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. 

Conclusion:

  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 http://www.cwgministries.org/4Keys.pdf

Saturday, August 9, 2014

When Persecution Comes

   What happened to my blogging? The short answer is my life happened, aggravated by continuing challenges with carpal tunnel syndrome. Your prayers for full recovery physically and full recovery of "the rhythms of life" will help more than I can describe.
     I would also welcome your help in terms of my sense that I should publish some of my thoughts. I am hoping before too long to publish some short books extracted from this blog via Amazon's self-publishing feature. The question is: where should I start? I have covered a lot of subjects in this blog, and any thoughts for some of you as to where I should start my focus would be very helpful. 
     Now for what's uppermost on my heart: God's persecuted people, concern for whom has been raised up again for all of us via current world events. I have written before about our persecuted brothers and sisters, click here to read my last post on this.
    But here are a few more thoughts God placed on my heart about when persecution comes to His people.
     First, much to my surprise, God reminded me that the anger we as believers feel when we read/hear of such things is normal and not necessarily bad. Even Jesus was angry at what religion and hatred do to people. But Papa also reminded me not to stay in that place of anger, because anger never works His purposes (James 1:20). Instead we must allow Holy Spirit to reroute anger so that it fuels motivation. I also sensed God warning me/us to beware of the danger of hardening of my heart. It's very easy for anger to become hatred. We see the sad evidence of this in the Facebook comments "Christians" make about some of our (admittedly inept and corrupt) political leaders. When honor for others completely disappears from what we think and say, when we find nothing but hardness and anger in our hearts when we think of certain people (including any human "enemies"), we are in danger of being swept into the enemy's camp. And it is then that we will resort to using his methods (force, coercion, shame, etc.) instead of God's. On the other hand, if we give our anger to God, he will keep us tender towards Him and towards everyone else. One example: God's tenderness in our hearts will help us care simultaneously for the people of Israel who are harassed and pummeled by Hamas while also caring about the Palestinian folks who are also victimized by the same terrorist group by being used as shields and also subjected to the great disruption and loss that war always brings. You see, then, I trust, that God's desire is to pull us away from anger to a different place--away from anger and fear--so that we rise to that place of peace that enables us to wage war as God wages it. 
     Second, I heard the Lord remind me not to feel guilty nor allow fear to stay rooted in my heart. Since I wrote about how to handle guilt in the blog I mentioned earlier, I won't repeat myself. As for fear, He who searches our hearts invites us to bring all fear to Him and allow Him to bring us to a different perspective that helps banish fear. (And He does this by bringing perspective, which I write more below).
     But what can we do? In addition to what I wrote last November I would add the following thoughts.

     Prayer. I hinted at this in my previous thoughts on persecuted believers when I wrote of carrying the persecuted ones in our hearts before God. But today I realized in a new way that prayer is our most powerful weapon, not just an optional tool that we casually use occasionally. So although I am far from a powerful intercessor, I am learning more than ever to keep my heart open at all times to the Spirit of Intercession and allow Him to turn me to prayer when I hear news of persecuted people (instead of going to anger or fear). And I am learning in new ways that every prayer, every thought, is treasured in Heaven and that fierce, persistent prayer that flows from the place of peace is remarkably confusing to our adversary and also powerfully effective (James 5:16 comes to mind).  Will you join me, then, in agreeing to pause every time you see/hear the news about persecuted people and lift them to God? Will you join me in asking God to show you how best to pray? 
     Perspective! That is, allow God to adjust your perspective to His. This has many facets, at least for me. Here are three that come to mind right now.
  • First, there is the personal adjustment that comes to me as I realize that "others have it worse, much worse." Suddenly my whining and short-sighted selfishness is swallowed up in the larger reality of the suffering world we live in. My whining turns to weeping for others, my grumbling to genuine gratitude, my pettiness to prayer. 
  • Second, there is the measure of peace that comes from taking a longer view of human history. In spite of an underlying culture myth in America myth that life can be trouble-free, history shows us that ever since Adam's sin invited the evil one into our world, there have been seasons of noticeably increased evil that break over our world like tsunamis of darkness. For example, World War 2 resulted in over 60 million deaths and inestimable destruction! My own dad's stories of that dark season in our world always brings a healthy adjustment to my perspective. But even in that dark time, goodness eventually prevailed, but not without great suffering and sacrifice. And history, recent and ancient, is replete with these tsunamis of evil and with God's answering redemption. This present world is not as God intended and never will be, but His mercy keeps flowing and working and will do so until Jesus comes to set all things right. 
  • Finally, there is the unshakable peace that comes when we are able to view things from a truly eternal perspective. This is what I like to call, “Eternity’s gift.” God promises persecution, but He also promises ultimate triumph and the redemption of all things. We catch glimpses of this eternal perspective in Psalm 73, in Romans 8, in 2 Corinthians 4-5, the book of Revelation, and many other places. The truth is that someday, several thousand years into eternity, we will all (perhaps especially our persecuted and martyred sisters and brothers) understand the wonder of God's sovereign redemptive work and worship with fresh wonder at how God redeemed even the most vile and wicked acts of the devil and his human agents. And it is this perspective that Holy Spirit uses to bring resting peace" as He speaks to those in the fire and even to us who see the fire from afar off. Will you step with me into His perspective, "eternity's gift"?
     What's the final conclusion of all of this? To be honest, I am not sure. But let me at least suggest to you that when anger, fear, and yes, even hatred (if we honest), begin to rise in our hearts, let's resolve to go and sit with Papa until perspective returns (Psalm 73:16-17) and prayer flows.

