Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Joyful Life

     So...the discussion continues, eh? Thank you, Alex and Scott, for your comments on last week's blog. Alex, your summary of things is really right in line with how I also would express things.
     Scott...well, I want to honor your request for honest input. And up front let me say that I agree with you that we are all essentially saying the same thing and that part of what appears to be variance is simply due to where we fall in the "five-fold" ministry gifts to the church (you are "evangelist," I am "prophet/shepherd"). I also want to say that I deeply respect and trust you and rejoice in what I know God is doing in and around you and that I trust your ability to hear Him and obey Him. And I honor your deep desire to learn--for me lifelong learning is an essential quality of all who would finish well.
     So...first, to all who read this blog, you won't really understand me very well unless you are familiar with writers like Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer, Brother Lawrence, Bill Johnson, Dallas Willard, et al. And you will do well to read my paper on intimacy and mission (on my website which has a link on this blog).
     Second, as to how I have been brought to this paradigm shift, Scott, it wasn't really because of reaction to an overly busy experience of church life. Rather, like you, I could no longer live with the dissonance between what I read in the Bible in describing the advance of God's Kingdom and what I saw in the church around me. It was actually my desire to see God's people reach the harvest through a genuine "Gospel of the Kingdom, salt and light, power-not-mere-words" approach that led me to seek God's face. In the process of my reaching out for supernatural power, I encountered Him in a way that turned all previous understandings of the Christian life upside down. And the paradigm changes continue unabated. So I guess I would describe what happened to me more as a response to an invitation from God rather than a reaction to things around me. (But we all would also say, of course, that much of what is called "church" at present is more cultural than anything else and therefore ineffective, so yes, there is reaction as well, I think).
     Third, Scott, I share your aversion to self-centered, consumer-based "churchianity." I am grieved that for whatever reason the message of repentance, surrender and joyful obedience has been hidden from many. I am sad that the message of righteousness, peace and joy has been lost and in its place a weak, "add-on-to-your-life-but-don't-change-things" message has been given. I could go on, but I think y'all get my drift.
     Fourth, what brings me joy? My list would be similar to yours, I think. Living loved, living loving, being free from having to do anything but getting to do lots of things in His power--doing what I see Father doing--this all brings me great joy. Spending hours in His presence, listening, praying and then watching His presence on me affect those around me with desire for Him brings me joy. Watching demons tremble then flee at the name of Jesus, brings me joy. Being able to "read someone's heart" in a way that sets them free from shame and guilt that has tormented them for years--that brings me joy. Taking the time to listen intently to a little child whom others ignore--that brings me joy. Being able to focus fully on the person in front of me that communicates deep care and concern because of God's deep care for them--that brings me joy. If I could summarize, I think I would point everyone to how joy is described in John's Gospel. Jesus lived in that joy and bestowed it on those who follow Him.
     I hope this helps, not only you, Scott, but others as well. As I have probably said before, the bottom line for me usually comes down to two questions: "Whom am I trusting at any given moment?" and "On whom am I really depending at any given moment?" For me, it takes living a peaceful, almost mystical, life to be able to answer "God" to those questions with consistency. Perhaps for others, that is not the case. All I know is that in the past 4 1/2 years since this journey started I have been more fruitful than the previous 55 years of my life. And the sheer joy of living this way is too great not to give away...

     This is long enough for this time, methinks.

May each of you become ever more God-blinded in this new year!

Tom, Daddy's little boy

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ministering From A Place of Peace, Part Two

Goodness, my last post stirred up more comments than anything I have ever posted. What's up with that? My thanks to Jeff, Alex, Scott and Ron for your comments, all of which I see as harmonizing well with what I am trying to say (with perhaps a few tiny adjustments :-)).

Anyway, since this generated so much comment, I sensed that I needed to add a few more thoughts about this. Hopefully as I do so I will in some way respond to last week's responses, but if I don't, my primary purpose is not to respond but add more thoughts.

First, let me point out that I am still learning how to practice this myself. It has taken over four years for me to get to a place where I even felt comfortable writing about it, and I am still learning a lot. The past two days I have been aware of anxiety creeping up on me--something that led to extra time with Papa this morning (whenever the peace leaves, as Smith Wigglesworth said, I have "missed the plan," I have dropped back into a wrong view of God or me or both or whatever). I don't feel bad about having to learn this, though, because even the great Apostle Paul wrote of his anxiety over the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28) and later in life wrote that he had "learned" to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11-13). So as far as I can tell, only Jesus lived this out perfectly. Having said that, however, I do believe that it's possible, desirable and necessary to live and serve from a place of peace!

Why is this so important? Because if we don’t live in peace, our demeanor, body language, etc., denies the very message we proclaim! Also, if I am filled with anxiety (fear), how can I take the time to stop, like Jesus did to focus on a little child, or a woman who had just been healed in a crowd? If I am not peaceful, how can I feel free to focus completely and totally on the person right in front of me, like Jesus? How can I be authentic in my announcing a “gospel of peace” if my own life is a constant denial of it?

Please don’t start feeling guilty or defensive on me! God wants this for you more than you do—both because of His sheer love for you and because He wants us to be authentically validating His message of love and peace by being people who exude love and peace. (I very often ask God to make me one of the most loving, joyful, peaceful and dangerous-to-the-darkness people on the planet!). Listen, dear ones, at the heart of this for me is the end of pretense and the end of doing things on my own initiative. Only when I am able to say, for example, that I cherish and love my wife the way Jesus loves the church do I have authenticity. But even here I am not suggesting that a brand new believer cannot share, even in his/her less than mature condition. Scott's example of the demoniac healed by Jesus reminds us that the bottom line is to hear Jesus and do what He says. But what about those of us who have walked with Jesus for a while? Men, do you pray for your wife the way Jesus prays for His Bride? Authenticity would suggest to us that we are heading in that direction in earnest, I think.

It's not that good things cannot come from human effort or initiative, folks. Any act of kindness is good, and Paul said that he was glad even for those proclaiming the Good News for the wrong motives (see Philippians chapter 1). Rather, the question centers around the effectiveness of what we are doing and the effect it has on us. In Matthew 7 those who were healed by the false ones did indeed benefit from the healing, ☺but the end result for those who didn't know Jesus was not good!

My concern here is that many believers don’t seem to grasp the truth that because God is so very, very good, we can enjoy the journey with joy and peace, even while we follow Him into “mission.” Only you can answer the question (or perhaps your spouse, too) as to whether you live a life that exudes peace, kindness and joy (in a way that fits your personality and uniqueness). My point here is that "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control" are the normal qualities of a life lived following Jesus. And as I have learned to live full of God's Spirit, surrendered in a way I never thought possible, overwhelmed with His peace and delight in a myriad of ways, then those qualities are indeed becoming more and more predominant in my life. Try it, you will (and those around you) will like it!

Also, surrender and truly gazing upon God’s beauty, His goodness, are keys that cannot be ignored. But I will need to write about that later, I guess.

Enough for now. I am sure I have stirred up more stuff again. But for those of you who know me, tell me, friends, do I live this out or not? My words are empty if others cannot see evidence (I am not looking for validation here, just reassurance that I am a "trustworthy witness" so that my challenge to everyone rings true!).

Have a wonder-filled Christmas season,

Tom, Abba's little boy

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ministering From A Place of Peace

In case you missed it, I am pasting here Alex's comments on my last entry. His observations provide a great lead-in to my topic for today.

"I want to comment on something also that has really been bothering me, for what it's worth. It is the whole "missional" idea of church ministry. Hey - I am all for the church reaching this world and living outside of itself, but there is so much push towards this "missional" concept that is still sadly lacking signs of the kind of inner life we have been talking about. It can be so utilitarian in its goal of aligning church ministry and people to this missional approach, that I feel that it threatens to place people's gifts as nothing more than a means to an end. Is God more or less pleased with us when we are "using our gifts for His purposes." But this is exactly the kind of language and tone I am hearing from people, and I feel it is the flip side of the same wrong coin of emphasizing our works, our performance, our gifts - what we do - as opposed to living out of the daily discovery of who we truly are in Him. One places the emphasis on how we can best serve "His goals" (whatever we think that is, sounds like some kind of divine corporation), the other places the focus on daily communion with God and active listening and response."

