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

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Saturday Six-Pack (40)

Welcome to the final Saturday Six-Pack for May 2013!

Grab your mug and settle in. Here are are six of the best articles I’ve read recently.  Most are faith-focused or ministry-minded; others are just a bit of who-knows-what!

If you need help starting, begin with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Six Recent Lessons from Turnaround Churches
Thom Rainer has discovered that 9 of 10 North American churches are shrinking or growing at a rate behind their communities. Here are six lessons he recently learned from such churches who are turning it around.

2) The Divine Dance (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Scot McKnight shares these Tim-Keller-filled reflections on the Trinity. What does it mean? A whole lot!

3) Learning the Gospel from My Children
A pastor named Jason Micheli recently preached this sermon, and I am a sucker for anything that revolves around Luke 15.

4) Daily Rituals of the Most Creative People (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
I am fascinated by how creativity works. This little essay, based on a full-length book, scratched that itch for a few moments.  For the record, I am unlikely to adopt many of W.H. Auden’s “labor-saving devices”.

5) Hotel Pornography and the Market of Morality
I found this piece, from The Public Discourse, ten months after its publishing. Well-written piece that uses a movement looking to ban hotel pay-per-view pornography as a case study on the strange dance between morality, economics, politics, and more.

6) 8 Habits of Highly Productive People
While the title looks like a knock-off of a best-selling classic, and the article contains a handful of typos, a few ideas here might help those longing to be more productive.

May your weekend be full of awareness and enjoyment of the God who already fills it with Himself and every good thing.  Blessings on you, my friends.

YOUR TURN: Direct other readers to the best stuff with a comment below, or weigh in on what you read.  Your input makes this post better!

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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

 

Losing Faith (Part V): Invaded by an Uninvited One

This post is the fifth in a series on Losing Faith. All previous posts can be seen HERE, if context might prove helpful.

Somewhere near the end of our time overseas, we were home to visit. I must have been expressing some aspect of my changing perceptions on the Christian life. My slightly-older, significantly-wiser friend responded with a question.

O_Come_Holy_Spirit_by_LordShadowblade1“You’re not a cessationist, are you?”

The term felt awkwardly unfamiliar upon my ears, and my face must have said so. He clarified.

“You don’t believe the gifts of the Spirit ended with the New Testament, do you?”

For the first time, my mouth stated with my spirit had long sensed.

“No, I guess I don’t.”

This confession surely sent a unseen tremor through my tightly-wrapped-in-rationalism faith—a suspect form of faith, if there ever was one.

A Spiritual Sprinkling

Far more recently, it has dawned on me that my past version of a “Christian worldview” was actually a thoroughly naturalistic view, with a side order of God. According to Wikipedia, “naturalism commonly refers to the viewpoint that laws of nature (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe.”

abstract-word-cloud-for-naturalism-with-related-tags-and-termsMy particular version of naturalism was more personal in nature than Wikipedia’s. I have always been suspect of evolution as an adequate theory of how life originated, and I have long voiced that life’s richest realms are (relationships, art, love, dreams, morality, emotions, and more) fall somewhere beyond the horizons reached by verifiable facts.

My naturalism was a mutant.

I was convinced enough that God was real that He HAD to be part of my diagram, but I had no idea how to position the I AM within my tidy sketch.  So I simply placed Him on the fringe, where He wouldn’t mix up the other pieces.

And He had grown tired of that treatment.

Breaking Me by Breaking Free

In short, I have been forced, by a growing list of experiences and encounters, to acknowledge that my largely logical and rooted-in-reason approach to life is an insufficient processor for the reality in which I live. Its substance is too superficial, and it lacks the weight to grapple with life as I now know it. My former framework held fast so long as God respected my boundaries and operated within the office I had set up for Him. When He began to interact intimately with me and to surprise me through the lives of better-tuned instruments than myself, profound paradox unfolded. Logic imploded upon itself, as I was forced to admit my irrational inconsistencies, surely ever-present but now painfully exposed.

God of the Emoticon

In light of recent revelation, it would be intellectually irresponsible to insist upon the validity of my long-held worldview.

