Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Where is God?" by Dr. John Townsend

If you considered throughout human history what question has been asked the most, a few things might come to mind:

"What's your name?" must be asked millions of times a day.

"What did you say?" is asked increasingly as our population ages!

"What's your sign?" was asked repeatedly in the '70s and '80s and continues to be an annoying question.

But perhaps one of the most asked questions, directly from the human heart and searching mind, is the question, "Where is God?"

If you haven't personally asked that question, you have probably thought it, and likely know others who have done both. Ministers, theologians, philosophers and others have wrestled with an answer, but one of the best responses I've read to date is found in Dr. John Townsend's latest book, "Where Is God?" published by Thomas Nelson.

The reason I found Dr. Townsend's book to be so noteworthy is because he provides a very thorough response to a simple, yet profound question. The short answer to "Where is God?" is that God is always present. But there's significantly more to the answer than that, and Dr. Townsend provides the detail.

What gives the book value is Dr. Townsend, who is a Christian psychologist, allows his theology to inform his psychology, rather than vice versa. Townsend provides clear biblical direction to finding answers to this age old question while also using his expertise and experience as a psychologist to help us understand how to work out biblical teaching in practical ways that provide real answers --- and results --- to those searching out the question of "where is God?"

Dr. Townsend helps the reader understand how, in the midst of life's most pressing issues, we can seek and see God when He seems to be absent. Townsend explains that "God doesn't play hide-and seek." It is possible to work through the confusion, pain, disillusionment, or other such human experiences during life's trials to not only see God, but to experience His presence in a way that brings peace, renews purpose, and sustains us in our darkest hour.

For the person who wants the simplest of answers to the great question, "Where is God?" you can find that in Townsend's book. But for the rest of us who want and need a fuller answer, you'll be delighted in how Dr. Townsend uses his skill in both theology and psychology to explore all the issues we may find ourselves in when searching out the answer to this big question. Townsend helps us see how most people often don't want answers as much as they want a "fix" for what ails them. While God is always present and wants us to seek His help, He desires connection with us most.

While I thought the book to be outstanding, the one weakness I did see probably had more to do with the publisher than the author. The cover of the book is white, and the title of the book on the front cover is also printed in white, making it almost invisible if you don't look closely. While discussing my thoughts about the book with one of my sisters, I mentioned how I didn't like the cover because you can't see the title and showed her the cover to make my point. "Oh, where is the title is like the idea of the book, 'Where Is God?'" she pointed out. Perhaps I just missed it, but I find the idea of purposely making the title hard to find to tie in with the title of the book to be quite gimmicky, and uneffectively so. A book as solid as this doesn't need a cheap gimmick for a cover to draw interest.

With that said, "Where Is God?" is a valuable resource any Christian would benefit having within reach because it provides great answers to a big question.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Dial 911 for God ...

When I was a kid, if an emergency occurred and you needed assistance, you grabbed a telephone and dialed "0" for the operator. Why? because the 911 emergency system didn't exist. So you called the operator, who would then connect you with the appropriate emergency services.

The 911 emergency system came into being when I was was a child, and I remember the repeated emphasis by both teachers in school and my parents at home to never call 911 unless it was truly an emergency.

Fortunately, I've had only one personal experience that required me to call 911. It's great having a simple means to access emergency aid if it's ever needed.

I think a a lot of times, people see God as a 911 operator. Many people are driven to interaction with God based on circumstances rather than relationship. When things go wrong and we need help, we call in God ... but not before. When you're facing something bigger than what you can handle, when you just don't have the strength or the knowledge or the ability, you finally hit the knees and place a call out to God.

Sometimes God allows hard times in our lives, one reason being to move us to deeper connection with Him. Even if we seek Him during such times, that becomes an empty experience if we only seek God for a fix. God wants to help, but what He wants more is the connection.

What brings you to God: a desire to interact in relationship to Him, or only time of needs? Life is designed to be experienced in an ongoing relationship with God, not in bursts of pleas and prayers for help. Take time to interact with God and grow the personal relationship with Him. Then you'll find reaching out to Him in need is simple because you already have an ongoing connection.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ready for tomorrow?

Once I had graduated high school, I took the time to drive over to Supai Elementary School in Tempe, Arizona. There was someone I wanted to thank.

The place hadn't changed much since I had attended third, fourth, and part of fifth grade there. And neither had the person I had come to see, Mrs. Avery, my third grade teacher. I came to thank her for helping me develop a love of learning.

When I first walked into her classroom, I was in awe of the brilliant, shimmering stars made of construction paper and glitter that hung over each desk with the name of a student. It was obvious the teacher had done extensive preparation for the first day with her new flock of students. Mrs. Avery was, literally, a "little old lady" and so I thought this class should be safe. Little did I know that any students not paying strict attention to her would (also literally) get their knuckles cracked by her ruler!