Praying for and from Perspective,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In The Garden

     I had a rather remarkable God encounter this morning, one that grew out Papa's infinite love and deep desire to communicate with us clearly and consistently. And as I reflected on how clearly and profoundly He spoke to me, I remembered with wonder how I lived so many years of my life with a "silent God" and how afraid of deception I was when I first started hearing Him. I have written in earlier entries about hearing His voice, of course, and about how to avoid deception, so I won't repeat myself. Rather today I simply want to share the wonder of our ever-speaking God and encourage you to be living listening. As I have said many times, I can no longer even conceive of living the Jesus life apart from hearing His voice, nor do I believe that God ever for a moment intended that to be the case. So here's one of my latest stories--given to encourage you in your own hearing, sensing and/or seeing. 
     My story begins with a need for me to be transparent about how I have struggled at times for the past few years (for obvious reasons) to regain childlike trust in my walk with Abba. I recently realized that there is still a block at times between God and me in terms of simple and pure trust. Oh yes, I can trust Him for the eternal things, but because of how my sense of safety in the current age was so violated in 2009-2010, I have been on a rather slow trip back to childlike confidence in Papa. And this morning I found myself more aware of this than on other days and was rather desperately calling out to Him for His help in returning to that childlike state.  
     And oh, how He answered! And I feel His smile as I describe how He answered. After I had written a passion-filled plea to Him about my current state of heart, after I wrote the following summary in my journal, He answered.
     My words to Him: "Yet in all of this I am not discouraged nor do I feel drawn to self-recrimination. Rather I am just drawn to you and deeply aware of your grace and my need for it in a way I have never known before. I think of Psalm 94:17, "Unless the LORD had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death." 
     His answer: He led me to pick up a book I "just happened" to see as I re-organized my office books yesterday: In Search of A Confident Faith by J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler and go to the end of the book. There (p. 203) I read the remarkable story of a newborn child, Sophya, and her Daddy, Eddie. During her mommy's (Donna) pregnancy, Sophya's daddy had spoken to Sophya and even "touch" her as she was in the womb. In the later months, she would visibly move towards Eddie's hand and voice when he would speak and touch her mommy's tummy. I will let the authors describe the rest.
     "The 30-hour labor was a bit challenging for Donna and Sophya. So, upon her arrival, Sophya was wrapped in a cloth and placed under a heat lamp in the next room. But she cried and cried and cried. Eddie walked over to Sophya, covered her chest and stomach with his hand, and said, 'Hey, Sophya, it's your daddy.' Immediately, she calmed down, resting under his warm hand and familiar voice. She placed her hands around his, curled her feet up around his hand, opened her eyes and smiled! The nurse noticed how quickly Sophya stopped crying and remarked to Eddie, 'You must've talked to her during the pregnancy.' At birth Sophya brought with her an evident level of trust in her dad." 
      As you can imagine, by the time I had read this far in the story, I was already hearing my Abba's voice loudly and clearly, and I was deeply moved. But it was as I kept reading and found the following words just a few sentences later that I knew just how clearly Papa had heard my heart's cry and answered so quickly and unmistakably: "Whether we came into the world like Sophia or not, our heavenly Abba desires to place his warm hand on us, and let his familiar voice reassure us of his love and compassion for us." And I felt His warm hand, and I "saw" His smile, and I was undone.
     And there's an irony for me in this "hearing God" thingy that Papa also told me about today: When I was a child, I used to love to sit at the piano and play and sing a hymn which distinctly describes God's speaking voice and its importance in the Christian life. "In the Garden" by Charles Miles is totally about hearing God's voice. The chorus, as you may know, says, "And He walks with me and talks with me and tells me that I am His very own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever know." How ironic it seems that I sang that song for so many years (and many others like it) while living in a silent world! Yet I smile as I also realize how Papa was planting the truth of this so deeply in little Tommy's heart! And I am undone all over again!
     And here's the best part of this story: You can hear Him just as well, just as clearly. Every daughter or son of Abba is "led by the Spirit" (Romans 8:14); every single sheep can hear the Good Shepherd's voice and feel His touch. And I for one am fully convinced that life with God makes absolutely no sense at all apart from a Father who is always speaking, always touching, always affirming even when He finds it necessary to correct us. 
     May you know His voice, His touch today in a way just as remarkable and unmistakeable as my encounter with Him today "In The Garden."

