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

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wake, wake, wake!

     There is a moment in C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian that I have always found particularly compelling. Lucy is awake alone at night and standing among the trees that used to be vibrantly alive and able to take on human form. As she stands there, remembering that time of joy, health and aliveness, she finds herself calling out, "Oh, Trees, Trees, Trees… Oh, Trees, wake, wake, wake. Don't you remember it? Don't you remember me?" And the trees rustle a bit but fail to waken, and the magic moments passes (but they do awaken later, as you may know).
     Every time I think about this scene, I feel Lucy's angst and longing in ways it's hard for me to describe. It seems this scene captures the inescapable angst in my heart at the broken state of our nation, our world and the western church and the resultant longing for a global Spiritual Awakening.  Certainly there have been other times in history when the need for an earth-shaking, world-changing spiritual awakening has been this apparent, but I am alive now, and although my age may mean that I am a bit more tempered in my passion and vigor that when my heart first burned for this, I still find the longing for a true Spiritual Awakening aflame in me and hear my heart saying to God's people, "Oh, wake, wake, wake!"
     As I write these words, my mind takes me back over 40 years to when my lifelong hunger for awakening was first given clarity and fiery life. It happened as I sat week by week in a seminary class by Dr. J. Edwin Orr, the world's leading authority on spiritual awakenings at the time. As Dr. Orr told story after story of entire cultures being changed by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of entire societies being redirected, my own awakening took place in terms of awareness that anything less than cultural/societal transformation is not what it means for God's will to be done on earth as it is Heaven. A true Spiritual Awakening always shifts people and all that relates to life noticeably towards God's will and purposes, towards wholeness in every sense of the word.
     So now, 40 years later, I am still waiting, longing, expecting. As the darkness seems to be getting darker in western culture, I find both angst and expectancy increasing. There is an urgency I hear in my spirit, an urgent call for God's people to repent--turn from lesser, distracting things to Him and to what matters--and to live in His love and power in a way that naturally but irresistibly points us outward. But it's not a fearful urgency, but rather an urgency born of expectancy. The King is coming, the flood of God's River is already flowing in non-Western countries in unprecedented ways, and like a tsunami, the Wave of God is coming to sweep with grace, power and justice over the western world as well. 
     But our participation in this as believers won't be automatic, of course. To catch this Wave, we must choose to be alert and watching, facing the King with unreserved focus and devotion, enabled in this by His fiery love for us and others, willing to let Him pare away lesser things even as He continues to heal and mature us. Perhaps most of all this simply means a fresh and continuing presentation of our hearts, our wills to Him and an alert listening for His voice as His Spirit, more loudly than ever says, "Wake, wake, wake!"

Tom, one of Abba's children
      
      
     

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Catch the Wonder

     "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (Isaiah 9:2 NIV1984)
     I promised last week to write about how to "de-Grinch" Christians, and that I will do, but God has been re-shaping what I planned to say quite a bit (no surprise there, eh?). In fact, I am quite convinced that the most effective way to avoid being a Christian Grinch is simply to catch the wonder of this season and hold onto it. It's when we become distracted away from the wonder of the Incarnation that we head towards "Grinch-ness," I think. 
     But as a recovering Grinch myself, one who was a "Grinch" for all the right reasons (commercialization of Christmas, overwhelming materialism and greed, replacing Jesus with Santa, etc.), I offer a few more thoughts about how to de-Grinch oneself. Maybe they will help a few others rid themselves of "Grinchness."
     First, "don't be afraid." It seems to me that one of the core messages of the Nativity stories is the message "Don't be afraid." I wrote some thoughts on this two years ago, and I won't repeat myself today (you can read that entry by clicking this link), but it seems to me that we tend to be more likely to be Grinchy when we look at the dark world around us rather than the light that has dawned upon it. Our world is a scary and dark place, our nation a deeply divided and troubled nation, our culture is increasingly godless, so it's easy to become frightened when we look at these things, but a shift of focus to the One who is a called "Wonderful" will banish fear quite readily. The world today is no darker than the world our Lord Jesus first entered, and as John tells us "The light shines on in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:9). Catch the wonder of this, and let it melt away your fears and it will become increasingly hard to be Grinchy when you hear about Silent Night being rewritten to eliminate Jesus or other such things. :-)
     Second, ask God to show you how to be known for what you are for, more than what you are against. I have written many times before on the irony of those we are called to reach viewing us as "the enemy," so I won't say much about this today. But it seems to me that the huge message of the Incarnation is that God is for people, not against them. Luke 2:10 tells us that the "good news of great joy" is "for all people," and I'm sure that includes those who don't know that! But my sense is that the more we reflect the joy message to others around us the more we will for sure "keep Christ in Christmas." And perhaps we should especially reflect this to those who seem opposed to us--something we can do if we aren't afraid of them and their opposition. Just a thought :).
     Third, try living above the culture, counter to it in the best sense of the word by refusing to get caught up in its greed, covetousness, materialism. Ask the Holy Spirit to immunize you to the "latest and greatest" pitches that attempt to entice us to buy, buy, buy. Consider the possibility that your child or grandchildren might survive life without "the toy that everyone just has to have." And perhaps you might also consider helping your children share beyond your family (many believers do this already, but just in case you haven't thought of it).  A few less gifts under the tree because there are gifts and other blessings with those in need is a good and lasting lesson for children, I think. And when it's done with joy and compassion it leaves a compelling mark on our families that shines without condemning, methinks.
     Finally, consider the deeper wonder of this season: Jesus' birth marks for all time God's intention to bring greater good into our world than would have been possible if evil that has twisted His creation had not come. Yes, as unthinkable as that sounds, we serve the God who "works all things out according to his predetermined plan" (Ephesians 1:11b), and that means that His goodness went deeper and farther when the adversary opposed Him. So as the light shines on in the darkness, consider the wonder of the One whose goodness cannot be hindered, whose love cannot be stopped, whose light cannot be extinguished (or even diminished), whose plans cannot be thwarted. Consider the wonder that all of this is for you personally and potentially for all other people as well and step into God's healing, peace-bringing embrace. My sense is that neither fear nor Grinchness can stay long in the hearts of those who catch this wonder and are captured by its brightness. 

