Monthly Archives: March 2015

Book Review: Beyond Awkward by Beau Crosetto

This Sunday I’m preaching on Acts 3:1-11 (Peter and John heal the lame beggar) and both this passage and the experiences described in Beyond Awkward raise some interesting questions about healing and miracles. One of the main things I’ve learned from Acts is this: Jesus has supreme authority over both the spiritual and the physical realm. But how, exactly, he uses that authority can be a tough nut to crack.

The Slasher Pastor

Talking about Jesus is outside by comfort zone, which may sound weird coming from a pastor. But it’s true. Most of the time I’m talking about Jesus it’s in a religious setting – which doesn’t faze me at all – but get me out of that setting and it’s just plain awkward. It probably is for you too, which, if you want to be a more bold and less awkward witness, that’s probably a good reason to read Beyond Awkward: When Talking About Jesus Is Outside Your Comfort Zone.

There are three “big ideas” in this book that I want to interact with more closely.

Moving Beyond Awkward

The title is a play on words. Evangelism can be really awkward but it’s worth it and on the other side of the awkward there is a divine encounter, a spiritual breakthrough, so we have to get beyond the awkward moments…

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Death, Existence, and the Body

Last week a co-worker (Ben) died in his mid-thirties. His death was sudden and tragic. He was, by all accounts, a man of wisdom, intelligence, kindness, and authentic faith. Today I went to his memorial service. The place was packed, a testimony to his extraordinary life. There were many tears, but there was hope there, too because the One who conquered death was honored.

Like most people, events like this cause me to contemplate my own mortality. I confess that one thing that has bothered me at several points in my life is the question of my continuing consciousness after death. Are we conscious after death and, if so, how? After all, death is a separation from the body and soul. In this life our entire experience is mediated by our bodies. We see with our eyes, hear with our ears, think and reason with our brains. So how, if our bodies cease to function, can we experience any sense of consciousness or continued personal existence? How will we see without physical eyes or hear without physical ears or reason without a brain? What could this new sort of consciousness look like? Is Ben conscious today or has his consciousness been snuffed out?

I was encouraged earlier last week by a passage from (who else) Dallas Willard in the Divine Conspiracy which, I think, helps us think about this in a helpful way.

(God’s) own being proves that personal existence is not, as such, dependent upon matter. Instead, matter depends on him. He did quite well without the physical universe before he created it. He undoubtedly has the very highest quality of consciousness – and all this without a brain! God, many are now shocked to realize, does not have a brain. And he never misses it. This is something one must never forget. Body and brain come from him, not the other way around. And in him our own personal being will be as secure without body and brain as it is now with body and brain. In fact, much more so.

Willard says it well. The foundation of our personal existence is not dependent upon matter. Instead, both matter and our personal existence are dependent upon God. And God, unlike our physical bodies, is eternal. And so, whether we are “in the body” or separated from our bodies, our personal existences are secure in his eternal nature. We have a personal existence beyond the existence in our bodies and the foundation of that existence is God.

Of course, my concern is only for this “intermediate state”, the time between our death and the Restoration of All Things and the resurrection. At the resurrection our souls will be reunited with our bodies and we will all face the final judgment. It is in the resurrection that we find our ultimate hope.

We closed out the service with one Ben’s favorite songs. It was a new song to me but it wonderfully expresses this glorious hope. Come, Lord Jesus.

A.W. Tozer on the Veil of Self

I can’t think of a more vivid description of the “crucifixion of the flesh” (Gal 5:24, Rom 6:6) than that provided by A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God.

In a chapter entitled Removing the Veil” Tozer offers an explanation for why the experience of God is so often hidden from us. For Tozer, what prevents us from knowing God’s presence is a “veil” of sin. Just as Christ’s death tore the veil in the temple, signifying that we have access to God’s presence through faith once-and-for-all, the experience of that presence is hindered when we fail to deal with sin in our lives.

Tozer describes the veil in this way:

“It is the veil of our fleshly fallen nature living on unjudged within us, uncrucified and unrepudiated. It is the close-woven veil of the self-life which we have never truly acknowledged, of which we have been secretly ashamed, and which for those reasons we have never brought to the judgment of the cross.”

These “self-sins” are “self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-admiration, self-love, and a host of others like them” which manifest themselves as “egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion.”

As an aside, it is striking to me that Tozer describes “self-confidence, self-love, and self-love” as sins of the flesh. In our society these are lifted up as the highest of virtues.

Tozer continues:

“Self is the opaque veil that hides the face of God from us… We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us.” -Click to Tweet

So what does this “deadly work” look like?

