BOOK REPORT #1A: The Pursuit of God ~ 6/24/09

I want to take this opportunity to announce that I would very much like to include you, dear reader, in my journey towards spiritual leadership validation (S.L.V.), also known among the ranks of the clergy as ‘Ordination.’ To do this, I plan on briefly reviewing here each book I read along the way. I’ll also be sharing abbreviated versions of position papers I will be writing on such topics as ‘Christ our Savior,’ ‘Sanctifier,’ ‘Healer’ and ‘Coming King.’  Today, I’m sharing some of my insights and observations from a spiritual classic by A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.

According to the author, the purpose of this book is simple – to help Christians go beyond the stale satisfaction of learning the orthodox truths about God so they might instead be satiated with God Himself.

“Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: ‘The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.’ It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table. The truth of Wesley’s words is established before our eyes: ‘Orthodoxy, or right opinion, is, at best, a very slender part of religion…There may be a right opinion of God without either love or one right temper toward Him. Satan is a proof of this…This book is a modest attempt to aid God’s hungry children so to find Him” (Tozer  9,10).

In the span of 10 short chapters, Tozer makes a case for the importance of pursuing God Himself, even after we are saved. “God always comes previous,” he encourages, affirming the central role of grace in the process of ‘being made holy,’ but he doesn’t shy away from the role of human choice – “In practice, however, (that is, where God’s previous working meets man’s present response) man must pursue God. On our part there must be positive reciprocation if this secret drawing of God is to eventuate in identifiable experience of the Divine.” His summary of this life-long journey ‘towards’ God? “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love” (Tozer 12,13,15).

So how do we ‘pursue’ God? Next time I’ll share some of my favorite quotes from the various chapters that have deeply spoken to me and, I trust, will speak into your journey as well.

Surrounded By Grace,

MY DAD ~ 6/18/09

I’ll never forget the day we backed out of our one car garage in the brand new Nissan SUV – with my door wide open. It was my fault. I wasn’t paying attention. My mom said ‘Everyone in?’ I was daydreaming, I didn’t respond, and we backed out. The shiny white door bent almost 90 degrees in the wrong direction and came to rest with a floppy groan, looking for all the world like the twisted leg of a an accident victim on TV. Then I groaned too. What would my Dad say? My mom drove us down to the hospital in a profound silence so we could all find out together. I’ll never forget him walking out of the building, still wearing his operating garb. He stopped abruptly when he saw the carnage that had been the door, but he didn’t yell at me. He understood me well enough to know he didn’t have to.

And I love him for that.


I’ll never forget Sunday afternoons in Africa. My brother and I were confined to our beds for a two hour ‘noon rest’ while our parents took a much needed siesta. But they never got much sleep… on account of us boys and our noise. I can still see my dad standing in our bedroom doorway, arms crossed, not saying a word -- just looking at us, willing us to be wise and stay silent. I remember peeking at him after pretending to be asleep for what seemed like an eternity. He was looking right at me. And he smiled.

And I love him for that.


I’ll never forget our family road trips. I’d always position myself strategically in the middle back seat, just so I could lean my head forward into the grown up world. That’s when I’d ask my questions. ‘Why don’t animals talk?’ ‘Do animals go to heaven?’ ‘What’s heaven like Dad?’ ‘How do you know?’ And on, and on and on. And he would answer me. I don’t ever remember him brushing me or my questions off, never remember him making a joke out of my curiosity. I remember thoughtful answers, honest answers, heartfelt and incredibly deep answers.

And I love him for that.


I’ll never forget my High School graduation ceremony. My Dad was the keynote speaker. I sat in the back row on stage, dressed in my cap and gown and surrounded by the best friends I’d ever known, and I listened to him speak, hanging on his every word.  He told his testimony, the one I’d heard so many times before, but still, it struck me. Both missionary parents, gunned down in Vietnam as he began his Freshman year in College. “You’re the same age now as I was then,” he said, “so I want you to remember this one lesson, even if you forget everything else I say here today. Let this be your anchor as it has been my own, ‘Let God be your Father.’”  I’ll never forget that picture of my dad, like Abraham, offering me up to God in obedient surrender.

And I love him for that.

There are just so many memories… thank you Dad. I love you for each one. Happy Father’s Day!

Surrounded By Grace & dad's love,



As if our collective economic woes weren't enough, I believe yet another sinister scam has been set in motion by the greedy kingpins of high visibility store chains across America. The crime? Well, some would argue that the 'real crime' is stripping hardworking Americans everywhere of their last vestiges of hope in the capitalist system. To which I say-- "Wha...??" 

