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,


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,


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?

You can see the live stream of this message by clicking here

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Awakened to the Father's Love

     For the Friday night crowd of the VCC Houston family, here's the entry I promised to accompany the message from last Friday night.
     This subject was triggered by a text message I recently received from a friend asking me if I'd ever heard of “going to the courtrooms of Heaven and presenting your case there.” Because the concept of having to go to Heaven's courtrooms to present my case" so badly misses the Father's heart for us, my friend's question led me to think about what I believe is the most important “key to Revival/Spiritual” and what "Revival" really is.
     What does the Church really need to be fully awakened and reach the world around us? I am convinced that the next great Spiritual Awakening will have at its core an awakening to the Father's love. It will be rooted in an intimacy with God that leads to healthy intimacy with one another. I also believe that the healing revival that will accompany this awakening will include the healing of relationships, not just the healing of bodies and souls.
     There is certainly biblical support for spiritual awakening being tied to intimacy with God. In the book of Revelation, Jesus’ answer to the lukewarm church in Laodicea was an invitation to intimacy with Him! “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends." (Revelation 3:19-20 NLTse). What a compelling thought: God's answer to apathy is not condemnation but an invitation to intimacy with Him. Repentance, then, in the context of Revelation 2-3 is a turning to God and opening the door of our heart to Him.  
     And why am I talking about repentance? Because spiritual awakening always has repentance as the beginning mark of the awakening. Repentance is a change of thinking that leads to a  change of direction, so what thinking do we need to change? What direction to we need to turn towards? My answer: The thinking that needs to change is how we think about God, especially as Father; and the turning we will do is a turning to Him to run into His embrace. (So the problem with the idea of us “presenting our case in heaven” is that it misses the Father’s heart, and smacks of religion: manipulating God or doing something in order to get God to perform a certain way--the exact opposite of what intimacy with a Perfectly Good Father looks like!) 
      One of the best pictures of His Father's heart that Jesus gave (besides living out the Father's love and dying to prove it) is found in what's usually called the "Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This is actually the passage that came to my mind as I answered my friend's question because it so clearly reveals the heart of our loving Father. In fact, I believe that the teaching here by Jesus is more than anything else all about the Father's love for us! Yes, Jesus is teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven, but He is most of all revealing Papa's love for His children and inviting us to live differently (as dearly loved children) because of our Father's love! Let's see if you catch what Jesus was saying about Father God. (All Scripture references are from the New English Translation, the NET Bible, unless otherwise indicated, and the italics are mine.)
     Your Father is Perfect in His love. Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors a do the same, don’t they? 47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? 48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." This is a remarkable thought: that Father God knows how to love each and every one of us perfectly. Some may protest at this point, of course, that it doesn't seem like God knows how to love them perfectly, but the story isn't over yet. As I spoke on this subject the other night, I reminded everyone that it's best not to try to define love for God (i.e., tell Him how to love us) but rather to start with the basic truth that God does love us perfectly. When we use that truth as the lens through which we view all of life (and eternity) then His love becomes evident to us in many, many ways. So think about this, dear ones. Your Father loves you--perfectly!
     Your Father is Faithful to always reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people.  Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. This truth is repeated in 6:16-18: “When a you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 17 When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you." Again, what a remarkable thought! The God of the Universe, Creator of all things, infinite in His love and goodness, can be counted on to reward us. No wonder Jesus encouraged His hearers not to settle merely for the accolades of people when they could instead receive reward from an infinite God who loves them perfectly! "Awaken us, Father, to your love and faithfulness to reward those who live in and unto you!"
     Your Father is Eager to Answer Your Prayers, Anticipating your need before you even ask! Matthew 6: 5-8 “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. 7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."  This section shows us where the “case in Heaven” people missed things, doesn't it? As Martin Luther once said about praying to our Loving Father: "Prayer isn't overcoming God's reluctance, it's laying hold of His willingness." Awaken us, Father, to your love as expressed in your eagerness to listen and respond to us with more than we need!" 
     Your Father is Ready to provide, to forgive, to guide, to deliver! Then Jesus goes on to give "the Lord's Prayer," a prayer that above all else reveals our Father's heart to care well for His children. Matthew 6:9-15 9 So pray this way:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,
10 may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves a have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
14 “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.”
     Your Father is Always caring for you! Matthew 6:19-34 19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth a and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your a treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, a your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat? ʼ or ‘What will we drink? ʼ or ‘What will we wear? ʼ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own." Awaken us, Father, to the expansiveness and infinite inclusiveness of your love for us. Not a detail of our lives escapes your sight or is ever out of range of your care and provision!" Yes, even this well known passage, dear ones, is not about what we need to do but about what our Father does for us because of Who He is and who we are to Him. 


