Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A.W. Tozer

I ended my last blog entry wondering what in the world could be said to those among us who go by the name of Christian, yet apparently feel free to pick and choose which aspects of Christianity apply to them, which qualities of God's character they choose to acknowledge and which of His law they choose to obey. Well, what should actually be said remains a dicey topic, requiring a social finesse beyond my abilities. But I believe I have come to a more enlightened perspective of the root of the issue, thanks to A. W. Tozer and the very book #1-son recommended two posts ago, The Knowledge of the Holy.

Tozer's words are distressing because their truth is undeniable. I don't want to admit that his words apply to me, but they do. When we gloss over our own wretchedness, when we refuse to take the time to wallow in our desperate state without Christ, we become cavalier in our attitude toward God. But our culture cannot even grasp its desperate state because we have lost the basis for comparison; we no longer have any sense of God's greatness and the awe He should inspire. So, too often in our culture being Christian means giving intellectual assent to one's plight (the need for a Savior), accepting the cure (faith in Christ), and then running on ahead with bold familiarity and entitlement.

These are some excerpts from the Preface of Tozer's book.

The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.

The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.

With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, "Be still, and know that I am God," mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century.

This loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains… …it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field.

The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is.

Tozer says so much that is worthy of our attention just in this excerpt, which I'm sure he'll explore in more detail in the upcoming chapters. But the part that grabbed my attention right off was, "We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit." In part this caught my eye because of our erring friend, whom I have mentioned in the past couple posts. I believe that if her walk with the Lord consisted of private worship of this nature, surely she would have been prevented from taking such a deviant path.

But in addition, that passage caught my eye because I have mourned over how few Christian friends I've known who seek to experience the life in the Spirit. I'm nobody; I do not consider myself even remotely to be one whose spiritual life should be emulated. If you met me you'd agree with my assessment! "Right," you'd say to yourself, "she's not impressive." But I do long to know God, to be still in His Presence and to hear His voice. I do love to meet God alone in adoring silence. I don't adore Him as much as He deserves; He is so much better than I can give Him credit for. And as much as the next busy mom, I'm inclined to get caught up in the maelstrom of family life and not spend as much time alone with Him as I should. But I know that that is where my life is, with Him. I know that in the quiet of His presence and in His Word my answers will be found – not in the consolations or advice of friends.

So over the years, in my quest for Christian fellowship among women, I've made the mistake of assuming that the other Christian women I'm rubbing shoulders with have the same perspective. And many do, certainly. But, oh, how it breaks my heart, so many don't. I have to say it: most do not.

From what I have observed, there are many church-goers today, even those attending evangelical Bible-based churches, who agree with the gospel, but their excitement over church has to do more with the pleasant social interaction they find there, or with the satisfaction that they are bringing their children up under Christian principles, or with being thought by others as having certain elements of personal righteousness, but not really because they want to take the time to seek His face themselves. Church can be an all-consuming enterprise for anyone – often in the name of that quintessential Christian virtue: fellowship. But being all-consumed with the frenzy of church activity and friendships has very little to do with knowing God.

Do I sound like a jerk? I'm so sorry. Part of me feels like a jerk for writing these things. But it is my blog, and though I wouldn't dare utter these things anywhere else, on my own blog I have to call it like I see it.

I have been blessed to be a singularly unsocial person. I have ached to be social, to be in on all the fun, to be sought after, to be popular. I have grieved more than I care to admit that easy intimacy with women has always eluded me. God has blessed me with great sisters who have been my closest friends and confidantes, but not a passel of girlfriends. As a result, when heartaches and troubles have assailed me over the years, God has perforce been my mainstay. And now, from the vantage point of years, I see that what was always a source of shame for me has actually been a great blessing.

Because if I had had a gaggle of giggling geese with whom to ensconce myself all these years, even Christian geese, believe me, I would have. How often would I have loved to pour out all my troubles to multiple sets of compassionate ears, to receive their unmitigated assurance that my perspective was the only right and reasonable one, to have my indignation supported unquestioningly, my grievances given full air! Instead, I have been left with God, who always knows the end from the beginning, who insists on exposing my own guilt and false motives in a situation, who calls for repentance and death to self, who insists that I forgive as He forgives me, that I trust Him, that I remember His faithfulness and lovingkindness, who doesn't approve of giving way to fear, and whose comfort and correction so often come in the same stroke. I have been blessed, indeed.