Thanks, Alex! Your comments provide a good background for the contrast between ministry that is driven by mission and life that flows to others from a place of rest and peace.

My comments this week were generated by a question from some dear friends who asked me to elaborate on my statement that I don't have to "recover" much from "ministry" when I remember to do things from a place of peace and rest. Not sure how to tackle this, but here goes.

First, this may turn some of you on your heads, but I no longer divide my life into compartments like "ministry times" and "family times" and other times, etc. Rather I view all of life as a joyful, sacred dance with the Lord Jesus. "Ministry" as it is usually thought of simply flows out of this peaceful dance with God. All of life is an offering to God and to others. Brother Lawrence talks about this. I don't have time here to elaborate, but many before me have said similar things. Note that living all of life as a sacred and joyful offering to His Father is how Jesus lived and it has wonderful advantages. Two that come to mind are that we don't have to "pray ourselves up" or "work ourselves up" to "minister" and that we don't have to be concerned as to whether or not we are "anointed" at any point because all of life is lived gazing at God, dancing with Him and what comes from us is anointed because it's the overflow, the rivers of Holy Spirit water that Jesus talks about in John 7:37-39.

Second, in order to understand how to serve from this place of peace, one must first learn how to get there. It has taken me over four years to reach any sort of consistency in this, and I am still not always able to do it. But establishing this inner stillness and learning to live there is the privilege of every believer (Galatians 5:22 comes to mind, along with many other passages) and is essential to all who would learn to "do what Jesus did" (better, allow Jesus to serve other through you).

Third, once we learn how to live in the place of peace, we can then be available to God to serve or not serve at His leading. The inner peace enables us to hear Him well, even in the midst of what would normally be stressful situations, and since we have nothing to offer others apart from Him, hearing Him is essential. The inner peace also enables us to rest in His authority, awash in His love and power--this is especially useful when one is expelling demons, trust me!

Fourth, the inner stillness, then, becomes the "meter" by which I am aware of whether or not I am flowing with God in what He is doing, in His power, or have drifted back into human effort, relying upon mere human resources. This really works by the way. Whenever my peace disappears, it is a totally reliable signal that I have "missed" what Papa is doing and is inviting me to join Him in.

Fifth, living/serving in this place of peace prevents what we do from being merely human effort. My sense is that most of what is called "ministry" today is driven by human energy from human initiative. The importance of this paradigm shift to a peace-infused life cannot be overstated. When I am peaceful I am able to catch and cooperate with what God is doing. Also, the inner peace facilitates my treating every person as precious and the object of God's affection and attention. Instead of just slapping a tract in their hand or pushing them towards a decision, I am able to pause and show genuine care and respect. I trust this makes sense. It's certainly how Jesus operated. He was fully present for each person Papa led Him to and was never rushed or hurried. People who miss this often find themselves being, as Alex states, "missional" but working for God instead of flowing with Him--this results in weariness and sometimes results in a striving, driven approach to others. Instead of inviting people into our lives and exuding kindness that invites, we push on them with our own sense of purpose.

Hmmm. I had better stop here. Do I need to explain more how to reach this place of peace and stay there? I do understand the other way to "minister," believe me. I spent most of my life "serving God and others" with the resultant adrenaline let down after "ministry" and the spotty at best results that come from human inititated, human powered serving. So I am committed to helping to foster a revolution that will help Jesus' followers to live as He did, always serving from a place of peace.

Let me hear from you. I wish to serve you well.

Tom, Abba's usually peaceful little boy

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

You Are The Gift

First, thanks, Scott, for your wonderfully honest comment on my last entry! Don't you just love the way Papa God makes us all so different? I am so delighted to think in a way that boggles you (and many others) but know that we are wonderfully united in heart and spirit in Jesus!

So this time, during this season of giving, I am writing about the gift that each human being is to the rest of us. Last week I was greatly privileged to meet with a wonderful lady and her husband for dinner. During the course of our conversation, I thanked her for the way her writings have impacted my life (and many others). And when she responded with something like, "I am glad my book has been helpful to you," I surprised myself a bit by saying, "You are the gift to us--it's just expressed through your writing--but you are the gift."

As I pondered this statement in Papa's presence a couple of days ago, I was struck by how we usually think of what we do, create or give away as the gift. But is that really the case? In one very limited sense it is true, of course, but it’s not nearly the full truth. Rather I believe that God was showing me that what we do, create or give away is an unique communication to others of our unique and wonderful expression of the image of God. The book someone writes, the painting an artist creates, the meal that someone prepares, even the ditch a laborer digs—all of these are uniquely expressed through the richness of that particular individual (the totality of her/him: experiences as well as abilities), and we are therefore constantly receiving something wonderful in and through each person that we meet. No one could or will ever dig that ditch, prepare that meal, paint that painting the same way--it is a totally unique deposit into the fabric of eternity. And if I view things like this, then each person and all that s/he does, creates or gives is a treasured expression of God's image.

So yes, “You are the gift.” And this is even more true and vastly enriched when the person chooses to allow her/his life to be shaped by God. It's as if He perfect, polishes and empowers that unique expression of who He is! Do you see the wonder of this? Since each of us is a completely unique manifestation of God's image, then when we see the gift in wrapped up in the person, we also see Him in some special, very unique way. And as we grow more and more tender before Him and aware of Him, the treasure that we see around us in our world and in the people around us grows so much that we find ourselves more and more in a state of wonder and gratitude. Every person, every moment becomes an amazing gift--or more accurately, Papa God gives us eyes to see that. Amazing!

It is common to hear someone say about God, "Don't seek the gift, seek the Giver." I suppose that could be a terribly religious thing to say to someone, but there is a truth in it as well--God is a far greater Gift than anything we could "get from Him." But what if we also applied that principle to those around us. What if we could value not only the book, the gift, the ..whatever...but valued the and "sought" the person who is really the gift? Just wondering :-)

"Ah, Father, if we could grasp and hold onto this, it would change everything about how we relate to one another (to say nothing of how it would change our relating to you)! Even the most humble of persons becomes a treasure to us. I think of how this would change the way we view and treat people who have yet to trust in You: we would approach each one, even the most broken and hardened, with great respect and attention—wow! It would also help us to think less about our performance and more about you as we do and create—big thoughts here, Papa! Help us to get it!"

So...what do you think? Am I again on another planet? Or do you see the gift, the treasure that I am seeing?

Marveling at His treasure in those around me,

Tom, Abba's little boy

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Still Learning How to Live Loved

I am in meetings all day tomorrow, so I am writing my entry tonight. What I write, I write with some trepidation since I am giving you a very personal glimpse into my life over the past few days. I still struggle at times to live lost in Papa's love and have just come through a season of lots of "ah ha!" moments (epiphanies) where God continued to reveal both His ways and His love in remarkable ways. I hope this stuff isn't too personal or presumptuous. If it sounds that way, forgive me. I really just wanted to encourage you by giving you a glimpse into my relationship with my beloved Abba. The following is a day by day summary of some of the larger points.

