Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Have You Seen Him? The Key to Transformation

Another entry on living "upside down" this week.

"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." (Psalm 27:4, NIV)

"And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18, NRSV, italics mine).

Surely transformation can't be as simple as this, can it? Don't we need lots of effort and "oughts and shoulds" to be transformed? YES, dear ones, it is this simple! And, NO, dear friends, we don't need "oughts and shoulds." Human effort only makes deep transformation impossible because it puts the emphasis upon us. Recently I ran across a hymn by a rather obscure 19th century lover of Jesus, Ora Rowan (1834-1879), that encouraged me to the point of tears: God has always had people who understand that gazing at Him, really getting to know Him, is the key to transformation. I quote part of this remarkable hymn below, defining some words for clarity (in parentheses).

Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand own Him,
Joyful choose the better part.

Idols once they won thee, charmed thee,
Lovely things of time and sense;
Gilded thus does sin disarm thee,
Honeyed lest thou turn thee thence.

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless (matchless) worth.

Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void (emptiness) and smart (pain);
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.

Who extinguishes their taper
Till they hail the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer has begun?

'Tis the look that melted Peter,
'Tis the face that Stephen saw,
'Tis the heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw:

Draw and win and fill completely,
Till the cup o'erflow the brim;
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?

It's hard for me to describe what the words of this hymn (its title is the first line of the hymn), did to me as I read them! I hope you see what I see! I trust that you especially catch the lines that remind us that "duty" or attempts to crush "idols" don't lead to transformation, but rather what leads to it is the radiant "beaming of His beauty" and "the unveiling of His heart." Who can know Him, really encounter Him in experienced love and power, in an ongoing manner and not be transformed?

Ah, but so many well-meaning Christians would tell us we need to try harder! Surely something as simple as the deep surrender that comes through gazing at Him doesn't work, does it? Oh yes, dear ones! You cannot hear Him, see Him and know Him and not become ever more like Him.

Gazing ever more intently,

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More Harvest Thoughts

Vivian gently reminded me in her reply to my post last week that there is a third place where Jesus references the "harvest." It is actually an "almost parallel" passage to the Matthew 9:37-38, but it's in the context of Jesus sending out the 70 (72) in Luke 10:1-12. And this passage conveniently allows me to re-emphasize what I said last week about reaching the harvest via demonstration and community.

As in Matthew 9 (and its parallel in Luke 9), the instructions Jesus gives those He sends out clearly reveal that He intended the message of the Kingdom to be demonstrated in power ("Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The Kingdom of God is at hand.'"). Folks, as far as I can tell, the normal pattern in the NT for announcing the Good News of the Kingdom was demonstration by power and/or acts of kindness. I am fairly sure that if we put this into practice, we will indeed "reach the Harvest." Indeed, in many places in the world (I am thinking particularly of India), when all the principles in Luke 10 is put into the practice, the Kingdom of God advances with explosive power.

Notice, too, that the traveling community is again present in Luke 10. Jesus sends the workers out in pairs so that they can model what the community of the King looks like. This is far more important than we realize, I think, because as I have stated way too many times, the Good News is an invitation into intimacy with God and into a family. Any failure on our part to live out healthy community as we proclaim this news serves to undermine the very message we bring. I won't belabor this point here, but it is why Paul was so insistent that unity be lived out. The Gospel must be proclaimed from the midst of a loving community. And this has become even more urgent in our increasingly fragmented world.

I wish you could catch my passion for these two things! Power which reveals the Presence of the King and love which flows from the King through us are the two confirming factors in the advance of the Kingdom of God!

There is more in Luke 10, of course, including the importance of discovering a "person of peace" but I address most of that in Church At Its Simplest, which you can download from my website (see the link on the left side of this blog). A few things that I do not address in that article, though, are worth mentioning: a) Jesus sent these men to villages He was planning to visit (this has interesting implications about hearing His voice, eh?). b) Jesus sent these men in a manner that caused them to model the life of dependence that is part of living in God's Kingdom (no extra clothes, etc.). c) Jesus didn't send all of His followers out (Martha, Mary and Lazarus, for example, probably didn't go). My point here is that not everyone is an apostle--something I have mentioned before. d) When they returned, marveling the power demonstrations they had seen, Jesus put things back into the perspective of being loved children of Abba (Luke 10:17-20).

Enough said for this week. I again welcome your thoughts. Much of what I write here is just part of what I need to say. Pray for me as I begin to assemble much of what Papa is showing me into book form!

Stay lost in His love, linked to His family,

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Harvest Jesus Style

This is a bit of a departure for me, but then I realize that nothing I do is very predictable, so maybe not. I want to write briefly about some of the things Jesus said about the "Harvest" (admittedly a badly "Christianized" word in our day, but I am using His term).