“Let us remember: When we talk of the rending of the veil we are speaking in a figure, and the thought of it is poetic, almost pleasant; but there is nothing pleasant about it. In human experienced that veil is made of living spiritual tissue, it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole being consists, and to touch it is to touch where we feel pain. To tear it 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.”

Tozer concludes his chapter with this prayer, which I think is a fitting close to this post as well: “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.”

Book Recommendations
The Pursuit of God

The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life

What does it mean to “receive the Spirit”?

The last time I preached at my church I concluded the message with a call to be saved and, since I am now preaching through Acts I had fresh in my mind Peter’s call in Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Since my message was on Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts 1) more than on the Spirit coming at Pentecost (Acts 2) this call led one person, in a follow up conversation, to ask, “What does it mean to receive the Spirit?”

This is a great question. When Peter said this in Acts 2 he was speaking before a crowd that had just witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The crowd had just heard Peter and the disciples speaking in a multitude of languages/dialects (2:4) and they were amazed because they could each hear the disciples in their own language (2:6). Some in the crowd, reaching for a naturalist interpretation, thought that perhaps the disciples were drunk. Many, however, were drawn in to hear what the disciples had to say. This gave Peter the opportunity to give his first sermon and led to the sudden expansion of the church in Jerusalem.

The important thing to note here is that what the Holy Spirit enabled was clear and understandable communication of the good news of Jesus. While the miracle of Pentecost was attested to with physical manifestations (sound of a violent wind, appearance of tongues of fire) what amazed the crowds and led to their ultimate conversion was that the disciples were miraculously speaking and miraculously being understood.

There are, of course, many “signs” of the power of the Holy Spirit throughout the book of Acts but underlying all these signs is what these signs point to – the authority of the person of Jesus over both physical reality (healing, raising the dead) and spiritual reality (forgiveness of sins). Throughout Acts the Spirit consistently clearly communicates the truth of the gospel to both believers and unbelievers.

What about today? What does it mean to “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?” Or, perhaps, “What is the role of the Holy Spirit?” I would submit that underlying role of the Spirit is the same as it was in Acts. The Holy Spirit enables clear and understandable communication of the good news of Jesus. I see this communication attested to in four ways in Scripture.

Clear communication to our consciences

First, it is the role of the Spirit to speak to our consciences. The Spirit can either speak a word of judgment or comfort, depending on our spiritual condition. It is the Holy Spirit that can use the Word to cut to our hearts. It is the Spirit that convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). It is also the Holy Spirit that is our Advocate (John 16:7) and can speak a word of assurance, reminding us of our new holy standing before God, as those sealed for the day of redemption.

Clear communication in our speech

Second, the Holy Spirit enables clear communication in our speech. This is seen in Acts as already stated but is also evident in 1 Corinthians 14. In this passage Paul is instructing the Corinthians not to get caught up in desiring the “flashy” gift of speaking in tongues. Instead he instructs them to seek the spiritual gifts which build up the church. These “edifying” gifts are marked out by their intelligibility, both to believers and unbelievers.

Paul states:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

Prophecy is given a more prominent place for Paul because it is understandable and “speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.” Tongues are valuable within the church context only when they are interpreted. A cacophony of unintelligible tongues in worship, then, seems to be antithetical to the primary mode of operation for the Spirit.

Clear communication in our conduct

Third, the Spirit enables clear communication of our conduct. The Spirit enables our “walk” to match our “talk.” The “fruit” of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we are walk by the Spirit we demonstrate that we have been truly set free to obey the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that reality is a testament to the free justification that we have in Jesus (for more on this study the role of the Spirit in Galatians).

Clear communication in our community

Fourth, the Spirit enables clear communication in our community. This is perhaps nothing more than a natural result of the first three “empowering” aspects of the Spirit already stated, but it also goes one step further. It is the role of the Spirit to form and empower the church which confesses the name of Jesus. That church is given gifts which form not only Spirit-filled individuals but a Spirit-filled community which “grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.”

And this, I believe, is the mark of the Spirit in a church: clear gospel proclamation with palpable love to match. A man walked into our church recently and struck up a conversation with me. He stated that for him it was obvious which churches had the Spirit and which did not. From the context of the rest of the conversation I got the impression that he was talking about things like speaking in tongues, prophetic speech, and words of knowledge. In this regard I am cautiously open. I do not want to either put God in a box nor do I want to discount other people’s experiences. However, while the Spirit may manifest himself in those ways I think that the true marks of the Holy Spirit in a church are the clear and understandable communication of the gospel and the palpable love for neighbor present. How do you know if a church has the Spirit? Does it proclaim Jesus clearly in its speech? Do its actions and attitude within the body demonstrate a spirit of love and unity? Do its people love their neighbors? It is the role of the Spirit to form such a community.