November 18: I cannot ever get past living loved. You said on that day, “You cannot ever get past this, child, and it’s when you lose sight of my love, for whatever reason, even ‘good ones,’ that you falter.” Papa, I know now that I have only barely begun to understand how much you love me, love each one of us!
November 21: This new understanding came the day after I read about your focused listening, Jesus, in Jan Johnson’s latest book. The epiphany on this day that you, O God, are always listening intently to each of us like a doting father or dear friend was revolutionary. But now, Papa, I realize how easy it is to lose such treasure as insights like this. Help me to guard and meditate and keep until it is a permanent part of my conscious life.
November 22: On this day I realized two very important things: first that you listen not only to our words, but also to our thoughts. I have known this, of course, but it made a deep impact on me in a way never before experienced. Second, I realized that you have indeed fulfilled your promise in July 2007 to take my heart and face into your hands and keep them turned towards you—amazing! It becomes harder and harder not to think about you! I also realized anew that I still try to control the growth process at times but that you are making me more and more aware of this so that I can quickly repent.
November 23: There is so much on this day that I bookmarked it with the date, but in a nutshell I was first blown away by ___'s email which led to my pondering the deep changes you have made in me (and continue to make). Then there was the renewal of the quest for the supernatural (we have barely tasted what you have for us in that regard). There was the reminder about peace and purity as essentials and then from 2 Timothy 2:22 a reminder to pursue righteousness, etc. And following that there came the realization that I am now better than ever to discern my motives as to why I am ministering to someone (my heart is to keep me out of it altogether! And now I can at least begin to see when that isn't the case!).
November 24: This one is best summarized by quoting here part of what you said to me. “You asked me to show you my ways—whenever it becomes easy to be distracted and hard to connect with me, whenever your peace goes away, stop and let me search your heart. I will always show you the obstacle, the sin, the attitude, and I will quickly forgive and draw you back to me.”
November 25: Papa, looking at this summary reveals how incredibly kind you have been to me! There is an almost constant stream of revelation of late. On this day came the simple but transforming realization that we are to listen to you for direction even while we are in the process of being tempted—"lead us not into temptation" implies that we are listening. And the second major thing this day was the reminder from Brother Lawrence to do everything out of love for you. I think I am just beginning to understand the implication of this, Papa!
November 26: This day’s treasure is best summarized by a quote I inserted from November 25, 2007. “I see more clearly than ever that your original call to me simply grows larger and more pervasive, rather than changing its nature. So the discipline and focus of my life is always to be only on the one thing.” So as I wrote back then, the one theme is how pervasive and all-consuming your Psalm 27:4/2Cor. 3:18 call to me is!
November 27—from my writing: “You have raised up for me several huge things of late: you are always listening to me, I am to aspire to do everything because of love for you, I am to live a life of worship. And I see so clearly this morning, Abba Pai, that I have not, these past few days, really ‘waited’ on you.” This day I saw a reminder to “wait” for you—something I still struggle with, Abba, as you know.
November 28: Ah, Papa! This day, this date, I saw your love in a huge new way. This was the day that you took me back to Brother Lawrence’s quote that I carry (the King who loves us even as we confess sin), and from there to Andrew Murray, Emma Murray quotes and finally to the Graham Cooke Prophecy (in Approaching the Heart of Prophecy). This day I realized that I can at least part of the time see your love as Brother Lawrence and Andrew Murray did! I gaze upon your beauty with fresh awe and wonder.

Okay, I guess I will find out if being this transparent has any value to you. I can count on some of you to let me know.

And the quote from Brother Lawrence I reference in this post can be found in my earlier post on March 26 of this year. Click here if you want to take a peek at it.

Keep listening and watching for His love,

Tom, Abba's little boy

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Slaves or Friends, Sons and Daughters?

One of my friends and readers asked me to clarify the statement I made two weeks ago about living as sons/daughters not slaves. I quote it here: "Yes, there is submission to God’s purposes, but it’s the submission of a deeply loved and therefore loving son or daughter, not the servile, self-interested submission of a slave! And yes, living as a slave smacks of profound self-interest since the obedience comes in order to preserve or gain something for oneself rather than because of true love and desire to serve the interests of the Father whom we love!"

So what is it? Are we to live as slaves or as beloved sons and daughters? The answer to this is very, very important and is the difference between cruel religion and tender relationship. At first glance, there seems to be some contradiction in the Bible about this. Consider the following.

John 13:14-17 (HCSB) "So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you. 16 I assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."
John 15:14-15 (NLTse) "You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves because a master doesn't confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me."

Romans 1:1 (HCSB) Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God's good news...
Romans 8:14-15 (NLTse) For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead you received God's Spirit when He adopted you as his own children. Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.”

So...what's the deal here? Are we friends and sons/daughters, or are we slaves? In good Hebraic fashion I would suggest both, but we must always start with sonship. Those who have been deeply impacted--inundated--by God's love for them cannot help but live in loving surrender to God's purposes, not because of fear (which speaks of self-interest: the desire to preserve oneself from harm) but because of deep love and affection. As Paul Young so wonderfully explains in The Shack, true relationship can never form around obligation, duty, expectation or requirement, and God wants relationship with us first and foremost, not our service. There are no requirements for someone to be loved as a son or daughter and to live as a dearly loved child in a healthy family. But a dearly loved son or daughter knows that the best way to live is to follow the guidance of their loving (and wiser) parent.

Jesus modeled this for us perfectly, of course. Before He ever "did" anything, Father God said to Him, "You are my dearly loved Son, and I am (already) pleased with you." (see Mark 1:11, etc.). On the other hand, Jesus so loved His Father that to obey Him and serve Him was the only response He wished to make to such great love. Thus He could be both son and servant. For more comments on this, check out my earlier thoughts on March 7 last year. Click here to go there quickly.

I feel like I am sort of rambling today, but this is so dear to my heart (and God's heart, too) that I get really passionate about this and tend to ramble! Listen, dear ones, lots of people "serve God" but God doesn't desire your service to Him, He wants your heart. He wants you to live loved. Only those who live loved can ever really serve God as He intends: from the overflow of the River of His love powerfully transforming them from within and generously spilling over onto those around them. And far too many people out there are "exhorting" folks to obedience (often rather harshly) instead of inviting them to finally let God love them to wholeness. My concern is that many believers, even those who think they "get it" in terms of intimacy with God, live their lives with a subtle, underlying fear motivating what they do. And the solution to this is not to try harder, become a better servant, it's to allow God to pour His love into you, upon you and through you until you are saturated and secure in Him. When you get to where you live there, let's start talking about "serving"!

Hmmm. Well, maybe this is clearer. Maybe not. But you have felt my passion for sure. And I am sure I will hear from some of you if my words are even less clear than before! :-)

Learning to live loved,

Tom, Abba's little boy

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Surrender, Stillness, Solitude and Hearing God's Voice

     Today I borrow from an article I have written on hearing God's voice, extracting the parts that describe how surrender, stillness and solitude support a life of listening to Papa's voice.
     First, a reminder as to why I am writing so much about listening: 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, constantly, up close and personal? I answer that with another question: How else are you going to build a relationship with Him?
     Hearing and surrender. Smith Wigglesworth, that intriguing plumber turned evangelist of the last century, once said, “It is the easiest thing to get the mind of the Lord when your whole heart is only desiring the will of the Lord.” (Smith Wigglesworth Speaks to Students, p. 11). I have found this to be absolutely true. You cannot hear God in any area in which you are still in control, still not surrendered. Why would He speak in that area? This is perhaps why we get confused even about dreams God plants within us. The dream may really be something from God, but once we see it, we are so deeply touched by it and excited about it that we may try to make it happen, thereby missing the path to see the dream fulfilled (which unfolds to us via constant conversation with God). Being “led by the Spirit” implies that we are indeed being led, not doing the leading!
     Would you spend a lot of time talking to someone who wasn’t responding to what you said? I don’t imagine that God will either. The people who hear God best always approach Him with an attitude of absolute surrender, yielding all control of their lives to God’s 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!”
     God won’t speak to the person who isn’t willing to submit to His rule. I like to think of Surrender and Submission as the front and back doors to God’s throne room. Surrender gets me into the throne room so that I can hear Him, and submission is the door I go through as I leave, fully committed to act on what He has said. 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. And remember, we are not surrendering to a cruel master who wishes to do us harm, rather we are surrendering a child to its loving, wise parent or as a lover into the arms of the beloved. Otherwise the concept of surrender negates what we know (and about which I wrote last entry) about being sons and daughters, not merely slaves. Surrender recognizes that we are in relationship with the Infinite and Almighty One who is God Most High, but who also loves and cherishes us so that His words come to guide in a way that's always best for us and never meant to coerce us.
     Hearing and 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! And God usually speaks very, very softly, so we need to get really 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. You may be like many others who find that even when they finally get alone and quiet find that their 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 far more listening than talking! 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. Certain scripture passages have helped me reach stillness, and they 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 inner stillness that it takes practice to get inwardly quiet and peaceful. But when you do get truly 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.
     Hearing and solitude. We can’t form a relationship or learn to recognize someone’s voice in the middle of 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, reading books, etc. Those things may help, but they cannot take the place of time alone with Him. I have discovered 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 you have in your life that’s yours to invest as you wish and spend it alone with God and see what happens! Please note: I know that many who read this blog don't have a lot of discretionary time, but you may be surprised at what you find when you start inventorying your life as to how you spend your time. One young mother I know found that her time of solitude had to take place while she was in the bathtub, but she found a way to extend those times to be alone with God!
     Okay, this is a bit longer than some of my posts, but these three S's all seem to go well together. Let me know how this is working for you, okay? And remember that God is more committed to your hearing Him than you are to learning how to hear Him! How else can He communicate how much He loves you!!!