Tozer has so much more to say. This was only an excerpt from the preface! I've cheated and read ahead, so I know that the upcoming chapters provide a veritable feast of ideas to digest, all still painfully relevant though they were penned more than half a century ago. I plan to hitch my wagon to Tozer's star and draw closer to the Savior through his words. Maybe you'll join me.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fear God

I just got done watching the 1983 movie, "Mr. Mom," with my kids. Remember it? Michael Keaton plays a dad who loses his job and ends up staying home full time to care for his young family while his wife goes to work. So part of the hilarity is supposed to be how messy and chaotic his house becomes as he tries to manage in his new role. Well, I don't have the excuse that the role is so new for me, but my house is reminding me a lot of his at its worst. I'm not seeing the humor.

Nevertheless, I'm bugged and I need to write this down – the house can wait.

In my last post, FEAR, I did something I should not have done, which is that I made reference to an acquaintance who is deeply involved in sin. Actually, if my husband, who has never read my blog, were to read that he might be upset. I can imagine him somehow defending her, and even though everything about the reference is completely anonymous, he might be angry that I impugned her character, even anonymously.

In reality, however, that reference disguised how upset I have been about the situation. So although maybe I never should have brought it up on my blog in the first place, I'm ready to dredge it up again and examine it more closely.

She shamelessly engages in flagrant sin. I'm grieved about that. But the part that has me bugged, all the more since that last blog posted, is that she apparently still sees herself as having a "close walk with God." Today we spent some time with this gal's roommate, and this roommate kept referring to the peace this gal has from God, and how God got her through various difficult times over the past years, and how close God is to her. It seems they have regular conversations along these lines – that is, their intimacy with the Divine. I was so disgusted I had trouble even making eye contact with this roommate today. I felt filthy myself at even participating in a discussion like that. What has become of our idea of who exactly God is and what exactly our relationship is to Him?

When my oldest son saw the title of my last blog, FEAR, he assumed it was about fearing God. Somehow right now I wish it had been about fearing God. But he ran to his room to fetch me his copy of A. W. Tozer's book, The Knowledge of the Holy. He was sure I could make use of Chapter 13, "The Divine Transcendence." Isn't he a sweetie? Well, as it turned out, I didn't even read the chapter until after I posted that blog entry. But I read it just now, and it is so completely relevant to this, my most current upset, that I feel compelled to share its most poignant parts with you.

Actually, its most poignant parts are all I would share with you, because much of it is beyond my vulgar ability to comprehend. I mean, I get it – I just can't really appreciate it. Tozer begins the chapter discussing, basically, God's greatness – how He is so far beyond us in greatness that it doesn't even make sense to make comparisons. He says,

We must not think of God as highest in an ascending order of beings, starting with the single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the animal to man to angel to cherub to God. This would be to grant God eminence, even pre-eminence, but that is not enough; we must grant Him transcendence in the fullest meaning of that work. Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other in the scale of created things, are nevertheless one in that they are alike created. They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not-God and are separated from God by infinitude itself. (p. 70)

Sort of makes your head want to explode, doesn't it? But with this impenetrable illustration, Tozer sets the stage to remind us that God is to be feared. He continues,

When the psalmist saw the transgression of the wicked his heart told him how it could be. "There is no fear of God before his eyes," he explained, and in so saying revealed to us the psychology of sin. When men no longer fear God, they transgress His laws without hesitation. The fear of consequences is no deterrent when the fear of God is gone.

