Monday, September 4, 2017

Transferring Our Trust

These are my notes from my Sunday morning message that I promised to post for VCC folks. References to previous blogs will take you to that blog if you click on its title. You can also view the video of the message by clicking here. It will open in a separate window.

Introduction:
  1. Standing in the midst of the smoking rubble of a completely destroyed city, having experienced rejection again and again, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a lament. In the middle of that lament, he says… 
  2.  “My soul has been deprived of peace (shalom); I have forgotten what happiness is. Then I thought: My future is lost, as well as my hope from the Lord. Remember my affliction and my homelessness, the wormwood and the poison. I continually remember them and have become depressed. Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good to wait quietly for deliverance from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:17-26 HCSB) Later Jeremiah says, “I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea when I said, ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.’ You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’” (Lamentations 3:55-57)
  3. What we see here with Jeremiah is a “transfer of his trust” from himself and his perception of things back to the One he knew who alone could be trusted.
  4. We often see this transfer of trust in David’s psalms as well. Here’s one example of many: “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side. (Psalm 3:1-6 NIV 1984) There are many more psalms like this, of course.
  5. One more example from our friend, Simon Peter: During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little trust,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:25-31 NIV 1984) 
  6. Each of these passages show us a person “transferring his trust.”
  7. Worry (fear, anxiety, etc.) is an invitation to transfer our trust from ourselves to God.  We all have faith. It’s where that trust is placed, it’s where our confidence really rests that’s important, of course. Proverbs 3:5-6 comes to mind: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart. Don’t trust your own understanding of things…”
  8. When our world is shaken to pieces, it’s natural for us to lose focus and become afraid. The fear in that moment is not sin but is instead a wonderful reminder of Papa’s invitation to transfer our trust back to Him. How do we do this? Here are a few of the most important things we can do.
1.         Be sure you know God as He really is!
o      We were created for a relationship with God, and trust is an essential part of any relationship and is especially important in our relationship with God, of course.
o     Interestingly enough, trust grows from our being in a relationship with someone, but it’s also required in order for the relationship to grow. We trust as we get to know them, but we will only get to know them if we trust at least a little!
o     We trust someone deeply because we know he/she can be trusted and because we know they care about us. We trust God because we know He treasures us and can do anything He wants for us because of His love for us.
o     The challenge with our trusting God is that the devil’s full-time job is to undermine our trust by misrepresenting God. (This started with the first temptation in the Garden when he undermined Eve’s trust in God, and this strategy continues to this very day).
o     God is good—all the time. Anything that says otherwise: pain, tragedy, evil is not from God but from the enemy. The world when God finished it was “Very good.” There was absolutely no evil present in the world, and that perfectly good world is an accurate reflection of the nature and character of God. Evil did not enter the world through God but through the rebellion of a powerful angel and then through Adam’s rebellion.
o     So even though God is Perfectly Good, the enemy tries to focus us on bad, seeking to smear God’s reputation and undermine our trust in Him.
o     So what is really God like? He is like Jesus and He is like what He tells us to be towards others. For more on this see my previous blog entry entitled Why??? written on 8.30.17. You may also want to watch a message I gave about what God is like on April 30, 2017 by clicking here (it will open in a second window, and yes I do have other shirts besides the one that I seem to always choose when I speak!).
o     Do we really get this? Do we understand that God never brings evil, never intended evil to be part of His creation, and will someday and somehow redeem all of it? (To see how you’re doing with this, give yourself a “religion check.” If you tend to focus on your behavior—sin management, doing the right thing so you won’t get in trouble, etc.—you are revealing your need to get know Papa a lot better. The Christian life is not about avoiding sin but about living to delight the One who delights us.)
o     I trust that you can see why this is so very important! We are not likely to trust a God who sends evil or somehow “allows” it for our good, etc. But that’s not what God is really like! The following quote from The Shack nails it: “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”
o     Even Martin Luther understood that God was completely good. Many hundreds of years ago, he wrote this remarkable thing about prayer: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of God’s willingness!”
o     Do we need to stop and let Holy Spirit adjust your thinking right now? :-)
2.        Refresh your understanding of who He really is. How? 
o   Remember His Fingerprints on your life.
§     Thanksgiving/Gratitude are wonderfully helpful in helping us transfer our trust back to Papa.
§     That’s why Paul includes “thanksgiving” in Philippians 4:6: "When your anxiety detector lets you know that you are indeed anxious and filled with worry, make your concerns known to God, with all kinds of praying sprinkled liberally with thanksgiving for all the amazing things God has already done to reveal His love and faithfulness." (TW paraphrase)
§     I have a blog entry on this, too, entitled Worrying About Worry posted on Sept. 23, 2009. You might also want to watch my VCC about what God is like from April 30, 2017 by clicking here (it will again open in a separate window).
o   Remember His Word.
§     God’s Word reminds us of His absolute trustworthiness. As Pastor Tony has been reminding us, it’s good to ask God for specific promises when we are struggling to trust Him.