But her demand that we stay with her as she guided us soon became an adventure. And when I found myself making a faux Indian blanket out of cheap yarn on a miniature loom while studying Southwest history, I realized I was really enjoying something ... learning! Mrs. Avery taught me how to love learning.

I'm so glad I made that trip!

Developing a love of learning has helped me through life in profound ways, most of all in my spiritual life. What I discovered as I grew up was this: Every day, life springs a pop quiz on your faith and values. Study accordingly!

A pastor I know tells the story of his first ministry. He was green, just out of Bible college, but ready to convert the world. Shortly into his time working with the church, a young man asked to meet with him. Sitting in his office, the fellow explained to the pastor that he was gay and was quite attracted to the minister. The pastor said nothing he had studied in Bible college had prepared him for that meeting, or many of the experiences he faced early on as a pastor.

Every day, life springs a pop quiz on your faith and values. Study accordingly!

Billy Graham is one of the most well-known preachers in American history. Once he was asked what he would do differently if he could go back and re-do his ministry "career." He had a simple answer when he responded, "I would study more."


Monday, February 15, 2010

The worst kind of wrong assumption ...

Not everything is a spiritual battle!

That's right, there isn't always something wrong. But you wouldn't think that by watching how Christians tend to want to find some area of weakness in everyone or everything.

For example, today I read an article about a couple who had endured infidelity in their marriage. They have re-built their relationship and things are going well for them right now. In fact, their relationship is probably at its strongest point since its early years. Yet, instead of saying that, the writer rambled on about how they aren't perfect, etc.

Why is it that we seem to be so uncomfortable about saying things are great! I'm strong right now! Through Christ I have slayed my dragons and I'm not struggling right now. It seems like we just don't feel "Christian" if we aren't saying that something is wrong, that we're battling something in our lives. The Christian life isn't just about enduring, there's far more to it than that.

Of course we aren't perfect. None of us are. But the Bible teaches us that God is transforming us to be more and more like Jesus Christ; that He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to live in us to enable us to live for Him and to His glory. God is willing to use all of His limitless power to enable us to stand for Him. With that kind of power supporting us, and the very Holy Spirit of God living in us, I'm actually more concerned about the person who perpetually complains about constant spiritual struggles than the one who has enough courage to say "spiritually, things are awesome right now!" and mean it!

A primary difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that Christians no longer practice sin. Because of that, we really should be enjoying more times of victory than defeat, more times of strength than weakness, and more times of contentment than confusion. If we are walking with God every day, then spiritually we should know wholeness more often than not. Sin should be the exception, no longer the rule!

I think life is more full, more honest, when in those times of good spiritual health we rebuff false guilt and say, "This is great! I'm doing well spiritually and I'm enjoying walking with God every day."

One other thing: don't think you're always helping a fellow Christian by asking them what's not going right in their spiritual life. It seems the first thing we want to know about another Christian is where they are messing up, as if they must be fumbling something. But maybe they aren't! Maybe they're in a good place with God right now, and they don't need you assuming they're in a sinful place. It's fine to ask how someone is doing spiritually, but if things are going well, celebrate that fact with them rather than assuming otherwise.

God changes our lives. He makes us better, more like His Son, and enables us to live in victory over sin. Maybe we need to acknowledge and celebrate that reality more often with each other.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's a motivation thing ...

Even though I'm very comfortable with the internet and a capable internet surfer, I find myself often coming up short in some of my online searches.

For example, I hear of some great research someone has done online, about all the rich information they were able to gather, so I hit the internet, enter my search words, and come up dry.

Well not always. I'm still amazed at the information I can gather from the internet, but it often seems like I'm just not getting some of the great research data available online that I hear about others finding out there.

The problem must be with me. It must be how I search, and I'm always working on improving that.

The same goes with seeking things from God. Many people say they've prayed and prayed, but God doesn't answer. God always answers, but in His time and His way ... and sometimes the answer is "no."

But sometimes the problem is in how we approach God. James brings this to light for us in James 4, starting with verse 2b, "... Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it."

"I do ask!" you say, "but I still don't have what I want!"

James addresses that problem directly in the next verse (James 4:3), "And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure."

Some people are "blessings chasers." They pursue the blessings of God without ever really pursuing the God who blesses. They go to God to get, not to give. They desire blessings rather than relationship. Such motives reduces their idea of God as being no greater than a genie in a bottle, or a "pocket God."

God doesn't interact with us that way. Our motives have everything to do with how God will respond to what we ask of Him. James says to get our requests from God, we need to ask, and do so with the right motives. What might those be? Psalm 37:4 gives us a clear answer to that: "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires."

When our view of, and interaction with God gets right --- finding delight in Him --- our motives change. Our desires then become reflective of His will and His way. Then God will give us beyond our needs, to even our heart's desires.

Finding what you want requires more than asking ... it's a motivation thing. What are your motives when you seek God?