Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Saying "Yes"

For the past five years, December 30th has been the day when God has asked me if I am willing to renew my "Yes" to Him. It has been a little more sobering to consider my answer today than in previous years...more on that in a moment.

On December 30, 2004, I sensed God asking for a "Yes" to a question I had been afraid to consider before that time. Here's what I sensed Him saying: "If you knew for sure that it was I who was acting and speaking, would you let go everything safe and settled to follow me? Would the Church? There is coming such radical change—I am bringing it–-that the familiar will fade away completely. Will you be a part of this? You can be, I want you to be, but you must let go of the familiar and the safe and follow me wherever I lead. You are not doing that yet, child, but I am calling to you. How will you answer me?”

And five years ago, the best I could answer at the time was, "I want to be willing to follow! Please keep working in me to get me there (Philippians 2:13)." And God has graciously answered that prayer many times over since that date.

Last year I found myself again saying "Yes" to Father's invitation to follow Him "off the map." Here's what I wrote: "Papa, this date seems to be the date each year that I am faced with answering whether I will follow you off the map! And as I reflect on all that you have done in me this year—far more than I could have dreamed, and different in some ways than I expected, yet not nearly enough (not until 2 Corinthians 4:7 becomes a reality will I stop pressing in!)—I am compelled again to say yes and ask you to continue doing whatever it takes in me. And as before I ask this not in fear that you will allow some horrible tragedy into my life because you prefer to change us by kindness. But I also know, Father, that just as this year has had its pains and challenges…so much to learn, so much to experience!"

But in spite of my words about God not allowing tragedy, this past year did bring pain to my wife--horrible, terrible pain and fear along with it--and because of my love for her, it brought pain to both of us. And to be honest, I wrestled more than once with whether my saying "Yes" to God to "do whatever it takes" somehow brought this pain on her. Yes, I know that good thinking about God wouldn't go there, but in the midst of the battle, we do find ourselves asking those questions, I think, or at least I did. Thankfully, though, God is not nervous or worried about those questions, and His Presence in the midst of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was extremely obvious to both Jettie and me.

And clarity comes as we cling to Him with our scary questions sticking out in front of us like festering wounds. He speaks and reminds me that He is good, to the core, completely and totally good. He reminds me that He sees all things, even the plans of the enemy, and takes them into account for how He plans to express His goodness to us. He reminds me that our ancestor Adam invited havoc into our world with his choice of "independence" and that havoc is no respecter of persons. He reminds me that His Word is true because it is a reflection of His character and therefore the many promises that are so brilliantly illuminated in the darkness by His Spirit are absolutely trustworthy: He really does deliver us from all our fears; He really is with us in trouble; He really does deliver from our enemies--in short, He really is good: totally, completely good.

And so as this day winds down, and I hear again His question, what can I say but "Yes"? But in ways hard to explain, my "Yes" this year is different. I feel like there is less "me" in it and more of Him in it. There is less bravado on my part, replaced by more awareness of my ineptness and frailty yet without condemnation because there is also more awareness that He really is--beyond our wildest dreams--very, very good! So my "Yes" this year feels "broken" and almost tentative, yet in some ways it is perhaps the best "Yes" I have ever given the One who asks the question of all of us.

Yes, my Abba, yes.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Feeling at home...

Tuesday night Jettie and I spent the night in the Texas Panhandle town of Dalhart, as we headed down to Midland, TX, to spend Christmas with our son and his family. We ate dinner that night in a small town steakhouse and as we left for the hotel something happened that brought tears to my eyes and gave birth to this week's entry.

No, it wasn't an earthshaking event, it was simply a polite nod from a man at one of the tables as we left the restaurant--a cultural expression of greeting common to many parts of Texas. And the reason it brought tears to my eyes is that West Texas has always felt like home to me, more so even than the southern California border town where I grew up. And that simple gesture by an unknown rancher triggered a longing to be "home" (Midland feels most like home to us).

But there is another place that I trust will always feel even more like home to me than West Texas. I'm not sure how to describe it other than to describe it as being at home in God's Manifest Presence or perhaps "In Papa's lap." A little over five years ago, if I had read the previous sentence I would have stared at it with no understanding at all, but by Papa's grace, I do know how to experience His Presence, His lap, and I am amazed that I could have missed this for so long (especially since for years I have written and talked about "intimacy with God"!). And yes, I know that the New Testament teaches that I am in Christ and He is in me, but one can know these things in a rational way without knowing them by experience. And even as I write this I find longing for that experience of His Presence, His embrace, rising within me. Surely God Himself is indeed our shelter, our rock, our fortress, our tower, our Father.

Even under the Old Covenant we see that there are those who knew this. The sons of Korah wrote about this in Psalm 84: "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (vv. 1-2). And now that Jesus has come, Immanuel, God with us, how wonderfully accessible "home" has become to us. If I would "go home" I simply need to still my heart (easier said than done at times, I know), quiet my mind (ditto!) and turn my attention to the One who lives in me and in whom I live. And then, in ways hard to fathom unless you have experienced it, He comes, and we are home.

May you be ever more at home in Papa's lap!

Longing for home (both of them),

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Friday, December 18, 2009

I meditate on it all day long...

A few years ago I discovered an incredible treasure trove that I had forgotten about: in one of our moves I found all of Jettie's love letters to me from the summer before we were married (in typical fashion she carefully numbered each one of them). It's hard for me to describe the feelings that washed over me when I found them--and even now tears come easily as I write this. And I am sure I don't have to tell you that these letters are of indescribable value to me. Why? Not because of the ink and paper they are made of, not even because of the words themselves. No, these letters, "The Word of Jettie" are treasures to me because of the love relationship that she and I share.

And so it is with God's word. I think it was Andrew Murray who first helped me recognize that Psalm 119 is an incredible prayer not so much about God's word, but about God Himself and the deep, deep love the Psalmist felt from God and for God. In other words, God's law (precepts, statutes, word, etc.) was precious to the writer of Psalm 119 because God was infinitely precious to him.

I write this after having a tender and fierce dialog with God this morning about the dearth of His word in my life. It was not a condemning conversation, but I ended up deeply aware that I along with most western believers lack not only God's overwhelming power in my life but that I have very little of His word "hidden in my heart." No wonder then, that I am still vulnerable at times to fear, to attack from the enemy, to creating an improper image of what God is like in my mind (an idol), etc.!

You see, about 5 years ago I sensed God telling me to put away lots of scripture in my heart, and one of the passages He led me to was Psalm 119 (yikes!). I did indeed start memorizing that psalm (more on that in a moment), but somewhere along the line I gave up. Now, I did memorize other passages (thankfully one of them was Psalm 91 which has been the mainstay in the battle Jettie and I have had for her healing), but Psalm 119 remains to this day only partially in my heart. But that is changing, I trust, with God renewing a few days ago His admonition and invitation to memorize this psalm. And with that admonition came the powerful time of reflection this morning about how little of my thinking is really shaped by God's Word because when I started memorizing the psalm I began in the middle, with verse 97. Verse 97 says, "Oh how I love your law; I meditate on it all day long." Wow. It hits me like a ton of bricks that we cannot meditate on something that isn't committed to memory and that what I therefore end up meditating on is more likely to be the jumbled assortment of truth and lies that assault all of us in the twisted culture of this world.

And so I "repented," not with the shame-based "repentance" of religion, but with the love-based attitude of someone who realizes that he has wounded a friend and missed a great treasure. So I am asking God to create in me a longing for His word that grows out of our love relationship. I am asking Him to help me treasure His word far more even than I treasure those love letters from Jettie. I doubt that this hunger will reach its maximum level overnight, but it's already growing in me, along with a renewed longing simply for Him.

