Friday, March 8, 2019

Have You Seen Him? The Key to Transformation

      Can transformation be as simple as living a "Father-fascinated life"? Is the "gaze of the soul" really the key to an ever deeper and more transformed life in Jesus. Today's rewrite of two older entries (from 2009) seeks to answer that question.
     "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple." (Psalm 27:4, NIV)
     "And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18, NRSV, italics mine).
     Surely transformation can't be as simple as this, can it? Don't we need lots of effort and "oughts and shoulds" to be transformed? YES, it is this simple! And, NO, we don't need "oughts and shoulds." A focus on our own efforts makes deep transformation virtually impossible because it keeps the emphasis upon us. 
     Quite some time ago, I ran across a hymn by a rather obscure 19th century lover of Jesus, Ora Rowan (1834-1879), that still encourages me to the point of tears: God has always had people who understand that gazing at Him, really getting to know Him, is the key to transformation. See if you catch the message of this remarkable hymn (some words edited for clarity).

Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not yours a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand own Him,
Joyful choose the better part.

Idols once they won thee, charmed thee,
Lovely things of time and sense;
Gilded thus does sin disarm thee,
Honeyed, lest thou turn thee thence.

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of matchless worth.

Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void (emptiness) and smart (pain);
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.

Who extinguishes their taper
Till they hail the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer has begun?

'Tis the look that melted Peter,
'Tis the face that Stephen saw,
'Tis the heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw:

Draw and win and fill completely,
Till the cup o'erflow the brim;
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?

     It's hard for me to describe what the words of this hymn did to me the first time I read them! I hope you see what I see! I trust that you especially catch the lines that remind us that "duty" or attempts to crush "idols" don't lead to transformation.  Instead, it is the radiant "beaming of His beauty" and "the unveiling of His heart" that changes us. Who can know Him, really encounter Him and experience His love and power in an ongoing manner, and not be transformed?
     But so many well-meaning Christians would tell us we need to try harder! Surely something as simple as the deep surrender that comes through gazing at Him doesn't work, does it? Oh yes, dear ones! You cannot hear Him, see Him and know Him and not become ever more like Him.
     But is it really possible to be so "God-blinded," God-intoxicated, that our obedience flows from love rather than fear, duty or obligation? Absolutely! This is what Jesus modeled and intends for us to live out. It was Jesus' sense of the Father's constant love for Him and His love for the Father that enabled Him to obey the Father's will perfectly. This is made wonderfully clear in John's Gospel. Read it from the perspective of the love relationship between Jesus and His Father, and you will see it. 
     It was Jesus' ability to look into the Father's face that enabled Him to wrestle through the time of His suffering. And perhaps the most tender example of this is in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Mark's Gospel we find the one recorded evidence of Jesus using the term "Abba" for His Father (Mark 14:36).  There in the Garden, as He wrestles with things beyond our comprehension, His first word is "Abba" (Papa!), the word that His lips had first assigned to His Father when He was a child. And Luke's Gospel tells us that Abba answered Jesus' prayer, not by eliminating the cross but by sending angelic help (Luke 22:43).
     Furthermore, while Jesus was on the cross, in spite of popular songs that suggest otherwise, His mind was fully on His Father (not you and me). We see this in the seven sayings from the cross: His first record words are, "Father, forgive them..." and His cry of terror "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me" was clearly due to His sense of the Father's withdrawal (not in reality but the sense of it), and His final words are, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
     So I am convinced, my friends, that only by gazing at His Father's loving face (momentarily obscured at one crucial point) was Jesus able to endure the incomprehensible pain that He endured. The joy of obeying the One He loved the most (the "joy set before Him" described in Hebrews 12:2--note that the context is gazing upon Jesus just as He did upon His Father), the sense of His Father's complete trustworthiness and the constant awareness of His Father's love and delight are what enabled Jesus to say at the end, "It is finished."
     The question in all of this, of course, is "Do we think that some other, lesser motivation will work for us?" If Jesus lived loved and therefore lived fully and in total obedience, dare we think that we can do something different?

'Tis the face that Stephen saw,
'Tis the heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw.

Gazing ever more intently,

Tom, one of Papa's little boys

Friday, November 30, 2018

Those Who Walk With The King...