Lost in His love,

Tom, Abba's little boy

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Still More on Listening

      Yes, I am sensing that I need to write still more on hearing God's voice. I think last week's article is argument enough for why I wish to keep writing about this even though many, many books have been written: we cannot be transformed nor can we participate in the transformation of our culture through the Good News of the Kingdom of God apart from the intimacy with God that hearing His voice facilitates. So today I want to talk about the place of Scripture in hearing God's voice, plus a few other thoughts on discerning Papa's voice.
     People often ask me, "What does God's voice sound like?" Hmmm, God sounds like…well, He sounds like God! So one of the best ways to discern His voice is to get to know Him via His written word. If you will memorize and meditate passages that describe His character and purposes, and if you will get to know God as revealed in Jesus by reading the Gospels over and over, you will immensely improve your ability to recognize His voice. Take 1 Corinthians 13, Galatians 5:22-23, for example. These passages supply us some wonderful filters for determining whether what we are hearing is really God. If Paul says, for example, that "love is patient, love is kind, etc." and God is love as we are told in 1 John 4:16, then don't you suppose God's words to you will be characterized by patience, kindness, etc.? You get the picture, I think, yet many believers somehow believe that God's voice is always confrontational, rather harsh, etc. What's wrong with this picture!? Galatians tells us that the fruit of God (His Spirit) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That tells us that God's voice will be loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and not filled with rage or anything out of control. 
     Also, passages like 1 Corinthians 14:3 (prophecy, God's voice given through His people builds up, comforts and encourages!) and Ephesians 4:29 (which tells us how we are to speak to one another and hence how God will speak to us), help to open your ears to hearing God's voice as one of encouragement and expressions of love for you. This in turn will help you begin to hear Him for just the sake of relationship, not just direction and guidance. 
     And speaking of "guidance," we must be careful not to think of it as merely coming to God for something to do for Him. That smacks more of a slave mentality than of a son or daughter in conversation with their Father about life and life choices. Some of the teaching about guidance that I have heard or read sounds more like hearing God is more about "checking in with the boss" then going out to do what he said in a basically independent manner. It seems to me rather that guidance is what will flow out of a continuing conversation with God as we walk with Him throughout our day. As we converse with Him, we discuss our life’s direction in the light of His heart and purposes and the best way unfolds before us. This to me is what Jesus was describing in John 5:17-19. Yes, there is submission to God’s purposes, but it’s the submission of a deeply loved and therefore loving son or daughter, not the servile, self-interested submission of a slave! And yes, living as a slave reeks of profound self-interest because a slave obeys in order to preserve or gain something for him/herself rather than other-oriented love and a desire to serve the interests of the loving Father. Think about it and you will discern that what I write here is true.
     I close with a few quotes from Smith Wigglesworth that I have given in an earlier blog--just good reminders on what God sounds like (from Smith Wigglesworth Speaks to Students).
     “The difference is joy, gladness, expression; instead of sadness, sorrow and depression. You are always right to test the spirits to see whether they are of God. If you do not, then you will be sure to be caught napping.” (p. 128)
     “If ever you know anything about God, it will be peace.... God showed me a long time ago... that if I was disturbed in my spirit and was at unrest I had missed the plan.” (p. 129).
     “So these voices, if they have taken you out of peace, you will know it is not the will of God. But If the Spirit speaks, he will bring harmony and joy, because the Spirit always brings three things: comfort, consolation, and edification and will make you sing songs in the night..”.. “If you go breathlessly to the Bible, looking for confirmation of the voice, that is the devil.” (p. 31).
     On my next post I will continue to write about hearing God's voice. We will look at how surrender and stillness aid us in hearing Him.

Listening for Papa's kind voice,

Tom, Abba's Little Boy

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Fruit of Listening

     I am more convinced than ever that our culture is not being transformed because God's people have lost intimacy with Him and the listening to Him that nurtures that intimacy  (and the fruit it brings). Instead of fixing the eyes of our heart on Papa, we instead live our lives almost entirely with sights set on our own plans and at our own initiative. When we make the shift to a listening lifestyle, however, incredible things happen in us and through us. Consider a couple of stories.     This past week my friend Ken, who is a listener extraordinaire, was waiting for his connection in Chicago when he "noticed" a lady who was reading The Shack. His careful listening (to Papa God and to the woman) led him into a two hour conversation with a woman who initially had no interest in God. The conversation ended with Ken being able to encourage this woman towards God via reading The Shack and with his promise to pray for her as she did. This kind of God-incidence happens all the time for Ken. Another story that comes to mind is also a travel story. Someone I know was on a flight from Burbank to Dallas and heard God tell him that a certain lady coming down the aisle would be receiving God's touch through him. Sure enough the lady sat down next to him. When he asked Papa how to enter a conversation with her, He said, "Ask her to tell you her story." When he did so, this young woman, an actress and acting coach, poured out her pain, explaining that she was on her way home to see her estranged father who had just suffered a major stroke. She was typically suspicious of "Christians," but because of his listening to her and to God, by the time the plane was descending for landing he asked her if he could pray for her, and she literally leaned into him, head to head, as she said "Yes!" She then walked to her gate clinging to him, left him her contact information, etc. I could add many, many stories like this story because to me is the "normal Christian life" and there are many stories to tell.
     But how many of us have a relationship with Papa that is intimate enough to allow us to live like this most of the time? How many of us instead live most of life almost entirely on our own initiative, with little thought or reference to engaging God in an ongoing conversation about things as we go through the day? And what kind of fruit does that bear? Help us, Papa! (Yes, I still wrestle with how to live this way, too!)
     I close with this poignant and parallel thought from Thomas Kelly in A Testament of Devotion (pp. 96-97). I have updated the language slightly.
     "the sense of (God's) Presence carries within it a sense of our lives being in large part guided, dynamically moved from beyond our usual selves. Instead of being the active, hurrying church worker and anxious, careful planner of shrewd moves toward the good life, we become pliant creatures, less brittle, less obstinately rational. The energizing, dynamic center is not in us but in the Divine Presence in which we share....The sooner we stop thinking we are the energetic operators of religion and discover that God is at work, as the Aggressor, the Invader, the Initiator, so much the sooner do we discover that our task is to call men to be still and know, listen, hearken in quiet invitation to the subtle promptings of the Divine....too many people are so preoccupied with the clatter of effort to do something for God that they don't hear Him asking that He might do something through them."
      That's it for now. I could write much more, describing many instances of incredible fruitfulness for those who have learned to listen, but perhaps you can add your own stories. For me, my life is one continuing story like this! I can never go back to living on my own initiative!

