Worth Another Look: A.W. Tozer on the Holy Spirit

Here are a few beautiful portions from one of Tozer’s best-known works:

“A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives. By this test the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as held by evangelical Christians today has almost no practical value at all. In most Christian churches the Spirit is quite entirely overlooked. Whether He is present or absent makes no real difference to anyone. Brief reference is made to Him in the Doxology and the Benediction. Further than that He might well as not exist. So completely do we ignore Him that it is only by courtesy that we can be called Trinitarian….

“…The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life and light and love. In His uncreated nature He is a boundless sea of fire, flowing, moving ever, performing as He moves the eternal purposes of God. Toward nature He performs one sort of work, toward the world another and toward the Church still another. And every act of His accords with the will of the Triune God. Never does He act on impulse nor move after a quick or arbitrary decision. Since He is the Spirit of the Father He feels toward His people exactly as the Father feels, so there need be on our part no sense of strangeness in His presence. He will always act like Jesus, toward sinners in compassion, toward saints in warm affection, toward human suffering in tenderest pity and love.

“It is time for us to repent, for our transgressions against the blessed Third Person have been many and much aggravated. We have bitterly mistreated Him in the house of His friends. We have crucified Him in His own temple as they crucified the Eternal Son on the hill above Jerusalem. And the nails we used were not of iron, but of the finer and more precious stuff of which human life is made. Out of our hearts we took the refined metals of will and feeling and thought, and from them we fashioned the nails of suspicion and rebellion and neglect. By unworthy thoughts about Him and unfriendly attitudes toward Him days without end.”

Quotes are taken from The Divine Conquest (or, God’s Pursuit of Man), pp. 64-75

Word and Spirit

A pastor born in 1935, now with two doctoral degrees, views his life work in this way. You are in here somewhere.

Our premiss is this. It seems to us that there has been a ‘silent divorce’ in the church, speaking generally, between the Word and the Spirit. When there is a divorce, some children stay with the mother, some stay with the father.

In this divorce, there are those on the ‘word’ side and those on the ‘Spirit’ side. What is the difference?

Take those of us who represent the Word. Our message is this: we must earnestly contend for the faith ‘once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3), we need get back to expository preaching, sound doctrine such as justification by faith, the sovereignty of God and the internal testimony of the Spirit as taught by men like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. What is wrong with this emphasis? Nothing. It is exactly right.

Take those whose emphasis has been on the Holy Spirit. What is the message? We need to rediscover the power that was manifested in the Book of Acts, there needs to be a demonstration of signs, wonders and miracles; we need to see the gifts of the Spirit operating in the church – that the world will once again take notice of the church so that people are left without excuse. What is wrong with this emphasis? Nothing. It is exactly right.

We believe that the need of the hour is not one or the other – but both! It is our view that this simultaneous combination will result in spontaneous combustion! And then, but almost certainly only then, will the world be shaken once again by the message of the church.

This was the message I have preached over the years at Westminster Chapel in London. This is what we are endeavoring to preach in America and around the world. This is not all we preach but it is certainly one of the main things we preach alongside the need for total forgiveness and learning to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

YOUR TURN: Where does your spiritual journey fit into this descriptions? What seems accurate about this assessment of Christianity and its message? What seems in accurate?

Leave a reply–your input betters this post!

Losing Faith (Part VI): Less than Certain

NOTE: This post of an ongoing series titled, “Losing Faith”. Previous posts can be seen HERE.

certainty

I love certainty.

Great comfort arrives when pieces fit snugly together. If I have must have letters, let the I’s be dotted and the T’s be crossed. If I must have ducks, let them be in well-straightened rows.

That said, it’s easy for me to enjoy the opening chapters of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 contain the poetic telling of the world’s origins. In three words: Creator calms chaos. A state of lightless emptiness receives form and fill. Perfect pieces are shaped and snapped into one another. God called it good, and my order-loving self rejoiced.

However, Yahweh’s demolition skills are also exceptional when He notes the need. Genesis 6 begins the story around Noah, in which God unravels the intricate stitching of the Creation account. Re-creation is preceded by un-creation. I can sketch this logical need with clarity, but I failed to consider what such swirling floods would feel like when my own feet were swept away by the current.

Faith and Certainty

You see, the trouble is that faith and certainty are mutually exclusive. The quest for one endangers the other. More than that, the demand for one executes the other. The term “faith” is found 400+ times in the Bible (depending on translation used). In turn, one could reasonably conclude that certainty is therefore not a central experience to those who desire interaction with God. He has never dealt in that currency.

When Jesus called his first disciples, we read that they left behind nets and fathers and tables and what-not. They had no idea where Jesus was taking them or what would unfold along the way, but they held no illusions that they could both stay and go. There is no option of receiving without releasing.