  1. Do you see? Jesus came to reveal the Father, not merely to “save people from hell” but first and foremost to reconcile them to their loving Father God.
  2. And yes, thinking of God as Father seems pretty normal to us, but in Jesus’ day, calling God Father in an intimate way was shocking. I wonder if we haven’t lost the wonder of this. I wonder how different things will be as we recapture the wonder of being called and living life as sons and daughters of God!
  3. How shall we respond?
  4.  One possibility: Become bold "askers"! “At that time you will ask in my name, and I do not say that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26-27 NET)
  5. And certainly we can pray Ephesians 1:17 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17 NIV1984)
Praying for us all to be further awakened to the Father's love!

Tom, one of Abba's dearly loved children

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hearing God's Voice

I just returned yesterday from a men's retreat in Wisconsin during which I promised to post this article on hearing God's voice (parts of which I have previously posted quite some time ago). So for all my amazing brothers in Wisconsin, here you go!
It all starts with hearing His voice! God has invited each of us into a wonderfully close relationship with Him, and all true transformation flows out of this relationship with Him. Transformation happens not through self-effort (which leaves us still in control) but through surrender to Him and Holy Spirit-empowered obedience to His leading. As we yield to Him, really take time to be with Him and listen for His voice, He draws near to us and we cannot help but be deeply changed! The Holy Spirit guides us and empowers us so that we become more and more like Jesus even while we learn to live in His love.
Obviously, the key in all of this is to hear God’s voice clearly. No relationship can grow without ongoing communication. But is this for you? Yes! Everyone who fully surrenders to the Lord can hear His voice clearly and continually. The following different renderings of John 10:27 should be encouraging to you. The first translation tells us that we can hear Jesus’ voice. The second translation assures us that we can recognize His voice. The third translation reminds us that the way to hear His voice is to come to Him with a willingness to listen (obey)! All three meanings are possible, so I believe we can treasure them all.
John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. NRSV
John 10:27 My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me. NLT
John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. NIV
Are you one of His sheep? Then as you take time to listen, coming to Him with a willingness to obey what you hear, you will hear His voice and experience His love. As you do this, you will find that He is always speaking! The verb tenses in John 10:27 are all present tense. John 10:27 literally reads, “My sheep are hearing my voice. I am knowing them, and they are following me.” This sounds to me like we can be hearing Jesus all the time! Other verses tell us the same thing. For example, Romans 8:14 literally reads “For as many as are being led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (The Spirit leads us by continually speaking to us).
The core of the Christ life is an increasingly intimate relationship with God, and constantly improving communication is essential for that relationship to grow. And because God’s desire is for each believer to hear Him on his/her own, not through a “pastor” or other teacher, it is crucial for you to learn how to hear Him well. Just how important is it for you to hear God’s voice for yourself, up close and personal? I answer that with another question: How else are you going to build a relationship with Him? How else will you know what to do as a believer in any assignment God has for you? It takes a revelation of God’s wisdom to live life as He intends it, doesn’t it?
The NIV rightly translates Proverbs 29:18a “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” The CEV translates it “Without guidance from God, law and order disappear.” The ESV alternate says “Where there is no prophetic vision, the people are discouraged.” What’s my point here? It’s that discouragement and destruction happen when God’s people aren’t hearing Him and obeying His voice. Note that this means more than reading the Bible. It refers to immediate words from God (in line with Scripture) continually being spoken to us.
So how can you improve your ability to hear God’s voice? First, let’s think about how God communicates with us. What does God’s voice sound like? What types of means does He use to communicate with us? First, because God is infinitely creative, He chooses to communicate in a lot of different ways, crafting His communication to the unique needs of each of His children. Having said that, Scripture and the experience of God’s people through the ages show us that there are some ways that God often uses to communicate. Books about hearing God list things like impressions, an inner voice, an audible voice, dreams, various types of visions, angels, etc. What I want to concentrate on, however, is the communication that I believe God most often uses to communicate with us as we seek to follow His Spirit throughout the day. That communication usually starts with our receiving nudges and impressions that eventually grow into words (and/or pictures) that grow into the internal conversation with God that Paul refers to as “praying without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Yes, I believe that it’s possible to hear God all the time! How else can we be led by the Spirit? And I have found that this communication usually sounds like me! That is, God’s inner voice sounds a lot like my inner thoughts, except it comes from a slightly “different place” within me (it takes time and practice to discern this, however). How do we learn to hear this inner voice consistently?