In olden days men of faith were said to "walk in the fear of God" and to "serve the Lord with fear." However intimate their communion with God, however bold their prayers, at the base of their religious life was the conception of God as awesome and dreadful. This idea of God transcendent runs through the whole Bible and gives color and tone to the character of the saints. (p. 71)

Tozer describes the "terror and dismay" of various men of the Bible when God appeared to them: Abram, Moses, Daniel and Isaiah. He concludes,

These experiences show that a vision of the divine transcendence soon ends all controversy between the man and his God. The fight goes out of the man and he is ready with the conquered Saul to ask meekly, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" Conversely, the self-assurance of modern Christians, the basic levity present in so many of our religious gatherings, the shocking disrespect shown for the Person of God, are evidence enough of deep blindness of heart. Many call themselves by the name of Christ, talk much about God, and pray to Him sometimes, but evidently do not know who He is. "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life," but this healing fear is today hardly found among Christian men. (p. 72)

Oh Lord, it is so true. This healing fear is today hardly found among Christian men – and women. I'm sick with disgust tonight at what passes for Christianity in our country, in our time. This happy, happy, "pull God out of your hat when you remember a verse that pleases you" version of Christianity. Or when you need help with something. Or you need to feel loved.

What would God have me say to people like this? First of all, I'm not without guilt myself, so the whole subject gets contorted in my mind even as I wrestle with it. And secondly, at least they acknowledge God and grant Him some semblance of honor in their lives – with their words, if not with personal holiness – which is a far cry better than the mainstream of our culture.

So, I am without answers. Maybe you, gentle readers, have answers for me.

P.S. -- Well, hubby got home last night just as I was ready to post this and was still in the throes of emotion over the whole ugly thing. I laid it all out for him and was pleased to watch him quietly agree with me with sad nods of his head. He did venture a feeble defense for the roommate that she is trying to cope with a bad situation by looking for the best and turning a blind eye to the worst. And that neither one of them is very well versed in certain fundamentals of the Christian faith. But this is by their own choice, as they have refused any Christian fellowship or exposure (even simply going to church on Sundays) for decades. What is there even to say to people like this?

Friday, July 3, 2009


Chrysler has now come through bankruptcy and GM is going through the same. Who knows what this means for the future? We have a lot of friends who work for GM and Chrysler, and although Hubby doesn't, without Chrysler's business, the owners of his company might do well to close their doors. These owners have made all the money they will ever need for themselves and have no heirs who would be interested in taking the business over. Even last quarter, the company lost $700,000. Why not wrap things up before they lose everything? We're hoping they keep their doors open for the sake of their employees. Time will tell, but it does bring to the forefront the issue of FEAR.

It isn't just the auto companies and joblessness – we have the swine flu, the ruptured banking system, corrupt Wall Street executives and the politicians in bed with them, impending socialism, global warming (or rather, the looming threat of militaristic governmental intrusion into our lives in the name of environmental protection), nationalized health care, and as always, taxes, taxes, taxes. Everything conspires to instill fear.

Last week in our Bible study we were discussing John 14 where Jesus tells His disciples not to be afraid. "Do not let your heart be troubled." (v. 1) and again (v. 27), "Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." Did He mean it like one might say it to a child who is afraid of his first day of school? "Oh honey, it's okay…don't be afraid." Was it gentle encouragement for timorous hearts? Maybe a little. But I prefer to see it as a command: Do not be afraid.

Really? – I say back to Him. Really? Can I not be afraid? Do I dare to not be afraid?

I wrestled this out with the Lord a few nights ago in the wee hours of the morning. I've been a stay-at-home mom for most of 19 years now, and in the process I have rendered myself virtually unemployable. I have a highly regarded degree in Computer Science from a well respected university, but come on – my skills are 20 years out-of-date.

So what's a girl to do? Do I enroll myself in an expensive school to reinvent myself as a database administrator? I could do that, in only a few months apparently. I could study to pass a Microsoft certification test and thereby prove my right to reenter the work force. Then I could pound the proverbial pavement along with the other millions of unemployed, including thousands of database folks with scads of experience, hoping to be hired by someone, my only advantage being that I'd be willing to work for almost nothing.

I could do this, but at what cost? It would turn the dynamic of my family on its head. Am I overblowing my own importance when I say I believe that the emotional and spiritual stability of my children has depended largely on my constant (even sometimes annoying!) presence in the home? Hubby has had to be gone a lot over the years – weeks at a time when business was booming, once for a solid month. And even when he wasn't traveling, he still spent many evenings entertaining clients in order to build relationships. So obviously, things have slowed down. He's still gone a fair amount at night, but the kids are older now and his business is slow. Is it time to throw in the towel and put me back to work? Am I putting my head in the sand to think that we can go on as we've been, that we can face college expenses on his income alone, in a state that is being slowly strangled by inept government? And yet, Lord, the cost, the cost, the cost to my family to lose me as the full-time nurturer and taxi service.