Tom, one of Abba's most grateful children  

And yes, I am writing again. The prayers of many (aided by wearing splints at night) has done wonders for the carpal tunnel thingy. Thank you for your prayers!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Overdosed on Bad News

     I am having a much harder time than I anticipated writing this blog on a weekly basis. Schedule and the ongoing challenge with my wrists have combined to hinder my aspirations! But here I am, and today I am "writing" via my dictation program, so we will see how that works, eh?
     One of the topics that I mentioned a few weeks ago as one of my target subjects is the tendency in our culture for all of us to overdose on bad news. In a sense, this is a continuation of what I wrote last time about the tendency of technology to become a tyrant. Because we live in a world of media overdose, it is painfully easy to become captured and captivated by the constant flow of news through all kinds of outlets. And because of the human penchant for bad news as opposed to good news ongoing exposure to the media means that our minds are constantly being filled with negativity.
     I am fairly convinced that the extreme overdose of bad news works against living a peace-filled and faith-filled life. Paul's words to the Philippians in Philippians 4:6-9 began and end with the word "peace." Even at cursory look at those words from Paul reveal how important it is for us to set our minds on things that are peace-giving. Consider his words, paraphrased by me in places as indicated by italics:
     Don't go on being worried about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be constantly being made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, be carefully and intentionally thinking about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9 ESV with TW paraphrasing).
      I think it's fairly obvious that there is a connection between freedom from anxiety and both prayer and intentionally focusing our minds on positive things. I know for me personally God instructed me quite a while ago to avoid excessive exposure to any source of negativity, especially the flood of bad news that is always around us. I found that when I chose to ignore Him in this both my peace and my ability to trust him were noticeably and painfully diminished. I have also noticed that when my friends, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, expose themselves to a lot of ongoing news the same thing happens for them.
     So what if the Bible is true? What if Paul's words here to the Philippians are absolutely trustworthy and reliable? How will that change how we interact with the culture around us, especially the technological part of our culture? I believe, of course, that Paul's words are true and that we will do best in terms of peace and faith when we allow the Holy Spirit to guide what we expose ourselves to. I am not talking about hiding from everything bad, I am not talking about ignoring trends and things in culture and society that we need to track in some way. What I am talking about is overdose: the almost compulsive following of negativity that can happen to anyone who pays too much attention to the various news sources in our culture. And, of course, there are other sources of negativity which probably won't pass through Paul's grid for us as well, but that's another.subject for another day. For now I offer to you a challenge: why not take the next two weeks and allow Holy Spirit to guide and inform what and how much exposure you have to the news? I think that in doing so you will be making an important adjustment, and adjustment needed because our culture is different from any that has ever existed before. In times past it took a long time for any kind of news to reach people, whether bad or good. Now we are flooded constantly by overwhelming amounts of information, much of it "bad news." Doesn't it make sense, then, to allow God to lead us in a way that cooperates with our desire and His desire for us to live peace-filled and faith-filled lives? Try it, you may like it! 

Pursuing Him who is Good News,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Technology: Tool or Tyrant?

     I am hoping to get back on schedule with my once-per-week entry here, but I have been wrestling with what appears to be carpal tunnel syndrome, so my return may be a bit more spotty than I had hoped. (I am contending for healing while also cooperating by using a brace, etc.)
     So for today, I post a few thoughts (fewer than I had hoped) on keeping technology from tyrannizing us. Several things of late have triggered these thoughts, including the carpal tunnel issue (I use my Macbook Air a lot!) and an article on how teens are being tyrannized by texting.
     First, how is it that technology so easily becomes a tyrant? Others have probably written better thoughts about this, but it occurs to me that with texting, for example, we have broken into a strange new world where everyone who has our number has access to us 24/7 if we allow it. Indeed, with much of technology of late instant and constant access to one another seems to be the theme. This can't possibly be healthy, and I will make a few suggestions as to how to deal with this new reality in the paragraphs below. But another way that technology has tyrannized us is by its seductive ability to pull us away from others into our own self-centered, entertainment-overloaded world. We live in a time when children from a young age are learning to isolate and fixate! Ironic, isn't it, that these two tyrants are polar opposites! What can we do to ensure that we don't fall under such tyranny? Here are a few thoughts.