And I am reflecting now on the state of the western church--we carry Bibles in our hands, on our cell phones, on our computers. I wonder if it's really a blessing to do so! If I have it with me, somehow I may come to believe that it's in me! And I wonder if the reason spiritual awakening hasn't happened is due as much to unfamiliarity with God's Word (and therefore with the God who gave us His word) as it is a lack of His inundating power.

Just wondering, praying, thinking...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Religion is SOOO Sneaky!

I was reading a devotional this past week and was amazed to see yet another blatant way that performance-based religion is at the heart of what many sincere folks call the Christian life! For some reason, even though believers say, "It's a relationship, not a religion," many of them are far more about "pleasing God" and about "should and ought" than about living in the freedom of God's total acceptance of them through Jesus. The following is pulled from my journal. See if you can catch the subtle ways that religion creeps in, even with long-time believers!

Papa! How subtle religion is! The ___ devotional is themed around a wonderful idea, but the following sentence illustrates the subtlety of religion: “As Christians, we are called to be ‘A holy priesthood, …acceptable to God through Christ Jesus’ (1 Peter 2:5), yet we are aware that there may be times when we fail to live up to that calling, and drift into the ways of the world.” But that's not what this passage says! We are not “called to be,” we are called ‘a holy priesthood…” It’s something you say we already are! But religion is constantly telling us what we are not something and telling us to try harder! Ah, Father! No wonder it takes us so long to break free. Not so long ago I would not have even seen this subtle trick of the enemy! Thank you for being so patient with me, so kind as you worked again and again to change my heart and bring me to true “repentance” (change of thinking).

Ah, Father. Even the translations cannot be trusted at times! 1 Corinthians 1:2 is translated by many translations “called to be holy/saints,” yet it literally reads, “called saints/holy ones”! And the same thing happens in Romans 1:7 (same Greek phrase). It’s not entirely wrong, of course, to say that we are “called to be saints,” if we hear that as our current state and our continuing destiny, but most people read it “called to try to become” instead of “called to live in something that I already am.” And the extreme importance of making this distinction is underscored even more when we realize that Paul was addressing the Corinthian church and calling them saints even though they were hardly acting like saints!

I trust that you can catch the difference here. To use the passage from 1 Peter as a reference, we are already a holy priesthood, etc., and as we live out the implications of who we are through the power of the Holy Spirit (surrendered to His loving guidance, interacting with His as we live life), we more and more look like what God declares us to be. On the other hand, if we don't realize that we are already saints, sons, priests, etc., we will try hard to become that because we think that's what God requires in order for us to be acceptable to Him.

I could write volumes on this, of course, but today I will simply refer you back to Bo's Cafe, TrueFaced, and Graham Cooke's excellent chapter on "Performance Christianity" in his excellent little book, Towards a Powerful Inner Life. I close with a quote from Graham.

"Performance-oriented people...rely on self-effort rather than acceptance in Christ as the foundation of their experience. However, they rightly express that 'Faith without works is dead.' But they do not understand that works which are not dependent upon acceptance of and faith in what God is doing in us can never provide what God seeks to release. The fact is, we pray, witness, serve, read Scripture, and attend meetings not to reach out to God but to express our sheer enjoyment that He is reaching out to us. It is how we celebrate His love. He is with us. He is for us, and we wriggle with the pleasure of His joy in us. He sings over us. He laughs at our enemies. He forgives so readily. He understands us completely."

Wow. Keep us wriggling with the pleasure of your joy, Papa!

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is It God's Voice?

Followers of this blog (all five of you :-)) know that I have written fairly often about hearing God's voice because I believe that hearing Him is foundational to everything (how can one have a relationship without frequent and varied communication?). But none of us hears His voice perfectly (run from someone who acts like they do!). So how do we know if it's really God's voice? After all, most of the time God's voice, our own thoughts and those injected by our adversary sound quite similar (thoughts in our minds). To answer this question I turn to one of my favorite mentors (who died two years before I was born), Smith Wigglesworth. Smith Wigglesworth learned over the years to hear God well, and he also encountered many sad stories of those who weren't wise in discerning the source of "the voice." Following are some of his key thoughts about how we can avoid following the wrong voice (with a few comments from me along the way). These are taken from various spots in his works but can be found all in one place in the Smith Wigglesworth Devotional (Whitaker House).

First, don't be afraid to test what you are hearing. Obviously the first test is against Scripture itself, and the more full of God's word you are, the more capable you will be at distinguishing God's voice. "If a voice comes and tells you what to do, if a person comes and says he has a special prophecy given him for you, you have as much right to ask God for that prophecy as they had to give it to you, and you have as much right to judge that prophecy according to the Word of God." Simple, isn't it? But I continue to be amazed at how many people "hear God" tell them things that violate God's character and will as revealed in Scripture! And Smith suggests a second test as well, from 1 John 4:2-3. "When a voice comes, no matter how it seems to you, you must test it. When it is persistently pressing have a position in the power of the Word of God to sat to this evil power, 'Did Jesus come in the flesh?' (1 John 4:3). And the satanic power will say no. But the Spirit of the Living God, the Holy Spirit, always says yes. We have to live in the place of knowing Scriptures and listening to His voice so that we are able to divinely discern whether these voices are of God or not."

Second, use common sense and test things against the general flavor of Scripture. Some more thoughts from Smith Wigglesworth:
"What do I read about the wisdom of God? It is full of peace and gentleness; it is willing to submit; it is without partiality; it is full of goodness and truth. (See James 3:17)...if these voices take away your peace, you will know they are not the will of God. But if the Spirit speaks, He will bring harmony and joy. The Spirit always brings three things: comfort, exhortation and edification."
"If you are wild, that is the Devil. If you go breathlessly to the Bible looking for confirmation of the voice, that is the Devil. The Word of God brings light."
"The voice came with such tremendous force that she could not let it go...God will never do anything like that. He will never send you an unreasonable, unmanageable message."
"It is satanic to feel that God has a special message for you and that you are someone more special than anyone else. Every place that God brings you in a rising tide of perfection is a place of humility, brokenness of heart, and fullness of surrender..."

Third, listen to God in community with others. Nothing you hear that is directional, etc., should be kept entirely to yourself. God has given us a loving and listening community to help us sort out whether or not what we are hearing is truly His voice (or if it is His voice, what the timing and other aspects of it are). Nowhere is this seen more clearly in Scripture than in the Apostle Paul's life--although he had as definite an encounter with the Lord Jesus as anyone, he chose not to embark on his life mission as an apostle until the community of believers around him heard God say, "It is time!" (see Acts 13--this incident happened about 13-17 years after Paul's encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road!).
"What did the Devil say next? 'You keep this a secret. Don't tell anybody...' Now that is surely as satanic as anything you have ever heard in your life, because every true thing, every holy thing, does not need to be kept a secret under any circumstances. Anything that is holy can be shouted from the housetops; God wants you to be able to tell all."
"If you are right and everybody else is wrong, I don't care who you are, if you cannot bear examination, if what you hold cannot bear the light of the truth, you are wrong... It is a very serious thing when nobody else know but you."

I welcome your thoughts and comments. In a nutshell, we can answer the question, "Is it God's voice?" by being so steeped in Scripture that we know not only its content but also the character of the One whom it reveals. And by using common sense and measuring whether what we are hearing brings peace, harmony, joy, etc., and by discerning whether what we are hearing is "forced" or pushy to the point of obsession. And by always, always being willing to humbly submit what we are hearing to others who hear God with us.