This post in an update of an earlier one. In the process of working on a couple of books (at last!), I am rewriting some of my earlier posts that may be included in them. 
     When the movie rendition of Prince Caspian came out a few years back, I was really grieved because they portrayed Peter as such a jerk at times! The writers of the script brought his character down to the current level of poor character so typical for our generation. In the process of doing so, they almost completely obliterated the noble character of Peter that C.S. Lewis intended us to see. 
     The thing that is most wrong with this, I think, is that it completely misses the point of C.S. Lewis’ stories: those who "company" with Aslan are deeply changed. This is especially true of those who walk with him as kings and queens. Yes, Lewis himself writes of Susan’s later abandonment of some of the Narnian principles, but not in the way portrayed by those who rewrote the Caspian story. One of the main points of the Narnia Chronicles is the noble character of those who learn to walk as Kings and Queens with Aslan, the King of Kings.
     I have seen such true nobility in some of Jesus’ joint-heirs, those who will reign with Him and who walk with Him now as a Royal Priesthood. Yes, I actually know some of His royal brothers and sisters who really do live as He lived: confident but humble, richly generous and benevolent, noble of character and outlook, patient with the weak, and gracious with the broken. These people are in all walks of life, from the simple and weak to the powerful and highly sophisticated. Like their King, they don’t draw attention to themselves, but neither are they uncomfortable with greatness, should it come their way, because they recognize where true greatness comes from. Like their King, an air of peace, concern for others and nobility emanates from them like the fragrance of a heavenly rose.
     I think right now of the true stories of some of Jesus' kings and queens of who died with dignity in experimental gas chambers in the prisons of North Korea, people who were at peace even as they sought to protect their children who died with them. I think of a friend’s meeting with humble, self-effacing Chinese men who were also powerful overseers of millions of underground house church believers. I think of a quiet but courageous woman who has faithfully poured out love to the children in the poorest neighborhood in Las Vegas for many, many years. I think of a businessman who leads with grace and kindness as God has prospered him beyond anything he ever dreamed. I think of how he carries himself with quiet humility, freely giving away large sums as God leads without anyone knowing. I think of Nick, now in Heaven, who was one of the humblest and meekest of men I have ever met. He quietly served my dad's family business as janitor for many years. Nick had a quiet but rock-solid faith in Jesus. As I think of his gentleness and meekness so many years after his passing, I realize that he also carried the mark of a King, a nobility of character and grace. I think of a humble, but courageous, man I met in Papua New Guinea who has raised the dead but speaks of it with joyful meekness. And I think of many more royal souls, some of them loud and outgoing, some of them quiet and almost invisible. My life is rich with many kings and queens who have spent their lives in fellowship with the King of Kings.
     And it is this last thing, I think, that is the common thread in all of their lives and the reason that nobility hangs on them like a heavenly robe. Whereas some people may settle for a “get-out-of-hell free” ticket, for these remarkable souls “companying with their King” is the pulsating center of their lives. And in hanging out with their King, the fragrance of their King somehow has come permeate their lives. Make it so in me, in all of us, my King!

Hanging out with Royalty,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Pray for Our Nation

     This post is the fulfillment of a promise I made to our VCC family this morning. I promised to post the longer version of something I saw this past Friday night during worship. It is not intended in any way to be a political statement but rather a call to pray for our nation and leaders as we are urged to do in 1 Timothy 2:1-4. Historically, every great Spiritual Awakening has been preceded by fervent, united prayer and deep repentance. Here's what I saw.
     During worship I was taken in my mind (taken in the Spirit) to Washington, D.C. I was sort of "in the air" looking down at the city. From that perspective I first saw a large church building that began to be clothed in fire (Heaven's Fire), and I heard the Lord tell me that spiritual awakening will begin to happen in this (and other) significant congregations in Washington, D.C. This building may have represented the National Cathedral, but it at the very least represented a key congregation or congregations in our nation's capital. As I was looking at the church building, I felt God encourage me to declare, "Fire, fire, fire..." (Those near me on Friday night would have heard me doing so.)
     The next thing I saw was thousands and thousands of angels assembled around the city. They were in battle array and ready to be deployed. They were to be deployed against the hordes of the enemy, which I could also see. The enemy's soldiers were like storm troopers and had already successfully penetrated the city with wave after wave of warriors. But God's armies formed a larger and fiercer army, and they were already unsheathing their swords and preparing for battle. I sensed God telling me that these Angel Armies were going to be fully released/activated by the prayers of God's people.
     The third thing I saw was a large worship banner with "Jesus" written on it being waved over the Capitol. This occurred as we were singing "What a Beautiful Name." I could not see who was waving this flag, but it was a clear picture (and, at the very least, another invitation to pray).
     I also saw Spiritual Awakening ("revival") come to at least four other places in the U.S.  I trust there will be more than these four, but these may have been shown to me to let us know that awakening is coming: I saw God's fire come upon Denver, Dallas, Houston and Redding, CA. Regarding Redding, I heard Papa say that "Fresh Fire" was coming to Bethel Church, Redding: a "revival of the Revival." I sensed that this is close at hand and will validate the rest of what I was seeing. 
    I submit this to you as one of the most significant visions I have had in quite some time, and I invite you to consider joining me in prayer for the purifying, renewing, strengthening Fire of God to fall upon our nation's capital--its key churches, our leaders, and everyone else, too, of course. 