Captured by the wonder, marveling at the greater good,

Tom, one of Abba's little children 
     

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Inside, not the Outside!

     I had planned on how to avoid being a Christian Grinch today, but I will save that for next week. I am writing today while fighting off an infection, and I don't have the brain space required to write down all of my thoughts about how de-Grinch oneself.
     So today I mostly share from some of my journal entries along the general theme of focusing on the internal rather the external. Why do that? Because focusing on the less important, external things seems to be the human condition--one that believers in Jesus too often remain stuck in even after many God encounters. In spite of Jesus' many words about the "heart," motives, thoughts, and the like, it just seems easier to deal with externals at times, eh? (behavior, healing the body without regard to the soul or relationships, getting financial relief without learning deep confidence in Papa's kindness, etc.).
     So here are a couple of journal entries wherein I reflect about this. Maybe they will serve you in some small way. I will add a couple of comments along the way, but they are mostly as they were written at the time--a good view into my relationship with Papa, if nothing else.
     Regarding "Doing the Right Thing," an entry from June 1 this year. (Kate is one of our nine very special grandchildren--a charming 3 1/2 year who regularly captures her grandpa's attention and heart!): "Papa, I smile a little as I remember your reminder early this morning to heed my own counsel, posted on Twitter yesterday: 'Real change happens when we shift our focus from doing the right thing to becoming the ‘right person’ by being with the right Person and the right people.' It hit me that a lot of my struggles of late derive from my extreme desire to do the right thing. That has always been my main point of stumbling and vulnerability to attack from the accuser, Papa, but I thought I had placed it in the proper perspective. Perhaps the train wreck knocked it loose, eh? But it’s more likely that the painful journey just exposed deeper roots. So here I am, Papa, aware of my great and continuing need to have you work even more change in my heart and thinking. It is important, of course, to do the right thing, but making doing the focus instead of having it flow from a transformed heart always seems to lead me to sadness and stuckness. And seeing Kate’s childlikeness this morning: her innocent and truly joyful and carefree smile, pierced me deeply. That’s what childlikeness really means! Ah, Papa. And knowing you as Father, truly knowing you, will lead to that same kind of childlikeness in us, won’t it? Help me to keep that picture in my mind a lot, please."
     Regarding "Healing what really matters in the way that matters," another entry on the same day: "Ah, Papa. Wisdom flows from you this morning. I think of ministering healing to stress-related diseases, and you show me that people often settle for asking only to end of the symptoms instead of asking you to heal their hearts and thinking (paradigms which power perspective which powers emotion, as suggested in The Shack.)
     "Yes, you give me yet another big thought! We keep asking you to change circumstances, change external things, and you want to give us a much greater gift: changing us so that circumstances no longer dictate how we live life! And then I 'just happen' to see the quote posted on FB from The Unhurried Life! “The way of Jesus is too slow, inefficient and painful. Jesus’ resourcefulness is love, ours is money ...we want Jesus to step it up to make things happen at our pace rather than slowing down our pace to match His. His is the pace of caring and concern not an arbitrary pace of productivity or so-called efficiency." (p. 77). Ah, Papa. (but slow is scary, Papa!)"
     One final thought, not from my journal but from God's journal (The Bible). Take a look at Jesus' model prayer and the prayers of the Apostle Paul and see what you find. My sense is that you may find a clear emphasis upon praying to/from the inside. Consider just this one example: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge –that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV1984)

Looking for the heart of the matter…

Tom, one of Abba's children



Saturday, November 30, 2013

You Might Be A Pharisee if….

