Insights from Tozer

A. W. TozerNormally, on weekends, I draw from C. S. Lewis and Charles Finney for some thoughtful quotes. I’m not home this weekend, and therefore don’t have my usual sources to use. However, I have a habit of collecting quotes from all sorts of people who have offered wise and sound insights. One of those is A. W. Tozer, a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor whose books have encouraged many and have guided them into a closer relationship with the Lord.

Let me just offer some of my favorite Tozer quotes for your pondering on this Lord’s Day. As much as I value correct theology, Tozer issues this warning to all of us:

You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as one spiritually.

Whenever we fall into the error of thinking that all that is necessary is proper theology, we miss the mark. If our life doesn’t exemplify that theology, we are deceived.

In our day, with many churches preaching an “easy” gospel that doesn’t require a true change of heart, another of Tozer’s admonitions hits home:

The idea that God will pardon a rebel who hasn’t given up his rebellion is contrary both to Scripture and to common sense.

God gave us both—Scripture and common sense—and they confirm each other. Tozer brings that common-sense approach to the subject of prayer also:

To pray without expectation is to misunderstand the whole concept of prayer and relationship with God.

Prayer is not just a discipline we practice for our own good. It should be offered in the expectation that God actively listens and wants to respond. He looks to our hearts to see how genuine they are, and we need to understand that what we should have with Him is a relationship and not merely head knowledge of how to get one’s sins forgiven. That distinction is significant. It echoes the cry of Tozer’s heart:

There are rare Christians whose very presence incites others to be better Christians. I want to be that rare Christian.

That’s where the Lord wants to lead all of us.

One final Tozer quote worth pondering:

A. W. Tozer Quote

That’s where I seek to be: firm on the truth, yet gentle and inviting enough to draw others to the truth. Take these few thoughts with you today. May they make a difference in how you handle life.

Eternity Begins Now

I’m so glad that, as a Christian, I don’t perceive this world as all there is to life. Frankly, if I thought there were nothing more, and this is the best it would ever get, I would be in constant depression. I certainly wouldn’t get up early enough each morning to write a blog in the hope that it would make a difference, however slight, in shaping people’s beliefs and worldviews. Instead, I would see my “activity” as rather worthless and a waste of time.

There’s also the chance that I would decide I don’t really care what happens and, quite selfishly, abandon all concern for others, focusing solely on personal pleasure. I would argue that since nothing really changes for the better anyway, why not live it up?

But when Christ enters a life, one can’t give in to that type of thinking.

First, we are told by Him that the world needs His life, and we are the hands, feet, and voices entrusted with the sacred task of letting everyone know He sees and He cares. He seeks to draw each broken, sinful person to Himself and provide a new life.

Salt & LightSecond, He wants us to take that new life into the world and affect the way it operates. Salvation is not just personal, it’s societal. There should be a ripple effect as His new life in individuals begins to infect—I use that word in a positive sense—everything it touches. We are salt; we are light—through Him.

And finally, He shows us that the current state of this world—fallen, bitter, vicious—is not the ultimate reality. There is an existence awaiting us that is free from the ravages of corruption. We will be in His presence forever.

That’s what it all comes down to—His presence. He is what life is all about; there is no life without Him. Eternity begins now.

Lord, help us today to see beyond the daily grind; give us Your eyes to view every person with whom we come into contact as someone made in Your image; show us how to be Your hands, feet, and voice in every situation we encounter.

Go with His blessing today—and make a difference.

Letter from an Iranian Prison

Saeed AbediniHe is Iranian-born, but now an American citizen. His Christian faith has put him in prison. Pastor Saeed Abedini sought to take the gospel to his homeland, a nation that is vehemently opposed to that message. Sentenced to eight years in prison after being arrested in 2012, he hasn’t seen his wife and children since then. While his wife and concerned Christians worldwide work for his release, he has been subjected to brutal treatment—beatings and other physical abuse—that has now landed him in the prison system’s hospital. Probably the only reason he is receiving any medical aid at all is the pressure from world opinion being brought to bear on his behalf.

Yet, in the midst of this severe trial, his faith remains vibrant and strong. Abedini follows in the footsteps of other Christians throughout history who have been imprisoned for their faith. From his hospital bed, he penned an Easter letter that has recently been made public. The apostle Paul wrote letters from his prison; Pastor Abedini’s letter has Paul-like qualities. Here it is, in its entirety:

Saeed Abedini 2Happy Resurrection Day.

On the Eve of Good Friday and Easter I was praying from my hospital room for my fellow Christians in the world.  What the Holy Spirit revealed to me in prayer was that there are many dead faiths in the midst of Christians today. That Christians all over the world are not able to fully reach their spiritual potential that has been given to them as a gift by God so that in reaching that potential, the curtain can be removed and the Glory of God would be revealed.