No, the crime of which I speak is much less cerebral... but ever so much as tragic. I propose that stores across the United States have actually joined forces to begin printing their store receipts with -- wait for it -- disappearing ink. You read me right -- the kind of ink that you can read perfectly well in the post-purchase throes of buyer’s remorse, but which disappears completely from that plasticky wrinkle-prone rectangle scrap the moment you realize your spendy purchase doesn't quite work right.

Or the moment your spouse finds the unapproved store item in your garage.

Or the moment buyer’s remorse morphs into buyer’s repentance.

Or... you name it.

Whichever the case, you buy something pricey, decide to take it back, then tear through your jeans, wallet or piles of random items waiting to be filed, all in search of that sorry excuse for a ‘proof of purchase,’ only to find -- when you’ve found it – that the ink is GONE. Or, at best, faded beyond recognition. Just TRY taking that back to the store. I dare you. My best guess is that employees actually fight over whose turn it is to pretend to care.

So how does this process work? Check out this video for clues… 


So here’s my theory: Just like the ink on video faded with the application of heat, so the ink on your big ticket item receipt fades away magically when exposed to the stifling heat of your wallet, purse or car. Allow enough time + heat exposure + random forces of evil, and 'guess what will disappear?' All hope for reimbursement, along with that cursed ink, into the great oblivion of doom. 

What can I say... I'm feeling optimistic today. 


This last Sunday I (Josh) preached a message entitled “God Wants you Free,” and ended the sermon by listing six (there are many more) practical principles from Scripture that have helped me and are designed to help you, as a Christian, avoid the temptations in your life. As promised, I’ve tried to ‘compress’ those principles here for your own study and review. 

For any who may have missed the ‘lead in’ to these practical principles on Sunday, I’ll attempt to sum up briefly what I took nearly twenty minutes to do during the service:

1.True freedom is being able to say ‘no’ to sin & ‘yes’ to God every time.

2.True freedom is rooted in a right relationship with God.

3. Sin is failure to let God be God and placing something or someone in God’s rightful place of supremacy (Erickson).

4.When a right relationship with God was displaced by original sin, so was true freedom.

5. Jesus bought back true freedom with His blood.

6. If you know Jesus, you no longer have to sin.


The Temptation Principles

With this background in mind, here were my 6 principles:

1) Power is subordinate to authority.

When you put your faith in Jesus, Satan loses his claims to you, his dominion over you and his authority over you, so that you no longer have to sin. Although still a powerful enemy, he no longer has the authority to keep you enslaved in sin – unless you give it to him.

*Apply The Principle:  

Put your faith in Jesus. Pastor Bill has developed this easy approach to the prayer for salvation:

Admit: God, I admit I’m a sinner. I admit I can never solve my sin problem on my own. I need you.’

Believe: God, I believe that Jesus lived the perfect life I was supposed to live and that He took the punishment (death) I deserved for failing to live up to your standards. No amount of ‘good’ I do is enough to save me, only Jesus.’

Choose: God, right now I choose to trust in Jesus Christ as my only hope. I choose to receive Him as my savior. Thank you God for saving me. Amen.’



2) Don’t take a knife to a gunfight. (Come equipped for battle)

The Bible is called ‘The Sword of the Spirit,” and is the only offensive weapon listed in the description of what we call ‘The Armor of God.’ Leave your own comebacks at home and instead, wield the promises of God.

*Apply the Principle:

Read your Bible, know your Bible, pray your Bible. Know how to use your weapon. Every minute spent in Scripture, whether it is a casual read or an intensive study, is a minute spent expanding the capacity of God’s power in your life, which increases the odds of victory when the first hints of temptation show up.



3) Don’t pitch your tent in Sodom.

‘Don’t put God to the test’ (Mt. 4:7, Ex. 17:7, Deut. 6:16). Don’t knowingly place yourself into compromising situations. Sodom had a well-known reputation. So do you, and you know it best; acknowledge your weaknesses and stay away from the things that trigger them.

*Apply the Principle:

Ask God to help you recognize your ‘danger zones,’ to recognize the things that trigger your pet temptations. Name them to Him daily, ask Him to keep you from ending up there, and take practical steps; put a filter on your computer. Find an accountability partner. Go to a recovery program. Just don’t forget to claim God’s ability to keep you out of the Sodom’s in your life.



4) Pet the cat the wrong way. Pray against the grain.

