Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Heresy?

Hmmm, it must be something about this time of the year. Last year about this time I wrote some thoughts about how to avoid being deceived, and I am sensing a similar but slightly different leading for today. Today I want to write about how we ourselves can avoid becoming someone who deceives others. In the past, of course, the Church has been rather overboard on avoiding “heresy” and has focused more on right words more than right character. The result has been pretty ugly at times—just check church history. On the other hand, it is na├»ve to believe that our adversary isn’t devising all kinds of schemes to deceive and lead folks away from Papa and the Lord Jesus, so I want to write about how to be sure you don’t head for that nasty word, heresy (which is in its simplest definition bad teaching that leads folks away from God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture).

As I noted in my blog on February 28 of last year, deception (heresy) is more a matter of character than of getting all the facts straight. (Click here to read it in a new window). Nowhere is this clearer than in Matthew 7:15-23 where Jesus teaches us that false teachers (heretics) will be easy to spot by their fruit (character and what their character produces!). May I suggest a few things that I believe Papa has shown me that will help to keep us on track? Consider the following.

First, always walk in humility, especially towards God’s people past and present. It is clearly wise to live in humility towards believers who have walked before us in church history. It is dangerously arrogant to suggest that we have finally discovered truth and that all those before us were either duped or dufusses! Yes, there is perhaps a progressive restoration of the things of God taking place so that we are seeing things that haven’t been seen clearly since NT times, but that doesn’t mean that we jettison all that those in previous generations have to teach us. Indeed, some of the most profound things I have encountered about living a simple life in Jesus were written hundreds of years ago. There must also be humility towards believers who are in community with us today. One thing that has become more clear today than ever is that trustworthy revelation is not a private matter that can be discovered by oneself. No one has a corner on truth, and if other healthy believers are questioning my “beliefs” I will do well so listen carefully. Healthy people whose lives exhibit the character and life of Jesus merit our trust, and when they disagree with us about matters of life in Jesus, we do well to pay attention and humble ourselves before the community. Finally, notice that there is a humility towards God and His Word here as well. It is quite arrogant to think that God somehow lost control of His people, His truth, etc., until just now so that everything people believed up to this point was off base. Give me a break! God has always had a people who knew Him and knew His ways. He hasn’t lost control for a moment, and the scriptures and the basics of our faith have been His doing, maintained by His matchless power.

Second, never leave the authority of Scripture. Most of the spiritual shipwrecks in church history can be traced to people deciding that they didn’t like some of what was written and scripture and adding their own filter to the Bible to rid it of objectionable material. True, we now know that the Bible isn’t designed to be a doctrine book that can club people into submission, but its revelation of God and how we are to live in Him is absolutely trustworthy. If we abandon it, then anything goes (and usually does). Note that the next point is closely related to this.

Third, leave room for the mystery and majesty of God. For some reason human beings like to reduce the God of Scripture into a nice, well-behaved, perfectly tame and safe Being that we can always understand. But this leaves us with a God who is too small and strips Him of His majesty. That’s the problem with the surprisingly popular view of God that some suggest is in The Shack (but isn’t)—usually called Universalism. The problem with universalism (where everyone gets “saved” in the end) is that it ignores pages and pages of Scripture in order to come up with a “nice” but terribly small god who is nothing like the God I know! Any “god” who is formed by ignoring or rewriting scripture is too small, too tame, too manageable to be the God that the Lord Jesus came to reveal! I will opt for mystery and majesty, even when it hurts!

Finally, never form understanding about what you believe on the basis of fear or suspicion. If “sound teaching” is really a matter of character, not just reliable facts, then it naturally follows that my belief system should be one that flows from the increasing wholeness that God creates within me. It will be responsive rather than reactionary, responding to the promptings of the Spirit and the Word and to the input of trusted others rather than reacting out of my hurts to the bad things others have done to me. It seems to me that a lot of strange directions in the past have come from hurting people whose beliefs were formed out of their hurt rather than wholeness. You and I will do well, then, to ask ourselves when we are forming our beliefs, “Am I making this assumption because of fear or suspicion or genuine trust in God and others?” And perhaps we may wish to ask, “Am I whole enough to be putting forth my thoughts at this point?” (By the way, you can discover the answer to this question by simply determining whether you feel the need to be forceful or not! The moment we find ourselves trying to coerce or overrule someone’s own ability to think and choose we are on dangerous ground and are revealing our own lack of health!).

