“All In” by Mike Guzzardo book review

96918038This week I finished reading a book by Mike Guzzardo called “All In” from Moody Publishers. I received the book at no cost from the publishing company with permission to read and review it.

To be honest, I thought this was another book that was just going to tell me that if I want to get all of God’s blessings, then I need to totally surrender to him. However, the first chapter paints a picture of our walk with Jesus as a journey up a steep mountain (not unlike Lewis’s Great Divorce), and I very quickly realized how low I truly was on that mountain, and I began to read more fervently. James 1:22 tells us, “do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” And in many ways, this book encouraged me to do the exact same thing– it is a call to action! Our life as a Christian is not about making Christ one priority among many, but about making Him THE priority.

Mike writes of his testimony in depth when describing his teenage years and his choice between Jesus or the acceptance of others. At one of the darkest times in his life, he called upon Christ and fully surrendered to Him and hasn’t looked back since. If you are currently a teen, or have had difficult teenage years, you will identify with this part of the book. After we get to know Mike a little more and are prompted to truly decide if we want real surrender, Mike shows us that Satan is always looking for ways to distort our perception of God. We need to be able to catch Satan in his lies, and know the true and unfailing character of our Father. The more we meditate on God’s word, the more we grow to know Him, and the more we are changed from the inside out to reflect His character.

The book ends with asking if you are “all in” for Christ, and offers scripture and suggestions for completely surrendering to God. I highly recommend this book as a guide for for new Christians and a refresher for seasoned Saints. It’s a quick read with beautiful metaphors and meaningful illustrations which are easy to understand and relate to. This book is great for adults, but would serve as a source book for student ministries or a young adult small group.

From Crying in the Weeds to Planting Seeds

Something evil was lurking in my body yesterday morning… I was unsettled and unhappy, but the reason for such a sour state of being was not apparent. This feeling soon grew to need a reason for it’s existence, so I began to pick a fight with my husband. Having a very bright morning, he was not altogether pleased with my needless anger and frustration, so of course, we had a giant argument….. right before church. How many young couples have been in this exact same situation before?

When we first joined our church, we experienced this kind of spiritual attack every Sunday morning. It seemed as though the Devil was working very hard to make us too ashamed and angry at ourselves and each other to be committed to our place of worship. So, when this came up again, I knew deep down that Satan was trying to prevent something from happening… but I had no idea how hard he would be working to break me that morning…

Upon arriving at church, I sat and sulked in the car, not wanting to see my husband lead worship, then I got fed up with sulking (because let’s face it, sulking is no fun) and so I started praying. It was very hard to hear God. I finally made my way into the church, trying hard to blend in and not be noticed (although, being the only white red-faced girl with a runny nose and teary eyes, this proved difficult).

For the rest of the service, I kept getting hit over and over with reasons to want to run. Far away.

It wasn’t that people were being especially cruel or rude (except for one unfortunate occasion), but it was clear that Satan was working to discourage my efforts in contributing to my church. Being still green to church membership and still coping with the fact that not all Christians in the church are perfect followers of Christ (see my previous blog post), I felt heartbroken at being so discouraged by my own church. Somehow I felt that this wasn’t the way it should be…

I came home sobbing, telling Dennis I never want to go back and that if no one appreciates my work or my creativity, then I’ll just go, or then we’ll just go and start our own church!

I literally would not stop crying.

Dennis was very sweet considering I had been a jerk to him earlier that same morning. He told me that what I was feeling made perfect sense….. But God still has called us to this church….so in other words, cry it out, then buck up and get on with it.

I cried for another hour, then decided to be less pitiful and start making some lunch (by this time it was 3pm and our stomachs were growling rather ferociously).

Over lunch I felt the Holy Spirit stirring in my heart. “I told you to plant that garden for a reason Claire. You blogged about it, but have you gotten your hands dirty in that soil yet?”

“I need to plant some seeds today.” I told Dennis.

“I was just thinking the same thing…” He replied. Although he was speaking a lot less literally than I was.

I went outside and got the pots ready with dirt and took out the weeds around our yard. While I was getting dirty and sweaty, Dennis went to get some beer. I know. Not exactly what you were expecting. But we took the beer over to our neighbors across the street and asked if the kids could come over for Bible Study and dinner later in the evening, then hung out on the porch with them, watching the kids play with the water hose and eat icy pops.