§     But remember that for God’s word to have power in your life, it has to be seen and experienced in the context of your intimate relationship with Him.
§     Scripture speaks to me in the time of testing because of my relationship with Him, not to cause me to have a better relationship with Him. In other words, because I know Him so well, His words mean everything to me!
§     God’s word doesn’t create faith in you as much as it reminds you that He is trustworthy and has given many, many promises that you can count on because He is the Promise-Keeper!
§     If you trust Him, you will trust His word (and that leads to even more trust).
o   Remember His kindness and faithfulness to and through others.
§     Have you already found yourself being renewed by the amazing Harvey stories about people helping people? I have! And I see God’s hand in it all!
§     Philippians 4:8-9 comes to mind where Paul encourages us to intentionally focus our minds on good, true lovely things. You see, it doesn’t “feed my faith” to look at bad news, etc. I don’t mean we ignore things completely, but rather we can make good decisions about what we focus on. I don’t need to know everything about bad things—that puts the emphasis upon me and my need to understand (Proverbs 3:5-6 again). But I do need to refresh my mind often by thinking about the good I see in others and in what others are doing.
§     We all “meditate” don’t we? It’s probably best to meditate on what God is like, what He’s doing, His word, what His people are doing, etc., instead of what the enemy is doing (worry is simply meditating on the wrong subject! Kris Vallotton: “Expecting something bad to happen is coming into agreement with the wrong Kingdom.”
§     You see, in order to trust Papa I need to be able to hear what He is saying (all the time), and it’s much easier to hear Him if I am meditating on good stories that reflect God’s goodness, love and power.
3.        Surrender your need to understand everything!
o     Proverbs 3:5-6 eliminates our asking “Why,” doesn’t it? (Think about it!)
o     God rarely answers the “Why” question because He translates “Why” into what you are really saying: “Papa, I’m afraid” and because we almost certainly wouldn’t understand His answer to “Why” anyway.
o     Instead of telling us why, God’s answer is almost always, “I am with you” or “I will be with you.”
o     Which would you rather have: answers or God’s Presence? Yes, sometimes He will indeed show us some reasons for things, but most of the time He knows that what we need most is not one more answer but rather His Presence and power at work in our lives.
o     Remember, too, that biblical faith (trust) always includes a longer view—one that stretches into eternity (which we definitely can’t understand at present!). Read Hebrews 11:13-16 and you will get a glimpse of what I mean by this. The bottom line is that a lot of things in this present life won’t make sense until we see them from Eternity’s perspective, and because of this, we gladly surrender our need to understand things. Remember, we are encouraged not to trust our understanding, and if we refuse to surrender our need to understand everything, we won’t be able to “trust in the Lord with all of our heart.”
o     Clinging to the need to understand means that you are trusting you and your perception of things, exchanging your very limited perception of things for God’s embrace. Surrendering our need to understand everything frees us to transfer our trust fully to the One who really does understand everything and works it all to our good.
4.        Shift your focus back to Him and return to His embrace.
o     “Faith is the gaze of the soul upon the face of a saving God.”  A.W. Tozer (The Pursuit of God)
o     Faith is ultimately a decision, not a feeling, a choice to look at God and not anything else, a choice to lean upon, trust in, rely upon the Totally Trustworthy One.
o     “Whenever I am afraid, I will choose to lean upon Him, to fully rely upon Him.” Psalm 56:3 (TW paraphrase)
5.        Continually rely on and give support to the people around you.
o     We were never meant to live the Jesus life alone. The most common word for believers in the New Testament is “brothers/sisters,” and that means we are family and were never meant to walk this journey alone.
o     We need the encouragement of others in order to keep our trust securely transferred to Papa God, especially in difficult times.
o     And amazingly enough, it also strengthens us to strengthen others. How can you not be encouraged while encouraging others with stories of God’s fingerprints, His Word, etc.?
o     I love how the Passion Translation reminds us of this (Hebrews 10:23-25): “So now we must cling tightly to the hope that lives within us, knowing that God always keeps his promises! Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. This is not the time to neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.”
Concluding Thoughts
  1. Remember Jeremiah? The books of Jeremiah and Lamentations contain reflections of his intimate if bumpy at times relationship with God. It was Jeremiah’s intimate relationship with God that enabled him to shift his focus and transfer his trust to God. And we see that this intimated relationship started with Jeremiah’s call in Jeremiah 1:8 “Do not be afraid of those to whom I send you, for I will be with you to protect you,” says the Lord. (NET)
  2. Does that promise sound familiar to you? It’s the same one God makes to each of His children.
  3. I close with a quote from an earlier blog entry I wrote about Jeremiah February 5, 2011 (“Standing the Smoking Rubble”). 
Perhaps some of you, like Jeremiah, have wondered if God was against you. Nothing is further from the truth (Romans 8:31 comes to mind), but our misperceptions about God in the midst of painful circumstances can make it feel like that! My prayer for you and me, though, is that the brilliant breakthrough that the angry and bitter Jeremiah experienced will shine in our hearts even more brightly than it did for this brokenhearted prophet. God is good, all the time. His kindness never ceases, His mercies are refreshed every morning, and even when we rail against Him, He refuses to stop pursuing us with goodness and love. 
Oh, Papa God! How truly amazing you are! Even as I stand in the rubble, smoke clouding my vision, your radiant goodness gives hope. How can I not hear your invitation to trust you and wait quietly for the goodness that is yet to come?!!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Why????