God has revealed Himself as undeniably present. In a shocking twist, the Supernatural invaded my naturalistic worldview, the world view that handed Him a long list of all He could not do.

In response, He has broken the door’s hinges with a one-line declaration: “Your naturalistic view is not nearly naturalistic enough, for it fails to handle life as you now know it. You will recalibrate, or your head will blow up and your spirit will bellow against you. But it’s your choice, right? Because you’re so in charge of what’s real and what’s not. ;-)”

(Yes, God used a winky emoticon.)
Imagine the unsettling nerve!

God showed up in ways that I could not explain and began threatening a cozy worldview, which had safe—and harmless—spots reserved for Him.

I have not simply lost my long-held faith; it was ripped from my hands!

 

Sunday Six-Pack (34)

Saturday escaped me, but the Six-Pack is rolling out before this weekend passes me by, all the same!

The best ministry-minded or faith-focused articles I could find this week? Here they are, with some grace space for a bit of who-knows-what.

If six options stuns you, start with my two *Picks of the Week*, and pick up steam from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Providential Accidents
Edward Fudge was writing about the doctrine of hell long before it became trendy. Here is an interview, with Scot McKnight, on his path and findings.

2) 42 Successful People Share the Best Advice They Ever Received
The Business Insider offers this pile of wisdom, much of which your mother may have shared with you back before you were paying attention.

3) Three Ways to Go Further, Faster (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Michael Hyatt offers the single most important move he’s made toward gaining on, and accomplishing, some of his life goals.

4) Why are Some Words More Persuasive than Others?
Lifehacker offers this piece on the psychology of language. Fascinating read for any communicator who cares about getting their point across as effectively or powerfully as possible.

5) The Most Overlooked Key to a Growing Church (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
In this short piece, Rick Warren reminds of a simple, easy-to-forget characteristic that should never be forgotten.

6) John Wesley’s Secret to Making Disciples
Gary Thompson‘s post shares the list of questions that used to guide Wesley’s “accountability groups” before the term even existed. Could this still work today to mature followers of Jesus?

Blessings on you, my friends.  May the week ahead be filled with God in ways that you can sense. Tune yourself in, and walk on!

YOUR TURN: Add a line below to direct other readers to the best stuff above or to highlight the piece that gave you something worth keeping.

Your input makes this post better!

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Jesus Calls You to Be Selfish

I confess, that title may be slightly misleading.

But only slightly.

All or Nothing

There is a common belief that anything less than absolute altruism somehow clashes with pure religion. While I understand the sentiment, how is anyone less than Mother Teresa expected to take even a step forward if this is true?

Desiring God (Piper)I believe the answer lies in “Christian hedonism“, a provocative phrase coined by John Piper in his 1986 book “Desiring God”.

If one can get past the shock of binding the terms “Christian” and “hedonism”, a wonderfully disorienting teaching awaits.

In one sentence, Piper lays it out like this: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  Jeremy Taylor, a 17th-century Anglican cleric once said that “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” The concept has also been linked to Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, and Jonathan Edwards, among others.

Tuck away the historical figures that you may or may not care about. This post’s title suggested that Jesus himself promotes such a teaching. Is that true?

14-biltmoreMusical Chairs

Luke 14 depicts Jesus giving seating advice after observing wedding guests eagerly jockeying for the seats of honour. A surface reading would suggest that Jesus was teaching them how to be more effective in their selfish pursuits, as if to say, “If you really want to sit at the head table, let me show you a trick that you may have missed with your small-scoped view.”

This is where the “purity police” show up. If the driving motive behind an act is a desire to receive reward or get ahead, doesn’t that undercut the act’s honour from the get-go?

I think Jesus would say, “No.”

And here’s why.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)

stock-footage-old-stopwatch-clock-gears-mechanism-with-tick-tick-soundOur Maker knows how we tick.

He is not shocked to learn that we are hardly altruistic. In fact, I will be hard-pressed to have one such moment this week, maybe even today.  Most would agree that a will to survive or succeed appears to be our first nature.

Even more certain is this fact: God wants to lead me. He wants to direct my life and form me into a man more centered upon Him than upon myself. How to do this?

Harnessing our Selfishness

I believe God taps our self-centeredness as a tool toward redemption. It would not be the first time that God has used something lesser for something greater.