Listening and living loved so that I may love others as I live,

Tom, one of Abba's beloved children

Monday, October 27, 2008

Four Books on Hearing God

     I have to post early this week because I am on the road again beginning tomorrow at 4 a.m. (ouch!).
    Anyone who has been reading my blog knows that I believe that hearing God on an ongoing basis (and responding to what you hear) is at the heart of an intimate life with God (and that leads to participating with Him in the joyful expansion of His Kingdom). So...I wanted to write a few thoughts about four books about hearing God that I have read and see if some of you would like to add your comments. Each of the books brings its own flavor, and there are many more out there, of course, but these are four that have impacted me to some degree.
     If I were to recommend only one book on this subject, it would be Mark and Patti Virkler's Dialogue with God. This book has been around for quite a while, and there's a good reason for that: it really helps people learn how to hear God in an easy to understand manner that is centered around intimacy with Him.
     Almost as high on my list would be Dallas Willard's book, Hearing God. I just finished reading this one, and it is really, really good. Written originally around the topic of "guidance," it clearly goes well beyond that narrow aspect of hearing God's voice. Indeed, the subtitle now reads "Developing a conversational relationship with God." Dallas Willard put some amazing "one liners" in this book, and one of my favorites is "Generally speaking, God will not compete for our attention." (p. 90). I love that line! It highlights Dallas' conviction that the "still, small voice" is God's primary means of communicating with us (as opposed to more dramatic means), and it also underscores the need for stillness and intentionality in listening to God. One shortcoming I see in this book, however, is that it almost downplays the supernatural too much and that it doesn't highlight the continuing conversational nature of hearing God in the same way that Virkler does.
     Another great, albeit rather long, book on hearing God is Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere. This is an incredible read, filled with great stories and much practical wisdom. It's only drawback for me is that it's quite long and addresses some things that may not be relevant to everyone (because of Jack's background, he spends quite a bit of time addressing those who don't believe in the supernatural for today's believers).
     Finally, I just recently read Walking With God by John Eldredge. This is a "chatty" sort of book, written deliberately in a very personal tone. Its strengths are its emphasis upon conversational and continuing communication with God and an awareness of the supernatural. I struggled some, however, with the chatty, baby-boomer style of this book--not sure why. But I was encouraged by John's transparency and especially by the journey towards maturity that he describes in this book. And because I know many people will read this book, I smile!
     That's it. Got to go pack! One final thought from Tom: If all of your hearing God relates to guidance and correction, you are missing much of what makes for healthy relationships! Healthy relationships have an exchange of more than information about direction and/or correction. There is encouragement, sharing dreams, listening to the heart's desires, etc. Papa wants that kind of communication with you!

Grace and good hearing to you,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, October 24, 2008

Reimagining Christians

I am slowly working my through Frank Viola's Reimagining Church. I was never able to finish Pagan Christianity--not sure why except that I prefer to be more invitational than confrontational.

Anyway, the basic premise of Reimagining Church is that current church structure "is the root problem" (p. 15). But is structure really the foundational issue? I agree that it certainly is important, and I believe that any structure that fails to maximize our ability to lead people into intimacy with God and one another and to "make disciples" in the way that Jesus made them needs to discarded. But I believe that the real root issue is that we need to re-define what it means to be "Christian." We need to "reimagine Christians" lest we simply have new structures formed around the same broken people. Just a thought.

So what would a "reimagined" Christian look like? Well, first off, we might want to rename such persons "followers of Jesus" or to use Dallas Willard's term "apprentices of Jesus." For some reason our land is filled with "Christians" who believe that being a loving, trusting obedient follower of Jesus--a disciple--is optional. Hmmm, not sure where that came from, but I can't find that anywhere in my Bible!

Second, a reimagined follower of Jesus will have the same characteristics as believers in the New Testament. Every believer in the New Testament had entered the Kingdom of God through genuine repentance from sin and self-efforts to please God. S/he had placed total and continuing trust in Jesus as not only savior but also Lord of her/his life. S/he had encountered God's Spirit in such a way that there was no question that s/he had been "born from above" and had also been inundated by the Spirit in such a powerful way that Paul called this experience with the Spirit a "downpayment guaranteeing heaven" (Ephesians 1:14) and the writer of Hebrews (Priscilla? :-)) called it a taste of the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5). This NT believer had also experienced deliverance from demonic bondages as needed and been baptized in water to indicate his/her complete identification with Jesus and His people. And this is just the beginning.

Beyond these basics, a reimagined Christian is also someone who is constantly hearing the voice of God and obeying that voice, primarily as it comes in the form of the "still, small voice" as it is informed by God's word and also imprinted upon the heart of those who have learned to be still and to promptly obey. (This is what being "led by the Spirit" means, I think). To be a "follower of Jesus" implies that the person is indeed continuously following Jesus--kind of makes sense, eh?

Finally, at least for now, a reimagined Christian is someone who is growing in her/his understanding of what it means to have the Godhead dwell in her/him. For some reason, we as believers still usually think of God as "out there" instead of "Christ in me, the hope of glory." Concerning this, Dallas Willard, in Hearing God says, "Some Christians too commonly demonstrate that notions of 'faith in Christ' and 'love for Christ' leave Christ outside the personality of the believer...These exterior notions of Christ's faith and love will never be strong enough to yield the confident statement, 'It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me' (Galatians 2:20)"

So how are you doing with all this? I could write much more, I think. But let me summarize with this: We as believers can indeed live out the life of the Kingdom of God as it is described in the New Testament, a life of "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17), a life that is overflowing with "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23). But this reality comes only to those who have had a truly New Testament encounter with God and who are willing to every day "deny self, take up the cross daily and follow Jesus" (Luke 9:23).

I am becoming a truly reimagined Christian from what I used to believe a "Christian" was. Care to join me?

Tom, Daddy's little boy

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

From My Heart

I am going to try to post every week now for a while--we will see how that really works!

I have said before that I believe that God wants to bring at least four streams together in bringing His people to health. I have described them in various ways but essentially they involve intimacy with Him, truly biblical discipleship, incredible supernatural power and very simple "structures."

Today, I give you a glimpse into my heart as I ponder these things. The following is straight from my journal on July 15, 2008. Note that this is a running conversation with God. Also, "Pai" is Portuguese for "father."

I am learning to let you “bring things” to me instead of trying to make things happen. Two days in a row now you have brought the two major concerns into the light with people I love. On Sunday night I have the deep conversation with ____, then yesterday I have one with ___. I know you smile when I say this, of course, but the wonder in my heart at how well this works is great—wow! This really, really is the best way to live. How did we miss it for so long?
But now I come, beloved Pai. I need to draw near while it’s reasonably quiet, methinks!
Well, the quiet never materialized, so I have retreated into music. Thank you, Papa, for two things you have already shown me in Scripture this morning. Psalm 25:4 literally says, “Make me to know your ways” which is a stronger appeal, I think, and speaks of true dependence. Then for the first time I notice in Exodus 33 that you say to Moses, “I know you by name” (twice) but Moses’ appeal is “That I may know you!” Big thought!
Papa, I see the convergence more and more of all that you have been saying to me as you guide my reading. Today, Smith Wigglesworth speaks again of living always “in the Spirit” and how authority and power come from that place. And that place is only available to those who live fully yielded to your will (and who live saturated by your presence). Thomas Kelly, too, as I finished “Holy Obedience,” echoes the same thought. It seems that the childlikeness of a little child is to be combined with the obedience of a son (Hebrews 5:7-8, et al.), all of which take place in a supernatural realm that opens up to us as we live a truly God-centered life. Ah, Father, Kelly’s words on pages 73-76 are almost overpowering in their force and their clear application and affirmation! And since you had me memorize Psalm 40:6-8 I seem to have been in a deep change that keeps getting deeper and better, and all I can say is more, Lord, more! For your honor and glory, because of my love for you that you are stoking into flame, more!
Father, the OT prophets and others seemed to hear you only occasionally, see things only at your bidding (with some rare exceptions like Moses, David and Elisha). As I pondered this, I think you said the following.
“Servants hear only when the Master has instructions, child, but children have the privilege of hearing Father’s voice often. Indeed, anytime they wish to ‘run in’ and converse, they can. Yes, child, even today many function only as servants and not as my friends, my sons and daughters. Even you lived that way once, and you are still very much learning to live as a son. But I will teach you!”
3:50 p.m. Papa, the things you revealed to ____ and me today are too important not to write down. First, you continue to press us both to honor our wives and truly love them as Jesus loves His Bride by seeking to help them become all they were created to be. Then today you have me ask ___, “What is Jesus doing right now for the Church?” The answer is, “He is interceding,” and the second question proceeds from this: “What does it mean to pray for my wife the way that Jesus prays for the Church?” Much to ponder, much to change, methinks!

Just some personal thoughts, from my heart. What do you think?