Praying for our sadly divided, broken nation,

Tom, one Abba's children

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Transformed By His Word and Spirit

For my VCC Friends. Here's the Notes from the October 1 message. 
For others who want to listen to the message, you can go to this link. 

1.     How does God’s Word change us? I know I can’t fully answer that in a few minutes! (Entire Course!)
2.     But because God’s Word is “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12) and is the key to the “renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2), I want to spend a few minutes talking about how Spirit and Word work to change us “more and more into His image from glory to glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
3.     Other resources that will add to what I share this morning.
a.     The summer course on this subject is online at Karen Ladage’s website. Thanks, Richard!
b.     The bookstore has a message to pastors that I gave many years ago about intimacy and God’s Word (and other things!). The CD is entitled “Fruitful Intimacy” (October 2005).
4.     First things first. Here’s a few foundational things in talking about how God’s word changes us.
a.     First, we are, in one sense, already “transformed” but we are also being transformed. J There is a sort of a tension between who God says we are and who we are becoming.
·       2 Corinthians 5:17 is one of many passages that say we are already changed: “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away - look, what is new has come!” (NET Bible)
·       But other passages speak of a process. Two we will look at today are 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” Romans 12:2 Stop allowing this present age to shape you and how you live and instead be being transformed by the renewing of your thinking (mind) so that you can prove by living it out how good, pleasing and complete God’s will is. (TW paraphrase)
b.     Second, it’s about relationship, not religion. We change in the context of intimacy with God.
·       I trust God’s Word because I know Him and trust Him. For example, I trusted my Dad’s promises to me because I knew his integrity. So it is with us: We trust His Word because it’s His Word. Our growing intimacy with Him and experience of His faithfulness in our lives assures us that His word is true even when it appears otherwise.
·       My interaction with God’s Word flows out of and also shapes my interaction with Him as my Papa. Fellowship with the Holy Spirit.  
c.     Third, other believers around us are an essential to our being transformed by God’s Word. We often see in the Bible that it’s people living out God’s Word that brings change. Some examples (from NIV)
·       1 Corinthians 4:16-17 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
·       1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
·       2 Timothy 3:14-15 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
d.     Transformation requires us to see what Scripture really says, not what we think it says. And again to think! We “study” and meditate in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Note that “think” doesn’t mean mere human effort or “trying hard.”
e.     Finally, transformation happens only when we say “Yes” to what God shows us in His Word. It’s not enough simply to agree with what we hear or see. Change happens as we respond & obey.
·       James 1:22-25 (ERV) Do what God's teaching says; don't just listen and do nothing. When you only sit and listen, you are fooling yourselves. Hearing God's teaching and doing nothing is like looking at your face in the mirror and doing nothing about what you saw. You go away and immediately forget how bad you looked. But when you look into God's perfect law that sets people free, pay attention to it. If you do what it says, you will have God's blessing. Never just listen to his teaching and forget what you heard.
Three Passages That Help Us Understand Transformation
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NRSV) Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
1.     Transformation happens through the leadership of the Spirit who leads us to increasing freedom!
2.     Intimacy unlocks transformation. (Unveiled faces speaks of intimacy, authenticity, etc.) Context here speaks of unashamed, full access to God without any hindrances to our understanding.
3.     Where (at whom) we look changes us! Some quotes from Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard are below.
·       Our present American culture boasts of complete freedom in what one sees, says, and hears. Many professing Christians are paralyzed or even destroyed by adopting this “freedom” as a lifestyle. For they allow images into their mind that eventually overwhelm them. If we allow everything access to our mind, we are simply asking to be kept in a state of mental turmoil or bondage. For nothing enters the mind without having an effect for good or evil.
·       There are many things we need not see and are better off not seeing—though, if you wish, you have a “right” to see them. Anyone who thinks that if I have a right to do X it is good for me to do X, simply hasn’t thought deeply about the matter. Paul’s wise counsel, by contrast, was, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8). Make no mistake; this is a fundamental and indispensable part of our spiritual formation in Christ.
Romans 12:1-2 (NIV 1984) Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(TW’s paraphrase of v. 2 again) Stop allowing this present age to shape you and how you live and instead be being transformed by the renewing of your thinking (mind) so that you can prove by living it out (testing) how good, pleasing and complete God’s will is.