If this rubs you wrong, the key truth to remember here is that this hardly makes obedience any easier.  It is not as if God lowers the bar by allowing us to “function selfishly”.

In treating my self-seeking nature as His classroom, God requires a leap of faith so great that most will never draw near to its edge.

Invisible > Visible

I can only pursue unseen treasure if I am willing to release what appears to be already in my grasp. The promise of rewards for goodness–either in an afterlife or in due time–has no power to motivate those who prefer “living for today”. This is delayed gratification to its max. Putting money away for retirement, saving sex until marriage, reading books rather than watching movies–these, and a thousand other examples, highlight the intense struggle humanity has with delayed gratification. To imagine faith as an ignoble pursuit because it contains offers of unseen and untouched reward–this is out of touch with the challenge of the spiritual life.  Such a critic has never tried to live by faith.

Following Christ’s call requires unbelievable guts. Most cannot muster them. It demands a constant loosening of one’s grip and a willingness to settle on rewards that often uncertain and counter-intuitive.

That is the life of faith: Crushingly costly and richly rewarding all at once.

A Bloody Mess

Genesis 15 depicts a bloody mess.

And it is a mess with multiple levels:

Abram, told that he is destined to be the father of nations, is beginning to stress that his servant looks like his only heir.  God repeats the promised of countless-as-stars descendants, but it is hard to embrace such words when an infant has never been held.

Abrahamic-Covenant-890x713God responded to Abram’s confirmation-seeking by instructing him to bring some animals. Together, they would enter a covenant ceremony. Abram set the stage by halving the animals (heifer, goat, ram, and birds). The slaughter pushed Abram into scarecrow duty, shooing off the vultures until dusk.

So there is the bloody mess: A man old enough to be a grandfather is beating buzzards off of chopped corpses, awaiting a sign from a God who appears unwilling or unable to deliver on His promises. Abram should have known better than to believe such foolishness. Who would possibly observe him arm-flapping and bird-shooing, and identify him as the father of great nation, innumerably populated as it pumped blessing into the whole world?

And now night was coming. Just great.

Genesis 15:12Scripture describes that a “dreadful and great darkness fell upon him” (Gen 15:12), and then from within the blackness, God delivered yet another shot. These promised descendants–the ones of whom not one yet existed–would travel a 400-year-stretch of slavery before even resembling a nation.

Did Abram envy those who knew not the darkness that came with God’s glorious promises? How much simpler it must have seemed to just live “one’s own life”, untouched by preposterous promises that raised ridiculous hopes!  A “dreadful and great darkness” indeed.

And that is when it happened.

“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram…” (Gen 15:17-18)

Yahweh went on to declare the specific land that He would provide for Abraham’s descendents. He was not backing down on His promise; in fact, He was firming up the details.

And then, most dramatically, He was binding Himself to Abram. In the vivid imagery of that day’s covenant-cutting, God tweaks just one detail. Just as “blood brothers” might cut themselves and shake hand to display their sealed partnership, the halved animals created a corridor through which two partners would walk. Their shared strides through the butchered beasts spoke a solemn tone of commitment: “I will come through on my part of this agreement, lest such violence befall me.”

God’s revision to the common ceremony?

He walked alone.

firebowlIn the form of a smoking pot and flaming torch, Yahweh covenanted Himself to Abram.

This future of promised descendants with a promised destination–it hung on God alone.  God was deadly serious about delivering on His word. His faithfulness was woven into His very existence–He would fulfill His vow. And it would not hinge on Abram’s faded verility or Sarai’s infertility.

God’s promised reality would hang, every ounce of it, upon His provision and power.

Abram’s role was to trust and obey.

And every believer, one of the stars in Abram’s sky, is today called to a similar dance of faith. We are called into lives of fruitfulness, influence, and blessing vastly beyond our means.

Sometimes, that will feel like a bloody mess.

All times, our role will be like Abram’s–to trust the Flaming One and to walk obediently as He reveals Himself to us.

YOUR TURN: What has God taught you about trusting Him? Are you struggling to trust today? Ever had an experience in which you just “knew” that He would come through? Your input makes this post better!

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