     Harvey, the "Hurricane from Hell" has finally exited the Houston area (but is still wreaking havoc elsewhere), and the storm has left behind death, destruction, and disruption everywhere. Sadly, God often gets a lot of "fake news" and  "bad press" when tragic things happen. Even believers have been asking me, "Why did God do this?" or "Why did God 'allow' this?" So I am writing a very short blog today to address this question, while pointing to four of my earlier blogs that cover things in more depth.
     It always grieves me when people, even believers, attribute evil to God, either because they think He is judging sinners or because they think He "allows" evil to happen. On a side note, it's interesting to me that when tragedy strikes an area that is considered evil, some Christians are quick to see it as judgment, but not so quick to say that when tragedy strikes close to home. Just a curious fact, I guess. :-)
     So is God up there in Heaven pulling levers and pushing buttons controlling every event that happens on earth? No! Following that line of reasoning causes us to end up with a schizophrenic deity who does both good and evil! That is not the God of the Bible. And it's important to know what God is really like, dear ones, perhaps especially when tragedy strikes, because it's in the storms that we need to snuggle up close to our Papa. But it's hard to want to snuggle up to a Papa whom we think may unleash pain and suffering. But thankfully, God is in fact "Good all the time" and is the kindest, most loving Being in the Universe. And He invited us not to try to understand why (a subtle form of trying to control things), but instead invites us into His embrace. 
     I know this sounds like a copout to some, but as one who has faced lots of pain and seen lots of tragedy, I can tell you that the best question to ask God when evil strikes is not "Why?" but "Abba, can I crawl up into your lap?" (Do we really think that we, with our tiny and finite minds, could even begin to understand an infinite God's answer to why?).
     But there's nothing wrong with thinking deeply about things and with asking God "Show me your ways" and "Help me to know you better." So I offer to you the following freshly edited blogs from previous years. If you read only one of these, I recommend that it be "The River of God's Sovereignty," but they all wrestle to some extent with the problem of bad things happening. 


     I could write so much more about this, but this will have to do for today. I offer no glib answers to people who have lost so much--not now, not ever. But I do offer up a view of my Abba that I hope will comfort and encourage you as much as it has me, now most recently as I watch tragedy unfold just miles from where I live.