Over the last few years, God has asked me to release my mind.

That sentence is begging for misunderstanding.

What I Do Not Mean

I am not speaking of believing blindly, of tossing aside one’s discernment, or becoming foolish or reckless or stupid. Our brains are glorious gifts, capable of shocking possibilities. I am certain that God wants them used to their fullest potential, and I am set on faithfully stewarding the one in my skull.

God’s nudge that I “let go” wasn’t a prompt to stop thinking. It was a loving lesson delivered vividly multiple times in the past four years. Even the slowest student starts to soak up a message after that type of immersion. What did I soak up?

My mind holds me back.

Trust me when I say that arriving at those five words required a climb-Mount-Everest type of trek for this fellow. Far easier to type it than to travel it.

Speaking of Typing

typingSurprisingly, the act of typing provided one of the breakthroughs. There is a sweetness to hitting one’s typing-stride. Keys are clicking, phrases are forming, and Creation ex nihilo is unfolding. My dust hands, tapping on Steve Job’s handiwork, are forming a never-seen-before reality. Wow!

But I have noticed something. I make more typing errors when I am thinking about the task. When eyes survey the keyboard, mistakes increase. Typing, at its fastest, happens more quickly than my brain can track. Demanding a mental log of the actions taking place is akin to tying an elephant to a Ferrari’s back bumper. Within this task, better to check the brain at the door and let muscle memory dating back to high school typing classes (Yes, I am old enough to have had typing classes!) carry the load. For here, my mind holds me back.

Typing is not the only such realm.

A Knowing Beyond Knowing

Within the spiritual dimensions, the mind—with all its power—can actually serve as anchor rather than compass. The demand for certainty is an inside insistence of one’s own sovereignty. Nothing in this post is a criticism of philosophy or science or religion or any other intellectual discipline. This is simply a statement of surrender from one man whose spiritual experiences have long ago left his head spinning. There is revelation beyond reason, and there is life above logic. And if one wishes to engage on those levels, his grip for control will have to break. One cannot stay and go simultaneously.

Mystery is the gap where Divinity lives. Strive ruthlessly to eliminate that space, and you will bulldoze the residence of the Divine in your life.

Or He might hijack the bulldozer and head your way!

1273bulldozer

 

The Road to Blessing

amen1In the middle of Luke 11, there is an “amen” story.

Preacher Jesus was rocking.

A prayer lesson had just ended, and he had moved on to how demons are defeated. Caught up in provocative power of Jesus’ teachings, a lady listener shouted out.  It wasn’t as “classic” a response as “amen” or even “preach it”. But the sentiment was the same… mostly.

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Mentions of female anatomy don’t usually accompany the praises of preaching, yet here we have a woman (likely a mother herself) essentially exclaiming, “Your mom is so lucky.”

Said another way: “How fortunate was your mother to birth someone of your substance and quality.”

Or another way: “Hearing your message and seeing your works, it is clear that your mom was pulled into a magnificent life when she conceived and birthed you.”

Yet Jesus sidesteps the remark, countering that the real blessing awaits all who respond obediently to God’s leading and teaching.  In other words, the blessing of God is available to all. It is not pre-portioned and dished out to selected favourites; it is not limited to those in preferential position. Nor is God’s blessing random, as if He were firing blindly into a crowd. Certainly, servants like Mary were approached with unique calls upon them, but the larger point is this: Blessing awaits all who obey.

So to you: Tune your ears today.

Lean in and listen.

The Lord’s word will arrive in some yet unknown tone. It may carry courage or conviction, but it will demand obedience.

And blessing will await all who respond.

Return to Me

Today’s reading in my Lenten devotional contained this oh-so-basic but oh-so-vital truth. It is precisely relevant to the season of Lent but generally applicable to the whole pursuit of God:

The very first Scripture reading of the Lenten season is from the prophet Joel. In it, God declares “return to me with your whole heart” (2:12). The purpose of Lent is not purification and penance for their own sakes, but in order to return to God, and re-establish the relationship with Him that we once had (or to establish the relationship we are called to have).

How forgetful I can be.  No act considered spiritual is to be undertaken for any motivation beneath “returning to God with one’s whole heart”, yet how easy it is to be driven by the lesser desire to “measure up” or appear impressive, to others or ourselves.

This is one of the killers of spiritual life, sold to us by religion and rebellion alike. Lent leads such ego to the gallows. And when the noose tightens, our souls will be on the verge of entering life, perhaps for the first time.

For those with music as a primary language (perhaps all of us!), Gungor’s song “We Will Run” has always struck my ears and heart as particularly powerful in this simple call. An abbreviated version is below for any who need a “Gungor orientation” this morning.

