Friday, January 30, 2009

Thoughts Prompted By A Friend's Death

This past Wednesday I was in Boston for the memorial service of my young (to me) friend who is now "present with the Lord." Stan's death hit me deeply, perhaps as deeply as any I have experienced. That straight-from-the-pit-of-hell disease cancer robbed him of the long life that we had envisioned for him. He lives on, of course, in the radiant presence of the Lord he loves so much, but he leaves a young widow and two little boys behind (1 and 3). Many of us battled in prayer for Stan's healing over the past 18 months or so, but we were unable to lay hold of it.

I suppose I am taking a bit of risk in sharing the thoughts prompted by Stan's passing, but I feel strongly led to do so. I am framing them in the form of "Things I will and will not do." Here goes.

I will grieve much and encourage those who loved Stan to grieve much and well. My website has a paper I wrote about the importance of grieving, so I won't belabor this point, but believers often have a hard time grieving. Somehow our "Christian thinking" has become twisted so that we think that it's wrong or not very spiritual to grieve loss. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because we know that our loved one is with Jesus (and certainly gloriously happy about it!) and that God will give us grace to go on and even work good out of this doesn't lessen our sense of pain and loss. True, we grieve differently than those without hope, but grieve we must because loss is loss regardless of how the ultimate outcome looks. So I will grieve much in Papa's presence.

I will pray for and check on those closest to Stan, particularly his wife (Stacy) and sons. As you may have detected in previous entries, I am learning that prayer is far more important and far more effective than I ever dreamed. When you/I pray, God listens intently. And I will be lifting up dear ones much as Papa leads over the months ahead, knowing that my prayers matter. I will also be checking in on Stacy regularly down the road. Sometimes after the dust settles from a tragedy, people get caught up in their own lives and forget the bereaved. I will put reminders into my calendar to ensure that I won't do this to Stacy who is like a daughter to me (more perhaps than she realizes).

I will celebrate the incredible life of my friend and treasure many good memories. Stan's memorial service was indeed a celebration of his amazing life. In 44 years he packed in a lot of life. Like all of us, he was "flawed," but he was also an incredible expression of grace to many.

I will not rewrite the Bible based on my experience. One has to do strange things with the Bible to believe that it isn't always God's will to heal the sick, yet especially in the Western church we have allowed our experience to rewrite the Bible so that Psalm 103:3 changes from "heals all your diseases" to "heals occasionally some of your diseases" and James 5:15 changes from "the prayer of faith will heal the one who is sick" to "the prayer of faith might heal the sick." You get the picture. (And for any who wish to debate this with me, please don't bother and read Andrew Murray's Divine Healing which does as good a job as any of establishing God's will in this matter).

Another part of the Bible that I won't rewrite, though, is God's promise to work things out for good (Romans 8:28-29). Although the premature death of my friend was not God's perfect plan, He now has a perfect plan for those who are left behind. As The Shack so wonderfully describes, God doesn't bring evil, not ever, nor does He allow it in the sense that many think, but He does redeem every thing that we invite Him to redeem (and a lot that we don't invite Him to redeem!). We will see God's redemptive purposes worked out in Stan's family in the days ahead (indeed, we are already seeing that).

Also, I will not accuse anyone of failure. It is futile, of course, to try to figure out why things like this happen, but sometimes folks so desperately want an answer that they start casting around for an answer in a way that suggests that "if only...we had prayed more, tried this, prayed with more faith, etc." this wouldn't have happened. Such thinking eventually leads to an accusation against someone (sometimes even God). On my part, I am quick to become introspective and start accusing myself. I can quickly find myself thinking that I should have fasted more, spent more time in listening prayer, traveled to Boston sooner, etc. But as Aslan points out in The Chronicles of Narnia, asking "what if" is futile and only leads to accusation. "No one is ever told what would have happened, but you can find out what will happen!" I love that! So rather than ask why, I will ask "what now, Papa?" And I am confident that if Father wants me to learn more about this so that healing does happen for others, He will be able to show me what I need to know when I need to know it. Yes, I am deeply sad--even troubled--that I have been so slow to learn but accusation leads nowhere and takes my eyes off of Papa.