Well, I could write more, but that’s enough for now. I welcome (really) your thoughts!

Stay gentle, humble and soft, dear ones, and all of this won’t be an issue for you!

Tom, one of Abba’s children

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I am a what? A Consumer????

Yes, I know I tend to post things rather randomly--comes with being who I am. But the following thoughts actually do relate to church, simple church, whatever church, and they are fresh to me so I pass them along. (And I edited this puppy today, Friday, February 20--it needed a lot of work!)

Recently, in one of those wonderful early morning times of lying still and pondering things, Papa brought to my mind one of our culture’s most common descriptions of the average person: "consumer." And yes, I do subscribe to Consumer Reports magazine! If I am going to be labeled a "consumer" (what a terribly impersonal and yet descriptive term!), I at least want to be an informed one!

The thought that we are designated as consumers led me again to the realization that American culture has successfully enshrined and enculturated greed and covetousness. As Paul Ford writes in Knocking Over the Leadership Ladder, our culture is built in a way that encourages us to be narcissistic, feeling dissatisfied and entitled to self-fulfillment. My generation, the baby boomers, has managed to turn this mindset into a fine art. We have become the first US generation to be almost completely individualistic and self-oriented. But what does this have to do with the church?

No big thought here, but the western church has ever increasingly yet unwittingly absorbed and then reflected our twisted culture. Instead of being radically counter-culture, in our sincere attempts to reach those in this culture we have become just like the culture. But it seems to me that the Gospel of the Kingdom will always be counter-cultural to any human culture and that it is certainly counter to the vast portion of our American culture! Yes, the Apostle Paul said that he “became all things to all men in order to reach people” but in doing so he did not compromise the sharply counter-cultural nature of the Gospel (hence the heavy persecution of early believers). (Did you ever wonder about why there is such a huge similarity between traditional church approaches to growth and approaches used by retailers? Get them inside the building, give them something they want, etc. Kind of scary to me anyway!).

As I continued to ponder all of this I realized that the deep influence of American culture on US believers requires a willingness on our part to ask God to constantly examine all that we are doing in light of true Kingdom culture. And this examination by God needs to take place at the deepest level, not just the surface level. Lots of Christians today are talking about "Kingdom culture," but much of what they are describing sounds more like American capitalism or some kind of spiritual imperialism than like the humble, quiet life Jesus lived and invites us to.

This willingness to examine things must be true regardless of the form the church adopts. Unless we address the deeply flawed cultural and theological assumptions that lie several layers down in our thinking, changing the form, model, meeting place or anything else of the church won’t change much of anything! Self-oriented, covetous, broken, demonized Christians in any type of community or structure are not what Jesus had in mind, no matter how they are "packaged"!

So… I think people like Dallas Willard, J.P. Moreland, Paul Young, Wayne Jacobsen, and many others are all very much indeed prophetic voices to God’s people. I raise up these particular men and others like them because they are all addressing the deeper issues, issues of the heart, in light a an brand new way of looking at culture and Scripture, issues of how we view God and ourselves, others, etc.

The bottom line, I guess, is that those who say "Question everything!" may be closer to the truth than we realize, but with one very important difference and that is the difference in who is asking the questions! What would it look like for God to ask the questions? I wonder if when He was finished we would still find ourselves described as "consumers"!

Just wondering.

Tom, still just Abba's little boy

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Presence of God and Praying

Last week I ran out of space for my sharing about prayer. This week, I am late in my posting because Jettie and I were driving to Midland, TX, on Wednesday and then waiting for the birth of our fourth grandchild yesterday (a boy, Evan Josiah, my oldest son, Jon's first). So here I am writing on Friday.