If you find yourself in Sodom, it’s never too late to pray -- but late prayers are never easy. You can’t start a plea for help with a lie and expect something good to come out of it. It’s counter-productive to start a prayer for help by denying that you have an itch you really want to scratch.

*Apply the Principle:

Let your triggers trigger prayer, but pray the truth. Practice praying something like “I don’t want you to help me, but help me.” “Part of me doesn’t want you to stop me, but please stop me.” It doesn’t matter how you feel when you pray this way. Just pray.



5) Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

God has promised to always give you a way out of temptation (1Cor.10:13). So when He provides a way out of Sodom, don’t look back. ‘Looking back’ is your way of giving Sodom a second chance. And if you do, God will often allow you to fail and not ‘re-rescue’ you in that particular time of temptation so that you will at least learn something -- even if that ‘something’ is painful.

*Apply the Principle:

Take the money and run. Ask God to help you recognize His providential intervention in a temptation situation and then take His help and don’t-look-back. Get out of there.

-       If your rescue has to do with a particular geographic location, get out of there.

-       If your rescue has to do with something going on in your mind, and God distracts a line of thought, get out of your head and go talk with someone.



6) Failure does not = ‘Back to square 1”

Every ‘no’ to Jesus is no surprise to Him, because He saw it coming a long time ago, just like He saw Peter’s denial coming and still loved him. Your failures will never shock God out of love for you. And Every ‘yes’ to Jesus was a victory, each one remains an eternal milestone in your walk with God and one that can never be taken away or torn down. Every ‘yes’ to Jesus is a rebar-reinforced brick laid upon the Rock, and is preserved despite the storms that come. Failure does not = hopelessness, because when we fail, we don’t go ‘back to square one,’ we go back to the cross!

*Apply the Principle:

If you failed to run when rescued, Run now to the cross. Another great tool from Pastor Bill for dealing with a sin in your life:

1)    Confess it: God, I confess that I did _______. I bring it before you. Please forgive me.’

2)    Crossify it: God, I know Jesus died for all my sins, but I thank you that He died on the cross aware of this exact sin and paid for this sin. This sin was paid for by Christ’s blood. Thank you that He took responsibility for this sin on the cross.

3)    Contain it: God, please keep me from ‘chain-smoking’ my sin; keep me from ‘lighting up’ another sin off of this one. Please keep this failure from birthing other sins in my life today.

4)    Cancel it: God, thank you for forgiving me. I claim your promise that you have cast this sin as far as the east is away from the west; you’ll never use it against me, it’ll never come up again. Thank you for making me holy. Amen.’

You may falter in your walk with God,

But God will never fail in His love for you.


Surrounded By Grace,

FINISH WELL ~ 6/3/09

Salvation is the starting line…

“It is, however, not an end, but an inception, for now begins the  glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead. That is where we begin, I say, but where we stop, no man has yet discovered...” (A.W. Tozer   14, The Pursuit of God)

“We want mature Christians in the army of Christ, to play the part of veterans, to inspire the rest with coolness, courage, and steadfastness; for if the whole army is made up of raw recruits the tendency will be for them to waver when the onslaught is fiercer than usual. The old guard, the men who have breathed smoke and eaten fire before, do not waver when the battle rages like a tempest, they can die but they cannot surrender. When they hear the cry of "Forward," they may not rush to the front so nimbly as the younger soldiers, but they drag up the heavy artillery, and their advance once made is secure. They do not reel when the shots fly thick, but still hold their own, for they remember former fights when Jehovah covered their heads” (Charles Spurgeon, from "Ripe Fruit," a sermon preached 14 August 1870 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London).

14”so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Eph. 4:14-16)

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my mother over the phone one day while I was attending boarding school in Africa. My siblings and I would travel hundreds of miles away from home for three months at a time without seeing our parents. During one such three month stretch I was tired, homesick, and ready to just let gravity slumped against momentum get me across the finish line of the school year. The phone connection between countries was poor, but I could still make out her words. “Josh,” my mom said, “finish well.”

In much the same way, the question, once you’ve started a relationship with Jesus, is not whether or not you will finish it. What God starts, He always finishes. Instead, the question becomes how you will finish it. ‘Follow hard after God’ and you too can finish the marathon of life among the ranks of those ‘smoke- breathing, fire-eating veterans’ of God’s Kingdom. Start strong, but more importantly -- finish well.

Ready, Set… GO! 

Surrounded By Grace,
*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~