own experience, Batterson communicates timeless truths about the Great Commandment. Using Scripture as his guide, he takes us down a familiar path while pointing out the creative and re-imagined elements we may have missed along the way. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a little encouragement or new perspectives on how they live their Christian faith. But one thing I can guarantee: you won’t ever look at the Great Commandment with the same eyes. You will be rejuvenated and excited about your faith and about what God wants to do with your life.

December 6, 2009

Distinctly Christian

What makes you distinctly Christian? What makes our churches distinctly Christian?

I have been wrestling with these questions a lot recently. When I read in the Gospels and Acts about the first Christians, I can't help but notice a disconnect between the then-and-now. When I use the phrase "distinctly Christian," I mean, what separates you (or your church) from, let's say, a Muslim (or a Mosque)? a Jew (or a synagogue)?

Let's face it. There are a million belief systems throughout the world, from Christianity and Islam to moralistic therapeutic deism and pluralism. Almost all of them teach some kind of moral message... love other people, treat the earth kindly, be patient, etc. Christianity is not an exception. Jesus taught his disciples morality. A quick glance at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) will show many instances. I don't think anyone would disagree here.

But here's where the problem begins to surface. In our attempts to teach Christians about the faith, we often teach much of the morality presented in the Bible while leaving the Christ out of it. Think about it... have you ever heard a sermon preached that didn't reference the cross and Jesus' sacrifice? I bet almost everybody has. If you're 100% sure that every sermon you've heard has referred directly to Christ and the cross at least once in the presentation, I am amazed.

Recently I observed a Friday service at a mosque near Indianapolis with my World Religions class. The "sermon" was in English instead of Arabic so I got to hear what was being presented. The presenter talked a lot about patience and not giving into wrath. He talked about how important it is not to take our anger out in different situations. The emphasis was on self-control. Overall, it was a very nice - as I think that is the only appropriate word for it - presentation.

On the drive back I reflected upon our experience with my professor. We asked the question, could that sermon have been presented in a Christian church too? The obvious answer was yes. It did not teach anything contradictory to the Bible. (I don't even think he mentioned Muhammad.) But this got me thinking... and lead me to writing this blog!

There is something to be learned from this experience. The reason we gather in our churches as Christians is because Jesus Christ died on the cross. Neglecting to mention this in our worship songs, sermons, Bible teaching, etc., is neglecting the only reason we are here.

We cannot be content to teach Christianity to people in our churches without explicitly referencing Jesus and the cross. Don't misunderstand me. We must still teach the morality of the Bible, but we must also explain why we pursue this kind of morality. The "why" is what makes us distinctly Christian. It's what separates us from the religion of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. We cannot take the CHRIST out of CHRISTIANITY.

Moral messages won't cut it in the church. The early church in Acts was enamored with the love and power of Christ. Everything came back to Jesus. If we are to create lifelong disciples of Christ we must intentionally re-introduce the disciples to the person they are following at every chance we get.

With Christmas approaching I have heard the phrase, "He's the reason for the season!" (A big thanks to Bri and the Youth Conference cabinet for that one!) While a bit cheesy and trite, it is so appropriate. Jesus is the reason for the season. But he's also the reason for every other season, especially within our churches! The second we neglect Jesus and the cross, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is the second we lose our identity. If our worship songs and our sermons could be sung or preached in a mosque, synagogue, Buddhist temple, etc., we need to re-think our approach and embrace our Savior Jesus Christ once more!

CHRISTians, embrace your identity!

November 25, 2009

Do you want to get well?

"One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?""
John 5:5-6

It's not news to anybody that Jesus is the master at asking questions. As I read through the Gospels I can't help but marvel at his adept ability to ask probing questions that would cut right to the soul of the hearer. He moves past the easy surface level Q&A sessions and into the self-revealing discovery learning that forces the person to delve into the depths of their heart and motivations.

The question that Jesus asks in this story in John 5 has been doing just that in my life. It echoes in my ears. On the outside it's easy to reply in the case of the invalid, "Of course he wants to get well! He's been disabled for most of his life. Why wouldn't he want to get well?"But Jesus being, ya know, divine, he knows the secrets of the heart. His state of invalidity had become so entrenched in who he was that inwardly he couldn't imagine his life without this condition. His condition became his identity.

As we cry out to God for help to change us, are we really desiring exactly that? Or are we just praying for change because we know that's what a good Christian should do? Or maybe we think we can fool God into thinking that we are really ready to give up whatever is holding us back from a more intimate relationship with Him.

Whatever the real motive, we should let the question from Jesus carve its way into our hearts. And, of course, I only say this because I need to do the same. If I want God to heal me, purge me of my sin, release the power of the Spirit in my life, I need to make sure that's what I really desire in my innermost being.