Listening carefully,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ever More Simple

The older I have gotten, the longer I have walked with the Lord Jesus, the simpler and more childlike this life has become, especially during this recent time of great testing.

More than one of you who read this blog have noted how a lot of my entries earlier this year foreshadowed this fearsome test. I caught one of those hints of the future today as I returned to a quote by one of my favorite mentors, Andrew Murray, and it was another epiphany about how simple things have become for me (and how simple they can be for all of us).

It started with an entry in my journal this morning: "Papa, I am beginning truly to believe that you are hearing our prayers, brief though they may be, if we are indeed listening to you and praying as and when you lead! There is much, much more, of course, that you wish to show me. Ah, Papa, how did we make everything so complicated and 'religious' when you have told us all along that it was simple and childlike? Yet you are rescuing me/us and I am so undone, so grateful!" This thought in turn led me to the following from Andrew Murray about prayer, "We are to begin in the patient love of the Father...Think about how His great love understands the poor beginnings of His little ones, clumsy and simple as they may seem to others. All this and infinitely more lies in this blessed relationship! Don't be afraid to claim it as your own!" (With Christ In the School of Prayer, chapter 6).

Can receiving answers to prayer be this simple? I believe the answer is yes--I still believe the answer is yes even given the long season of wrestling that we are experiencing. You see, one frequent temptation for me during this trial has been to make things complicated--fear does that to us, I think. But I have noticed something very important along the way that combats this temptation to complexity: all of God's answers and gifts and thousands of creative ways to bless us have come not through our own heroic effort--indeed, there has been no connection to our effort at all! Instead, as Father again and again gathered me/us into His embrace and invited us to share what was on our hearts, His gifts have come. It seems, then, that when I have been most childlike and have found myself "simply asking," simply trusting that Father has given those good gifts that He promises (Matthew 7:11).

And so, as Brother Lawrence affirmed over 300 years ago, prayer has become increasingly simple (along with all of life, really!). And this morning's wonder at a clear answer to a very simple prayer that began with an awareness of "the patient love of the Father" underscored once again to me our Father's commitment to make all of the Kingdom so simple that it would be fully accessible to babes and children!

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." (Luke 10:21)

Living ever more simply in Father's love,

Tom, one of His children

Friday, November 20, 2009

What is God Like? Evidence of His Kindness

Graham Cooke often says, "God is the kindest Being in the Universe." And as I have reflected this week on last week's question ("What is God like?"), I realized that this time of testing for Jettie and me has provided us with overwhelming evidence that God is indeed kind beyond comprehension. And His kindness extends down to the most minute details of our lives and contains subtle nuances and loving touches on our lives that cause me to bow in stunned worship. Let me illustrate with a couple of touches that Papa recently gave to me.

As you can imagine, Jettie's health battle has caused me to be very much the object of repeated attacks designed to make me afraid. Many times, those attacks succeeded to the point that I would find myself crying out to God while clinging to one of my theme verses, Psalm 56:3, "Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in (lean into, lean upon) You." Two of God's recent responses to my desperate cries deeply touched me with His kindness and attention to detail.

First, a couple of weeks ago I went to bed wrestling with various fears, falling into fitful sleep while calling out to God (whimpering to God?). In the middle of the night, I rolled over and glanced at the clock, which read 3:57. As soon as I did, I heard Papa whisper, "Mark that time." So I did just that, marking in my mind those numbers. In the morning, I realized that it probably pointed to a Bible verse, but I assumed that it would point to something like 35:7 ("Surely there are no chapters that long in the Bible," I thought). But as I began my search for a meaningful 35:7 (Psalms, Isaiah, etc.), I heard Papa say, "No, look at 3:57!"). I did a quick search, not really confident that I was hearing God at that point. But wait! There is one 3:57 in the Bible--in Lamentations! By now I am thinking that this can't be good (Lamentations!), but then I read it: "You came near when I called you, and you said, 'Do not fear.'” I was stunned, and began weeping, not only because of the "spot on" words but because of my wonder at God orchestrating so many things to speak directly to my fears. And as I wept I felt His smile.

The second and more recent evidence I will relate via a journal entry from November 17.

Ah, Father, you take me to the Smith Wigglesworth devotional not to read the entry (although it was good), but to remind me of the Ellel bookmark there with the incredible picture I noticed the other day of a young man holding his baby aloft!
“Yes, little one, so precious to me; you are the child, I AM the Father. Ponder that, my beloved!”
Oh, Father! As I look back at Isaiah 63:9, I see the rest of the verse! “In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.” And then you have me look again at the love-locked gaze between father and child and then at the pictures on my blog where my gaze is lovingly locked on my sons. Ah, Papa! Thank you for reminding me in ways beyond comprehension what it looks like to "live in the Father’s affection." You are an infinitely better and more loving father than I ever could be and yet… I am so undone!

I suppose that some folks might find the above either too "mystical" or too syrupy, but I make no apology for these two stories. They are two of thousands that happen all the time to God's children who have learned to live "loved and listening." For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, God is always speaking, always encouraging, always expressing His love in remarkably consistent and precise ways. And these to me are part of the answer to the question, "What is God like?" He truly is the kindest Being in the Universe!

Finally, I am having second thoughts about the book I mentioned last week (The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford). Although the book has some really good thoughts, it also has some spots where the author tends to obscure or confuse things a bit. No need to illustrate this here, but I just wanted to be sure that if you do read the book, that you read it with the understanding that I am not necessarily recommending it.

Learning to look for His Kindness, even in the storm,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What is God Like?

     A. W. Tozer (and probably many others) points out that how people view God determines what they are like. No surprise there, eh? And now as you pause to think about the behavior of a lot of "Christians" you may be getting a hint as to their view of God!
     Knowing God--growing in our understanding of what He is really like--is important beyond description and is why so many people in the Bible describe their life focus as getting to know God better (Moses said, "Show me your ways." David many times in the psalms says the same thing or something similar. Paul described his life focus as "to know Christ," etc.).
     So what is God like? Obviously one cannot answer this question very well in a single blog post, so let me make just a couple of tiny suggestions in this direction.
     First, what is God like? The best answer to this that I can think of is that God is like Jesus. Jesus said "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:10), and the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus, the Son of God, is the "exact representation of His being..." (Hebrews 1:3). So whenever anyone asks me, "What is God really like?" one of my suggestions is that s/he reads the Gospels over and over asking, "What is Jesus really like?" (Be aware, however, that even when you read the Bible you will bring your own filters to that reading so that some of what Jesus said and did may be misinterpreted by you--but that's a topic for another day!).
     Second, God is like the person He encourages us to be. For some reason, people don't always equate the description of how we are to treat one another, the fruit of the Spirit, the description of how we are to communicate with one another, etc., with what God is like. But all of those things flow out of the nature and character of God. For example, when the Bible tells us that we are to use words that are "helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen," (Ephesians 4:29) or that "strengthen, encourage and comfort" (1 Corinthians 14:3), it is telling us what God sounds like when He speaks to us. And when the Bible describes the fruit that God's Spirit produces in us (Galatians 5:22-23), it is, of course, describing the character of God Himself. You get the picture, I trust.
      I am reading a book right now that does a great job of describing what God is like, taking the fact that God is love (1 John 4:16) and blending it with 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Love/God is patient, Love/God is kind, etc.). I can't fully endorse or recommend The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford, but his main concept of understanding God as how Scripture describes love is a solid truth.
      So, what is God like? He has shown us all along that He is good beyond comprehension, beyond the possibility of our fully experiencing that goodness. Yes, even in the Old Testament He reveals Himself that way. I have probably pointed this out before, but when Moses asks to see the full revelation of God's glory, God answers Him by saying "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you and proclaim my name, Yahweh, in your presence. I am having mercy on those I am having mercy on, and I am having compassion on those I am having compassion on." (Exodus 33:19). Then when God causes His glory (goodness!) to pass by Moses, He says, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7a). And yes, I know it goes on from there to talk about not leaving the guilty unpunished, but I will save that for another discussion--it's probably not what you think it means! What I want to suggest to you is that the phrase "compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love" is indeed God's description of His essence, His very nature (that phrase is repeated in crucial places in the Old Testament, including Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Joel 2:13 and Jonah4:2).
     So...what are people like who know they are treasured by a God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in love? Perhaps a better question for you is, "What is God like to you?" Darin Hufford suggests that for many believers, God looks more like the devil than the One who describes Himself as love! Perhaps Darin is right, but I am certain that this is not the case for those who read this blog, eh?