Learning to hear God’s voice is a process, and most folks find that they can hear God only rather faintly at first. So if you are new to this, don’t be disappointed if the communication seems faint as you begin. Those of us in the Western world are especially not used to receiving input from anywhere beyond our 5 senses! The existence of a spiritual world beyond the physical world takes time for us to adjust to, so be patient with yourself as you learn to tune into the spiritual realm where God chooses to communicate with His children.
We said earlier that God’s communication most often starts with nudges and impressions. It was a “nudge” from the Holy Spirit that first brought you to God, wasn’t it? Somehow you knew that God was communicating with you and inviting you to surrender to Jesus. So you have already heard God clearly at least once! And as you surrender more to Him, the impressions will grow stronger as you learn to tune into them. You will find Bible passages coming alive and you will know that God is saying something directly to you. The same thing will happen as you pray or wait quietly before God. Something will come into your mind that “feels like” God. It may be an impression that you should pray for someone, or perhaps it will be the sense that God is addressing something in your life (unforgiveness, a wrong attitude, etc.), or you will sense Him communicating His love for you in a fresh way. (This is one of His most frequent “words” to His people). As you respond to these nudges and impression in obedience and/or with thanksgiving, they will get stronger and louder.
A.W. Tozer describes this process in The Pursuit of God. “It is important that we get still to wait on God. It is best that we get alone, preferably with our Bible outspread before us. Then if we want we may draw near to God and begin to hear Him speak to us in our hearts. I think for the average person the progression will be somewhat like this: first a sound as of a Presence of walking in the garden. Then a voice, more intelligible, but still far from clear. Then the happy moment when the Spirit begins to illuminate the Scriptures, and that which had been only a sound, or at best a voice, now becomes an intelligible word, warm and intimate and clear as the word of a dear friend. Then will come life and light, and best of all, ability to see and rest in and embrace Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and all.”
So hearing God is a process which usually starts with nudges or impressions that grow into clear conversation with Him. And although God uses many different ways to communicate with us, the most common way is the internal voice. So how do we improve our ability to hear the internal voice of God? Let’s look at seven S’s for hearing God’s voice. Before that, though, I remind you that the first step in your hearing God’s voice is for you to believe that you can hear His voice! Many believers don’t seem to believe this! Psalm 23:2 says that the Lord as our Shepherd leads us beside still waters, and being led to still waters requires us to hear His voice. And John 10:27 doesn’t say “some of my sheep hear my voice.” You can hear God’s voice! Now for the seven S’s!
Seeking. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” This verse promises that people who fervently seek to know God and hear His voice will find that God always responds! This wonderful promise boils down the requirement for finding and hearing God into something we can all qualify for: desire! If you really want to hear God’s voice, you will learn to do so.
Scripture. When God speaks, what He says sounds like the Bible! Getting God’s Word into our lives gives the Holy Spirit a vocabulary to use for speaking to us. I find that the more of God’s Word I memorize the clearer His voice becomes and the easier it is to distinguish His voice from my own voice. Hearing God’s voice often starts with hearing God speak through His written word. That’s one reason why we encourage folks to write down what He says through His Word. If you aren’t already doing so, try giving God the opportunity to speak to you in this way. Take some time to sit quietly and read the Bible, asking God to speak to you. I can guarantee that if you do this with expectancy, you will hear His voice.
Surrender. Would you spend a lot of time talking to someone who wasn’t responding to what you said? The people who hear God best always approach Him with an attitude of absolute surrender, yielding their lives to God’s loving embrace and His purposes. To hear God’s voice clearly, you must approach Him with a willingness to do what He says without hesitation or reservation! Smith Wigglesworth often boiled the Christian life down to one word: yield. He told his hearers, “Yield and yield and yield!” You see, even though God’s desire in communicating with us is to build relationship with us, like any good father, He won’t speak much to the person who isn’t willing to follow Him. One sure way to improve your hearing His voice, then, is to start obeying those “nudges” you get from Him. The nudges get “louder” as we come ready to obey and then follow through with obedience. Try it!

