Dueling Jesuses

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“My God is a God of love; My God would not send anyone to hell!” –Oprah Winfrey

Okay Oprah lovers, forgive me in advance, but Oprah could not be more wrong with this opinion.

A few years ago I heard her make this comment after I had momentarily stopped on her show while channel surfing.  The topic of the show is irrelevant; but her comment is.

While I appreciate her sentiment of wanting a loving God (which He is) and her best desires for people (which God shares), the God she is talking about simply doesn’t exist.  While God is loving as she suggests; he is also perfectly just.

The God she holds to is a God fabricated in her own mind.  She may as well have taken a piece of wood and carved her ideal image of God and worshipped it, because this is what she has done in her  imagination.

We hear similar quotes and opinions about God, Jesus, and religion from the media and celebrities.

Specifically, everybody has an opinion of Jesus. Just do a quick Google search and you will find a plethora of ideas about Jesus. Everybody wants a Jesus who matches with their views and sentiments.  They want a “user-friendly Jesus.” There are hundreds of “dueling” Jesuses out there.

A question – does Jesus give us the liberty to define who he is and what he is like? I don’t think so.

Do we get to do this with other personalities?

Can we fabricate a fictional image of, say:

  • Abraham Lincoln?
  • Mother Teresa?
  • Ronald Reagan?
  • Barbara Walters?
  • Princess Kate Middleton?

No.

Well, I guess we do have the vampire-slaying Abraham Lincoln.  But you get the idea.  We can’t just make up what we think these very real people were or are like.

Although people might disagree about their legacy and their personalities, we have to take what they’ve said about themselves and what they’ve done to determine who they are and what they are like.  Then we can like them, hate them, or dismiss them; but we can’t make them into something they aren’t.

Jesus is no different. We do not have the liberty to “make Jesus in our own image.”  The absolutely only place we know about him is from the New Testament.  It is the only place that has any record about who he is, what is important to him, what his teachings are, what his personality is like, what his instructions are for his followers, etc.

To be honest about what Jesus is really like, we must look seriously at the source.  And once we get a picture about him from the source, a decision has to be made about whether we will believe it or not – or believe in him or not.  He can be accepted or he can be rejected.  He can also be marginalized.  The one thing that can’t be done, at least honestly, is to make him into something He is not – which is what Oprah has done.

If you want to find out who Jesus really is, jump into the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

And yes, Oprah, Jesus does love us and he is also the coming King and Judge.

Pastors – A Lesson on Enthusiasm from Jim Harbaugh

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Jim Harbaugh, upon being selected as the new head coach for Stanford in 2006 (now with the 49’ers), made this statement:

“I vow I will attack this endeavor with enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”

I love it!  At heart I love the enthusiasm of successful coaches, teams, and individual athletes.  Their determination and dedication are infectious.

It goes without saying, that what we do as pastors is infinitely more important than what any coach or athlete will accomplish.  With that in mind, are you and I “attacking” our responsibilities with “enthusiasm unknown to mankind?”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about ministering in our flesh or outside the direction of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, I’m suggesting exactly the opposite – to be so full of the Holy Spirit, of God-derived courage, and of motivation from an anointed calling that our enthusiasm is God instilled and just as infectious.

Pastors, I hear the same whispers you do.  Around every corner there is always a naysayer telling you to “calm down” or to “to take it slow.”  They say things like:

  • Don’t be too ambitious.
  • Don’t get ahead of God.
  • Don’t try to be the Holy Spirit to someone.
  • Don’t dream too large.
  • You can’t change the world.
  • We’re just a little neighborhood church.

I say, “Get thee behind me Satan!”  There is always going to be someone wanting to throw water on every spark of God-ordained enthusiasm in your church and life.  Rebuke them in the name of the Lord! God did not call you or me to be timid, passive, or to think small. We serve the King of Kings who has called us to serve in His Kingdom!

Consider these thoughts …

1)      You are a servant-leader in the one thing Jesus said he would build – the Church.

2)      DL Moody said, “The world has yet to see what God can do through one man fully consecrated to Him.” You can be that man!

3)      God promised, “My Word will not return void.”

4)      You have the words of life for the walking dead.

5)      You may not have earthly cheers; but you have a “cloud of witnesses.”

6)      You stamp eternity with your work.

7)      Your prayers enter the ears of One “who does not slumber nor sleep.”

8)      Size is relative, you’re work is “Mega” in the eyes of God.

9)      That little boy or girl, man or woman saved this week will be the cause of a celestial party.