Tom, Abba's least child

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Out of the Heart

I cannot ever get very far from talking about either intimacy and/or discipleship in these posts because I see so little evidence of these in the western church. I am not alone in this, of course, and I "discovered" some new allies this past week (who have been saying this much longer than I). So here's a review of yet another book!

It all started when at J.P. Moreland's suggestion in Kingdom Triangle I ordered (I thought!) Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard (J.P. says this is the one book above all others he would recommend). I popped on Amazon and clicked what I thought was the book and checked out. But when my order arrived I discovered that I had clicked on the wrong link. There in the Amazon box was a book entitled Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice by Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson. I was not pleased but didn't send the book back since it at least contained portions of what I had wanted :-)

So I set the book aside...until last Friday. During my Papa time I sensed Him nudging me to read this little paperback--the whole thing--on that very day. After a brief argument about all I needed to do, I complied. I cannot tell you how glad I am that I did. This book now moves to my "highly recommended" list. It confirmed a great deal of what I am sensing and saying and challenged me as well about issues of the heart. The book takes "bite-sized" portions of Dr. Willard's book and adds a brief reflection and exercise that helps the reader apply what is being said. It really works well, at least it has for me.

As you may know, Dallas Willard contends (rightly) that everything begins with the heart (hence the title, eh?). Consider now with me, both comments by him and Jan Johnson and see if you catch "the heart" of what they are saying. (from Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice by Jan Johnson and Dallas Willard. Copyright 2006, all rights reserved. Used by permission.)

Our lives are a result of what we have become in the depths of our being -- what we call our spirit, will or heart. From there we see our world and interpret reality. From there we make choices, break forth into action, and try to change our world. That is why the greatest need of collective humanity is the renovation of our heart....

Spiritual formation for the Christian refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self so that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself. To the degree in which spiritual formation in Christ is successful, the outer life of the individual becomes a natural outflow of the character and teachings of Jesus. Christian spiritual formation is focused entirely on Jesus. Its goal is conformity to Christ that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposeful interaction with the grace of God in Christ. Obedience is an essential outcome of Christian spiritual formation (see John 13:34-35; 14:21). (part of Dallas Willard's words in Chapter 3, "Change Me on the Inside," page 15).

Jan Johnson then writes the following wonderfully practical (and piercing) reflection.

When we say phrases such as, "He caught me off guard," or, "That bad word just slipped out," we refer to the truth that our outer actions aren't accidental -- they mirror our character within. When regrettable words "slip out," we didn't have time to dress up what was in our heart before it came tumbling out of our mouth. Unsavory thoughts leak out in objectionable words and behavior. Such "slips" reveal publicly the private inner workings of our heart. Jesus explained that "out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45, NIV).

Our task, then, is to cooperate with God and being changed on the inside so that we take on the personality of Christ. As we let what is stored in our heart be transformed, we behave as Jesus would behave.

If our insides are renovated, what comes out of us will bring about peace and righteousness. We won't have to try to love. Unloving thoughts and actions simply won't occur to us, just as loving ones will begin to spring up without our awareness. We will smile at an enemy automatically. It won't occur to us to argue. Instead, will pray inwardly for the disagreeable person in front of us. To cooperate with public greed or dishonesty will offend us to the core, and we will find ourselves unable to do it. (page 16)

There is much more treasure in this book, some of which I may share in later posts. But for now, if you do well at learning through reading and especially if you haven't read much of Dallas Willard, I recommend getting this book.

I welcome your thoughts.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Father's Generation: The Great Ones

Last week I encountered one of the "great ones." My neighbor across the street has had her father and mother visiting them for a few weeks, and I had an opportunity to talk with Bill, her 80-something father one afternoon. By the time I was done listening to him I had tears in my eyes for a number of reasons and I walked away fully aware of why Tom Brokaw entitled his book about this generation "The Greatest Generation."

You see, Bill was in the Air Force during World War 2, and he told me some of his stories and talked about the price that his generation had paid to secure freedom for succeeding generations. He specifically talked in detail about the Normandy invasion (D-day) and his role as an Air Force photographer, etc. As he did so, I was stunned at the cost in lives that was paid on just the first day of the invasion that eventually set Europe free. Although historians are not agreed on exact figures for casualties, there is agreement that several thousand allied troops died on just the first day of the invasion. And total US military deaths for WW2 approached 300,000 and the total for deaths (civilian and military) from WW2 is about 61 million people! I knew these facts at one time, of course, but they were just facts for a history exam until I got older! Now as I hear my father or people like Bill talk about things like the Great Depression and World War 2, I marvel at the strength that men and women of this generation exhibited.

So I have pondered what made my father's generation so great. I don't have a lot of answers to this, but I do know this: my father's generation was the last values- or principles-based generation in in the Western world. They were the last generation to believe that there were things worth dying for and that the good of the whole outweighed one's personal fulfillment, rights, etc. Beginning with my generation, western culture shifted to what J.P. Moreland and others call a "thin culture" (see his book, Kingdom Triangle). A thin culture is not values/principle-based, but instead focuses on individual comfort, pleasure, happiness, etc.

So what does this have to do with simple church? Well, I am not sure, but I do know that the Kingdom of God has always been based on values and that unless those values (i.e., the character and will of God) inform and shape our behavior we will be indistinguishable from the culture around us. I also know that many voices are predicting much suffering, even for the western world, in the days ahead (economic collapse, famine, terror, etc.). Will the believers in the generations following The Great Ones be able not just to survive but shine like stars under such circumstances? We will, if we heed Andrew Murray's words (from his book God's Will: Our Dwelling Place).

"The first concern of most Christians in trouble is to be delivered from it. This may not be the most important thing to be concerned with. The one great desire ought to be: in nothing to fail in knowing and doing the will of God. This is the secret of strength and true nobility in the Christian life."

Thank you, Bill (and Dad), for leaving a legacy and paying a price that few alive today can fathom. May we who follow move out of our thin lives into the path you purchased with your lives.

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Duty or Delight? Reflections on the H2H Conference

Okay, so now I am back from the House2House Conference and some have asked for my reflections on what took place there. Before I write this entry, though, I ask you to keep two things in mind. First, because I was part of one of the workshops I wasn't able to experience the other workshops so my perspective is rather limited. Second, I am unashamedly biased towards everything in life and ministry flowing from ever-increasing, experienced intimacy with Jesus (I know this isn't much of a surprise for those who read this blog!). Now for a few reflections.

First, the attendance at this conference was encouraging for two reasons: it was "sold out," and there were lots of first timers. I have been attending this conference for about 4 years and this is the first one I have experienced where there were so many new folks (that I can recall, at least). The move towards simpler expressions of life in the Kingdom is clearly reflected by this, I think.

Now as to the conference itself, one of my friends described it in terms of two very clear streams (and I borrowed his terms for the title of my blog--thanks, Kent!). One stream focused on intimacy with God as the source of everything (delight), the other stream focused more on a highly missional, "git er done" mentality (duty). Note that in spite of my previously mentioned bias, I honor and respect those who advocate the latter approach--I just can't go there myself! Note also that any attempt to describe things with only two words will inevitably miss lots of details. Many who are "missional" also advocate intimacy, and as you know, all who are truly intimate with Jesus are "on mission" with Him. Nevertheless, there was a clear emphasis one way or the other throughout much of the conference which many folks noticed.

Papa has helped me to get to a place where I can rejoice in the good in both streams, I think. So I was thrilled to hear the stories from Dennis Balcombe of what God has been doing in China for years and years. It was good, too, to hear that in many ways there is a new openness to the church in China. And hearing Wolfgang Simson talk about the Kingdom of God as central to what we are about was good and confirms what many are hearing God say about returning to the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. And Frank Viola was gentle, poignant and concise in his presentations. We can all see Jesus continuing to work wonderful new things in Frank.

But for me, the most encouraging parts of the conference came from Paul Young's times of sharing. It was like having The Shack visit us in person! Paul was totally transparent with us as he described the main character, Mack, as representing himself as an adult and Missy as that part of him that died as a child (and Paul had a lot die in him as a child!). He also told us that The Shack describes over the course of one weekend encounter with God what in actuality took him 11 years to live out! He also told us that the "shack" represents the broken places in our lives that we hide from others and that we are afraid to go into. God in His kindness, however, works in each of us to get us to our own shacks, and when we finally get up the courage to take off our veneer and go through the door of our own shack, we find Papa there in the midst of all the pain and garbage.