Finally, I will encourage everyone in times like this to think more about "Who" than "why" or "what." It is no accident that the psalmist over and over again says things like "God is my refuge" (not answers, promises, principles, etc., but GOD). It isn't trite in the least to say that "Jesus is the answer" when it is said in the right context, folks! God Himself is our comfort, our strength, our tower of hope. The answer now and always is WHO, and I run to Him.

Grieving with hope in the Presence of Abba,

Tom, Abba's little boy

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

God's Will: Home, sweet home!

I am tired tonight and processing the premature death of a very dear friend, but I wanted to pass along some treasure I have been gleaning from my re-reading of an Andrew Murray classic, God's Will: Our Dwelling Place. Every time I read this wonderful book, things get clearer for me as to the absolute centrality of God's will to the life of a follower of Jesus. And since I am so weary, I will allow our wise friend from the past to do most of the talking.

First, a general statement about God's will that I think is incredibly trustworthy and true to experience (from p. 163). "God's will is at first a deep, hidden mystery. He who lives to that will, as far as he knows it, may count on being led deeper into it as the manifestation of a holy, mighty, infinite goodness. Let me give myself to it as too infinite love." Wow! For so many years I thought of God's will as something to be done rather reluctantly, yet Jesus taught us to pray for His will to be done on earth as in heaven (where everything is good and perfect--hmmm!), and Paul describes God's will as good, pleasing and perfect.

Then a comment on the necessity of our doing God's will from page 104. "The will of God is so entirely one with the nature, perfection, and the love of God, that to neglect or refuse any part of it makes it impossible for God to fully reveal himself to us and to bless us." Again, how many people make it their first thought that the best way to blessing is absolute surrender to God's will?

Finally, a comment on the relationship of grace and God's will from page 105. "People have not seen that grace is nothing but the will of God manifested. And, as grace came through Christ's doing of that will, so its one object is to unite us with that will, and have it done as it is done in heaven. Doing the will of God has been something additional -- a supplement to what the grace of God has done, an expression of gratitude -- instead of being the very door into all the love, salvation, and blessedness out of which the grace came and into which it leads. If we understood this, every desire for help from God for salvation, happiness, and the enjoyment of his love would be identified with standing perfect and complete in all that will." Kind of says it all, doesn't it?

More later. Time to pack for yet another little trip!

Stay lost in Papa's love, surrendered to His will,

Tom, Abba's little boy

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Learning Along the Way

First, Alex, who comments on this blog wrote an incredible entry on his blog that I recommend to you. You can get to his blog by clicking on this link. And next week I hope to have another link for you to my friend, Gary Goodell's thoughts on how intimacy with God, community with one another and outreach fit together. But for this week, I share with you some thoughts that were beginning to dawn on me one year ago. I found them in my journal and wanted to share them with you as things I am learning along the way. Again, straight from my personal Secret Place journal with minor editing.

Here is a summary of some of the things I have been learning these past few days. First, I am learning both the importance of and the practice of continuous dialogue with you, Abba, no matter what. Whether during ministry times, or when I am pondering anything--all the time, I think it is possible and essential to be in constant communion and communication with you. I don't yet have a very good idea how to live that way, but I do know that it's what we must move into if we are to live as “kingdom-of-God” people.

The second thing I am learning, from reading The Kingdom Triangle by J.P. Moreland, is just how distorted our culture is and how this distortion has led so many people to pursue the wrong kind of happiness. Our culture tells us that the primary goal in life is our pleasure, our comfort, our “happiness.” But the pursuit of that kind of happiness, where it's all about me and my enjoyment, leads to continually increasing narcissism and depression and confusion, especially for believers who are clearly called to live a life that is not about pursuing happiness but pursuing You and Your Will.