Learning to live loved by the One who is Love,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, November 6, 2009

Trusting Because We Are Treasured

For obvious reasons, I have been thinking a lot these days about trusting God. Last weekend, as I was preparing for a trip to Pittsburg, I found myself marveling that I sometimes invest more trust in the pilot and crew of an airplane than I do in Papa God! If you stop and think about this, you will realize how ironic it is that we invest total trust into the hands of many, fallible human beings every time we fly. In a sense, we surrender to their expertise and good intentions (and healthy self-interest on the part of the pilot and first officer--they strongly desire a safe flight for personal reasons!).

Now before I go any further, I need to say that yes, my ultimate trust when I fly is in God, not those who fly the plane, maintain the plane, etc., but bear with my illustration for a moment longer, okay? You see, when I first started flying I did not like it at all, and the reason I didn't was that I wasn't in control of my journey (as if I ever really were!). Rather I was trusting my safety entirely into the hands of another. Yet even in my initial fears of flying I never once tried to break into the cockpit and fly the plane. Why? Because even in my fear of trusting myself to another, I knew that I lacked the expertise and experience to fly the plane.

So...if I apply this metaphor to my relationship with Papa, what do I find? I find that in the case of my life, I am invited to surrender to the One who not only has total "expertise" and "experience" (knowing everything counts here, I think), but also to the One who is pure love and goodness. How odd, then, for me to find myself balking at surrender to the One who is love and who can be totally trusted while at the same time gladly getting on airplanes all the time!

So what's the problem here? For me, it often boils down to the fact that something has obscured God's goodness--His treasuring me. If I remember and truly understand that the most powerful being in the Universe also treasures me beyond comprehension, trusting Him becomes easier. And isn't this where the enemy attacks most? From the first temptation until now, his tactic has always been to get us to doubt God's goodness, love and good intentions for us. And if he succeeds in this, we choose independence that leads not only to painful and destructive choices but also to constant fear (sometimes manifesting itself only as a lack of peace, sometimes manifesting itself in overpowering anxiety).

We trust because we are treasured, dear ones, and the more deeply we allow God's Spirit to place His love for us within our deepest parts, the more likely it becomes that trusting surrender becomes our first response to whatever comes our way. (Not than any of us perfects this in this current life--that much I have learned for sure of late!)

A few months ago, as I was reading Danny Silk's book, Loving Our Kids On Purpose, I wrote the following thoughts about trusting surrender based on knowing we are treasured. I close this week's blog with these thoughts.

(June 6, 2009) One new insight from my reading that I need to record is a new view of surrender. Instead of it being surrender to a despot or master who wishes to control me, it is a surrender to the wisdom of the One who loves me most. I have seen this before, of course, and you have told me that when I surrender it is surrender to your goodness, but I saw it more clearly than ever last night as I read. Or perhaps what I saw is how it changes how we view our relationship with you. In your leading us your are not coming to control us but to empower us to live as “partners” and as part of your family—your representatives (as your children) on earth. And your guidance comes to us from One who treasures us beyond comprehension and who desires for us to learn to think and choose, etc.

I am still pondering all this, Pai, as you know, but even as I write I realize that what I am describing is how you have me treat others! Wouldn’t you do this as well, only infinitely more so? And obedience, which is a NT concept that we cannot avoid, is not compliance but surrender to your wisdom in a way that "treasures your heart" to use Danny’s term. And I see from a search on goodness that I was writing about this on March 3, 2008. What is new, I think, is how I am seeing your view of our relationship more clearly in terms of treasuring and esteeming us, valuing our thoughts, etc.

Papa, this is huge, I know, and is a quantum leap away from the master/slave view of Calvinism and most western theology and “Christianity,” but it is clearly a wiser and better picture not only of our life with you but of you as God! And it clearly fits with Exodus 33:19 and so much more! I am undone. The thought of you valuing my thoughts and opinions and inviting me to participate with you—wow!

Papa, this is why it is so important to see you as treasuring us, isn’t it! If we don’t see that, then we cannot have the mature type of relationship with you that you created us for! And yet, even in your treasuring us and choosing to invite rather than coerce, your infinite wisdom is available to us, and only a fool would not want to receive it. And when we treasure you in response to your treasuring love for us, we desire only your honor. Wow!

Enough for this week. Perhaps the next time you get on an airplane you will, as I did, hear Papa's invitation to trust Him because He treasures you!

Tom, one of Abba's children

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Golden Strand of Father's Love

Jettie and I continue to be overwhelmed by the expressions of God's love to us through this season of testing. Some day, on the other side of victory, I may chronicle some of the thousands of ways He has expressed His love to us, but today I simply want to share my wonder at how the thread of awareness of God's love (and genuine affection for us, for you, for me) has been woven through church history.

Some people may think that "living loved" (Wayne Jacobsen's term) is something that was known in biblical times and then basically disappeared until recently when Father God began reviving intimacy with Him among His people. Not so! I have already given this quote from Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite lay brother, who lived over 300 years ago! Brother Lawrence clearly caught God's affection for him as we can see from this quote from his second letter. "I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King; touched with a sensible regret I confess to Him all my wickedness, I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence." (This was first quoted in my March 26, 2008 blog).

Now let me introduce you to someone you may or may not have met who discovered God's affectionate love even before Brother Lawrence: Lady Julian of Norwich. Lady Julian was born in 1342! That's quite a while ago, eh? But listen to just a few quotes from her and see if you catch her understanding of living loved.
“…love is nearest to us all. And this is the knowledge of which we are most ignorant; for many men and women believe that God is almighty and has power to do everything, and that he is all wisdom and knows how to do everything, but that he is all love and is willing to do everything—there they stop. And this ignorance is what hinders those who most love God; for when they begin to hate sin, and to mend their ways… there still remains some fear which moves them to think of themselves and their previous sins. And they take this fear for humility, but it is foul ignorance and weakness. … for it comes from the Enemy, and it is contrary to Truth. … It is God’s wish that we should place most reliance on liking and love; for it makes God’s power and wisdom very gentle to us; just as through his generosity God forgives our sins when we repent, so he wants us to forget our sins and all our depression and all our doubtful fear.”

Pretty amazing, eh? And there are many others down throughout history, even in the darkest periods of church history who lived in God's affectionate embrace and encouraged others to do the same. Religion, with its terrible orientation towards performance, always seeks to squelch the power and simplicity of living embraced by Father's affection, but there has always been a witness, a golden strand, of God's love rising from the quagmire of the "religion of Christianity."

How does this apply to you? Why not read the quotes from Brother Lawrence and Lady Julian again and ask God to show you? Maybe you will be invited to probe even more deeply into an infinite love that pursues you only to shower you with kindness. Will you yield to His stubborn advances?