Jesus only spoke directly about the "Harvest" twice, and we will look at those passages and a few others to distill for you some more "upside down" thinking. First, however, I need to correct a few common misconceptions about "reaching the Harvest." The first correction involves what it means to reach the harvest: it is not about "saving souls from hell" but rather an invitation into a family and to join Father God is seeing His Kingdom expand. The second correction, which I have made in earlier blogs, is that not everyone is called to be an evangelist or apostle. Everyone is to be prepared to "give a reason for the hope that is clearly within them" (1 Peter 3:15), but making people feel guilty about not sharing their faith when their gifting lies otherwise is not what Jesus intended. The challenge to be a witness is a corporate challenge that we engage in together as the Body of Christ with each part doing its work as defined by the Head, Jesus Christ (see Ephesian 4:11 ff.). Third, any understanding of how Jesus viewed "reaching the Harvest" must take into account everything about how He lived out His life (e.g., doing only what He saw Father doing, doing everything in complete dependence upon Father, etc.)--reaching the Harvest is never something we do on our own initiative or in our own strength.

Okay, now let's list a few observations about the Harvest from Jesus' life and teaching. For the sake of brevity, I will just briefly list these things. You can unpack these yourself with Holy Spirit's help.

In Matthew 9:36-38 Jesus is moved by compassion for the crowds when He sees them "harassed and helpless" and it is this that triggers His instruction to "Pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers." Things to note here: Jesus saw the people, He was moved with compassion, He said to pray... (and as the disciples subsequently learned, they were to pray with a willingness to be sent!).
John 4:35-38 we find Jesus' other statement about the Harvest. Here His instructions are quite simple: "open your eyes and look!" (this as the Samaritans were streaming out to meet Him). Then He goes on to explain that reaching the Harvest is a joint effort wherein some people plant, others gather, etc. and implied in this is the importance of catching God's timing and our role at the moment. (Think about that one for a while). Note that in both Matthew and John what triggered Jesus' remarks was His own seeing... "God, open my eyes to see what you are seeing" would seem to be an appropriate prayer in this regard.

But there are some other important things that Jesus said about "reaching the Harvest" that come from the context of His life and teachings. Consider the following:
1. In Matthew 5:13-16 He gives clear instruction as to how (in part) we are to invite people into His family: we are to be salt and light. In other words, our character and our acts of kindness are to point to God as an invitation into Father's family.
2. In Matthew 10:1 ff. He gives the rest of how the invitation is to be made: we are to announce that the Kingdom of God is near and then demonstrate that by healing the sick, casting out demons, etc. This is extremely important, folks: telling people that God exists and asking them to commit to an "unexperienced idea" was never God's method for inviting people into His family. In the Bible God always clearly demonstrates His reality and then invites people to turn and trust Him in light of that reality. So much for merely handing out tracts, eh? (Not that there isn't a place for that, but please don't think that doing so is all that there is to "reaching the Harvest"! Somehow I just can't picture the apostles handing out tracts!). Yes, I know I am stepping on toes here, and I am doing so not to condemn but to stretch. If you have a passion for the Harvest then learn how to demonstrate God's presence and power through healing the sick, casting out demons, etc.
3. The invitation into the family is to be validated by the loving community that extends the invitation. Jesus said this in a number of ways on a number of occasions. He sent the workers out in twos so that they could be a small community of love that demonstrated God's family to those who were being addressed. And He clearly stated that healthy, loving relationships were the validation of everything He said (John 13:34-34, 17:21-23), in other words, followers of Jesus are the message embodied that validates the power and the words of the invitation into the family. Hmmm, how well has what we call church done with this one, eh? Why is it so easy to pretend that power and love aren't the most important parts of reaching the Harvest?
4. Last one for today: the invitation to those in the Harvest is to come from the overflow of what God is doing in our lives. In Matthew 10:8 Jesus says, "Freely you have received, freely give." I also think of John 7:37-39 where the from the believer rivers of living water flow. This, again, is why I remind folks not to harass people into "sharing their faith." If love, joy and peace are not exploding from a person, they don't have anything to share. But if the Good News is really good news, they cannot help but overflow...

Okay, I could write more, but this is all that I sense I am to do for now. As always, I invite your comments and reflections.

Joy to you,

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Invitation or Confrontation?

First, thanks, everyone, for the comments on last week's post!

I believe that God is always inviting us to change our thinking and change our direction (repentance). Yes, there is some up front change that is required to see and enter the Kingdom, but I think the changing is meant to be continuous rather than occasional. Just a thought.

Notice that I used the word "inviting." I believe that God's preferred method for bringing folks around to where they face Him is invitation, not confrontation, and certainly is never coercion or manipulation. I also believe that even confrontation by God (His very last resort) contains an invitation (think about it). Romans 2:4 says it well where Paul asks, "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (ESV) (And yes, I know the next verse speaks of storing up wrath, etc., for those whose hearts are hard).