Some times we want to experience the Glory and resurrection with Jesus without experiencing death with Him.  We do not realize that unless we pass through the path of death with Christ, we are not able to experience resurrection with Christ.

We want to have a good and successful marriage, career, education and family life (which is also God’s desire and plan for our life). But we forget that in order to experience the Resurrection and Glory of Christ we first have to experience death with Christ and to die to ourselves and selfish desires.

Jesus said to His Disciples:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

This means that we should not do things that we like to do (that God does not want us to do) and to do things that we do not like to do (but God wants us to do) so that He may be glorified.

So in addition to spending our days and night in doing the works of faith as described above, we should also transform our dead faiths into living and active faiths through the resurrection of Christ which is an active and constructive love that is effective.

In conclusion, let us resurrect our Dead faiths to living faiths by first dying to our selfish “resurrected” self and experiencing the cross of Jesus. Then we are able to experience the Glorious resurrection with Christ.

A Glorious life with Christ starts only after a painful death (to self) with Christ.

We will start with Christ.

Pastor Saeed Abedini Prisoner in the Darkness in Iran, but free for the Kingdom and Light

Abedini’s Christian witness is extraordinary. May the Lord use this witness to draw people to Himself. And may Abedini be freed and reunited with his family. That is my prayer.

Scott Walker: Christian Public Servant

Scott WalkerScott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, has chalked up an amazing record. He first entered the national news cycle when he stood firm against unreasonable union demands in his state and won. Then he had to face a recall election. He won again. Wisconsin has prospered under his administration, with an unemployment level plunging below the national average, state coffers with a surplus, and tax money being returned to the citizens of the state. Further, he has been a staunch defender of life, signing bills restricting abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood.

In almost every way, Walker has been an outstanding governor, and a model for Republican public servants throughout the nation. His success also has made him a target of hatred on the extreme Left (a term becoming more redundant with each passing day). Walker, a dedicated Christian, raised the ire of the Freedom From Religion Foundation the other day by offering this short tweet:

Scott Walker Tweet

That Scripture simply affirms what Christians always have believed: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Pretty offensive, right? That foundation has demanded Walker remove the tweet from his account. Here’s part of the official response from the Freedom From Religion atheist leaders:

To say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” seems more like a threat—or the utterance of a theocratic dictator—than a duly elected civil servant.

A theocratic dictator? Simply for thanking God for the strength to carry out his duties? Is this really where we are now as a nation? We’re seeing more and more the public manifestation of anger toward those who hold to Biblical beliefs, and there is no limit to how anything Christians say can be willfully twisted into something “hateful” or threatening. Let’s be clear: it’s not the Christians who are threatening anyone (except with the truth about their sinfulness). The threats are pretty much one-sided nowadays against those who remain firm in the faith.

To Walker’s credit, he refuses to take down the tweet. May there be more public servants who will follow his example.

John Jay: Christian Statesman

John Jay 1How about a little wisdom from one of America’s Founders today? Most people are not too familiar with John Jay, but he was central to almost every major event of the Founding. Jay served in the Continental Congress, was one of the principal leaders in the debates leading to Independence, was elected president of Congress at one point, and was appointed one of the peace commissioners who negotiated the end of the American Revolution.

Afterwards, he, along with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, authored some of the Federalist Papers, which today are still the best source for knowing how the Founders understood the nation’s new Constitution. Then, after Washington was inaugurated, he was chosen to be the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Later, Jay resigned from that position because he was elected governor of New York. As governor, he saw the fulfillment of one of his lifelong goals: he signed a law leading to the eventual abolition of slavery in that state.

When Jay finally retired from public service, he became president of the American Bible Society. His Christian faith was the bedrock of his life. This is seen in a number of his writings. For instance, in a letter to Rev. Jedidiah Morse, he opined,

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

Notice he considered America to be founded as a Christian nation—not artificially by legislative fiat, but as a matter of choice. The only way a nation can be truly Christian is if the people voluntarily consider Christianity to be the framework for their thinking, their culture, and their laws.

In that same letter to Morse, he commented on the Bible and how it fits into history:

It is to be regretted, but so I believe the fact to be, that except the Bible there is not a true history in the world. Whatever may be the virtue, discernment, and industry of the writers, I am persuaded that truth and error (though in different degrees) will imperceptibly become and remain mixed and blended until they shall be separated forever by the great and last refining fire.

As a historian, I can vouch for that. All histories are a mixture of truth and error, no matter how conscientious we may be. God’s Word, though, can be relied on as absolute truth.

Finally, here is Jay’s perception of the validity of Christianity:

I have long been of opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds.

In other words, a clearheaded examination of the claims of the Christian faith should lead anyone with an open heart to the conclusion that it, and only it, is the true explanation of the condition of mankind, the nature of God, and the way to salvation.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a majority of our elected leaders had the same views and character as John Jay? Well, that’s up to us. As Jay said, it is the duty, the privilege, and the interest of the voters to select Christians for their leaders. If we don’t have those kinds of leaders, the fault lies with us.