Tom, one of Abba's children

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sidelined Into What Really Matters

     First, for you non-sports types, to be sidelined is to be taken out of the game and put on the sidelines because of injury, poor performance or change in game strategy, etc.
     From the perspective of some, I have been "sidelined" twice this year: first when budget cuts moved my denominational role to a voluntary status (i.e., I was laid off) and more recently when Jettie and I faced a crisis in her health (which God is winning) that required me for several weeks to give virtually all of my attention to caring for her and the household. But from my perspective (and God's, I think), I have been taken out of the "game" (what didn't matter nearly as much as one would think!) to the things that really matter.
     The first sidelining, earlier this year, allowed me time to pursue God and follow His leading with absolutely no restrictions. How amazing is that!!!? I also found myself getting to examine what really matters in terms of living more simply, more freely. So I was indeed sidelined into things that really matter.
     But this latest trip to the sidelines has been a far more incredible journey into what really matters. More than once as I have rubbed Jettie's back to help with her pain I have whispered to her things like, "I cannot believe how privileged I am to be allowed to serve you like this! Not many husbands get to love their wives like this." and "Do you realize how sacred and holy such times like this are--wow! And we sense God's presence so strongly right now."
     Now lest you think I am some sort of super-husband, let me assure you that there were also many times where I would moan and whine about the stress, the work load, the stretching (grocery shopping at Walmart about did me in the first time). But overall, throughout this journey I have had this deep conviction that more than any previous time in my life, I am doing what matters. And God seems quite bent on reinforcing that thought very regularly. Just yesterday as I was serving Jettie at a time I usually hang out with Him in the Secret Place, He whispered to me, "You are worshiping me right now, child!" (Later I thought of Hebrews 13:16).
     So today I find myself marveling at God's kindness. A few years ago I would not have been able to see what I see so clearly now. I was still in "The Matrix" that illusory world of performance-based religion that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. My worth was tied up in what I did, and what I did had to be "impactful" and visible and ...well, you get the picture. But Father has done something wonderful in me over the past few years in spite of my stubbornness at times: He as given me the gift of living loved and of beginning to believe what He says about me/us. I am filled with wonder and gratitude even as I write these words, and I grieve for those who still believe that I have been taken out of the game...
     By the way, a man named Roberston McQuilkin walked this kind of journey for far longer and to much greater depths than I have and gave up everything to care for his wife, Muriel, during her descent into dementia and death. You can read his amazing story in his book, A Promise Kept. I haven't read the book, but I was very aware of his story as he walked it out, and I can assure you that this man knew what it meant to give himself to what really matters (and that in the face of voices who questioned why he would leave "important position and influence" just to care for his wife).
      Enough for now. I again recommend that you read Bo's Cafe if you haven't done so. I may post a few more thoughts about it next week.

Caring more and more about what really matters,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tom's Reading Right Now

Most of you know that I read quite a bit. I am more selective than I used to be, reading now mostly things that I sense God leading me to, but I still read a lot. And since I don't have a lot of time this week to post something, I thought I would share some of what I have just read or am in the process of reading. I am only listing things that I highly recommend.

First, I just finished a re-read of TrueFaced by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol and John Lynch. I am seeing it now through the eyes of someone I am now mentoring, and that has reinforced my conviction that this book is a must read for those who want to understand healthy community in Jesus. The same authors have just released a novel built around the truths of their first book call Bo's Cafe (published by Windblown Media). It's a truly great read and in some ways more powerful in presenting the "true faced message" than the original book. Try it, you will like it if you like reading my blog.

I am also re-reading one of my all time highest recommended books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

I have also recently re-read my top recommended books, The Shack and So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore. In the midst of this healing journey that Jettie and I are on, I needed to be reminded again of Father's great love and trustworthiness, and these two books do a great job of reminding!

Also because of Jettie's healing journey, I have been re-reading books that build faith, so Andrew Murray's Divine Healing is getting another read along with The Wigglesworth Standard by Peter Madden (a truly great book if you like Smith Wigglesworth!). Two other books that are new discoveries for me (thanks, Steve Schell!) are some classics by Dr. Charles S. Price, The Real Faith for Healing and The Meaning of Faith. These both are remarkable faith builders in the best possible way--no hype, no performance orientation, just biblical truth clearly presented and supported with great stories.

Finally, I have probably never mentioned Robert Whitlow in my blog, but I enjoy his fiction a great deal. He is an attorney who writes with a wonderfully supernatural emphasis. I have recently re-read The List, The Trial and Mountain Top. If you like stories that center around the legal profession, you may enjoy these.

I could go on. As I said, I do read a lot, but these are books that I have culled out from many and can recommend to you if you have a hankering for some reading.

Stay lost in Papa's love,

Tom, one of His children

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Imitate or Follow?

One of the most arresting discoveries God has led me into over these past few years is the lack of conversation in the New Testament about leadership. With all the emphasis in the western church on leadership, one would expect to find discussions about leadership on every page of the New Testament. But that is simply not the case. Apart from Jesus' defining leadership as slavery (not just serving), there is very little mention of "leaders" in the New Testament. (Leadership is simply one gift among others mentioned in Romans 12). In fact, as far as I know, Jesus alone specifically invited people to follow Him, and it appears that the early believers (healthy ones at least) did not think of themselves of followers of anyone except Jesus (the immature and carnal believers in Corinth being the glaring exception).

I could suggest many reasons why the NT doesn't emphasize leadership, but others have done a better job of that than I could ever do (check out Wayne Jacobsen's stuff at I will say, though, that I strongly believe that the main problem with emphasizing leaders/leadership is that it subtly pulls people away from dependence upon the only One whom we are to follow. Anything that creates dependence upon me rather than Jesus is working contrary to the purposes of God and your needing to follow me creates that kind of dependence. (Yes, I know that many will disagree with me on this, but it's an uphill battle to win that argument.)

On the other hand, there is an emphasis in the New Testament upon living a life that is to be "imitated." Not only does the Apostle Paul plainly say this in 1 Corinthians 11:1 "Imitate me as I imitate Christ," his writings are filled with references to his life as an example ("You know how ... and check out 1 Corinthians 4:16-17!).

I think you can see how following my example or allowing the impact of how I live my life in Jesus to shape you is very different from "following me as a leader." The first is an invitation into my life that allows you to see life in Jesus lived out with an authenticity that doesn't create dependence upon me but does create hope in you that this Jesus life is possible. But the second, "follow me," creates dependence upon me, diminishing your felt need to hear God for yourself, and it also allows for pretense because I can lead folks to a lot of places without allowing them into my life!

This brings me to the questions I like to ask those who are called "leaders." First, if someone were to live with you 24/7, having access even to your thought life, would they want to be like you? Second, if not, why not, given the emphasis upon modeling in the New Testament? Note that saying "yes" to the first question doesn't imply the need for perfection, just authenticity and a genuine conformity of one's life to the leadership of Jesus by His Spirit. Neither does it imply superiority or better anything, just the fact that one has been living the life of dependence upon Jesus in a way that can be seen. Neither do I mean anything that smacks of self-effort. Review my first few entries on "Be Like Jesus" in the blog (2007) to catch my heart in how we become people others can imitate (and/or read books like Grace Walk or True Faced, etc.)

May God deliver us from "leaders" and grant us instead servants (slaves, really) whose lives we can enter and whom we will want to imitate as they imitate Jesus.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One Thing

"Am I your one thing, little one?" God's voice broke into my musings about the One Thing that Scripture points out so clearly. Wow! I was undone...and I am still pondering, but not in a self-focused sort of way but rather in a manner whereby my heart is reaching towards God in invitation and appeal. "Please, Papa, become so precious to me that I cannot say other than "Yes, Lord God, you are my one thing!"

