Sunday, May 13, 2012

Removing the Veil

The following is from the third chapter of A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God, called "Removing the Veil."

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” (Heb. 10:19)
With the veil removed by the rending of Jesus' flesh, with nothing on God's side to prevent us from entering, why do we tarry without? Why do we consent to abide all our days just outside the Holy of Holies and never enter at all to look upon God? We hear the Bridegroom say, "Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely." We sense that the call is for us, but still we fail to draw near, and the years pass and we grow old and tired in the outer courts of the tabernacle. What doth hinder us?

The answer usually given, simply that we are "cold," will not explain all the facts. There is something more serious than coldness of heart, something that may be back of that coldness and be the cause of its existence. What is it? What but the presence of a veil in our hearts? a veil not taken away as the first veil was, but which remains there still shutting out the light and hiding the face of God from us. It is the veil of our fleshly fallen nature living on, unjudged within us, uncrucified and unrepudiated. It is the close-woven veil of the self-life which we have never truly acknowledged, of which we have been secretly ashamed, and which for these reasons we have never brought to the judgment of the cross. It is not too mysterious, this opaque veil, nor is it hard to identify. We have but to look in our own hearts and we shall see it there, sewn and patched and repaired it may be, but there nevertheless, an enemy to our lives and an effective block to our spiritual progress.

This veil is not a beautiful thing and it is not a thing about which we commonly care to talk, but I am addressing the thirsting souls who are determined to follow God, and I know they will not turn back because the way leads temporarily through the blackened hills. The urge of God within them will assure their continuing the pursuit. They will face the facts however unpleasant and endure the cross for the joy set before them. So I am bold to name the threads out of which this inner veil is woven.

It is woven of the fine threads of the self-life, the hyphenated sins of the human spirit. They are not something we do, they are something we are, and therein lies both their subtlety and their power.

To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. The grosser manifestations of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy. They are so much in evidence as actually, for many people, to become identified with the gospel. I trust it is not a cynical observation to say that they appear these days to be a requisite for popularity in some sections of the Church visible. Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.

One should suppose that proper instruction in the doctrines of man's depravity and the necessity for justification through the righteousness of Christ alone would deliver us from the power of the self-sins; but it does not work out that way. Self can live unrebuked at the very altar. It can watch the bleeding Victim die and not be in the least affected by what it sees. It can fight for the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible Conference than in a tavern. Our very state of longing after God may afford it an excellent condition under which to thrive and grow.

Self is the opaque veil that hides the Face of God from us. It can be removed only in spiritual experience, never by mere instruction. As well try to instruct leprosy out of our system. There must be a work of God in destruction before we are free. We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross for judgment. We must prepare ourselves for an ordeal of suffering in some measure like that through which our Saviour passed when He suffered under Pontius Pilate.

Let us remember: when we talk of the rending of the veil we are speaking in a figure, and the thought of it is poetical, almost pleasant; but in actuality there is nothing pleasant about it. In human experience that veil is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.

Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified. But we must be careful to distinguish lazy "acceptance" from the real work of God. We must insist upon the work being done. We dare not rest content with a neat doctrine of self-crucifixion. That is to imitate Saul and spare the best of the sheep and the oxen.

Insist that the work be done in very truth and it will be done. The cross is rough, and it is deadly, but it is effective. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever. There comes a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that is resurrection glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for joy that the veil is taken away and we have entered in actual spiritual experience the Presence of the living God.

Lord, how excellent are Thy ways, and how devious and dark are the ways of man. Show us how to die, that we may rise again to newness of life. Rend the veil of our self-life from the top down as Thou didst rend the veil of the Temple. We would draw near in full assurance of faith. We would dwell with Thee in daily experience here on this earth so that we may be accustomed to the glory when we enter Thy heaven to dwell with Thee there. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tozer, A. W. (Aiden Wilson) (2011-03-24). The Pursuit of God (Kindle Locations 391-438). Kindle Edition.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing

I was greatly encouraged by reading A. W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God this morning (free download available for Kindle). And I wanted to share some excerpts from his second chapter called "The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing."

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

“Before the Lord God made man upon the earth He first prepared for him by creating a world of useful and pleasant things for his sustenance and delight. In the Genesis account of the creation these are called simply “things.” They were made for man’s uses, but they were meant always to be external to the man and subservient to him. In the deep heart of man was a shrine where none but God was worthy to come. Within him was God; without, a thousand gifts which God had showered upon him.

But sin has introduced complications and has made those very gifts of God a potential source of ruin to the soul.

Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and “things” were allowed to enter. Within the human heart “things” have taken over. Men have now by nature no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne.”

“The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution.

Our Lord referred to this tyranny of things when he said to His disciples, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.’”