Crawling up into His lap,

Tom, one of Abba's Children



Friday, October 21, 2016

"I Have Stilled My Soul"

     "Wait in silent expectancy for God alone, O my soul, for my hope is from Him. He alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. My salvation and my honor rest on God. My mighty rock, my refuge, is God!" (Psalm 62:5-7, TW paraphrase).
     "My heart is not proud, O Yahweh. My eyes aren't prideful. I don't concern myself with lofty matters or try to figure out things that are too complicated for me. Instead, I have stilled and quieted my soul. Like a young and trusting child is my soul within me. Yes, my soul is like a young and trusting child." (Psalm 131:1-2, TW paraphrase).
     These are troubled/troubling times that we are living in, aren't they? It's times like these that make us more aware of the importance of living with inner stillness. It's always important, of course, to live with a "quiet soul," but we become more motivated to find peace and stillness when noisy storms are all around us.
     One of the most important things Papa God has taught me over the past several years is how to "still my soul." My ability to maintain inner stillness has had some major interruptions along the way, as many of you know, but lately, more than ever, Papa has been restoring to me the grace to live in inner stillness (most of the time, at least).
     So how does someone still her/his soul and reach that place of inner stillness? The psalms quoted above not only show us the importance of it but also a substantial part of the process. So how do you do it? I can't take time today to write out everything I have learned, but here are a few thoughts that may help you.
  • Believe that it's possible and extremely valuable to learn to "still one's soul." My journey into the quiet place was launched because of a desperate longing for God's life, love and power to flow through me to others. He surprised me, though, by inviting me first into intimacy with Him instead of bestowing on me the power I was seeking. It was my subsequent hunger for intimacy with Him that moved me to pursue inner stillness because I couldn't hear His voice due to all the internal noise in me! But I did eventually reach a place of consistent inner stillness in the midst of a very busy and highly driven life. The fact that I did so tells me that this is possible for anyone. It is possible for any and every follower of Jesus to learn how to still his/her soul. And the value, of course, is obvious to anyone who longs to hear God's voice and know Him intimately.
  • Remember that it's a journey, not a project. Learning to quiet your inner world doesn't happen overnight. It requires time in at least two ways. First, it takes a long period of time to learn the discipline itself. You don't learn to still your soul in seven easy, 5-minute lessons. Second, it takes lots of time, each time, (especially at first) to get our minds to stop spinning and whirling enough to get quiet. It used to take me far more than an hour to still my soul (quiet my mind).
  • As Psalm 131 clearly indicates, it begins with humility and the perspective that humility brings. The psalmist obviously has no problem acknowledging his smallness, his weakness, his limitations. His approach to God begins with that humble perspective. How does this help us reach inner quietness? It helps, first, by reminding us to surrender things that were never meant to be in our domain or under our control. It helps as well by affirming to God and ourselves that we are dependent on Him. And it helps by reminding us let go of our need to "understand" things that are beyond us or at least currently hidden from us. I think you get my drift here: humility opens the door into the quiet place of the soul.
  • We rest and surrender our way into stillness. This is seen clearly in many of the various translations of Psalm 62 (especially meaning-for-meaning translations). The HCSB, for example, translates Psalm 62:5 "Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him." And the NIV is similar: "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him." Both of these translations show us that quieting our souls is more about relaxing our way into stillness rather than fighting our way into it. This is obvious once we "say it out loud," of course, but I am amazed at how many people try to "make themselves be still." Yes, the psalmist says "I have stilled my soul," but he did so by relaxing into an awareness of God as His Abba and by picturing himself as a little child. Stilling one's soul is about making a decision, not making an effort. For me, quieting my soul always involves a decision to relax and surrender and re-surrender various things into God's hands. This surrender is often accompanied with truths from Scripture that speak to the anxiety that is creating or adding to the inner noise, so Scripture also helps us find our way into stillness. (see the next point for more on this).
  • Yes, Scripture helps us find our way into stillness. Another way that Scripture helps me still my soul is that it gives language and power to my desire and decision to enter into God's embrace (where stillness is found). In addition to the psalms quoted above, other passages also help me to picture myself approaching Abba or lifting my life/soul up to Him. Psalm 25:1 often finds its way into my heart and onto my lips as I quiet my soul: "To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. In you I trust, O my God." I am sure you will find your own collection of passages that help you express desire and decision to approach our loving Father with a surrendered heart. 
  • We trust our way into stillness. I think it's important to mention trust specifically, rather than just assume it, because inner stillness for a follower of Jesus is about relationship, not some kind of mind control or new age meditation. I quiet my soul because of my relationship with my totally trustworthy Abba. I quiet my soul in order to hear my Abba's voice, experience His embrace, honor Him with my attention, etc., and it's my confident trust in Him that enables me to surrender my way into that place of stillness. 
     And when stillness comes, my soul delights to find Him there waiting for me in the stillness. And when I find Him there in the stillness, it's beyond wonderful and really indescribable. But let me at least say that it's utterly peaceful and that I am wonderfully aware of Him when I have quieted and stilled my soul. That's as close as I can get right now. But I really can't find words to express how good it is to live with Him in the quiet place, nor do I have words that adequately explain how deep my longing is for everyone to live in inner stillness with Papa! For now, the words I have written today will have to do. I welcome your comments and thoughts. 