Before I share from my journal what I promised in the last post, I want to let you know that I am still very much learning how to live what I describe here. In fact, I ran across a few lines in So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore that describe why I am hesitant at times to write what I do. The following dialog between Jake Colsen and the mysterious John is from page 132.

“I feel like I have more to teach now than I ever have, and that I have far fewer people to share it with.”
John laughed heartily. “If I had a dollar for every time I heard that…” Then he put his hand over mine. “It’s not about teaching, Jake. It’s about living. Learn to live this life and you’ll find no end of folks to share it with. Teach it first, however, and that will be your substitute for living it.”

So just be aware that I am indeed living this out and not really trying to teach you at this point, just putting things out there for your consideration and comment. I am learning, though, to pray from that place of awareness of His presence. From my journal, October 11, 2008.

Papa, can prayer be as “easy” (yet hard) as it seems? I look back at my words on July 3 and I consider what I am learning right now, and it seems that prayer is becoming simply the lifting up of people and the listening to your heart. Surely it is in some respects this simple, but there’s more here, I think.

“Child, it is obedience that comes from faith and love that I am looking for, not effort or sacrifice but obedience. From the obedient, tender life and heart come prayer to me that touches my heart. Indeed because it comes from my heart first, it will always touch my heart. I am waiting, child, for you to say ‘amen’ to my compassion, power, grace, blessing. I am waiting for the surrendered hearts of my people to invite my blessings that I have stored up for so many. It isn’t effort, child, it’s obedience that allows me to guide you with a glance. I have more to show you but not right now. You are still not ready, but you can ponder this for a while and more will come."

Papa, I paste here entries from July 6 of this year that are profoundly relevant to what you are saying to me right now. I cannot lose the uniqueness of your call to me to live in your presence continually in the middle of these new discoveries about disciplines! And I feel your presence descend on me strongly as I write this as if to confirm things! Thank you, Abba Pai!

Ah, Papa, as I am drawn again to Brother Lawrence’s words on page 67 I realize more than ever that you are more than enough. I cannot try to build faith, pray better, etc., as a reason to come to you. Rather, living in you, inundated by your love and returning ever more faithfully my love to you, I am changed, I am infused with your love, light and power!

Brother Lawrence quotes. (From page 51) “Remember what I advised you to do: Think about God as often as you can, day and night, in everything you do. He is always with you. Just as it would be rude if you deserted a friend who was visiting you, why would you be disrespectful of God by abandoning His presence?” (From page 67) “My friend says that by dwelling in the presence of God he has established such a sweet communion with the Lord that His spirit abides, without much effort, in the restful peace of God. In this center of rest, he is filled with a faith that equips him to handle anything that comes into his life.”

Papa, you remind me also of what you said to me on July 7, 2005, and I paste it here. “Listen, this is very important: whenever you feel my presence lift because of stress or sin, stop! At that moment I will prepare the table, make the way for you to return, but you must stop and quickly return! That is how you must walk in the Spirit! This is the next step for you; don't forget this one!” I am undone…

So what do you think? I welcome your thoughts. Am I being hopelessly idealistic here? I clearly don't think so, and I think I am hearing Papa God say the same. I invite and welcome your prayerful reflections.

Stay lost in Papa's love, live aware of His presence!

Tom, Daddy's little boy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Do I Know How to Pray?

Events over the past several months, perhaps even longer, have made me realize that even at age 59 I don't seem to know very much at all about prayer as it was practiced by Jesus and the early believers. How, for example, do we pray the "prayer of faith" described in James 5:15? This is the prayer that always heals the sick person according to James. And how is living in the continual awareness of God's presence related to prayer? These and other questions have been on my heart for quite some time now. Today, I want to again draw back the curtain on my life and share with you some of what I have been learning, looking first at what I am beginning to see about the prayer of faith and then at some of my recent lessons about Presence and prayer (from my journal).