Allyiah, Stewie, JR, and Brianna came over to help me make pizza dough. The whole while I spoke to them about treating one another with respect and how to ask for things politely. (JR and Brianna were not as fond of each other and the kids kept grabbing things around our house and from each others’ pockets). Nevertheless, we mixed the flour and milk and butter together and we rolled out the the dough into little roundish disks and I let the kids splatter tomato sauce over it, throw cheese onto every corner of the pan, and sprinkle seasoning onto the little homemade pizzas. We stuck them into the oven and set the timer, and then met Dennis in the living room for Bible Study.

He had chosen Matthew 13: the parable of the sower. We read together, talked about what the seed represented, and what each part of the ground was. Then we read John 3:16 and talked about Jesus. The kids asked a lot of questions, and after showing them a movie clip of “Godspell”, Dennis asked them if they wanted to pray “the prayer” with him.

Let me start off by saying that I am not an avid evangelist by any means. I myself am a new Christian and so I feel somewhat hypocritical asking someone to start believing and living for someone I took so long to find myself. I also have not been trained in any evangelical methods, and so the prayer called “the prayer” was also fairly new to me.

I watched as these four children sat in my living room repeating after me and my husband. Their eyes were closed, they were really talking to God, perhaps for the first time, and they were speaking words to invite Jesus into their lives.

At first I thought, “Well, they don’t really know what they are saying… these are just words”. But then the power of this prayer began to sink in. These kids were admitting that sin was in their lives, that sin controlled the world they lived in, and especially in Roseland, where they are witnesses to violence, drugs, and sex everyday. They were confessing that they believe in Jesus Christ, that He died for them and that they loved Him. They were even vocalizing a choice to follow God and to live for Christ.

I felt the frustration with my church melt away little by little and I felt a quite voice inside of me say “You have planted the seeds, and their fruit is better than any you could reap from your literal garden outside. But I have called you to be a harvester for these children.”

A week or so ago I wrote about God’s unquestionable assignment to plant a garden. Now, we did go out and plant some seeds after dinner with the kids, but what I think God was really alluding to was planting the seed of God’s Word in the hearts of these young children.

The Gospel of Matthew explains that children are as the Kingdom of Heaven, and that if we as adults, humble ourselves as children, then we will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. The more I study Matthew, the more I am convinced that the Kingdom of God is already here; John the Baptist spoke of it’s coming, and Jesus brought it with Him when he gave us the Holy Spirit and taught us how to pray and live. Many are still waiting, and many are not contributing to it, but regardless, it is here and I know that I want to be sold out for it. Like the man who gave up everything to purchase a pearl of great price, I want to leave all to bring the Kingdom to Roseland.

Little children are Kings and Queens in this Kingdom. The poor, downtrodden, and weak are Kings and Queens in this Kingdom. This Kingdom does not look like any other idea of a kingdom that you could dream of or see in books and movies. This Kingdom is for the least of these. The nothings, the lowlifes, the scum, the dirty, the struggling, the lame, the blind, the sinners desperate for change. Children, wide-eyed, innocent, trusting, and believing, are the perfect candidates for Royal Subjects in God’s Kingdom, and last night, with all six of us praying to Jesus, we brought it a little closer to our part of the city.

Proverbs 22:6 states “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is older he shall not depart from it”. Even if this world takes over this block, even if Satan tests these children, just as he tested me that same morning, and even if they stray into sin, God promises that they will not depart from it when they are older. I pray that Dennis and I can continue to train up these children with Christ as the center, so that they will become good soil for the Word of God.

I truly am amazed how God turns what Satan meant for evil into His goodness. I don’t think I would be truly as surrendered to Christ last night if I had not been broken down earlier that morning. I know that I can always trust that God will encourage me in the areas I lack stamina; He will provide refreshment in the areas where I am dry and rocky; He will churn and tend to my heart so that it is ripe and ready for harvest, and all will see the Glory of God through the fruit of not our gardens or our grocery baskets, but by the fruit of our lives.

And so, when God says “plant a garden”, perhaps He means literally, but perhaps He is speaking in another parable.

“I hate the world!”

How many of you are like Linus over there and totally hate someone? Okay, maybe not hate, but how many of you “severely dislike” someone in your life? It could be a co-worker, a classmate, your boss…a member of your family…

Chances are, there will be some people in your life that you won’t really like. It’s natural right? We’re all so different and sometimes those differences just get in the way….

Okay, another question: How many of you hate all people as a whole?

… Unless you’re a moody teenager or an endangered species, you probably answered “no” to this question. I mean, how can we make a generalization like that?

All people? Well, I’m a person, so no way!”

