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