It's hard for me to describe what was happening in the room (and in our hearts) while Paul was sharing. It was as if Father were opening our hearts, removing the thin veneer that "church people" wear far too often and delving deeply into the most wounded places in our lives. I can't tell you how many people I personally prayed with who were basically "wrecked" by the tender yet persistent probings of the Holy Spirit. It was as if God released an atmosphere of transparency that exposed our brokenness. I prayed with person after person--men and women alike, and I saw Paul and others doing the same during breaks, etc.

At the heart of what was happening, I think, was the real "revolution." It's a revolution that goes far beyond how we "do church" or where we "do church" or even beyond "being the church." It's a revolution of love, a discovery that most of what we have called "Christianity" is a poor and weak parody of the Kingdom of God which is a Kingdom of love and freedom beyond comprehension. This revolution is a revolution of intimacy with God that I and many others have described and predicted (many have done so for far longer than I and with much more eloquence than I--Wayne Jacobsen comes to mind here).

As this revolution unfolded before my eyes, I remember thinking that I was actually seeing the answer to the prayer "Let your Kingdom come; on earth as it is in heaven." May whatever was started there during that time grow and increase until it becomes an unstoppable stream of love that cannot be restricted. May it forever sweep away human effort, religion and striving from the face of what we call "church"!

One final comment. We all received huge insight into how Paul Young lives out this simple, intimate life in Jesus during our workshop. While we were on the platform during the workshop Paul was actually texting a woman who was in great distress--in total, horrible crisis. Paul's compassion for this lady, his prioritizing care for her as she teetered on the brink of suicidal despair, said it all to me! As we prayed and received updates from Paul about this lady we were all drawn into the drama of a God who IS love and who can stop a "relational church workshop" (the largest workshop of the conference!) to care for one of His very precious and hurting daughters--amazing! I saw God as I have never seen before when I read The Shack, and I relived in even more vivid colors that revelation as we were drawn into God's love drama with the simple yet brilliant, firm yet gentle man, who wrote his life into a story for his children and then lived it out for us as he cared for someone he had never met.

So...the bottom line is that you may want to order the conference DVDs. For now, the reflections of Abba's least child are ended!

Stay lost in Papa's love,

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why is it important?

Okay, I confess...I am using a post from the House2House blog for their upcoming conference this weekend. I am co-facilitating a workshop on "relational Christianity" with Neil Gamble, Frank Viola and W. Paul Young (The Shack). Should be an amazing time! And since I doubt that my "viewing audience" has seen the other blog, I am posting here what I wrote there :-)

So why is it so important to get this “relational Christianity” thingy right? (Do you think the phrase “Relational Christianity” is redundant? Is there an “non-relational” version! Sorry, couldn’t resist!). So why is it so important to live first and most in intimacy with God, then in healthy community with one another which both lead to effective mission? Some of my thoughts are below.

Regarding intimacy with God. This is from my journal not too long ago.

I am now fully convinced that it was Jesus’ awareness of His Father’s love that enabled Him to live the trusting, completely dependent life that He did. And a life of trusting dependence is absolutely essential to becoming like Jesus. No one becomes like Jesus by trying to apply His teachings or follow His example.
Rather we become like Jesus by allowing Jesus to live His life in and through us. Our part is not to try harder, but to trust more and more deeply, and to surrender more completely to His loving guidance and power. Paul sums up both how to live loved and how to have Jesus live His life in us in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Notice how Paul personalizes Jesus’ love and sacrifice for him: “who loved me…” His deep personal experience of God’s love for him is what enabled him to live “the crucified life” – a life by which Jesus lived out His life in Paul.

Regarding healthy community. Consider that Jesus stated that the one thing that marks us as His people and above all other things validates the message of the Kingdom is healthy relationships! See John 13:34-35 and John 17:20-23.

Regarding mission that flows from intimacy and healthy community: Wow, I could write a lot here (indeed I have written a long paper about this one!). In a nutshell, Jesus was the most “missional” person ever to live, but He stated over and over that He did nothing on His own initiative. John 5:19 NASV says: "Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.'" And Jesus ministered from within a community (as did the Apostle Paul). Do we think we can improve on how Jesus did things? And do we really think our mission will have authenticity and power if we embark on it on our own initiative? Yet how many believers do you know who can honestly say, “I do nothing on my own initiative”? I rest my case... :-)

May grace embrace you, love overwhelm you.

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Deep Wounds, Deep Healing

Charles Kraft wrote a book with the title I have listed for my blog this time. The title describes in a phrase my experience with Ellel Ministries in Western Canada July 20 through August 3.

Peter Horrobin, the founder of Ellel Ministries (which started in England many years ago) writes the following in Healing Through Deliverance, Book 2.

It is easy to understand with the hindsight of many ministries how wise some sectors of the early Church were to insist that people went through deliverance ministry after conversion and before baptism and Church membership. In some parts of the world, this is still common practice.
They knew that unless the converts were delivered of both the demonic powers that had controlled their own pagan lives and those that had come down the generation lines, they would end up with a demonized Church that would quickly assume an attitude of compromise with the world and would decline into patterns of spiritual death and religious routine. I believe there would be a far stronger Body of believers if this were normal practice throughout the Church today.
Unless the leaders of the Church embrace an active and ongoing deliverance ministry, I believe that every move of the Spirit of God will, in time, be quenched from within through demonic pressure. It is small wonder, therefore, that Satan so opposes and seeks to discredit the deliverance ministry, for if the Church is being obedient in preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and casting out demons, the Body of Christ will be a force that cannot be stopped from within or without.(pp. 94-95)
In recent years I have ministered to many elderly Christians, some of them with well known and established ministries. In the confidence of the counseling room, they have shared their inner problems, and some have been brokenhearted over the way they have had continuous struggles with temptations, often of a sexual nature, that they have been powerless to fight off. In many cases, such people have never understood that they are not just fighting temptation from without, or their own fallen flesh nature, but are struggling with demons within that have never been recognized. It is impossible to fight an enemy whose identity is never recognized.
How Satan must rejoice when Christians are taught that they cannot be demonized. No other teaching gives such rights to the enemy to walk all over the saints of God unrecognized and unchallenged. What a relief it is for people to realize that the thoughts and temptations they have battled with for years have an origin that can be dealt with through deliverance. (pp. 99-100)

My experiences during the two weeks of training bear out what Peter writes. Because the western church especially has been woefully ignorant about the need for deep healing and deliverance, many folks--even leaders--have lived with unnecessary battles raging on in their minds. I was one of those leaders. There were generational issues and things from my childhood and things from my "wilder days" that were buried deeply within me. They didn't affect me much, and as Charles Kraft says, any "critters" in there were quite miserable because of the intimate walk with God I have been pursuing, but nonetheless they were there. Looking back at my life up to this time in Canada, I have become painfully aware of how "captive" I was in terms of caring about what others thought of me, or in terms of being intimidated by strong personalities, of ministering many times out of my need rather than God's direction, etc. But the freedom I am now experiencing is so great that I would gladly pay the price many times over. And it was a price, believe me. I have never been so broken, so humbled, so dependent on others, etc. But somehow I also knew that it was safe to be that way, and humbling myself to whatever point was necessary was easier because of that safety. I am deeply grateful to God for the integrity and kindness of the Ellel leaders and staff!

Was the experience perfect? Of course not--nothing human will be perfect. I would have preferred an adult learning approach to the training (10 hours of lecture is a lot to endure in one day!), and I came away with more questions than answers in some areas. I also noticed a tendency in me to be fearful for a time after the training because of the intensity of what was happening and because of the focus on what the enemy is up to, etc. But I have by the grace of God shaken off the fear and am returning to the childlike joy that Father calls all of us to.

Where from here? I don't know for sure, but I am more convinced than ever that we all need to be able to set captives free and make that an integral part of making disciples. Papa God will show me/us more as needed.