“…the self-life('s)…chief characteristic is its possessiveness…to allow this enemy to live is in the end to lose everything. To repudiate it and give up all for Christ’s sake is to lose nothing at last, but to preserve everything unto life eternal…the only effective way to destroy this foe…is by the Cross.”

“The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things. The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing. These are the “poor in spirit.” They have reached an inward state paralleling the outward circumstances of the common beggar in the streets of Jerusalem; that is what the word “poor” as Christ used it actually means. These blessed poor are no longer slaves to the tyranny of things. They have broken the yoke of the oppressor; and this they have done not by fighting but by surrendering. Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“In the story of Abraham and Isaac we have a dramatic picture of the surrendered life as well as an excellent commentary on the first Beatitude.”

“The sacred writer spares us a close-up of the agony that night on the slopes near Beersheba when the aged man had it out with his God, but respectful imagination may view in awe the bent form and convulsive wrestling alone under the stars. Possibly not again until a Greater than Abraham wrestled in the Garden of Gethsemane did such mortal pain visit a human soul.”

“Even if he could get the consent of his wounded and protesting heart, how could he reconcile the act with the promise, ‘In Isaac shall thy seed be called’? This was Abraham’s trial by fire and he did not fall in the crucible…He would offer his son as God had directed him to do, and then trust God to raise him from the dead.”

“After that bitter and blessed experience I think the words “my” and “mine” never had again the same meaning for Abraham. The sense of possession which they connote was gone from his heart. Things had been cast out forever. They had now become external to the man. His inner heart was free from them. The world said, “Abraham is rich,” but the aged patriarch only smiled. He could not explain it to them, but he knew that he owned nothing, that his real treasures were inward and eternal.

There can be no doubt that this possessive clinging to things is one of the most harmful habits in the life. Because it is so natural it is rarely recognized for the evil that it is; but its outworkings are tragic.

We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Our Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed.

Our gifts and talents should also be turned over to Him. They should be recognized for what they are, God’s loan to us, and should never be considered in any sense our own. We have no more right to claim credit for special abilities than for blue eyes or strong muscles. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?”

The Christian who is alive enough to know himself even slightly will recognize the symptoms of this possession malady, and will grieve to find them in his own heart. If the longing after God is strong enough within him he will want to do something about the matter. Now, what should he do?

First of all he should put away all defense and make no attempt to excuse himself either in his own eyes or before the Lord. Whoever defends himself will have himself for his defense, and he will have no other; but let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender no less than God Himself. Let the inquiring Christian trample under foot every slippery trick of his deceitful heart and insist upon frank and open relations with the Lord.

Then he should remember that this is holy business. No careless or casual dealings will suffice. Let him come to God in full determination to be heard. Let him insist that God accept his all, that He take things out of his heart and Himself reign there in power. It may be he will need to become specific, to name things and people by their names one by one…”

“We must in our hearts live through Abraham’s harsh and bitter experiences if we would know the blessedness which follows them. The ancient curse will not go out painlessly; the tough old miser within us will not lie down and die obedient to our command. He must be torn out of our heart like a plant from the soil; he must be extracted in agony and blood like a tooth from the jaw. He must be expelled from our soul by violence as Christ expelled the money changers from the temple. And we shall need to steel ourselves against his piteous begging, and to recognize it as springing out of self-pity, one of the most reprehensible sins of the human heart.

If we would indeed know God in a growing intimacy we must go this way of renunciation. And if we are set upon the pursuit of God He will sooner or later bring us to…the testing place, and we may never know when we are there. At that testing place there will be no dozen possible choices for us; just one and an alternative, but our whole future will be conditioned by the choice we make.

Father, I want to know Thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Life Grows

In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp shares her personal story and challenges her readers to experience their own transforming lives of thankfulness. She says, “The brave who focus on all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks.”

We have been blessed these past few weeks to see life grow here in the village. Away from the big gray buildings of the city, we are surrounded here by the green of nature and have been given the gift of seeing spring blossoming before our eyes. It has been beautiful and Charly has taken some great photos. (The first four were taken during our week of drama, and I was amazed at the way God gave Charly keen eyes and a heart of thankfulness to capture God's beauty in creation in the midst of all our uncertainty.)


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Faces

Before Jesus fed the 5000, he looked at the large crowd that had gathered, and "he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things." (Mark 6:34) I believe compassion was one of those lessons Jesus wanted his disciples to learn from him. He wanted them to experience genuine heart transformation so that they would truly care about others, even more than about themselves. I am longing for this kind of compassion myself. It starts at home with my family and moves beyond to those outside.

These are some of my favorite photos of people in the village.