We cannot fool God. As Tozer says, He waits to be wanted.

November 14, 2009

The Veil is Torn

The presence of God is awesome.

And when I say awesome, I mean it draws us into awe of our Creator. I think that word - awesome - has lost some of its meaning because we use it for the latest American Idol winner, our favorite NBA player, and the last Taco Bell meal I consumed. But truly, there is nothing more awesome than Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, who died on the cross for us.

It sounds so basic. But lately I have been so convicted about how I do not practice the presence of God on a daily basis. I reserve those "unique" times for big worship events or prayer nights... but why? Is there something keeping me from pursuing God and entering his presence?

I'm on a big A.W. Tozer kick right now. I'm reading both the Pursuit of God and the Knowledge of the Holy. If you can pick up either of these books and read a couple chapters, I guarantee you won't be able to stop. This blog is a culmination of what I've been reading, coupled with the biggest lesson God has been teaching me lately; that is, God desires me to bask in his presence and just be with him. I've been too busy doing for God lately that I forget to stop and say hi.

Rather than attempt to put into my own words what Tozer has already eloquently communicated, I'm just going to list a couple quotes from both books that have impacted me recently:

"With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, "Be still, and know that I am God," mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century." -p.viii - Knowledge of the Holy (I would argue that this issue has extended beyond the middle period of the twentieth century when Tozer wrote it into today's church as well.)

"And yet...to push in sensitive living experience into the holy presence, is a privilege open to every child of God. 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?" -p.39 Pursuit of God.

The veil that Tozer references is the veil used in the tabernacle, where God's presence rested before Jesus came and changed that. There was a veil between the first outer courts and the second, more intimate room where there was incense and prayer. Then there was another veil to separate the second room and the Holy of Holies, the resting place of God's presence that was only entered once a year by the high priest. When Jesus came and died for all mankind, God's presence became tangible and available for everyone. He tore the veil to make a way for mankind to experience the tangible presence of God in daily life. This is perhaps the most exciting thing I have ever heard.

"God wills that we should push on into his presence and live our whole life there. This is to be known to us in conscious experience. It is more than a doctrine to be held; it is a life to be enjoyed every moment of every day." p.34 Pursuit of God.

I heard this analogy from my friend Kristen Eckhout. If God is truly our Father, wouldn't he act in a way familiar to all fathers? A father who loves his children will not force them to work for him all day and want them to be constantly doing for him. No, he would want to be with them and spend time with them and have the chance to love on them. I get so busy doing ministry and other things for God that I forget to stop, slow down, and sit in His presence. And I'm missing the best part too!

Father, may I never replace being with doing. Help me to seek your presence and live in that presence daily, reflecting on your love and majesty.

Hebrews 10:19-22
"Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."

**As a final note, I just wanted to give a shout out to Phil Wickham for putting on a great worship concert tonight in Indianapolis. It really reminded me how powerful the presence of God is, and how the death of the True Love created a new freedom for us that we've never experienced! Listen to his song "True Love" sometime... Better yet, listen to the song while you read Tozer's Pursuit of God! Haha... **

October 15, 2009

Not a Boring Bible

Well hello to anyone who manages to stumble upon my blog after I haven't updated it in about 3 months. I really would like to blog more, but there's something about college classes that manages to distract me... maybe it's the work load and all the papers I have to write... but who knows.

In an effort to blog more, I plan on writing shorter, concise blogs that express ideas I've been thinking about. And in that way, if I actually come up with a somewhat intelligent and creative idea then I can actually take credit for it.... but that's not likely. In fact, that won't happen, but if you will humor me and actually read some blogs of mine then maybe you'll start to understand why I am the way I am.

There has been something on my mind recently that was really triggered by a big city-wide youth event that I attended with the youth group I work with. At this event the worship music was good, the testimonies from students were authentic, and overall I sensed that the hearts of the people who put on this event were pure and Christ-centered. However, the main speaker at the end was the "hype-up" type... you know, the kind that comes up and gets everyone screaming "Jesus" in some sort of competitive, yelling frenzy without anyone really knowing why we're doing it. I don't mind this for a little bit, but we went on screaming for about 10 minutes without him preaching from the Word at all.

In fact, the rest of his 5-10 minute sermon afterwards was completely motivational and "attractive," and did not include a single verse from the Bible. This really disappointed me, because the kids that night did not hear the actual words of God except for maybe through the songs that were straight from scripture. Even if he used only 1 scriptural reference, I think that would have been alright, because the kids could remember that one verse. But no, the Bible wasn't even mentioned.