I am sure I am not the only one who has puzzled over why we don't see what James describes in chapter 5 happening much today. I still don't have lots of answers, but here's some beginning thoughts that have come to me as I have re-wrestled with James 5:14-18. The "prayer of faith" is:
  1. Communal. It is prayed by the elders of the community of faith. This seems important for a number of reasons.
  2. Prayed by mature believers (those recognized by all as elders).
  3. Prayed by righteous believers. This doesn't merely mean those who have been declared righteous through Jesus. No, in the context of the book of James, "righteous" clearly means those whose hearts are fully set on doing the will of God faithfully and completely. Big thought here...Andrew Murray suggests that only those are living for the will of God can truly pray according to the will of God.
  4. Prayed in faith. This seems obvious, but James attaching this to Elijah's life raises the bar to a level of confidence in God's character and power that reminds me of what Jesus said in Mark 11:22-24 22 Jesus answered them, “Be having faith (trusting) in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his/her heart, but is believing that what s/he is saying is happening, it will be done for her/him. 24 So I tell you, whatever you are praying and asking for, be trusting that you received it, and it will be yours. (TW's literal translation)
There's clearly more to ponder here, and I will share more as it comes, but I wanted to put this out there for you to respond to if you wish. Now let me take you on a journey into my heart as Papa and I have dialogued over the past few months about prayer. Again, this is lifted from my journal.
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From July 3, 2008.
Abba Pai, you know all things, so you know that I have concerns and questions this morning about my call to intercession. It seems as if I get too long of a list, I tend to make the prayers more routine and obligatory, yet those on the daily list are my dear friends and worthy and needful of serious, focused prayer. I also wonder if I am at times too casual in my approach to this time. Obviously, I have no answers to any of this, but my heart longs to enter in to this next season of growth for the sake of those I love and for the sake of the church and the very broken world around me. "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His Word I put my hope!”

Abba, one thought that comes to me as I reflect on this is that I have tended to fall back into the information-orientation that is so common to the western church rather than take the time to meditate and put into the practice the things I have been learning from you about prayer (via Andrew Murray and others). Perhaps now is the time for me to pause and reflect and allow you to plant into my heart and my lifestyle these truths. Again, Papa, I choose not to live in condemnation but I also present myself afresh to you. I wait for you…

“Have you noticed, child, that the theme of your life has been for quite some time, ‘Teach me to pray’? Have you noticed how desire to learn and practice this has increased? I am answering your prayer! And I am bringing you into the fulfillment of the Acts 6 lifestyle. Look how even the Robert Whitlow books are now highlighting prayer. So you are on track, child, and I will indeed help you press in harder. Get ready!”

Abba Pai, as I read Andrew Murray this morning (With Christ in the School of Prayer, p. 26), I become aware of how “religious” I still am. So often in my weakness I return to a self focused, self-condemning, performance-oriented mindset. Yet light dawns as I read Murray's words. And I am once again brought back to the original call and light of the Secret Place! No wonder you had me bring out the “treasure rock” a while back; no wonder you keep bringing me to Brother Lawrence; no wonder I hear Keith Green’s song in my head (Make my life a prayer to you). Ah, Father…

Abba, as I put together Andrew Murray and Brother Lawrence today, a few especially clear thoughts rise to the top. First, your Presence—living in it, praying in it—is everything. Second, surrender and childlike faith are the keys to this, along with the exercise of my will (as Brother Lawrence describes). Third, prayers should be short, not drawn out (Brother Lawrence, p. 46—see also Matthew 6:7-8). Ah, Father, if I will just let you lead!!

Abba, it really is as simple as what you told me at the beginning isn’t it? If I will simply choose to wait, do whatever it takes, to get to the place where I become fully aware (by experience) of your presence and then stay there, everything else falls into place. Wow—why do I have such a hard time living this out? But I trust you to transform me more and more.
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Hmmm. I was going to add another entry (from October 11) but I will post that one next week. I think this is long enough already and probably has enough for you to ponder. I hope my transparency will encourage you in some way to ponder your own praying. And perhaps some of you will add your insights so that we can learn in community what it means to pray as Jesus and His followers did.

Still very much learning....

Tom, Abba's little boy