God, please give us the compassion of Jesus for each other and for those around us.
We want to love others as you have loved us.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

To Believe and Know

After Jesus fed the 5000, he sent his disciples on ahead in the boat, while he went up alone on the mountainside to pray. He let them struggle against a hard wind until the fourth watch of the night, when he walked on the water to meet them. They were terrified when they saw him, but he said, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he entered their boat, the wind died down, and they were amazed “for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”
(Mark 6:45-52)

This last verse has recently stood out to me while reflecting on the feeding of the 5000, and I’ve wondered. What was it they didn’t understand? Why were their hearts were hardened? And did they eventually learn the lesson(s) that Jesus wanted to teach them?

The disciples estimated that it would cost 8 months wages to buy enough bread to feed the 5000 plus who had come to the remote place to listen to Jesus. “Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (6:37b) they questioned their Master. Surely not, they were thinking. If they had been in Gaoli village, they might have said, “There’s not enough time for the villagers to make all the food preparations. The people are hungry now. So it’s best just to send them away to nearby villages so they can buy their own food. Let them take care of themselves.”

But Jesus had a different plan. After having the disciples calculate the human effort required, he performed an unexpected miracle. A miracle that included the disciples’ participation. They were to make the people sit down in groups of hundreds and fifties, and watch while Jesus took the human contribution of five loaves and two fish, looked up to heaven, gave thanks, and broke the bread. Then their job was to distribute the abundance of food to the masses of hungry people, and to collect the twelve basketfuls of leftovers.

The number of leftovers was important because Jesus would later rebuke them, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the 5000, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” They replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the 4000, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:17b-21)

The Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

The angel Gabriel told Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) And she believed.

The Apostle Paul would later write to the Ephesians, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us…” (Ephesians 3:20)

The disciples worried about having enough bread and about how much it would cost them to feed the masses when Jesus was in their midst, and all they had to do was to look to him and believe that his power was abundant. Unlimited. Nothing was impossible for him. Like most of us, they naturally looked at life from a worldly perspective and had to learn to see their circumstances with eyes of faith. Like Mary’s example of faith in Jesus at the wedding, when she told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) And because the servants followed Jesus’ instructions, they became participants in Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine.

Faith to believe that He can solve every problem that we face. Eyes to recognize Him and how He’s working. Willingness to participate in whatever way He chooses to answer our prayers for His help. And the ability to embrace His mystery when His answer does not match our hope or expectation.

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they stood boldly before Nebuchadnezzar and said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Believing with no conditions placed on Him.

John’s account of Jesus walking toward them on the water notes that only after Jesus spoke to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid,” were they “willing to take him into the boat.” While they were struggling at the oars, they had not recognized Jesus. Once they did, and let him into boat, the wind died down and “immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” (John 6:20-21)

Eyes of faith to recognize Jesus. Willingness to take Him in and stop struggling in human effort and fear. Be still and know that He is God. Rest in Him.

When the crowds found Jesus on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “What must we do to do the works that God requires?” And Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29) It’s not about doing. It’s about believing. In Jesus.

He went on to say, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:47-51)

“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:66-69)

They got it. Once, straining at the oars in human effort, unable to recognize Jesus. Now, they see Him for who He is. The Holy One of God. The Bread of Life. Their hardened hearts are soft. They believe and know. They evaluate not with earthly standards but with heavenly ones. They understand that Jesus’ words are “spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63b)

In contrast to the story of Charly’s and my racing to catch the train in Beijing, our week of drama over whether or not we could stay in the village did not require much physical effort on my part. Charly was the one who put forth the physical and emotional effort in all required interaction as he worked toward the resolution of our problem. He wrote our email prayer updates, and we definitely felt uplifted by others' prayers on our behalf! I prayed and requested others’ prayer through text messages. But mostly for me, it was a week of watching and waiting to see what God would do.

God has definitely gifted Charly in being able to handle situations like this—in his Chinese language ability and cultural sensitivity, in his graciousness and respect toward those in authority, in his patience and ability to handle questions and ambiguity, and in his finding the right balance between deferring to others and being assertive. I don’t think he could have handled the situation any better.

Eyes of faith to see what God was doing. Ears to hear His instructions. Willingness to participate in the way God chose to solve this problem. Believing that He was in control, not us.

Sometimes birds flap their wings loudly while flying from one rooftop to another, seeming to require great effort on their part. And sometimes, their wings spread wide in order to catch the current and they glide effortlessly through the sky.

If we follow Jesus’ example and respond to whatever problem we have by first looking up and giving thanks to our Father, we can see more clearly what He is doing. He will give us eyes of faith to believe that with Him, nothing is impossible. He will keep us from worry and anxiety so that we don’t rely on human effort to solve the problem. He will give us a willingness to participate in His plan with the effort and ability that He requires of us. And that He provides for us. May we spread our wings wide and catch the current of God’s grace and power. Finding both our rest and our strength in Him.

“Be still and know that I am God.”
“Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
“You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

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