Tom, one of Abba's learning-to-be-still children


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Living as The Fourth Soil

     "As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. But the seed in the good ground — these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit." (Luke 8:14-15 HCSB)
     In my last post I promised to write more about believers and money, and that I will do, but not like I first thought because I found a very good book about the subject that is far superior to anything I could quickly throw together. That book is Randy Alcorn's Managing God's Money (under $5.00 on Amazon Kindle), and I highly recommend its careful and thorough exploration of this topic (while also disagreeing with its view of healing!).
     But I do want to write some about this and give my thoughts in a set of statements that may prove useful to you as you think about you and your money. So here goes. Living simply and generously is...
  • A matter of wisdom, not salvation. We are always and only saved by grace through faith (trust), so any discussion believers and our money is not about our eternal destiny but about how much treasure is waiting for us in Heaven. Living generously is about living from an eternal perspective and storing up treasure in the right location. That's Jesus' point when He speaks of the wisdom of putting our treasure in Heaven (see, for example, Matthew 6:19-21).
  • A matter of maturity and fruit-bearing, not religious obligation. The words of Jesus quoted at the beginning of this article clearly warn us that riches and possessions can hinder the maturity and fruitfulness of His followers. To the extent that we invest our thoughts, time, energy and other resources in this present age, to that extent we remain stunted, immature and limited in Kingdom significance. Anyone who owns anything knows how hard it is to keep that thing from owning you! It is painfully easy to be distracted from Kingdom things by earthly things.
  • A matter of well-placed trust. After his strong warning not to make getting rich a life focus, Paul, in 1 Timothy 6, writes, "Instruct them (the wealthy) not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real." 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (HCSB) italics are mine--TW This passage, along with many others, reminds us that living generously is ultimately a matter of what and whom we trust. Those who deeply trust the love of God live generously. 
  • A matter of joyful compassion and compassionate joy, not guilt-ridden obligation. Paul makes it clear in his instructions to the Corinthians about giving that giving is a matter of joyfully expressed love, not compulsion. "Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver."  2 Corinthians 9:7 (HCSB) And elsewhere Paul states that even outrageously extravagant giving apart from love has no reward (1 Corinthians 13:3). Note well how this provides a huge clue as to how to learn to live generously: Getting to know God intimately as a loving Father, who freely gives us all things, will allow joy and compassion to lead us to live simply and give extravagantly. And our greatest joy will be to bring joy to our infinitely generous Father! The love that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13 is first of all God's love for us and then secondly our love for Him and others that flows from our being dearly loved. Living more and more aware of His love will inevitably lead us to joyful, compassionate generosity. On the other hand, even sacrificial giving apart from our experience of His love won't move us even one tiny little bit closer to His heart.
  • A matter of paradigm. Only our holding to an eternal paradigm will move us to relax our grip on this present age, dear ones. If we really believe what the Bible says about treasure in Heaven and the importance of living for eternity, we will find it increasingly easy to give freely and sacrificially with great joy and great peace! Randy Alcorn gives a very clear illustration of this paradigm that I dearly love: "Imagine you’re alive at the end of the Civil War. You’re living in the South, but you’re a Northerner. You plan to move home as soon as the war’s over. While in the South you’ve accumulated lots of Confederate currency. Now, suppose you know for a fact the North’s going to win the war, and the end is imminent. What will you do with your Confederate money?   If you’re smart, there’s only one answer. You should immediately cash in your Confederate currency for U.S. currency—the only money that will have value once the war’s over. Keep only enough Confederate currency to meet your short-term needs. Managing God's Money: A Biblical Guide (pp. 86-87).  
  • A matter of perspective. What do I mean by perspective? First, as Americans we tend to view our world only on the basis of what's immediately around us. This tends to blind us to the fact that even lower middle class Americans are enormously wealthy compared to much of the rest of the world and most of the people who have ever lived on this planet. Does that mean we should feel guilty or deny ourselves to the point of lack? Of course not! That would violate the principles stated above as well as missing the heart of our Father. But what it does mean is that we can hear God's voice much more clearly if we remember how truly wealthy we are. Holding to that perspective will lead us to a change of actions. Maybe it would mean buying less than the top of the line so that I can give the difference to someone who can't even see the next day's provision, eh? That kind of generosity is something I am more likely to consider if I remember how the world really looks in terms of wealth. Second, even within the American church we need to shift our perspective so that we notice the single mother who is struggling to make ends meet and therefore choose to joyfully forego buying that new "whatever" in order to help her make it through a rough time. Note that these are just illustrations. All I am asking is that you "notice" and then listen to Papa God. The point is to allow Holy Spirit to shift your perspective to a larger and more accurate view of things regarding "things."
     I could go on, but this is enough for now, I think. See Randy Alcorn's book for more.