This got me thinking... Why do we (especially in youth ministry) fall into this trap of trying to make everything attractive by human standards, appealing to hype and excitement and emotions? Why do we think that the Jesus Christ and the Bible are not attractive and appealing on their own? Sure, there is room for having fun and sweet lights and technology and all that jazz... But if it is replacing the Bible, then we are far from what I believe is true Christianity. We rob the gospel of its inherent power.

Isaiah 55:11 says, "...so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." God did not give us a boring Bible. He did not curse us with something that we would have to add to and change in order to grab the attention of those who listen. God's word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and will accomplish God's purposes if we don't get in the way! I wonder how often we get in the way of God's plans by adding our own plans and agenda.

Similarly, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power." If we are relying on the Spirit in our teaching and presentation of the Gospel, we have no need to fear that the students won't hear. We feel the need to fancy-up our preaching and events like a car or house to attract people. But the fact of the matter is that God will attract people to Him based on His beauty and glory, and not our own. No more relying on entertainment... let's open up the Word of God and let it speak for itself. I know that students today are yearning for more depth in the Bible, and still we doubt how much they can handle.

Entertainment and hype cannot replace the Word of God. They have their place, but if we are to make real disciples of Christ, the Word of God is not an option; it's an imperative.

July 27, 2009

Nothing New Under the Sun

For any of you who follow my blog consistently, you might remember a post I made about Saint James a couple weeks ago. In my interaction with this man, God illumined a great truth about the role of apologetics in evangelism. To sum up, here is what I said:

"Apologetics, the rational defense of the faith, is designed to plant seeds. You will never argue someone into the Kingdom of God. That's not what God's love created us to do. His love will win someone to the Kingdom of God. Intellectual assent, while it is an important aspect of faith, is not a pre-requisite for belief. Apologetics will merely break down faulty logic and weak arguments in order to create space for the Holy Spirit to convict the heart. The mind will either serve as a bridge or as a roadblock to the heart."

Simple truth, yes? Well, thankfully, there are much smarter men and women on this earth than me... men and women with more experience than me. I love to read, and this summer I have been soaking up just about as many books as I can. I was forced to laugh the other day while reading Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere. Deere recounts a situation he encountered while witnessing to an intelligent woman on a flight to Dallas:

"An hour and a half of apologetic arguments did not even come close to equaling the force of the simple statement, "You are a sinner and you need a savior." There was a power behind that simple declaration that was absent from all my carefully reasoned arguments. The power came because God had suggested those simple words to my spirit... That experience of power began to teach me, a philosophy major, the relative powerlessness of intellectual arguments. While they may occasionally remove genuine obstacles to faith, they are ultimately fruitless unless the Holy Spirit convicts the heart of sin" (309).

Huh. Sounds familiar...

But it doesn't stop there. I read that a couple days ago. Today I bought a new book by Norman Geisler and David Geisler entitled Conversational Evangelism. As I began to read through the book (written by two of the top apologists in America, mind you), I stumbled across this paragraph:

"This distinction has major implications for how we do evangelism. Apologetics cannot argue someone into the kingdom. Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit must work in a person's life if he or she is to accept Christ. Jesus said in John 6:65, "No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." Therefore, faith and reason must work hand in hand to effectively reach others for Christ. Apologetics can help someone "believe that" Jesus is the Messiah, but it can never force one to "believe in" Him" (163).

I love how they distinguish between the phrases, "believing that" and "believing in." A simple change of words essentially holds eternity in its hands. It is easy to believe that something happened, given strong evidence and clear logic. But to believe in something, to base your life on a cause, requires faith. That faith can only come through the Holy Spirit.

I'm reminded of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 - "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power." Rationality is beneficial to an extent, yet it is fleeting without the Spirit. As John 4:23 tells us, God desires worshipers who worship in Spirit and in truth. There must be a balance between the two.

Please do not misunderstand me. I love apologetics still. I am going to continue to read and study the arguments on both sides of faith. I believe studying apologetics not only strengthens my own faith, but it also puts my fears toward evangelism at ease.

What I am attempting to communicate is that the Holy Spirit is at work today in miraculous ways, and the biggest miracle in life is when someone passes from the old life into the new. The Holy Spirit is not absent from the mind and apologetics; on the contrary, He relishes the opportunity to transform a life while utilizing a tool for breaking down intellectual barriers. He works on both the heart and the mind. Don't forget, God is the one who gave us a mind and intellect in the first place.

If God gave us a mind, should we choose not to use it? And if God gave us his Holy Spirit, should we choose to neglect Him?
I thank God for people like Jack Deere, David Geisler, and Norman Geisler, who fluidly articulate my thoughts for me in such brilliant manners that inspire me to wrestle with the topic even further.
Until next time...