People often times love humanity and are despicable towards individual human beings. It’s easy to love everyone as a whole because it’s a generalized notion of who people are as a species or a community. It’s a whole lot harder to love our neighbors as individuals, especially if we know them really well.

But the Bible tells us that we must hate the world and love our neighbor. We are supposed to have  great contempt for humanity as a whole, but great love for the individuals who enter into our lives.

Some may object, saying “But God loved the world didn’t he? He sent it only son here!”.

Well, that’s true… which it why it’s difficult to understand why we are called to hate the world that God loves so dearly.

A look at two passages of the Apostle John reveals this intrinsic tension.  On the one hand, as the former argument references, John writes, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).  On the other hand, he tells us, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him” (1 John 2:15).

The issue is clear. We are in the world, a world that God loves, and a world in which we have a purpose.  And yet we are not of this world (we were created by something divine, not the the mundane earth), and we should guard against falling in love with this world.

The New Testament often uses the word “world” (“kosmon” in Greek) to refer to culture, or the results of human activity and creativity.  Obviously these different uses also have different connotations:

1.) The first is neutral or maybe even a positive one:  World is seen as the created order, including the actual physical earth (Matthew 24:21), the people living on it (Matthew 4:8; John 12:19), human life (1 Timothy 6:7), and the target of the disciples’ mission (Matthew 5:14).  Though sin entered into this world by the Fall, it and its inhabitants are seen as God’s beautiful creation.

2.) The second usage has a negative connotation.  World consists of human things controlled by Satan, in open rebellion against God.  The earth and its inhabitants are seen as involved in a cosmic struggle between spiritual forces due to sin (Ephesians 6:12).  In this battle, the sinful world didn’t recognize Jesus as God when He came to this earth (John 1:10), so it, as a whole, is an evil place due to its imperfections.

Are things clearing up a little?

Now there are a few typical responses that occur when Christians read passages like those that I just referenced.

First response: opposition and separation.  

The history of Christianity is filled with examples of this response.  Early Christians rejected Greco-Roman culture, declaring it idolatrous and corrupt.  The monastic movement of the Middle Ages pushed for complete withdrawal from the world.  Many Protestant sectarian movements–the Brethren, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Quakers, and also the Millerites –also embraced this approach.

Those who choose this route, I am confident, do so with a sincere belief that they are living out the Word of God.  Their sincerity should be respected.

However, the Bible does not mandate a complete withdrawal and isolation from the world. We are created to be social beings, and it is within a society or a culture that we live, work, worship, and witness.  At most those who break away from the world simply develop a different culture or subculture.  More importantly, this response implies that sin is caused by the world, whereas the Bible teaches that sin begins within the mind.

Second response: assimilation.  

This position assumes that culture is basically good.

Stressing peace and love, cooperation and communication, this approach allows the gospel to be interpreted, understood, and embraced in a multitude of ways.  In the process, the essence of the gospel becomes compromised and suddenly we get Christ as the “great moral teacher” rather than the Lord of life and sole Savior of the world.  Thus, Christianity becomes an all-embracing humanitarianism;  there is blurred distinction between the realms of God and Satan, propped by a moralistic humanism which poses a case for universal salvation…. and we all should know that is NOT what the Bible teaches.

But how do we understand culture, community, and our commitment of faith? Where do we draw the line between the demands of society and the kingdom of God?

In order to engage critically with our surrounding world, we must balance four biblical approaches to it:

1. Separation from anything openly contrary to God’s revealed will.

2. Affirmation of everything that is compatible with God’s revelation and original plan for humanity.

3. Transformation of individual human beings to become unified with God’s principles.

4. Contribution to the surrounding culture through elements that benefit humanity and enhance life.

And in order to see the world this way, we must seek our wisdom from the Holy Spirit and God’s Word so we may allow God to guide us in our choices rather than let our own selfishness lead our worldly conquests.

Doing God’s will where we are

In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus frees a man from an evil spirit. Afterwards, the man wanted to follow him,  but Jesus told his new follower to return home–to his own culture–and share the good news with his family and friends.

Here is the key to a Christian understanding of culture: Be a follower of Jesus where you are. No matter the situation, no matter the people you are surrounded with (who you might dislike). We are called to love those individuals, even if we hate the torn-apart world that surrounds us and effects us.

As Reinhold Niebuhran American theologian and commentator on public affairs, noted: As Christians we “… are forever being challenged to abandon all things for the sake of God; and forever being sent back into the world to teach and practice all the things that have been commanded (us).”

 

How do you, as a follower of Christ, live in this world and survive in today’s sinful culture? Or am I way off? Is our culture not evil at all?  