     Yikes, I am (still) a Pharisee (at times)! That was my response when I re-read chapter 5 in Brennan Manning's Abba's Child, "The Pharisee and The Child." Thankfully, though, I appear not to be Pharisee enough to condemn myself. I found myself instead turning to Abba and asking Him to draw me closer and show me why I still find it hard at times to live loved and trusting. I know that the reason any of us resort to empty, performance-based religion is because we are ignorant of Father's love and because of the wounds and lies in us that keep us from knowing Him as He is in all His goodness. But I have written much in that vein before, so I thought it might be fun to draw on Brennan Manning's wisdom and add my own twist to the Pharisee's Guide to Self-Discovery. So here goes. (Quotes are from the Kindle version of Abba's Child.

    You might be a Pharisee (at least when these symptoms occur) if…
  • Your walk with God has caused you to become narrower, uncomfortable with mystery, unfamiliar with wonder. "History attests that religion and religious people tend to be narrow. Instead of expanding our capacity for life, joy, and mystery, religion often contracts it." (Kindle location 729)
  • You find yourself looking to the Bible for just the right principle or promise instead of as a book of wonder about a loving God. "As systematic theology advances, the sense of wonder declines. The paradoxes, contradictions, and ambiguities of life are codified, and God Himself is cribbed, cabined, and confined within the pages of a leather-bound book. Instead of a love story, the Bible is viewed as a detailed manual of directions." (Kindle locations 731-733)
  • Your "Sabbath" is a time to kick back and rest from your frantic life the previous week (including frantic church activity!). "A rest from preoccupation with money, pleasure, and all creature comforts meant getting a proper perspective in relation to the Creator. On the Sabbath, Jews reflected and put the events of the past week in a larger context of saying to God: 'You are the true Ruler, I am but Your steward.'" (Kindle Locations 741-742). "Rest from work was not the primary focus of the Sabbath observance. It was both supplementary to worship and a form of worship itself. But worship remained the essential element of the Sabbath celebration." (Kindle Locations 749-751). 
  • You find yourself preoccupied with doing things right with a nagging sense that you have never done enough. (Underlying, unresolved guilt is a dead giveaway that I am living as a Pharisee and not Abba's Trusting Child! TW)
  • You find yourself either afraid to listen to or unaware that you need to peer with God's Spirit at your self talk and inner world. (Pharisees are often preoccupied with the external world because their ignorance of God's love and mercy make them afraid to look deep within. Note I am not speaking of mindless introspection here, but the deep, Spirit-guided and honest awareness of one's thoughts and feelings.) 
  • Blame, of yourself as well as others, seems to be a frequent companion of yours. You never feel like you will measure up to God's expectations. "Blame is a defensive substitute for an honest examination of life that seeks personal growth in failure and self-knowledge in mistakes."(Kindle Locations 794-795). 
  • Instead of joy and safety, your walk with God seems to breed a sense of uneasiness and uncertainty about your relationship with God.  "A vague uneasiness about ever being in right relationship with God haunts the pharisee's conscience. The compulsion to feel safe with God fuels this neurotic desire for perfection. This compulsive endless moralistic self-evaluation makes it impossible to feel accepted before God. His perception of personal failure leads to a precipitous loss of self-esteem and triggers anxiety, fear, and depression." (Kindle Locations 811-813).
  • Preoccupation with appearances is more important than fascination with God. "The pharisee within usurps my true self whenever I prefer appearances to reality, whenever I am afraid of God, whenever I surrender the control of my soul to rules rather than risk living in union with Jesus, when I choose to look good and not be good…" (Kindle Locations 813-815). 
     Okay, maybe that's enough for now. Perhaps you can see why at least some of these made me stop and say, "Ouch!" I think that the truth is that many followers of Jesus struggle at times with the Pharisee within us. But it would be all-too-Pharisaical to ask "what should I do to fix this?," of course, so perhaps our response if the Pharisee pops up is to bring him/her to God, asking Him to reveal what part of His love for us, demonstrated forever in Jesus, we still don't understand. One last quote from Brennan Manning: "To deny the pharisee within is lethal. It is imperative that we befriend him, dialogue with him, inquire why he must look to sources outside the Kingdom for peace and happiness." (Kindle Locations 832-833). 
     And yes, I am smiling as I write this today. The journey to become Abba's trusting child is not ours to fail nor miss, but rather it is His grace-infused gift that He pursues us relentlessly to lavish on us. It's impossible to remain a Pharisee in the presence of His stubborn commitment to love us to life!

Increasingly captured by His kindness.

Tom, one of Abba's children