The third thing I am learning is how little of the supernatural realm we have all tapped into. As I read the story in the Smith Wigglesworth devotional this morning about the lady who was told to pray in the Spirit and was then taken in the Spirit to Africa during the time of Mr. Burton's illness, and that he was raised up as she continued to pray, I realized that that is the "normal Christian life" that you intend for us, Father, but it is extremely abnormal and unusual for me and almost every believer I have ever met! We are settling for crumbs from your table when you have prepared for us a banquet, a feast, but I do not know how to get there except maybe perhaps the things you are teaching me that I describe in items number one and two above. And I would add to that a third item which is the importance of faith and the obedience that derives from it. Smith Wigglesworth continually brought people back to trusting the word of God, the Bible, because he knew it expressed the absolute trustworthiness of your character, and because he knew it was the only thing that we could use to bring us to a place of genuine, confident faith--the kind of faith that moves mountains, heals the sick, always cast out demons, etc.

Just some lessons I am learning along the way. I am happy to say that these lessons (and many others) are thankfully being added into my life. It's good to look back one year and see some progress at least!

That's it for this time. Keep pressing into Papa's love.

Tom, Daddy's little boy

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Surrendered Life

I am a bit pressed for time today, so I am sharing some quotes from one of my favorite "mentors," Andrew Murray. I rediscovered some treasure from his writing last Saturday that fits well with the ongoing discussion I inadvertently started a few posts ago! After the quotes from Andrew Murray, I will close with a quote from my journal that follows along the same lines and explains why peace and stillness are so dear to me.

First, from Divine Healing, chapter 32, some of Andrew Murray's thoughts about the Vine and branches in John 15.

“Absolute dependence on God is the secret of all power and work. The branch has nothing but what it gets from the vine, and you and I can have nothing but what we get from Jesus.
“The life of the branch is not only a life of entire dependence, but a deep restfulness. If you desire to be a true branch of Christ, the living Vine, just rest on Him. Let Christ bear the responsibility.
“But you say, ‘Won't that make me slothful?’ I tell you it will not. No one who learns to rest on the living Christ can become slothful, for the closer your contact with Christ, the more the Spirit of His zeal and love will fill you. A man sometimes tries and tries to be dependent on Christ. But by worrying about this absolute dependence, he tries and he cannot get it. Instead of worrying, he should sink down into it entire restfulness every day.
“Rest in Christ, who can give wisdom and strength. That restfulness will often prove to be the very best part of your Christian witness. You can plead with people, and you can argue. All they will know is that a man is arguing and striving with them. This is what happens when two men deal with each other, without Christ. But if you will let the deep rest of God come over you—the rest in Christ Jesus, the peace and holiness of heaven—that restfulness will bring a blessing to their heart, even more than the words you speak.” (pp. 141-142)

“Do not confuse work and fruit. There is a good deal of work for Christ that is not the fruit of the heavenly Vine. “ (p. 143)

And now, from my journal, December 14, 2007, an epiphany about how hard we sometimes make it for God to speak to us! I trust you will forgive the rather personal tone of some of my journal quotes!

"Father, I see now that so often we/I have essentially forced you to break into our world in order to communicate with me/us. Your desire is that we become so still and so tender and so attentive to you that you don't have to push, and we don't have to work hard in order to have you speak to us. Rather that we are so attending to you—ah, Father—just as you showed me from the very beginning: that I need to be face to face with you and that I need to be like the one whom you can “guide with your eye” (Psalm 32:8) and that I need to be like the one whose eye is on you as a maid on her mistress or a servant on his master (Psalm 123:2). You have shown us how it is that you wish for us to live, but we have tried in our own strength so many times to figure something out. I think of R____ as he came flooding into my mind just now—I have tried to figure out how to pray for him, yet what I really needed to do was just listen and listen and listen until I really heard you. I wait for you, O Lord, I wait for you."

Learning to rest, learning to listen,

Tom, Papa's little boy