1.     We are being shaped one way or the other by what we expose our minds to and think about. Paul urges us to be shaped in our thinking by the renewing of our minds (our thinking).
2.     The primary way this happens is through exposure to the Truth of God’s Word. (This includes people modeling it, other resources but especially the Bible.) This has many implications, of course, but for just one, consider how much of your thinking is actually shaped by His word. “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” Ps. 119:97 (NIV 1984) I mention this in the 2005 message I recommend!
2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV 1984) But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
1.     The context of this passage is Paul giving instruction for living in wild and crazy times!
2.     What do those four main words in v. 16 mean?
·       Teaching (doctrine) Now “doctrine” sounds exciting, eh? It will if you understand that it means instruction in truth that changes our thinking, our faulty paradigms and views of God and ourselves!
·       Rebuking. “Rebuking” sounds even less exciting! But don’t you want to have things that harm you and others removed from your life? The word basically means to expose sin. (So that it can be expelled!) “(Rebuking) means, clearly, that as we read scripture it will from time to time inform us in no uncertain terms that something we’ve been doing is out of line with God’s will. Sometimes this will lie plainly on the surface of the text; other times, as we read a passage, we will begin to hear the voice of God gently, or perhaps not so gently, telling us that this story applies to this area of our lives, or perhaps that one. When that happens – as it may often do for those who read the Bible prayerfully – we do well to pay attention.” (For Everyone Commentary)
·       Correcting. This word means “restoration to an upright or right state, correction, improvement of life or character.” (Olive Tree Enhanced Bible Dictionary). This word can also be translated, “Improving.” “Reading the Bible will transform you, will ‘improve’ you, in the sense of somebody making ‘improvements’ to a house or a city.” (For Everyone Commentary)
·       Training in righteousness. “It will train you in ‘righteousness’, which is a combination of goodness and justice, the behavior that God longs to see in all his children. The aim is (verse 17) not to squash people into a strange, unnatural shape by trying to order their lives according to the Bible, but to help people who belong to God to become complete, richly human beings, reflecting God’s image in all its many-sided splendor.” (For Everyone Commentary)
SUMMARY: We are transformed by who we are with, what we look at/listen to, what we think about and what we choose.
Examples from my life as to how this works:
Remember: the goal is to get to know God (but like a child getting to know His Father, not a slave getting instructions on what to do!): “Show me your ways, teach me your paths…” This happens as Holy Spirit and the Word change our understanding of Him, of our paradigms (how we view and think about things), our understanding of who we are to Him, of people around us, our hearts, etc. As we said earlier, this requires us to think deeply and often as we reflect and read. Think often: Most of us, even as believers, think mostly about things other than God and His Word. So much treasure is lost because of this, so much joyful intimacy, so many lies still hold us captive! Therefore my ultimate goal today is to compel you by love to consider living saturated with His Word!
Two main ways Holy Spirit uses the Word with me:
1.     By having me reflect on what I already have in me (it’s good to have a lot of it in me. It gives Him a large vocabulary). Some examples: 1) “Get rid of all bitterness.” Ephesians 4:31, can speak to me any time it needs to!  2) One big epiphany was that God sounds like what He tells us to sound like (take a look at Ephesians 4:29, 1 Corinthians 14:3 to determine whether the voice you hear is God or something else.) 3) Psalms 56:3 and 94:17-19 often speak to me when I am struggling with anxiety. Note, though, how each of these grows out of conversation with Him! Relationship! Also, all of it is positive not negative for me. God is never harsh or condemning with me. If what I hear doesn’t give me hope (even when I am being corrected), I know it’s not from Papa God (or at least part of it is being tainted by my thinking or the enemy).
2.     By guiding me as I read/study (or “listen” for you who are auditory). This happens as we think carefully and thoroughly about what we are reading. Several examples below.
Who God Really Is (What He is Really Like)
1.     Although “saved” and “salvation” are part of the Gospel message, nowhere is the Gospel described as choosing between Heaven or Hell. It’s rather about the Kingdom of God, about returning to the One who loves us, etc. The Good News is about relationship with the One who paid everything to get to us, not escaping eternal torment. We won’t be joyful in Heaven because we escaped Hell but because we will be face to face with the One who is beyond description and who loves us infinitely. (John 14:1-3 “that you may be with me…”)
a.     Exodus 34:6-7 (NIV 1984) “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
b.     Example: John 3:16-17 (Loved the world so much that He gave…, not to condemn the world but to save the world…)