There is a beautiful thread woven throughout the Bible related to God as our One Thing. One of the first places we see that thread is in the life of Enoch, who so made God his "one thing" that one day God just invited him directly into His eternal presence (Genesis 5:24). Then in Deuteronomy we hear God's invitation to make living in His love the One Thing, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5) and "man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 8:3b). Then it swells to a powerful high point in David's declaration in Psalm 27:4 "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple."

In the New Testament, Jesus, of course, lived the perfect "One Thing" life, His life completely consumed with love for and dependence upon His Abba. "“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing." (John 5:19). His life was completely focused on His Father's face, so that He never missed a single glance of His Father's gaze nor a single moment of His Father's purposes. Jesus also invited others to live the One Thing life, most notably in His words to Martha and Mary in John 10:42 "Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The Apostle Paul lived the One Thing life and invited others to imitate him in it. "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14). But is Paul's "one thing" the same as the others? Yes. He defines His "one thing" a few verses earlier as "I want to know Christ..." (Philippians 3:10)

It was all of this that I was pondering this morning, with a sense of wonder at the incredible life that God has invited all of us to live in, a life blinded to anything else, anyone else except Him. A life so consumed with God and His goodness that He cannot be other than our One Thing, capturing us not by our will power but by His sheer, overpowering, persistent goodness!

And then He breaks into my reverie..."Am I your one thing, little one?"

I am so undone...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Worrying about Worry

I grew up in a household of world class worriers. We even learned to worry about not having anything to worry about, thinking we had forgotten some potential (and highly unlikely) tragedy that might happen! Thankfully, as you who read this blog know, I am learning a new lifestyle that is leading me, even in tumultuous times, to give up anxiety through collapse into God's caring embrace. I am still learning to rest in Him, especially right now in the midst of this great challenge with Jettie's health, but I am learning. And I want to pass along something that I think is solidified enough in me to share.

You see, I used to worry about the fact that I worried. I would read Philippians 4:6 and start feeling guilty. Most translations translate the first part of this verse with something like "Don't be anxious about anything" or "Don't worry about anything." What I was hearing Paul say here is that I should never, ever worry about anything. So...I found myself worrying about worry. So what? Well for me what that meant was that I started denying my anxiety, pretending that I wasn't worried when I was! And I got so good at this that I would often find myself unaware of how anxious I really was. This, of course, is not helpful. :-)

Thankfully, God eventually led me to discover that Paul is not saying in this passage, "Don't ever worry." In fact, a careful reading of Paul's letters revealed that Paul himself admits to worry and fear more than once (check out 2 Corinthians 7:5 where Paul writes of "fears within" and also 2 Corinthians 11:28 which the NRSV correctly renders "I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches"). And later on in Philippians, Paul clearly says that he had learned to be content in all circumstances--this clearly implies that he was not always peaceful and contented in all circumstances!

So if Paul didn't mean "Don't ever worry," what does he mean? Good question! What Paul is saying here is "Don't allow anything to cause you to go on worrying about it." Instead, he says, "When your anxiety detector lets you know that you are indeed anxious and filled with worry, make your concerns known to God, with all kinds of praying sprinkled liberally with thanksgiving for all the amazing things God has already done to reveal His love and faithfulness." In other words, Paul wasn't trying to make us feel guilty about the fact that we get anxious about things, he was simply giving us a way to walk away from our fears by pouring our hearts out to God.

I trust you see how this understanding is consistent with the rest of scripture and with a healthy understanding of life itself. Throughout scripture we hear the repeated admonition, "Don't be afraid" given to people who are indeed very afraid. It's as if God is saying, "Ok, you and I both know that you are afraid, but I want you to know that you can give your fears to me now." And this is a much healthier approach to life, I think. Instead of ignoring our fears or feeling guilty about having them, we can freely acknowledge them in God's loving presence and press into His love until we surrender them fully into His care.

Does this mean that we have to live with our fears? Not at all. We can indeed learn to live in deeper and deeper peace. In fact the "book ends" around Philippians 4:6-7 are practices that can help us be less prone to worry (live joyfully, live gently with others, live with increasing awareness that God is near as vv. 4-5 say, plus live in a way that your mind begins to dwell on the good, the positive, etc. as vv. 8-9 say). But even with these bookends more in place, there will come things that test us beyond previous things, and if we are honest our first response when it is a really big test may indeed be fear/anxiety/worry. But we need not worry about being worried. Rather we say to God, "Daddy, I am afraid!" and then patiently unpack our fears in His presence, surrendering to Him in an atmosphere of gratitude and wonder, until that incredible and "irrational" peace comes.

Still learning,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Thursday, September 17, 2009

As Soon As He Hears

Two scriptures that God has raised up a lot for me during this season of testing are Psalm 94:17-19 and Isaiah 30:19. God had me memorize the first passage long ago, but it has taken on fresh and deeper meaning of late. In the NIV it reads, 17 Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. 18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love, O Lord, supported me. 19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. And Isaiah 30:19b says, "How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you."

I cannot describe for you how often these truths have been displayed in our lives over these past few weeks. As we have faced the up and down of medical challenges, doctor's reports, etc., again and again, Father God has responded to our cry for help. So many times when fear would be taking hold of my heart and everything in me was wanting to "fix things" or "make something happen" (totally impossible under the circumstances), I would hear an invitation from God simply to cry out to Him and then surrender again to His loving embrace. And even though it seemed so counter-intuitive to do so, every time I surrendered instead of continuing to wrestle or make my fears go away, He would come and bring His peace with Him. Amazing! And I am not sure I am even beginning to do justice to what we have been experiencing. Suffice it to say that when I said, "My foot is slipping!" God's love did in amazing ways support me.

This in turn has made me think of another passage that many people have sent our way as we walk through this crisis: "Be still (cease striving) and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10). Again, it isn't "natural" to cease striving and simply collapse when things are coming against us, but when we collapse into God, He always reveals Himself in fresh ways.

This all reminds me of the quote that I have given before from Emma Murray (Andrew Murray's wife). I leave you with her thoughts, even as I will admit that I am still very much learning to live them out in the furnace of life's challenges!

"There is a step higher than just looking forward to Heaven. We may have our life so in Christ that even here below we may enjoy peace and happiness in Him which no earthly events can shake or destroy. And it is not by despising or trampling upon earthly things, but living above them, willing and loving to live for His glory and the good of others, and counting it all joy even in tribulation for His sake.
"God means us to know and experience that perfect peace and quiet of mind under all circumstances
is possible. Nothing interferes more with work or renders it more difficult than fretting or worrying. In such a state of mind we can do nothing well. We must in a childlike way acknowledge God's will in everything with His peace in our hearts and a truly humble walk with God, bowing to his will....
"All this is attainable through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God, through receiving Christ as our Sanctification as well as our Justification. It is through an entire, unconditional surrender of ourselves to Him and an entire cessation from our own efforts and works, while waiting for the suggestions and influences of the Holy Spirit. And through believing in His indwelling and expecting His guidance even in the minutest concerns of our daily life."

Learning to collapse, learning to listen,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, September 11, 2009

Who Defines Love?

Jettie and I are learning a ton about God's love for us right now, but most of it is still too fresh and precious to write about, especially since we continue to walk this journey into wholeness. (We did get really good news today, though!) But I have one thought that I think Papa wants me to share about allowing Him to be the One who defines what love looks like.