Grace and joy to you,

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Healing and Discipleship

I am currently in Canada for two weeks of training by Ellel Ministries Canada West on Healing and Discipleship. It has been an encouraging, humbling and stretching time. Ellel Ministries has an approach to discipleship that is wonderfully close to what I am discovering to be true. They very much believe that healing (in every sense of the word) is essential to discipleship. However, since I am not finished with my time up here, I will wait until my next post to write any more reflections on my time here. For the rest of my blog, I share a few thoughts from a paper I wrote about healing and discipleship for last year's House2House conference. As always, I welcome your comments.

First, ponder this verse for a moment: Luke 6:40 (my paraphrase) “A disciple is not above his/her teacher, but everyone who has been restored and mended so as to be fully prepared will be like his teacher.”

I recently heard Randy Clark describe his grandfather’s conversion as one in which his grandfather was miraculously and instantly set free from addiction to alcohol, abusing his family and marital unfaithfulness. Yet recently I have prayed for several young and not-so-young pastors to be set free from demonic strongholds of rage, lust, etc. Why didn’t grandpa need deliverance and inner healing whereas these other leaders did? Perhaps grandpa did need more work and we just don’t know about it, or perhaps the Gospel was more accurately presented and/or there was more power. (see 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5). But whatever the reason, the fact is that today many believers seem unable to live the Christian life with power and fruitfulness without going through inner healing and deliverance.

Now consider this thought to ponder from a leading Baptist pastor from Argentina.
It is impossible to move ahead in our separation from evil without inner healing. Why? Because sin is nothing more than accumulated frustration that we try to resolve in ways contrary to the will of God. For example, a woman who has not had a good relationship with her father—a relationship which should have taught her that she is loved and valued—may seek affirmation in numerous sexual relationships with different men. Such a woman is seeking for the father she never had. Similarly, the man who was raised in extreme poverty may seek to resolve that sense of destitution and thereby develop an extremely ambitious and greedy personality…. A daughter of God who from childhood felt as if she never measured up to her sister may become the instigator of constant confrontations and divisions in her local church. These are just a few illustrations of the ways in which sin is unresolved frustrations seeking to satisfy itself in the wrong ways.

All these situations come to our attention as sins, such as fornication, unrestrained ambition, greed, lack of submission, or a spirit of division. What we often end up doing is implementing disciplinary measures for those who fall into these sins. We read the appropriate biblical demands. We give them counsel to not fall into the same sin again. We warn them about the risks they are running. We pray for them. And we apply some kind of punitive ecclesiastical measure to them. We do all this to show them the demands of holiness and to help them live out the demands. Yet we are only working with the manifestation of the problem.

The result of this kind of approach is that the people continue to fall into the same sin all over again. Even in the best of cases, though they will stop committing those sins, they will end up seeking to resolve their frustration through other sinful means. We have worked with the consequences of the problem—the sin—but we have not addressed the causes. We are asking for purity from people without healing their wounds. To demand holiness without healing is to push people into guilt and frustration. Therefore, it is necessary to have those encounters with the healing power of the Lord in order to live in holiness. The result is that these basic needs or wants in our personality are resolved by means of the healing grace of God and never again through sinful means.

Confession of sin, an indispensable element for sanctification, is not that moment in which we finally change God's mind and convince him to forgive us. Rather it is the moment in which our minds are changed so that we clearly see our need and accept God's forgiveness. That is healing. St. Augustine said that we must hate the sin and love the sinner. Holiness is not only hating the sin, but also loving the sinner in me. I need to love me enough to seek to heal my past in such a way that I will stop repeating the same mistakes and stop hurting myself. The great men of God were great saints when they saw themselves as great sinners who needed healing. The test of knowing how holy I am in my life is not how close I feel to God according to my conduct, but rather how aware I am of my need for him.
Quoted from "Inner Healing to Live in Freedom," in Power, Holiness and Evangelism, compiled by Randy Clark, article by Dr. Carlos Mraida, co-pastor of Central Baptist Church, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The expulsion of demons was a normal part of the extension of the Kingdom of God.
• Jesus (many, many passages!)
• His disciples (Matthew 10:1, Luke 9:1-2)
• Other (All!) believers (Luke 10:19-20; Mark 16:15-18; Philip in Samaria, see Acts 8:4-8)

It’s feasible that because the early church made deliverance a part of the proclamation of the Gospel, deliverance after conversion wasn’t usually needed. See, however, Acts 5:3 (Satan had filled the heart of Ananias), Acts 8:22-23 (Simon’s heart was full of bitterness and captive to sin).
And the following scriptures are all addressed to believers!

Ephesians 4:26-27 Giving the devil a foothold—written to believers! And “don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil. (NLT)

Ephesians 4:31-32 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (NIV)

Galatians 5:19-21 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)

After the NT period, the early Church often made deliverance part of the pre-baptism preparation of new converts, and there are reports that demons would often leave as the persons were being baptized!

Inner Healing, too? Yes! See Isaiah 61:1-3—one of the things mentioned is healing the brokenhearted.

The point of all this, of course, is that making disciples needs to include a level of healing that the Church in all its forms tends to neglect. But that is changing, I think.

More next time.

Stay lost in His love,

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lighting Candles Instead of Cursing the Darkness

I have an amazing friend, Michele Perry, who let's her light shine in one of the darkest places in the world: war-torn and war-weary Sudan. Michele started and oversees an orphanage and outreach center in Yei, in Southern Sudan. Check out her main web page here. Michele recently sent me the following story, and I wept and wept as I read it. It is an incredible story about a man none of us have ever heard of whose faith in Jesus and love for others gives perfect expression to the title of this blog (Michele's life does the same!). Weep with me as you read the following story and let Jesus talk to you.

John Okello, brought five children by faith and he taught me a lot this week. His story undoes me. He is one who will have crowns in heaven none of us can fathom. He doesn’t have to say word. John shines with love and compassion. What I heard floored me. This young man knew more about being light in darkness than most people I know combined. I was deeply humbled. He had light radiating from his pained appearance as he described the journey he had been on with the five children that were seated behind him in our front yard. By the time he was done, I about told the kids to move into my room with me.

Five children from four families all orphaned by recent fighting in their home area along the Kenya border with Sudan in Eastern Equatoria, Didinga by tribe and language. He had been their sunday school teacher. Their church had disintegrated because of a corrupt leader and the 20 children in their care were now destitute. It was the only church in the area, that is unreached. And we are likely adopting it too. Anyone who has this much faith and heart is someone I want to be in touch with.

He had traveled hundreds of miles over five days with five children not even related to him by faith in search of help for them. He had used all of his own resources. Jesus told him to come to Yei and he had heard of us. What could I say BUT yes? It was all I could do not to cry as I saw his heart for these children. He went to a government orphanage in Juba on the way but said even if there was space; he would not want to leave them there. They didn’t love Jesus and he wanted these children to be loved and grow up loving Him like he did.

We literally do not have space physically for even one more child in our present facility. Our staff groaned because they know me too well by now. We are taking the brother and sister, Lakoma and Naonya, to live with us and doing everything we can to help find alternative placements for the three remaining boys in the community. Lakoma and Naonya would be especially hard to place because their family was working for the northern government and their parents killed while working for the arabs. Hatred extended to all related unfortunately, even the most innocent.

In the face of poverty, violence, fear, the unknown with next to nothing but his faith, this dear man gave all he had to follow Jesus clear across a war-torn nation to find a better life for these five children. I couldn’t turn him a way… now seven year old Naonya’s bright smiling face lights my day up every time I give her a hug or smile at her and Lakoma’s gentle ways with the little children here remind me of our Papa’s gentleness with us. Our mamas and children have grown so much too. They all responded with great joy in welcoming a new tribe to our home- we want every tribe to be with us here loving Jesus they said. That is not common sentiment here.

This Friday I leave for Canada for 2 weeks of training with Ellel Ministries West Canada. I am glad for the opportunity, but sometimes I wonder... It's good to wonder, isn't it! Papa, search me and help me when I grow up to be like John Okello!

Grace to you,

Tom, for sure the least of Abba's children!