      And above all else, my friends, remember that change in our lives is something that God initiates, guides and empowers. When we live from the center of His loving embrace, it's quite easy to hear Him ask us where our trust really lies, hear Him when He highlights the struggling brother or sister here or overseas, hear His reminder to invest in eternity instead of this very temporary season. As one who is still very much learning to live generously and for eternity, I would be truly dismayed if my words led to sorrowful obligation rather than joyful liberation! Live joyfully in His love without fearing or shrinking back from His constant stretching and healing!

From His Embrace,

Tom

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Buy One, Give One


     Tears streamed down my face this morning as I looked at this picture and several others from my trip to Papua New Guinea way back in May 2004. These children are part of one of the poorest tribes in PNG and lived in the garbage dump of PNG's capital city, Port Moresby. 
     Even now as I try to write I find emotion making it hard to write. Why? Partly because the little girl in the dirty yellow and green dress had so captured my heart that for years I kept this picture on my computer as the background picture. Partly because of memories related to this trip wherein the beautiful people of PNG also captured my heart, and certainly because my heart was so drilled by the poverty and need of these beautiful people. And I find myself asking how I have so thoroughly forgotten the needs of such people while I live in midst of all my wealth? (I write these words from our sunroom as I view the peaceful lake that is behind our spacious and ridiculously comfortable home!). 
     I want more than ever in my life to embrace these tears! I want to always keep before me the great disparity that exists between American Christians and their brothers and sisters in developing nations.  And I want this not because of some kind of shame-based desire to salve my conscience about having so much but rather because of a growing passion to live ever more generously and ever more freed from the "things" that crowd out fruitfulness in our American lives (see Luke 8:14). And I want this because of simple, heartfelt compassion and love that grows out my own even increasing experience of God's love. And I want this because the older I get, the more aware I am that storing up treasure in eternity is the only truly wise "investment" that I can make ("You can't take it with you" makes a whole lot more sense at age 67 than it did at age 27!). 
     All of this has grown out of a thought that keeps coming back to me again and again (most likely from the Holy Spirit). That thought is: How can I help American Christians, many of whom are so oblivious to their extreme wealth as compared to much of the rest of the world, begin to live more wisely and generously? It was in that context that the phrase "Buy one, give one" first popped into my mind. What if we who have so much would begin to set aside an equal amount of money for everything we buy beyond our necessities? What if that extra pair of shoes you want but don't really need was purchased with a commitment to share an equal amount of money with a compassion-related type of ministry? What if that new "man-toy" was matched with a gift of equal amount to a ministry that developed young men in developing nations or to a ministry that develops young men from our own impoverished areas? I think you get the picture. The possibilities are endless.
     I plan to write more about this within the next few days and include a fairly thorough study of Christians and Money from a New Testament perspective, but somehow the tears this morning moved me to put this idea out there in raw form so that I can hear from you. As you reflect on all of this, take a look at another picture of my little sweetie and some of her friends (I never even learned her name, but her face is forever treasured in my heart!)