Stillness. It’s amazing to me how many people think that they can hear God in the middle of the noise of their crowded lives. Have you ever tried to carry on a serious conversation in a noisy restaurant or while the TV was going? It’s impossible! God often speaks very, very softly, so we need to really get still to hear Him. In fact, when you first start trying to hear Him, you will find that you face not only external noise but internal noise as well. Even when we get alone and quiet, most of us find that our minds at first are filled with “noisy thoughts” that drown out God’s still, small voice. What can you do about this? First, be quiet! Make prayer a two-sided conversation, not a laundry list or a 911 call! If God can’t get a word in edgewise, it’s not likely that you will hear much. For me prayer is now well over 50% listening. Second, take the time needed to get still. Get alone, tune out the outside noises, put on some soft worship music if that helps, and just sit until your soul quiets down. “Coming to interior stillness requires waiting. Any attempt to hasten the process only stirs up the water anew.” Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child (Kindle Locations 508-509). Certain scripture passages have helped me get still and may help you, too (Psalms 46:10 and 131:1-2, for example). Finally, don’t give up! Most of us are so unaccustomed to stillness that it takes practice to get really still. But when you do get still, hang on! You will find God speaking volumes to you, and you will learn how to take that stillness with you wherever you go.
Solitude. We can’t form a relationship or recognize someone’s voice in a crowd. Learning to recognize how someone communicates—with both verbal communication and non-verbal communication—requires us to spend time alone with them, doesn’t it? Our relationship with God is no different. If we want to get to know the subtle nuances of the ways He communicates, we must spend time with Him alone. It is impossible to learn to hear God just by attending meetings. That may help, but it cannot take the place of time alone with Him. I have found a direct connection between how much time I spend alone with Him and how well I recognize His voice. And I have never met anyone who took the time to be alone with God (to listen) who didn’t learn to hear God well. Again, try it! Take the time in your life that’s yours to invest as you wish and spend it alone with God and see what happens!
Spiritual friends. God’s people were never meant to live in isolation, so in spite of what we said about solitude, part of your learning to hear God must happen as you live in relationship with other believers. Learning from people who know how to hear God well and living in community with others who long to hear God well has helped me to hear God better. I also believe that it’s possible for those who hear God well to pray impartation into others. My own hearing level greatly increased after I was prayed for by men and women who hear God well. I have also learned more about hearing God from books by authors who know how to hear God. Two books that have helped me are by Jack Deere: Surprised by the Voice of God (a big book!) and A Beginner’s Guide to Prophecy. Other books by authors like Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer and others have also helped me. You really need to find people who hear God consistently and ask them to pray for you and assist you in this. Find a spiritual friend or two and learn more together!
Spiritual Language. Most people who have activated the personal gift of speaking in tongues (“spiritual language”) report that regular exercise of this gift helps them hear God better. One friend of mine was able to hear God so clearly that when he ministered he could sometimes call out license plate numbers of people in his meetings! (It was always interesting to go somewhere with him!). When I asked Herb how he learned to hear God so clearly, he said that one thing that really helped him was praying in his spiritual language. Herb explained that God’s voice seemed to originate from the same place that his spiritual language came from and also built him up spiritually, as 1 Corinthians 14:4 says. You will find that your hearing level will increase as you pray often using this gift.
One last thought for you about hearing God: keep practicing and you will get better! Jesus makes an amazing promise in Mark 4:23-25: 23 “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Do you see the promise? Jesus promises that if we give attention to what we are already hearing, we will hear even more! Since hearing God forms the foundation of all else in a maturing life, I recommend that you start increasing the volume now!
For another great resource on hearing God’s voice, check out Mark Virkler’s free download at