  • Above all else, keeping technology in its proper place is a matter of personal maturity and healthy discipline. If you have never been able to set boundaries for yourself and others, you will not be able to do so in the realm of technology. So if you need healing and maturing, find a healthy loving community who can help you mature in Jesus!
  • But assuming that you have a measure of health, the way to prevent texting or instant messaging from tyrannizing you is simply to set boundaries for those who have access for you. In my last blog entry, I jokingly referred to DFN (Done For Now!) as a new texting abbreviation, but I was only 1/2 joking. Healthy relationships always require healthy boundaries and "tech relationships" are no exception. So come up with your own list of ways to set boundaries, but set them. I personally choose not to respond to texts, etc., unless I feel it's appropriate. And if necessary, I will who text me that I am not available 24/7 and feel no compulsion to answer. This is especially true when I am in my Papa time (it has to be an emergency) or at times when others deserve my undivided attention. It is also true when I simply need space. Remember, it ain't natural for human beings to have instant 24/7 access to one another, and when some of those who do have access are broken people, it can set up some very unhealthy situations. Bottom line, set boundaries without feeling guilty about doing it.
  • In a similar vein, feel free to educate your friends and family about healthy boundaries and what that looks like. And on your end, give thought to whether you need instant response to everything. And if you really want to be healthy, consider a call or set up a Face Time connection, etc. 
  • Regarding the seductive tendencies of technology, it is again boundaries that save us from tyranny. My sons remember (I trust) that there were limits to electronic game times, TV times, etc. I place those same limits on myself in conversation with the Holy Spirit. I choose not to be tyrannized by something that is supposed to be my servant by asking the Holy Spirit to help me value that which has eternal value. And no, I don't do this perfectly, but it's amazing how much progress one can make with this if he/she is serious. Remembering that every minute wasted is lost forever helps to motivate me in this--maybe it will for you, too.
  • Consider, too, reviewing your values and how they are expressed. If we value our children and grandchildren we will be sparing in how we use games and media to babysit them. We will monitor whether or not they are being drawn away from healthy social interaction by the Siren's song of the latest addictive game or by the constant stream the latest new video. And if we value others, we will weigh how helpful it is to disengage from one another by watching too much of this or that. (Be warned here, though, that the watching of TV is just a symptom, not the cause! It takes some intentionality to engage with other people, some effort as well. Think about it!)
     I am sure there is much more to write here, but perhaps this will stir up your own thoughts and ignite an inquiry in you as to what role the wonderful world of technology plays in your life and the lives of those you influence. My prayer is that you will find Tool, not Tyrant, stamped on your devices! :-)

Living free from tyranny...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blogella

     Life has temporarily crowded out the time I used to have to write a weekly entry for this blog, so I have asked Papa if He wanted me to continue to write it. He not only answered in the affirmative but has given me a strategy for doing so. Beginning in March, then, I will start posting a weekly entry, hopefully in a more strategic and intentional manner than previously. I am also going to be rewriting some of my earlier entries and hope to collate them by topics in order to publish them in e-book format. I welcome your prayers in all of this because my life is the busiest it has been in over 10 years.
    So today, I write a "blogella" (think Novella!) listing some upcoming topics and soliciting your input as to things you may want this now rather seasoned saint to write about. Here are some of the things that have been rolling around in my heart and head, along with a short elaboration.
  • TMI/TLR--Thoughts on how the Western church's use of our culture's misguided information-based approach to training has led to the stunted spiritual growth of believers and limited transformation of lives and culture. (TMI you understand, TLR stands for Too Little Response)
  • Discipline and Intentionality--How to live a life in God that is disciplined and intentional without reverting back to performance-based religion and slipping into mere human effort.
  • Bad News Overdose--the effect of the instant availability of bad news in today's culture and what we can do to counter its faith-draining effect on us.
  • DFN--some random thoughts on how texting and other media tools can be positive and not negative. (DFN is my suggestion for use by texters that tells the other person the conversation is over, "I am DFN: Done For Now) :-)
  • Hearing God While Avoiding Deception--I have written about this before but some more thoughts have come over the past few weeks.
  • The Third Soil--reflections on how most of the Western Church seems to be the third soil in Jesus' parable of the sower and what God is calling us to do about it.
  • Recovering Fear--how God is calling the Church back to a life lived out in "reverential fear" without losing the life lived out in the grip of His grace.
  • Many more that are still in the oven of meditation. :-)
     I welcome your thoughts and your prayers as I live loved and listening and thereby learn new levels of discipline and intentionality.

Lost in wonder, captured by His love,

Tom, one of Abba's children