Many of us as children probably said at one point, "If you really loved me, you would ____." (Or if we are parents, we may have heard it from our children!) As I have watched God demonstrate His love for us in very special ways these past few weeks, I have come to realize that I still sometimes say that to Him. But my choosing to define what His love should look like is a dead end road. Anytime I find myself questioning God's love for me, I know I have headed down this dead end road!

For love to be freely and properly expressed, the Lover must be allowed to define what that love looks like and how it is expressed. There are a number of reasons for that, of course, even in the realm of human love, but especially in terms of God's love for us. Consider the following.
1. If I decide how God is supposed to behave in terms of His love for me, I will miss many if not most of His expressions of love for me simply because my "filter" prevents me from seeing His love.
2. Since love is about receiving and trusting and surrendering, if I am the one who defines what love looks like, I am the one in control and my control will block my ability to receive what God is freely offering me!
3. In God's case, He alone knows how best to express His love for us. Our limited ability to see, understand, etc., keeps us from having any real clue as to what we really need. God in His perfect love and "Godness" and perfect goodness, however, can always see everything and always does what is best for us (He really is a GOOD FATHER). So...who do I really want defining what love looks like, eh?

I remember as a parent how odd it felt for my sons to question our love for them (which they didn't do very often). Jettie and I knew that we loved them without limit and that we were always seeking to do what was best for them. How odd, then, for them to question that. How much more odd and unwise it is, then, for me to question the love of the Perfect Parent! May God help us all to start with "God is love" (period!) and then live lives that allow Him to define and express His love as He knows best. My guess is that living that way will open up new understanding of His wonderful love in thousands of ways. His love will explode onto the scene of our lives in ways that stagger us with its sheer goodness and power!

"I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all of the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know (by experience) this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God!" (Ephesians 3:17b-19).

Falling into His embrace, especially when it's dark.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

God's Symphony

Jettie and I continue to be in a pitched battle, so this will again be brief. As I mentioned last week, I hardly feel qualified to write anything at this point, sort of like the great church father, Augustine as he lay dying. It is said that he caught a glimpse of heaven before he finally passed on and upon catching that glimpse said of all his writing: "It's just straw, just straw!" So here's my offering of straw for this week.

"But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body." (I Corinthians 12:18-20 NIV)

I have pondered for quite some time the wonder of God's symphony: His arrangement of His people in a way that creates beautiful music when each part finds the joy and freedom of simply playing his/her part in the musical score. Paul describes this symphony in the quote above in terms of the Body of Christ--a better metaphor than a symphony for sure, but looking at Christ's body as a collection of musical instruments has helped me see some things that I had missed before. Let me elaborate a bit.

In a symphony, each instrument is unique (even those of the same type) and adds its own unique sound to the music. And a truly beautiful score requires all of the instruments to play at some point or another, sometimes together, sometimes individually. Each instrument can and gets to play only the part made especially for it: a tuba cannot play the flute's part, the cymbal cannot play the clarinet's part, etc. And when all the instruments are playing their parts according to the direction of the conductor, the result is truly beautiful music--a symphony that brings joy to those who hear and honor to the Conductor and Composer!

I am writing in a metaphor, of course, but here's the bottom line for all of us: First, no one else can play your part! God has designed you in a wonderfully unique way and reserved a part in His symphony that only you can fill. His symphony is diminished if your unique part isn't played. This tells us all just how truly significant each of is in God's musical score. Second, you don't have to play anyone else's part. How liberating is that thought?! Instead of wishing you were something else or striving to be something you were not created to be, you get to be you as God intended. Third, the Conductor can be trusted to show you how and when your part is to be played. (The jazz-loving part of me believes that this might include some improvisation, but I will save that for a later blog--for now, just know that you can trust the Holy Spirit to lead you in a way that liberates you to play wonderfully in God's symphony.

That's it. Maybe a bit fuzzy, but I hope to have conveyed in some small way how treasured and important you are in God's grand scheme of things! And that in turn, hopefully, will help you treasure others as well.

Listening for the next note...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thoughts from the Valley of Shadows

Jettie and I continue to face the largest challenge of our lives together, and I don't really feel qualified at this point to write about much--the challenge we are facing has stripped away any confidence in self (not a bad thing!). But there is one thing that has really stood out these past couple weeks, and that is God's incredible attention to the details of our lives.

In the midst of our valley of shadows, the number and impact of God-incidences has increased remarkably. For example, several of our praying friends have felt led to share a certain scripture, not necessarily a common one, right after God gives us that particular scripture. Or I will hear Father tell me to go back to a particular date and there find the same scripture He raised up for me before sending me there. And then there's all the details for our lives. One day in particular this past week I was overwhelmed with God's interest in our lives and wrote the following in my journal.

Papa, your attention to the details of our lives is beyond description or comprehension. I have been so blind, Papa, to your goodness and to your infinitely intricate involvement in our lives! But how I see you now answering the prayers I have prayed along the lines of Ephesians 1:17, 3:14-21, Psalm 25:4, et al.! And I am seeing perhaps for the first time the wonder David was feeling as he wrote Psalm 139! I am seeing why Jesus lived loved and loving and why He said, “Do not worry,” etc. Ah, Papa! I just found two more evidences of your infinitely close attention to us: the scripture theme for this month on our calendar is Lamentations 3:22-23, another one you have raised up for us at this time; and R______ sending us Psalm 94:19 yesterday as I was clinging to it so tightly. Ah, Father, you number the hairs on our head because we are so precious to you, not because of scientific interest! Every detail of my life is infinitely precious to you and you are incomprehensibly intimate and intricate in your loving involvement in our lives (Luke 12:6-7).

So there you have it. A thought from the valley of shadows where the Shepherd walks with us, paying close attention to us, not to watch for our mistakes but because He treasures us! And as we learn to listen, listen, listen...the wonder of His bending over us to bless us in the tiniest details only increases.

Marveling at His love,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, August 21, 2009

God's Mysterious Will Is Good!

My post is late this week because of my need to care for my wife as she recovered from endoscopic surgery (she is doing better each day). But something has been bubbling in me that I want to write about: the tendency of even believers to think that God's hidden will is somehow going to mean pain for us!

This was brought home to me when a wonderful teacher and friend spoke of negative circumstances and said that that's why they didn't really like Isaiah 55:8-9 which says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

I smiled when I heard this because of something Father showed me through this passage about His "mysterious ways." Like most folks I somehow took this passage to mean something like, "Listen, Tom, your pea-brain just can't get it, so when things that you don't like and you don't understand happen just suck it up. After all, God's ways are just so far beyond yours..." Well, okay maybe not everyone thinks like that or puts it that bluntly, but we do seem to think that the bad things that happen are somehow part of God's mysterious ways and that we just have to buck up. But when God opened my eyes about this passage, He led me to an astounding discovery: "mystery" in the New Testament is with perhaps one exception, always about something good that God is revealing about Himself! (Check it out for yourself by searching on mystery in the NT).

This passage in Isaiah reveals this in living color! Check out the two verses that precede 8-9: "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, and he will freely pardon." 8 "FOR my thoughts are not your thoughts..."

Do you see what I saw? The exalted, unsearchable thoughts of God are in the context of His mercy towards those (rebellious people!) who turn towards Him. In other words, it's about His goodness! What is mysterious about God is not the fact that "bad things happen" in this world, but that He is so very, very good! He is so astonishingly good and loving and kind that the best human definitions of these traits fall infinitely short, because His thoughts are not our thoughts, and our ways are not like His! So when God "has something up His sleeve" that we cannot see or understand, we can be sure that it's something good, not something bad!