10)   You are on the team of the eternal God of the universe.

For those who say, “how sappy and over-enthusiastic”.  I say, “I hope so.”

I pray that you and I will take Harbaugh’s example and:

“attack our Godly endeavor with an enthusiasm unknown to Heaven.”

Confessions of a Normal Pastor

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Okay…here it goes:

  • I post pictures of bugs on my FaceBook page.
  • I’ve memorized every word in Tom Cruise’s movie, “The Last Samurai”
  • I take a sleeping pill at around 9:00pm most nights (yes, it is over-the-counter)
  • I work at really weird hours sometimes.
  • I tend to procrastinate and be unorganized.
  • I can skin a muskrat.
  • I sometimes go to Wal-mart in sweat pants, flip-flops, and unshaven (and always see someone I know even when trying to avoid it!)
  • I like to kayak.
  • I love Long John Silver’s fish.
  • I once took a 4ft lighted Santa to a pastor friend’s house on Christmas morning at 5am and left it on his porch (just to kind of freak him out).
  • I read books other than the Bible, “My Utmost For His Highest,” and Grudem’s “Systematic Theology.”
  • I once mowed the lawn in my underwear.
  • I like BlueGrass music, and the Newsboys, and “Crown Him With Many Crowns.”
  • I think Cream of Wheat may be one of the best foods in the world.
  • I like squirrel gravy.

Oh also,

I invited 8 people to church in the last two days, I’ve given out a dozen Gospel tracts this week, my latest book purchase was, “Ancient Greek Papyri, Volume II”, I’ve spent about 6 hours so far this week studying the Bible for the upcoming Sunday message, I wept over the shootings last Friday, I talk to my accountability partner every day,  I prayed over everyone in our congregation this week, I love to talk about the Bible, my wife says my mind never turns off about “pastoring” and church stuff, I drive around our neighborhoods praying for people and dreaming about the best ways to reach them for Jesus.

Here’s the deal. Most pastors are normal people (well, if you can call those things listed above normal).  The majority are not Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Max Lucado, or Bill Hybels – and neither am I.  And by the way, those guys would all say they are pretty normal also.

We have families, quirks, bad habits, temptations, experience joy and sadness, hobbies, etc.  Most of us are as normal as Folgers coffee.  We want to be good examples, exemplary pastors, students of the Word too; but we’re pretty much just normal people that God called to preach, teach, and lead in the local church.

So I’m normal; however, I have a huge passion to live for Jesus, reach other people for Him, see them grow in Christ, and see them eventually learn to repeat the same thing.  I bleed for those things. I pray for those things. I love to see people encounter Jesus and learn new things about following him.

I want the world to get saved!  I live everyday believing that someone I encounter (or that you encounter) could and might come to faith through a personal witness for Christ.  Yes, I believe you or I could walk across the street, share Jesus with someone, and they could get saved over a cup of coffee – now.

I dream about those conversations and love the work God has called me to.  I love pastoring.  I love reading and studying the Bible. But then, I also like to go crappie fishing once-in-awhile, attend a HS wrestling match, and eat a bowl of homemade ice cream.

I would love to talk with you about Deutero Isaiah, the issues around open theism, and the documentary hypothesis; but I would really rather discuss how to reach your neighbor for the Lord.  After those discussions, I would also love to hear from you the best place to find morel mushrooms (I would REALLY like to talk to you about that!).

I want any church I pastor to know that I’m a normal person.  I’m approachable.  I’ll give them good counsel from the Word and I’ll pray for them and I’ll get them plugged into ministry.  But I’ll also eat a grilled hamburger,  throw a Frisbee, or laugh at the movie “Elf” with you.

So what’s the point?  God uses normal people like me, you, and pretty much everyone else for Kingdom work.  He wants to use you.  He wants to use me.  Let’s not wait until we think we’ve got it all figured out.  Walk across the street and have that cup of coffee today.

Oh yeah, and that “mowing-the-lawn-in-my-underwear” deal – there’s a good explanation for that.  Really.

Classic Conversion Stories: A.W. Tozer

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“We had a neighbor by the name of Holman.  I do not know his first name or initials.  He was just Mr. Holman.  He lived next door to us. I had heard that he was a Christian, but he never talked to me about Christ.”

“Then one day I was walking up the street with this friendly neighbor.  Suddenly, he put his hand on my shoulder. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I have been wondering about you.  I have been wondering if you are a Christian, if you are converted.  I just wanted the chance to talk it over with you.’”