Lewis: Redefining Happiness & Comfort

C. S. Lewis 3People are always striving to be happy. The problem is the definition of the term. It’s always self-centered and focused on how we feel. As a result, we drift toward the quick and easy, anything that makes us “feel” good. In just two sentences, C. S. Lewis lays bare the barrenness of that approach:

Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.

The key there is the phrase “while it lasts.” Scripture tells us that sin gives pleasure for a short time, but it ultimately leads to emptiness. The search for the “comfortable” is illusory; what we need is the truth that will challenge us and teach us the real source of happiness, in the process redefining the term. Lewis goes on to say,

As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

That’s because comfort and happiness, as understood by the unrenewed mind, are illusions, pale shadows of what we find in a relationship with God once we have put away our sin and received new eyes. There will be happiness, there will be comfort, far beyond anything we imagine while bound in sin. But it won’t be based on selfishness. We’ll finally comprehend that what the Lord offers us is the real definition of those terms.

Discovering Nelson Mandela

I want to make a few statements right up front today before delving into my topic. First, my intent in this post is not to be arbitrarily contrary or mean-spirited; I always want to write with grace toward a subject whenever possible. Second, as a Christian, I absolutely oppose any policy that divides people by race or that promotes racial superiority. Third, I rejoice whenever a regime built on racial inequality is dismantled.

Why did I think it necessary to make those statements at the start? Well, it’s because I’m not going to be jumping on the world’s bandwagon today in undiluted praise for the life of Nelson Mandela.

Nelson MandelaI understand the horrible circumstances into which Mandela was born in South Africa. Further, I “get it” that someone in those circumstances would find it easy to attach himself to a movement that sought to wreck the system that created apartheid. I also know, especially after my in-depth study of people like Whittaker Chambers, how communism would seem to be the salvation of people trapped in that system. However, I also know the false hope it offers and how it leads its followers into unspeakable atrocities no better than the oppression it wants to overthrow.

Nelson Mandela, in his youth, committed himself to the communist philosophy, but it wasn’t just an intellectual exercise. He actively carried out and/or approved brutal murders in the name of liberation. The African National Congress (ANC) was an effective tool of the Soviet Union to spread the communist vision into South Africa. Keep in mind that, in the name of communism, untold millions have been slaughtered. It has been a pure evil in this world.

Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years for those activities, and no matter how wrong the apartheid policies were, what he sought to replace them with was no better. As I understand it, he was offered release from prison many times if he would only renounce his terrorist actions; he refused.

I’ve tried to read as much about him in the past few days as I could, seeking to find some glimmer of light that would make me feel comfortable with his later life and accomplishments. I’ve particularly been drawn to Christian writers who have tried to provide a Biblical perspective on the man. Yet even those whom I respect seem to fall into line with the near-hero-worship attitude. One even tried to equate Mandela’s actions with George Washington, saying that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

It’s become fashionable to use Washington and the other Founders of America as examples of terrorists from the British point of view. As an American historian, I can say unconditionally that comparison is askew. There were no mass murders in the American Revolution; the colonists had been self-governing for decades, only to see that taken away; the fighting broke out as a matter of self-defense; there were rules of warfare acknowledged on both sides that kept atrocities to a minimum; the goal was simply the reestablishment of self-government; the inspiration for the majority was Christian faith.

In all my reading about Mandela, I sought to discover if he really changed and became a Christian. The writers all pointed to his lack of retribution toward others when he eventually was elected to lead the government. I certainly applaud that. They talk about his sweet temperament and lack of resentment after being released from prison. Those are usually good indicators of a heart change. I hope Mandela found peace with God through Christ, since that is the only way for peace with God to be achieved.

Yet none of those writers, some of whom strove mightily to claim he was a Christian, could point to any definitive salvation experience or any statement directly from him that revealed his Christian faith. It was all rather vague: if he could lay aside revenge, he must have become a Christian. That’s not enough for me.

Mandela never renounced his admiration for people like Fidel Castro. He never changed his mind about the United States being the most oppressive nation in the world. And as president of South Africa, I learned he signed into law the most permissive abortion policy the world has ever seen. Would a genuine Christian do that?

Mandela Abortions

My reading also uncovered the current state of South Africa post-Mandela: poverty still abounds; murder and rape are at an all-time high, statistics showing that country leading the world in those crimes. And then there’s the abortion policy already mentioned. Is this the utopia we’re supposed to be grateful for? Is this some kind of great improvement on the past?

So please forgive me if I’m not particularly thrilled to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Nelson Mandela. I want to be open to further information about him that would put him in a better light, but what I’ve learned thus far has not convinced me that he is—as one commentator declared—the greatest man in history.