So why is it important to think of God inviting more than confronting? There are probably plenty of reasons, I think, but perhaps one of the most important is rooted in the nature of healthy relationships. Relationships can never be coerced, and love can never be forced. Relationships by their very nature require each and every person in the relationship to enter that relationship by a truly free choice. Furthermore, anything that flows from obligation is not pure love because fulfilling an obligation is still all about "me" (borrowed that thought from Wayne Jacobsen). (On the other hand, there are times when genuine love will cause me to go far beyond any obligation!).

So...if the most relational Being in the Universe is wanting relationship with us, His first and preferred approach will always be invitation. We see this clearly in the life of Jesus, don't we? He saved confrontation for those who had missed all of His manifold invitations. And as I said above, even His confrontation was an invitation.

I believe that it is critically important for us to "get this" as we engage the world around us and present the Good News of God's Kingdom. Much of what I have seen that is called "witnessing" has done just the opposite and in the process has misrepresented the nature of God from the beginning. Is it any wonder then, that we have so many in the church for whom kindness, forbearance and patience are not their preferred mode of operation? Hmmm, I wonder.

It is also critically important that we "get this" in our own walk with God. If the God we are getting to know is inviting, wooing and showering us with kindness, we respond in like manner to Him and reflect that to others. On the other hand, if the god we "serve" is always confronting us, we locked in a behavior-based approach to life in the Kingdom and the resulting sourness spills over on others. We see this a lot, don't we? How can I invite someone into a relationship with God who is love when my first approach is confrontation?

Anyway, I could write a lot more about this, but just throwing out the first thoughts. I trust that the God you meet each day in the morning is smiling and that you can hear Him constantly inviting you into deeper relationship with Him and others.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Anyone Can Hide In A Crowd!

Here's some more thoughts on this joyful upside down life. In my original article on March 4 I wrote, "Those closest to us should be the primary recipients of all the good that God is doing in us, not the recipients of leftovers." And then I invited you to think about it--I am wondering what you discovered as you did.

Here's what I sensed Father telling me: "Anyone can hide in a crowd, even (perhaps especially) the leader." It's ironic that our western church culture has so badly missed the life-on-life way that the Kingdom of God must operate on, and one of the most glaring ways we have missed it is the "bigger is better" mentality that sadly allows even gifted and eloquent speakers to live a life of pretense, appearing to be "God's man/woman of the hour" while in fact causing havoc in those closest to him/her. I say ironic because God intends it to be exactly the opposite. The way the Kingdom of God operates is for those closest to us to benefit from the best of God's transforming work in our lives and then for that transformation to flow naturally and powerfully through all of our and their relationships.

I know I don't have to cite examples of how twisted this can become in current "church" culture. Jettie and I were just discussing at dinner tonight a mega-church pastor who can't keep staff around him very well and that scenario repeats itself over and over again, sometimes with far more disastrous results than relational deficiencies that lead to staff turnover (remember, I live in Colorado Springs!).

How did we get so off track? Life in Jesus can only be transmitted life-on-life, and integrity alone requires us to live most genuinely with those closest to us. That’s why Paul said, “You know how I lived” more than once, something that requires life-on-life contact of the most intimate kind.

Jesus, of course, started with this when He invited those He wished to shape the most to live closest to Him (Mark 3:14 NIV says, "He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach..."). And it was thereafter His example, perhaps even more than His teaching, that led to their transformation into men who changed the world. (Just read the gospels with that one thing in mind and see what you discover!)

Paul the Apostle carried on this same method. Consider the towering passage in 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12 NIV (This was perhaps his earliest letter). I have highlighted certain phrases to make the point.
5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.
6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you,
7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.
8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us
9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.
11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,
12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

And then there's 1 Corinthians 11:1 which virtually requires constant life-on-life contact, and the list could go on (check out Acts 20:18 ff. and 2 Timothy 3:14 for examples).

So what does this mean? It means in my case that my wife, above all others, should benefit most from any and all of God's transforming work in my life. It means that those closest to me should be the most likely to see the image of God being created in me. It means...well, you fill in the blanks for you.

This is upside down from most church culture, isn't it? Most of the time, those who "minister" are judged on "anointing" (something every believer has!) or eloquence or the ability to persuade (coerce????) others. But real Kingdom living requires us to look deeper and live deeper. As I like to say, "Come live with me. Treat your spouse the way I treat mine. Treat the server at the restaurant the way I treat him/her. Treat those who can't hear what I am saying about them the way I treat them." You get the point. Not that I have perfected any of this, but may my life, far more than my words, be a constant challenge to live loved, surrendered and loving.

There you have it. What do you think? I welcome your thoughts (all five of you!).

Tom, one of Abba's little boys