And so I turn to Him in the wee hours of the morning when I can find quiet, and I say, "Lord, what do I do? What do we do?"

We have a friend – bless her heart – who is in an immoral relationship with a man of questionable character, and we are afraid for her. Ironically though, it's her fear that has created the problem. Being 34, she is afraid of never finding a man to marry or marrying too late to have children. So she has taken matters into her own hands; she has set out to solve this problem on her own. We see the minefield she is walking into, but she refuses to see it. She is afraid of what will be if she doesn't walk into the minefield. Although she claims Christ is her Lord, she will not believe that her future in God's hands, even if that means never being married, is brighter and happier than her future outside of His will.

And yet, what did "Do not be afraid" mean for the disciples? It certainly didn't mean nothing bad would happen. Jesus could have said, "Do not be afraid, but most of you will be brutally executed because of Me, and relatively soon." Good thing that didn't make it into Scripture! How convincing would that have been?

So it's not, "Do not be afraid because everything will work out just the way that pleases you most" – although sometimes it means that. God is amazingly good and generous and gracious, and He does love to give His children good things. It really comes down to, whose life am I living? Am I living to please myself, to carry out my own will, to craft my future in a way that gives me all of life's pleasures here on earth? Do I ask for God's involvement in my life in order to facilitate my own earthly happiness?

Not having thought the situation through carefully, I think this is what our friend wants from God – she wants God involved, and she invokes His name when it suits her, but her purpose in calling on Him is to help her accomplish her will for her life, not His. (Am I being too hard on her?) In this country, which has enjoyed such prosperity and material blessing, it's easy for Christians to forget that this is not our home, and discipleship is costly. "Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'" (Matt. 16:24) And "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)

So, is God my own personal genie in a bottle? Is it that I do not need to be afraid because I have a powerful God who will give me what I want? Or is it that have I given my life to Christ to do with as He sees fit? If I have, then the hope I have for the future is an eternal one, the hope of pleasing my Savior through obedience and trust, and the confidence that when this life is through, He will receive me to Himself in glory. Giving my life to Christ may mean earthly joys – so far I've had plenty. It may mean forsaking earthly comforts and diversions. Or it may mean being content as the way of life we've always known completely collapses.

Not being afraid goes hand in hand with submission to God. His promises are meaningless if we refuse to obey Him, to fully submit our lives to His control. I'm no theologian, and I'm too lazy to pound out my case with Scriptural evidence, but I know this is true. The earthly joys I have experienced so far on my journey have been in the context of obedience. I feel a little sick and depressed when I talk to folks who like to pick and chose the aspects of Christianity with which they want to adorn themselves, as well as pick and choose when God suits their purposes – a thorny issue, because we all sin, I know. But I think we can agree that some who call on Christ are more egregious in this than others – certain local politicians caught in corruption come to mind.

But back to me in the wee hours of the morning. I'm asking God, What do I do? How is it I must not be afraid? Things are looking pretty darn scary out there. Terrifying even. Should I put my youngest in school, go back to school myself, and enter the work force? Am I living in a fantasy world to think that no action needs to be taken to overcome the Goliaths we face? I open the Bible to Psalms, and as always, I'm overwhelmed with passages about God's power, His faithfulness to His own, His promises of blessing, and again, more reminders to not be afraid.

So I resolve to not be afraid. I will trust in God's provision and faithfulness. But I understand that it's not about claiming those promises and then pursuing my own course. It's not about making choices out of fear in order to insure my own security; neither is it about doggedly pursuing the status quo because it's what I want, demanding that God find some way to provide. It's about taking the time to quiet my heart before the Lord, to remind myself that I am His, that I am His servant and will go the direction of His choosing, whether it coincides with my desires or not. With my heart laid at His feet, I ask Him what I should do; then I listen, listen, listen, for the still small voice, like the gentle blowing that contained God's voice for Elijah on Mt. Horeb. (1 Kings 19)

And when I am confident that I have His heart in the matter, when there are no checks in my spirit over the course He would have me pursue, and when I have determined in my heart to pursue that course no matter the cost – then, I will not be afraid.