More to come from Abba's deeply moved child,

Tom

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Transferring Our Trust

     This post is a lightly edited repost of one I wrote back in 2011. I am reposting it because I am sensing a need to update some of my earlier posts as part of my plan to write a book or two. I also believe, of course, that I may have learned a wee bit more over the past few years and wish to incorporate those things in these rewrites.
     I know I am repeating myself because have written "faith" many times before, and I certainly wrote quite a bit about that during the season of testing our family went through in 2009-2010. But I continue to learn a lot (by experience!) about trusting Papa God, so here are a few things I am learning or learning more thoroughly.
     First, I am more than ever aware that "faith" (trust) is something that is present in every human being. The question, then, is not whether I have faith, but where I choose to place my trust. All of us exercise enormous amounts of faith every day. We trust other drivers to stay alert and in their own lane of traffic, we trust those who worked on the airplane we are boarding to be responsible and careful, we trust those who prepare our food to exercise good hygiene practices, etc. And, most of all, we trust ourselves and our own perception of things. It's that last fact that creates the challenges for us when God invites us to trust Him. We are conditioned all of our lives to trust "self" and trust self above all else. And this self-trust is so automatic that it's almost invisible and is exercised without conscious thought. But God invites and challenges us to transfer our trust from this very limited and highly ignorant person (that would be me or you) to Himself, the infinite, all-knowing, completely loving One. Sounds good when we say it, eh? But learning to transfer trust to Him is a lifelong process that is often fought tooth and nail by both our adversary and our very own self. Big revelation there, eh? Once we stop and think about this, we realize how true it is that we all have faith--mostly in ourselves, and that it's a fight to transfer it elsewhere! When I realized that I wasn't trying to create faith (trust) or generate more faith (trust) but instead transfer my trust from self to God, it helped me both to want to do so and made me see how very possible and wise it is to trust God (I just keep choosing to shift my trust from my unreliable, ignorant self to all-knowing, totally reliable Papa God!).
     Second, I am learning that it's best to "build faith" during the good times so that it's there to sustain us during the bad times. This isn't what I was taught in church, though. I was told that times of testing come to grow my faith (to "exercise my faith muscle," etc.), but I was left with the impression that this is the primary way to build faith. But this isn't quite what really Scripture says, and it isn't what life experience teaches us! Trust grows in our lives in response to our experience of another's trustworthiness. We learn to trust another person by their demonstrating through their actions that they really are trustworthy. The more we experience their trustworthiness, the more we grow to trust them. Eventually our trust can grow deep enough that when they ask us to trust them in something we haven't previously experienced with them, we do trust them because their trustworthy character has been revealed through our experience with them. I think you can see how this applies to the God journey, too. And Scripture bears this out, showing us God's trustworthiness over and over again as experienced by people just like us. And yes, the Bible also tells us that struggles come not so much to grow our faith but to reveal it in the midst of the test (see, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7). Our faith does grow, of course, after the testing because we see God's faithfulness as we go through the test. But it's our confidence in Him that's already there that enables us to endure, not some "faith" that I work up while the test is going on.
     But how does the above truth help us? I am learning that paying attention to God's faithfulness during the good times, taking time to be grateful and to reflect on His goodness when things are going well can actually build my trust level in Him in lots of ways. That is indeed what happened during the season of pain that my family and I went through. The trust that had already grown in our hearts sustained us and invited us to trust in uncharted waters, even in the midst of the storm.
     And God, of course, was also continuing to reveal His trustworthiness during the troubled times in many different ways. Which means, as I said, that trust does grow during times of testing, too, but that doesn't negate the need to grow it first and most during the good times, in my opinion. It's my already established trust in God that helps me stand firm when hell assaults me. It's my already established ability to hear His voice in the good times that enables me to hear Him shouting to me over the noise of the storm!
     Third, I am learning that by its very nature, faith is meant to increase and grow in any relationship, and especially in our relationship with God. We were meant to trust God, we were born for that very purpose because we were born in order to be in relationship with Him! But because increase is part of the journey, we find God encouraging us to pay attention to His goodness, calling us into deeper trust in the good times, and we also find ourselves faced with a new choice to trust God in a new way during hard times as well. Personally, my own sense of self trust is so deeply ingrained in me that I still sometimes find God's invitations to trust Him in new ways rather stretching at the very least and downright annoying and scary at the most! Yet His invitation continues every day of our lives: "Trust in the LORD with all of your heart and don't trust in your own understanding." And so even our anxiety becomes God's call to trust Him more deeply, not blindly but based upon His character as revealed by our experiences of His faithfulness and the testimony of many others. But it's still scary and annoying at times! It wouldn't be faith if the need to trust weren't involved! Faith always "feels like faith," not certainty!
     Finally, I have discovered again that, when we read the Bible, it really does help to translate the words "belief, believe and faith" as "trust." There is something wonderfully down-to-earth and easy to understand about Jesus asking the disciples, "Where is your trust?" instead of "Where is your faith?" Because of our religious conditioning, the word "faith" often sounds like a commodity or something we do, whereas "trust" is easy for us to understand as a relational decision. Try it! The word "trust" will fit in all of those places where the words believe, belief or faith show up.
     So here we are, facing the uncertainty of life in multiple dimensions, with no sure end in sight. But I hear again the words of Lamentations 3:57 as Jeremiah writes in the midst of his great pain, "You came near when I called to you, and you said, 'Don't be afraid!'" And now you hear them with me. What can we do otherwise than transfer our trust once again to the One who alone is fully trustworthy?