c.     Example: “God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself…” 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NIV 1984) All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
2.     God is like what He tells us to be! I already sort of covered this earlier (when I discussed what God sounds like) but when I stopped and reflected on 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5:22-23…Wow! I realized that these passages and others are descriptions of God. God is the kindest, most joyful, most patient, most gentle Being in the Universe, etc.
3.     Another example: “Your mercies never end….” (Lamentations 3:22-23) We tend to think of God in human terms so we think He runs out of mercy, or has to parcel it out, but His mercy never ends!
4.     My reflecting on Papa as a Good Father (Matthew 7:7-11) My thinking was changed about God‘s desire to bless by this passage. I was unconsciously thinking that He was limited in his goodness and/or that if others have it bad, I should not ask for him to bless me. But the truth is that God is good all the time and others suffering does not cancel out his goodness.
Who Believers Really Are to Him
1.     We loved beyond measure. Romans 5:8
2.     Are we “unworthy”? Nowhere are we called that! You don’t pay a huge price for something that has no worth, and God paid an infinite price for you and me. What about Luke 17:10? Some translations use the term “unworthy” in this verse. But the meaning is undeserving, not unworthy. Luke 17:10 (NET) So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, ‘We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty.’
3.     Are we punished when we do wrong? We may reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8), we may be disciplined (Hebrews 12:7-11), but all punishment that was/is due to us has been put on Jesus. Isaiah 53:5 “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
What the Core of “The Christian Life” Really is
1.     Abundant Life: John 10:10 What is “abundant life”? In a nutshell, it’s eternal life lived in loving relationship with God, hearing His voice, experiencing His love, fulfilling His purposes (a life with meaning, purpose and destiny). All of this can be discovered simply by reading the rest of the Gospel of John. The point is that Abundant Life has nothing to do with material possessions or “having a nice life,” but it has everything to do with having an eternal and growing relationship with the One who is life.
2.     I have discovered that the Christian life is more about being in healthy relationships than merely stopping personal sin (also important, of course). Ephesians 4:1-3 (NIV 1984) As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 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. Most of what follows these verses has to do with relationships with one another—check it out!. This fits with the New Commandment, of course in John 13:34-35 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” TW paraphrase: “The world around you will recognize you as my followers by your healthy, love-filled relationships with one another.”
3.     Related to number two: Example is the most important teacher/trainer. A careful reading of the New Testament will see that “truth” was transferred from teacher to “student” more by example than by talking!
4.      “I can do all things…” I was reading this passage one day and realized that a Christian can never say “I can’t!”
Consider these amazing words as we finish. May God grant me/us similar passion for Him and His Word!
Psalm 119:1-2 (NIV 1984) Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.  2 Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.
Psalm  119:11-18 (NIV 1984) I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. 12 Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. 13 With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. 14 I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. 15 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. 16 I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. 17 Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word. 18 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

Psalm 119:97 (NIV 1984) Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.

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 listen to the message (and a few of my other messages) by clicking here. It will open in a separate window.

  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. God when He finished creating the Universe said that 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 followed by Adam’s rebellion.
o     So even though God is Perfectly Good, the enemy tries to get us to focus us on the bad, seeking to smear God’s reputation and undermine our trust in Him.
o     So what is God really 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 read my blog on "What is God Like?" by clicking here (it will again open in a separate window), and here for part two.
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. 
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--asking "why" comes from a desire to trust our understanding!)
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 to your questions 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 intimate 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 on February 5, 2011 (“Standing in 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 when we are in the middle of painful circumstances can make it feel like that! My prayer for you and me, though, is that the brilliant breakthrough that came to the angry and bitter Jeremiah 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?!!