“‘No, Mr. Holman,’ I answered, ‘I am not converted, but I thank you for saying this to me.  I am going to give it some serious thought.’”

Late one afternoon in 1915 – three years after arriving in Akron-as he walked home from work, Aiden noticed a small crowd of people gathered on the opposite side of the street.  They were clustered around an older man who seemed to be talking to them.  Not being able to hear what the man was saying, Aiden crossed the street to satisfy his curiosity.

At first, the man’s speech did not make any sense to Aiden.  He spoke with a strong German accent, and Aiden had to listen carefully to catch what the man was saying.  Finally, it dawned on Aiden. The man was preaching!  Preaching, right out on the street corner!  ‘Doesn’t this man have a church to preach in?’ Aiden thought to himself. ‘And it isn’t even Sunday! Why is he so excited?’ But as Aiden listened, the words of the elderly street preacher began to find their mark in his young heart.

The preacher startled Aiden. “If you don’t know how to be saved, just call on God, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner,’ and God will hear you.”

Those words burned in Aiden’s heart. He could not get the voice of the preacher out of his mind.  As he slowly walked home, he thought over what the man had said.  Never before had he heard words like those.  They troubled him.  They awakened within him a gnawing hunger for God.

Saved. If you don’t know how to be saved…just call on God…’God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’

When Aiden arrived home, he went straight to the attic, where he could be alone to think this out for himself and to wrestle with God.  No one knows all that transpired in the Tozer attic that afternoon in 1915. But Aiden Wilson Tozer emerged a new creation in Christ Jesus.  His pursuit of God had begun.

Aiden’s conversion to Christ was a transforming experience in every way.  Inclined to be cynical, he thought nothing of turning to agnostics or even to atheists for counsel.  Suddenly, his entire life as radically and wonderfully redirected.  A whole new world had opened up to this youth with unbounded intellectual curiosity.  It was a world that would take him a lifetime and more to explore fully.

In later years he would say of himself that as a young man he was so ignorant it was a wonder the top of his head did not cave in from sheer emptiness.  From the moment of his conversion, however, Aiden had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a ravenous hunger for God.

The Tozer household was crowded with eight family members plus boarders. Aiden had to find the time and place to get alone with God, time for prayer and Bible reading and study.  In the basement there was a small unused space behind the furnace. Aiden claimed it, cleaned it and made it comfortable.  It was a refuge where he could get away from everything and everyone and literally spend hours in prayer, study and meditation.

Long years later Essie remembered how at first, when she would go down the cellar stairs for canned goods, she could hear frightful groaning coming from behind the furnace.  Soon she came to recognize the sound as that of her younger brother wrestling with God in prayer.  For Aiden, it became a lifetime habit. Nothing would take the place of knowing God firsthand.

Excerpted from, “In Pursuit of God, The Life of A.W. Tozer”, by James L. Snyder, pp 35-38, Christian Publications: Camp Hill, PA, 1991 (with permission)

Congrat’s Tiger (you weasel)

Okay – Tiger’s a weasel.

Now that that is out of the way, I will say I’m glad he won today.  I know a lot of people (friends included) who don’t care one way or another about Tiger’s golf game anymore.  And there is a lot of justification for feeling that way.  But here’s the thing – I, and the world, have watched Tiger for so many years; he’s given us so many thrills, I just can’t help but be happy for him.  I don’t want to feel down on a guy for the rest of his life because he was stupid – beyond stupid.  I have a friend who says, “we’re all just one step away from stupid!”

And here’s the other thing – you may find this strange.  I really care for those athletes I enjoy watching.  This goes for others in the “limelight” of who I enjoy their work:  athlete’s, actors, authors, etc.  As a Christian, I want the best for them and, you may find this stranger, I actually pray for them.  Not every day, or even every month, but I will offer up a prayer when I see them in action or think of them while reading an article or watching an interview.  The prayer is usually about their standing before our God.  Do they know Him?  Have they heard the Gospel?  Do they know what Jesus Christ has done for them?  So I’ll pray that God would send someone to them to share the Gospel message with them.

I know Tiger is intrigued with an eastern religion.  I’ll pray for him tonight that He would come to know the true joy of knowing Christ.  That regardless of the wreck that he has made of his marriage and other relationships, God loves him, redemption is available, and there are people who care for him as a person.

So congratulations to Tiger today for a win to end his drought of 2 years and good luck in 2012!

Oh yeah, and Tiger – if you ever want to talk about that other stuff, shoot me an email.  It will only cost you some putting tips.  (Like that will happen)