Tom, one of Abba's sometimes trusting children

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Power with a Purpose

For those who heard me speak to the VCC family on Friday night, here are my notes. I hope to put up the notes for what I shared for the offering as well in the near future, but for now, here’s the outline for what I said in the “main message.” You will notice that these notes have things that I didn’t say, and that I said some things that aren’t in these notes (always happens, of course), but the core of what I believe Papa wanted me to share is here in these notes. 

The number one thing associated with the coming of the Spirit in Jesus’ words in Luke and Acts is power.

“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49 NIV1984)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV1984)

This means that when Paul encourages the Ephesians to “be being filled with the Holy Spirit” he hand in mind at least to some extent “being filled with power.”
“18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be (being) filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20 NIV)

So we can indeed “be being filled with power.” But power for what? What’s the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives? Here’s A few thoughts of many possibilities.
1.     The most obvious in the context of Luke and Acts is power to witness (with signs, wonders, miracles). See Acts 1:8, 4:31.
2.     The power to assure also comes to mind. Your knowing that you, each of you, are Abba’s dearly loved child, sealed by His Spirit and guaranteed eternal relationship with Him is part of the powerful work of the Spirit in your life.
Romans 5:5 (NIV) And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 8:14-16 (NIV) For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
We see three different ways that Holy Spirit assures us that we are God’s dearly loved children in these passages: 1)  He pours God’s love into our hearts (I have seen this happen in very obvious ways many times). 2) He bears witness with our spirits that we are for sure God’s sons and daughters, and every believer can listen to his/her heart and hear it cry out to God as “Abba/Papa” as part of this assurance. 3) He touches us, marks us, with power in a way that we know we have been touched by Heaven’s power as a down payment, a guarantee of more to come in eternity. Notice that this only makes sense if we know by experience that we have been “marked with a seal.”
3.     The power to love  
Galatians 5:22-23 “The fruit of the Spirit is love…”
Ephesians 2:22 (NIV) And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Ephesians 4:2-4 (NIV) Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us individually to love others as Jesus loves us. It is He who also creates community and sustains healthy relationships as we individually and together work with Him to maintain healthy relationships (the “unity of the Spirit).
4.     The power to be transformed (healed and matured).
Romans 8:5-9 (NIV) 5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
Romans 8:13 (NIV) For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
It is the Holy Spirit who empowers and guides the healing and transformation process in our lives. Self-guided effort at “becoming a better Christian” never works. It is only through partnership with the Holy Spirit that transformation can truly take place, and that partnership includes being in community with others who help us hear and respond to the Holy Spirit.  (The fruit of the Spirit can only be produced in community. You cannot produce love without having others to love. You cannot be kind or gentle or patient, etc., without having people to be kind to, gentle or patient with, etc.
5.     Power to bear fruit and to fulfill God’s purpose for you/us (Colossians 1:28-29)
Colossians 1:28-29 (ESV) Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
This has always been an amazing passage to me and one that clearly debunks the idea that living the Christian life and fulfilling our purpose in life is automatic or easy. Paul’s language here is very strong and speaks of great effort, but it’s effort that’s empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit. Human effort independent of intimacy with the Holy Spirit is bound to lead us away from grace and back into the bondage of religion. But the opposite of human effort is not “effortless” but rather Spirit-directed and empowered effort that flows from assurance and acceptance in Jesus.

The Main Take Away Thought? These all require our participation in some way (except perhaps assurance and even that one requires us to pay attention to our hearts).

  1. Our part? It’s to “Trust and obey,” not as cringing slaves but as mature sons and daughters who know that God’s power has purpose!
  2. Don’t settle for feeling good because God touched you, don’t settle for going back to business as usual once you have had your “Friday night drink” of God’s Spirit. 
  3. Yes, let God touch you, clothe you with power. God’s clothing you with power always has purpose. Which purpose rises to the top for you? Witness, Assurance, Maturity, Destiny?

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