Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Intimacy and Mission (part 3)

Meet Thomas R. Kelly.
Thomas R. Kelly wrote a number of essays before his death in 1941 that were collected into a book entitled A Testament of Devotion. Many years ago I tried to read this book, but I was unable to understand what the author was talking about! Now, years later, as I have been drawn into a growing place of intimacy with the Lord Jesus, I am beginning to understand just a little bit of what this man wrote about so many years ago.

For most of his life, like me, Thomas Kelly was a very driven man. But in the last few years before his death at age 47, he discovered a way of life that brought amazing peace, a life of intimacy with God that he wrote about during those last years. The little collection of essays that he left behind has encouraged, inspired and changed many people. Let me introduce you to just a few thoughts from this remarkable man, yet another person who discovered that "mission" flows from intimacy.

In an essay entitled "The Simplification of Life" he says the following.

Many of the things we are doing seem so important to us. We haven't been able to say No to them, because they seemed so important. But if we center down, as the old phrase goes, and live in that holy silence which is dearer than life, and take our life program into the silent places of the heart, with complete openness, ready to do, ready to renounce according to His leading, then many of the things we are doing lose their vitality for us. I should like to testify to this, as a personal experience, graciously given. There is a re-evaluation of much that we do or try to do, which is done for us, and we know what to do and what to let alone.

Let me talk very intimately and very earnestly with you about Him who is dearer than life. Do you really want to live your lives, every moment of your lives, in His Presence? Do you long for Him, crave Him? Do you love His Presence? Does every drop of blood in your body love Him? Does every breath you draw breathe a prayer, a praise to Him? Do you sing and dance within yourselves, as you glory in His love? Have you set yourself to be his, and only his, walking every moment in holy obedience? I know I'm talking like an old-time evangelist. But I can't help that, nor dare I restrain myself and get prim and conventional. The fires of the love of God, of our love toward God, and of His love toward us, are very hot. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength." Do we really do it? Is love steadfastly directed toward God, in our minds, all day long? Do we intersperse our work with gentle prayers and praises to Him? Do we live in the steady peace of God, a peace down at the very depths of our souls, where all strain is gone and God is already victor over the world, already victor over our weaknesses? This life, this abiding, enduring peace that never fails, this serene power and unhurried conquest, inward conquest over ourselves, outward conquest over the world, is meant to be ours. It is a life that is freed from strain and anxiety and hurry, for something of the Cosmic Patience of God becomes ours. Are our lives unshakable, because we are clear down on bedrock, rooted and grounded in the love of God? This is the first and the great commandment.

Do you want to live in such an amazing divine Presence that life is transformed and transfigured and transmuted into peace and power and glory and miracle? If you do, then you can. But if you say you haven't the time to go down into the re-creating silences, I can only say to you, "Then you don't really want to, you don't yet love God above all else in the world, with all your heart and soul and mind and strength." For, except for spells of sickness in the family and when the children are small, when terrific pressure comes upon us, we can find time for what we really want to do.

There is a way of life so hidden with Christ in God that in the midst of the day's business one is inwardly lifting brief prayers, short expressions of praise, subdued whispers of adoration and a tender love to the Beyond that is within. No one need know about it. I only speak to you because it is a sacred trust, not mine but to be given to others. One can live in a well-nigh continuous state of unworded prayer, directed toward God, directed toward people and enterprises we have on our heart. There is no hurry about it all; it is a life unspeakable and full of glory, and the inner world of splendor within which we, unworthy, may live. Some of you know it and live in it; others of you may wistfully long for it; it can be yours.

Now out from such a holy center come the commissions of life. Our fellowship with God issues in world-concern. We cannot keep the love of God to ourselves. It spills over. It quickens us. It makes us see the world's needs anew. We love people and we grieve to see them blind when they might be seeing, asleep with all the world's comforts when they ought to be awake and living sacrificially, accepting the world's goods as their right when they really hold them only in temporary trust. It is because from this holy Center we re-love people, re-love our neighbors as ourselves, that we are bestirred to be means of their awakening. The deepest need of men is not food and clothing and shelter, important as they are. It is God. We have mistaken the nature of poverty, and thought it was economic poverty. No, it is poverty of soul, deprivation of God's re-creating, loving peace.

Well, that's enough for this post. Perhaps I have written enough to pique your interest in this man's writings. Note well I do not endorse everything he writes in this book--he is too generous at times in his opinion of men apart from Christ (typical for Quakers of his period). But his experience of the Presence of Jesus and his call to make intimacy with Him the center of everything, commend his works to all who wish to live life from the Center as God intended.

Grace to you,

Tom, the least of Abba's children.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Intimacy and Mission (part 2)

The following is a continuing of the thought from my last post and also the concluding part of my longer article on this topic. You can download the entire article at my website listed in the links to the left.

It’s fairly common these days to hear the Western Church compared to the Church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). There we read of a lukewarm church whose works are neither hot nor cold. It is a church which is deceived into thinking it’s healthy because of external appearances while it is in fact living in abject spiritual poverty. I personally don’t doubt that there are many parallels between the contemporary Western church and the Laodicean church: materialism, consumerism, self-centeredness, lack of mission, etc., all jump out as we read this passage. But I have yet to hear anyone suggest the solution that Jesus suggests for the Laodiceans’ desperate condition. Usually when someone addresses the problems of the Western Church they speak of a return to being missional or a change in structure or something similar. The general thought seems to be that that if we can just change the behavior of Western believers and get them to try harder then the Church will become healthy.

There are two problems with this solution: First, it’s not the solution Jesus offers; second, because of reason number one, it won’t work!

So what solution does Jesus extend to the Laodicean believers? In a phrase: a return to intimacy. After describing the Laodicean problem in verses 15-17, Jesus counsels His people to come to Him to get true riches, clothing and healing (v. 18 His words here echo Isaiah 55:1-3), to return to Him in response to His loving rebuke (19), and to open the doors of their hearts in a return to intimate fellowship with Him (20). Interestingly, return to intimacy with Him is also the solution Jesus gives to the very “missional” and active Church in Ephesus (3:1-7)! This certifies that a mere return to mission won’t solve our problem!

It is quite plain, I trust, why we need to apply Jesus’ solution to His broken Western Church. A mere change of behavior or even a change of format (wineskin) will not cure our desperately bankrupt condition. Without a return to experienced, continuing intimacy with God, the best we can hope for is a new wineskin full of striving, discontented Christians living in uncomfortably close community with one another, trying unsuccessfully to fulfill a mission that has always required intimacy with God at its very core.

Does anyone else out there hear Jesus’ invitation? “Here I am! I stand at the door of your heart knocking, waiting for entrance into the deepest parts of your life. If you will just open the door, I will come in and we will share the deepest and richest of foods together in the most intimate of settings!” (Revelation 3:20 TW paraphrase)

Drawing closer...

Tom, the least of Abba's children