“Get behind me Satan!”

… and I’m not just talking about the White Stripes album.

Today I was reading Matthew (if you haven’t already noticed, I’ve been reading through this book for a while now), and I was startled by the words “Get behind me Satan!” coming from Jesus’ mouth. The surprising part wasn’t so much that he said them, but rather who he said them to:

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering, be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it Lord! this must never happen to you!’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’. “ Matthew 16:21-23

Yep, he says those startling words to Peter.

The weird part about all of this is in this same chapter, Peter (at the time he was ‘called’ Simon) totally impresses Jesus with his faith and understanding in his divinity that Jesus renames him to “Peter”.

At this point, Jesus has been getting all kinds of annoyed at his disciples because they just aren’t getting it!

They freak out when they don’t have enough bread even though Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into food for over five thousand men (not including the women and children). Then, when Jesus is trying to warn them not to listen to the Pharisees, they misunderstand him entirely and get paranoid that Jesus is mad at them because they didn’t pack any food (which is silly because Jesus actually tells them not to bring anything with them when traveling).

But Peter is the one who passes the test.

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they say, “Some say John the Baptist, but other Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus says toe them, “But who do you say that I am?” And it’s Simon/Peter who answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Paraphrased from Matthew 16:13-16)

Jesus is elated– someone finally gets it! Quite honestly, I don’t think most of his disciples really understood this fact about Jesus’ divinity up until after his death. They knew he was special, but why would Jesus respond so enthusiastically to Peter if all his followers were also aware that he was divine?

“Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'” Matthew 16:17-19

This description has a lot of heavy language in it. I mean look at it! Peter, first of all, gets his new name, then he’s got Jesus telling him that God himself revealed important information to him, that he’s the rock that the church will be built on, that the Devil will not prevail against said church, and that he’s going to be giving Peter the kingdom of heaven!

Talk about some heavy stuff!

So how does Jesus go from praising the heck out of Peter to then calling him “Satan” and a “stumbling block” that stands in his way?

The truth of the matter is that we all are just like Peter.

Sometimes we totally impress and excite our God…. and other times we annoy him to no end. He still has patience with us, just like Jesus does with Peter even after this last encounter (and then later when he denies him three more times), but we do have the tendency to, as Jesus puts it, “set our minds not on divine things, but on human things.”

This human vs. divine thing is kind of clutch.

Jesus tells Peter that whatever he gains and looses here on earth, he also will gain and loose in heaven. But then he also tells Peter that his mind is not focused on heaven; which is a big problem!

Paradoxically, Jesus is the perfect blending of both of these things; he is fully divine, but also fully human.

So what does all this mean?

Well, it may not be so easy to say. However, I believe this verse’s purpose is to put the fear of God back into our hearts and to get us focusing on heaven rather than earth.

Sometimes people like to paint this pretty picture of Jesus as this meek, mild, accepting person, but just from the initial passage– (the “Get behind me Satan!” passage)– you can clearly see that his man is nowhere near meek!

Jesus has a mission, and it’s a tough one, the toughest one that any man has ever faced: to take on the wrath of God and die for the world’s sins.

Jesus knows he must do this, and yeah, it looks crazy (as many times Jesus’ missions do), but he’s got to do it, and any person who says otherwise is clearly not supporting the mission of God. If you’re not for him, your against him.

We are evil. And God hates evil. And it sucks, because we have Satan working to turn us into stumbling blocks to God’s mission 24/7 and the rest of the world is not helping us out in the least.

Jesus told Peter that he came about his wisdom not by the world, but by God– divine intervention, if you will. And the same is true for us; any understanding we may have of Christ, any truly selfless act or piece of truth we receive or give comes from God.

Like Peter, we are capable of incredible good, but we also are capable and highly susceptible to disdainful evil. Even our closest, dearest friends.

If God is calling us to his mission, then anyone or anything that tempts us to stray from that divine path is a stumbling block to Jesus.

What would it be like if we reacted the way Jesus does in these situations? ….

“hey man, I know you trying to quit smoking and like, take care of your body or whatever, but you want to step out and share a smoke with me?”

“GET BEHIND ME SATAN!!!”

“…Woah, chill out dude…”

Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme. But maybe we’re called to see things this way. Maybe we’re called to see ourselves this way.

Have you ever felt Satan at work in your life?

What are stumbling blocks in Jesus’ mission for you, and how can you recognize them when they may simply look like Peter, a concerned and protective friend?

What do you think is the balance between focusing on divine things and earthly things?