What does this mean for me, for you? Well for me it has changed my entire perspective about life and God in the midst of life. Now, no matter what happens (and Jettie and I are in a very, very hard time right now), I find myself looking for evidences of His amazing, totally good if mysterious will. And I find myself realizing that He is so beyond my best thoughts and operates for my good in ways so far beyond my ways that I am stunned even as I am loved into surrender, restfulness and yes, even expectancy.

So if God "hides" something, I now imagine that what He is hiding is just too good to be experienced. The lives of those who have been profoundly touched by God in the past seem to confirm this thought. The great evangelists Finney and Moody both wrote of being so profoundly touched by God's love that they had to ask God to stop! And other influential believers report these same kinds of experience of His goodness in one way or another. No wonder then, that Paul, when writing of the unsearchable things of God, put it in the context of God's astonishing mercy (Romans 11:32 ff). For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Living increasingly in astonished wonder.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Guided with His Eye

This will be a brief post. Our class ran long and I have been sending out prayer requests for Jettie who has a CT Scan tomorrow to determine what's up with her pancreas. We welcome your prayers.

I did want to give you a little more exposure, though, to Danny Silk's wisdom. So here goes.

Back in June of last year, I wrote about God's words to me on July 3, 2004, the day after my first "Secret Place" encounter with Papa God. He said to me, "I am raising up an army of those who know me so intimately that I can guide them with my eye.”

Now I know that most translations translate Psalm 32:8 with something like "guide you with my eye upon you" but you can make a case for being guided with His eye, I think, but I won't build that case here. I also have my own thoughts about what this phrase means (being so locked onto His loving face that I catch His slightest glance), but Danny Silk's explanation is really good and fits in well with my theme from last week about obedience that flows from love. On page 178 of Loving Our Kids On Purpose, Danny writes the following.

How does the Lord direct us with His eye? The eyes are the windows of the heart. God directs us by letting us know how our choices affect His heart. When we make choices that violate our connection with him and violate who we are, the Holy Spirit convicts us, which is basically a message that says, “Hey, look into Daddy’s eyes. Do you see that what you are doing breaks His heart?” Unfortunately, if we are still thinking like mules, we mistake the conviction of the Holy Spirit to mean, “Oh, God’s getting mad, He is about to smite your hind parts if you don’t straighten up and fly right.” But that’s not at all what conviction is. Ephesians 4:30 says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Our sins hurt His heart. And when we hurt His heart, He invites us to look into His eyes and see that. He trusts us with His heart, and trusts that the concern we have for His heart will direct us."

I love this! And may Father God so capture you and me that we care so deeply about His Heart that His glance is all we need to bring us running into His embrace!

Thanks for "listening"!

Tom, one of Abba's children

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Utterly Joyful Obedience!

On the way up here to Calgary, I finished reading a truly remarkable book. In the forward to Loving Our Kids On Purpose, by Danny Silk, Bill Johnson says, “This book is so profound I wish I could make it required reading for all believers, not just parents.” I was intrigued by that comment and wondered if it could be true. Now that I have read the book, I know it is! It is not only filled with remarkably practical wisdom for parents, it is also one of the very best explanations I have ever read of how to live the New Covenant life that Jesus offers to us!

Far too many—perhaps most—believers still live their lives as if they were living B.C., believing that God uses external control (rewards and punishment) to “control behavior” rather inviting us to respond to Him in love. But as Danny Silk writes on page 43 of his book, “In the New Covenant, God relates to the believer in a new way, through writing His “law on our hearts and minds.” When the law is written on our hearts and minds and when God Himself dwells in us, we no longer need to be controlled from the outside…

God is a safe place. Because sin has been dealt with in the New Covenant, we no longer need to be punished or controlled but need to learn to manage our freedom responsibly, which changes the goal of government as well as parenting. When love and freedom replace punishment and fear as the motivating forces in the relationship between parent and child, the quality of life improves dramatically for all involved.”

Reading this book sent me reviewing things in my journal about obedience that flows from love. I share with you some of these. The blue text are words I sense the Father saying to me. Obviously they always need to be weighed carefully, but I offer them to you as they came to me.

March 3, 2008

“Yes, child, the 'problem' is that you still have not tasted of my goodness. You have settled for crumbs from my table, for wading in the shallows. But I hear your deepest heart cry—it is music to me—and I will take you all the way in. I will! Fly, waking Eagle, fly! Fly...

“Yes, child, when you surrender, you surrender to my goodness even when it appears otherwise. You surrender to my very best, my highest and most beneficial purposes!

“Child, I hear your heart's concerns for people like ____; and every heartbeat of concern in my presence I count as the most lovely and simple childlike prayer. It's the love behind the words that moves my heart, not their eloquence or accuracy. It's the listening for my heart that leads you farther in the journey of prayer. I am listening to your heart, child, even as I teach you to hear mine!”

Reflection: Obedience that does not flow from a truly trusting, surrendered will is not obedience at all. It’s compliance, but it is not obedience. The obedience that Jesus offered to his Abba in Gethsemane had to be completely freely chosen and not under compulsion or the whole thing would have fallen apart. What a remarkable thought! That the Son of God in all his humanity calling out to his Father with the tenderest of terms: “Abba”—there in that most intimate moment, he surrendered his will to his Father's will. There the battle was truly won. There love had its fullest expression. Why then do we think that obedience to God should be any different for us? Any obedience we give that does not come from truly listening, truly loving, truly trusting, but instead is forced, is not obedience at all and brings the Father no pleasure.

July 7, 2008

Abba, I sense you singing over me…

“Yes, child, the joy you feel when your son listens to you and actually does what you say, is my joy when you do the same. It is I that you hear singing over you this morning. You are indeed beginning to understand and practice wholehearted obedience, and that out of love and reverence for me, and I am singing! And I have so, so much more for you, little one, as you (finally) begin to truly yield and follow me with all of your heart! Watch what I do, little Eagle!”

July 16, 2008

Father, the OT prophets and others seemed to hear you only occasionally and see things only at your bidding (with some rare exceptions like Moses, David and Elisha). As I pondered this, I think you said,

“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!”

June 11, 2009

And I still struggle to hear you well enough to know… well, one year ago, Stan was still alive; today He is alive with you but gone from here, and I still don’t know what went wrong. And others are close to death and I still can’t hear you for them! Yet if I try to figure this out (which I am prone to do), I get confused and frustrated. I must learn—by your grace I will learn—how to live saturated and surrendered in the moment!

“Child, have you forgotten how to dance? Have you forgotten that it’s about flying? Danny’s book is given to you at this time to remind you once again that it’s about relationship with me, not performance. Yes, I AM GOD, and to obey me is all that matters and the wisest course for any human’s life. But consider the life of my Son—His obedience was joyful, flowing, alive with desire and delight! Why? Because He knew how to fly, how to live in my Presence, and my Presence is good beyond your comprehension. Fly, Eagle, fly! I will take care of course corrections. You don’t do well at that, little one. Consider what I have just said to you through Andrew Murray today! Little one, it brings me joy to see joy in you, just like Ashley’s joy brings you joy! Fly, beloved Eagle. If you follow my Wind, you won’t stray off course, and it’s an intimately connected journey for you, not merely a job to be done! Fly!”

July 2, 2009

I wrote, “Ah, Papa! You have called me to perfect obedience, flowing from knowledge or your goodness and love, and any time I vary from that, your love makes me very aware of this very quickly! Thank you! But the awareness needs to be of your goodness missed, I think, not merely or mostly an awareness of my failure to obey!

Wow! I think I am finally beginning to understand the following words from Jeremiah!

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.” Jeremiah 15:16 (NIV)

More next week!

Tom, one of Abba's children