How Great is Our God

How Great is Our GodA year ago, I posted about my intentions for a year’s worth of devotionals from this book. I entered 2012, fully aware that I had never succeeded in utilizing any daily devotional material for the entirety of a calendar year. Yet here I sit one year later, and that statement is no longer accurate.

A few things about this book were satisfying:

1) The readings were kept fresh by the sheer variety of contributors, spanning from church fathers just outside the pages of Acts through every century of Christian history right into significant representation of the last 200 years.

2) It was a pleasure to be introduced to a number of substantial devotional sources which were entirely new to me, and it was powerful to see these saints-through-the-centuries plotted right alongside people that I would consider contemporaries in striving to be Christ’s ambassadors in the world today.

3) Every day was not “mountaintop” inspiring. A handful of selections were documents directed at conflicts or heresies which felt distant from my life today. Others were so heavily rooted in specific historical circumstance that application was difficult to make. But these incidents were certainly the exception, whereas the rule was solid spiritual nourishment far more often than not.

4) The daily entries offering great variety in style, making this piece a great bit more interesting than the often formulaic devotional materials that fill many shelves.  While day-to-day reading could provide significant change-ups in tone and flavour, I found myself basking in the diversity, rather than begrudging it.

I would recommend this book to anyone seeking greater awareness of the wells of faith from which one might draw spiritual nourishment. I intend to let it age on my shelf before pulling it off for another go, a few years down the road.  Oscar Wilde has been quoted as saying, “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

While it seems unlikely that Wilde would have ever picked up this particular book, I can confidently say that by his literature-measuring standard, “How Great is Our God” measures up well.

YOUR TURN: What devotional sources have you used that you’d direct people toward OR away from? What are your plans for 2013?  Your input makes this post better!

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Hell: A Reality Worse than the Imagery

love-wins-setThe topic of hell has received an unusual amount of attention in Western theological discussion over the past decade.  Of course, the most popular strand of this discussion centered around Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”, with denser strands weaving through the academic realms of publication and discussion.

Much of the conversation is built around distaste for the concept of never-ending punishment, particularly as it is wrapped in imagery of fire and burning.  This leads to several valid questions:

  • What depiction of hell is truly biblical, and what has been developed through the art and literature of the ages?
  • How literally or metaphorically are we to take what Scripture does tell of the final judgment?
  • What do biblical words like “Gehenna” really mean?

These are just a sampling of the sub-topics that factor into the larger discussion of “What do you make of the concept of hell?”  Certainly, this discussion matters; to some, it appears to matter immensely.

I am not among that number.

Part of that is due to the following quote from Timothy Keller:keller3

“To say that Scripture’s image of hellfire isn’t wholly literal is no comfort whatsoever—the reality will be far worse than the image.”

We can hardly be blamed for our flesh-fettered views. Nerves and neurons, skin and sensation, these are the means by which we experience our world. And in that light, it is easy to see why heaven’s depiction is golden and lavish, while hell’s is dark and despairing.

But what if our senses misguide us?

sensesWhat if the imagery–as vivid as imagery and language can formulate–fails to capture the intensity?

What if the most intense scenes of suffering that a human imagination can generate are pitifully poor metaphors for communicating the reality of a creature cut off from its Creator?

It seems easy to convince people that heaven will actually surpass an experience revolving around golden streets and massive mansions.  We recognize that the extravagant physical depictions fail to express even a sliver of the spiritual reality. We acknowledge that the core of that experience will center upon the overwhelming and unmissable presence of God and upon the river of life-to-the-full that will flood-flow from Him to His companions.

Humanity’s heaven imagery is pale and poor to communicate the intensity of the reality.

Yet seldom is an equivalent argument applied to hell.  And if the case is made, then it’s made only halfway.  It is one step to recognize the limitations of imagery and vocabulary.  One can say that without saying much.

But it is a big-as-a-beast statement to suggest that the imagery of hell, the metaphors that make us squirm, even buck against the entire concept, are actually too weak to communicate the magnitude of the reality.

If heaven is actually better than jewel-encrusted architecture, then the counter-statement stands too.

Hell is worse than burning.

C.s.lewis3C.S. Lewis used to speak of “the unsmiling concentration upon Self, which is the mark of hell.”  Unchecked and freely reigning within a life, self-centeredness consumes in ways sparks never will.  It scars the soul and warps one’s world.  And it appears that anyone who desires this path can have it. So powerfully are we created that our choices in the present life ripple through eternity.

But we’d be wise to make our choices, aware that the imagery is not nearly so fierce as the reality.

Hell is worse than burning.

YOUR TURN: How do you handle the Bible’s imagery of the afterlife, in light of the thought that the imagery is actually light-weight when compared to the reality?

Become part of the conversation. Your voice makes this post better.

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