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 it's 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...

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