Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Simple Thoughts About Following Jesus

Well, here I am at my denominational convention. I am, of course, an odd duck at these sorts of events for several reasons: my convictions about simple church, my advocacy of a seriously supernatural lifestyle, my urging intimacy with Jesus as the goal and means of everything...the list could go on, I guess. So I was going to write about why I am and am not a simple/house church "purist." But Papa had other plans. I am too tired to think clearly to do that topic justice. Instead I need to write something from my heart, so here goes.

My post last week elicited a lot of comments about living this life in Jesus, living the Spirit led life. So from my heart I wanted to share a few things first about my life and then what I see as the true evidences that someone is indeed led by the Spirit.

I don't think I have ever recorded this on my blog (but if I have forgive the repetition), but those who know me know that I frequently ask God to make me one of the kindest (or most loving), most joyful, most peaceful, most dangerous-to-the-devil people on the planet. I first started praying this kind of prayer when I heard Graham Cooke mention that he asks God to make him one of the most peaceful persons on the planet. I was captured by that thought and quickly added it to my heart's cry to God. As I did so, I gradually expanded it to include all three of the first triad in the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace) and the rather bold fourth request to emulate Jesus (who went around destroying the works of the devil).

Now I don't pray this in some sort of competitive way--I am not trying to exceed anyone else's level of love, joy or peace, etc. Rather I am saying to God: "This is how serious I am about this!" And I would that all of God's people would pray such a prayer and then allow Father to do whatever it takes to make it a reality in their lives.

But what does this have to be with being led by the Spirit? Simply this: that those who are led by the Spirit will reflect the attributes of genuine love and respect for others. Those led by the Spirit will be noticeably humble, gentle and kind. There will be a sense when you are around them that you are deeply important to them and to God and that they consider you better than they are (Philippians 2:3). They will exude a sort of other-centeredness that is exceedingly rare in our culture and will be continually maturing in the area of relational and emotional health. If you are wondering where one might find this sort of description of a Spirit-led person, I recommend a look at the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and at the characteristics of love as found in 1 Corinthians 13 as good starting places. Then you will want to add the characteristics of Jesus as He is revealed in the four Gospels. It is, of course, the Holy Spirit's role to create in us the nature of Jesus.

Now I have no idea how I am doing in the above traits. Like the Apostle Paul, I choose not to judge myself, but rather I will continue my little four-part prayer, and seek to live ever more aware of God's love and ever more inundated by His Spirit. And like Paul, I also know that I have not attained all of this but instead press on and press in, joyfully surrendering even self-evaluation, along with all control, into the hands of the One who loves me most.

Finally, I remind all who read this that we are never meant to journey alone in this walk with Jesus. If you are wondering why I would need someone like Peter Scazzero to speak into my life, my answer is that I need brothers and sisters like Peter and Dr. John White and Dallas Willard and a host of others to walk with me because I, like the apostles before me, know that the Spirit-filled, Spirit led life is only lived out in community, and can be fruitful only by my humbly receiving into my life the instruction and example of others.

Nuff said for this time. I am quite brain dead, but I trust this makes some sense!

Stay lost in Papa's love, drowned in His power.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Place and Power of Rhythm

This week I am more or less continuing the theme from last week of bearing fruit by "maintaining a living communion" with Jesus. In spite of my affirmation last week that I am seeing more consistency in the "practice of the Presence of God," I am also acutely aware that far too often by the end of the day I have once again seized control of my life to some extent and am once again back to "working for God." But today Father reminded me of something so foundational to this journey that I knew I had to share it with you.

First, I take you to an entry from my journal from January 5 of this year. I hear you repeating to me what you said to me on July 5 of last year, Abba. It is a real key to all of this: “See, little one? You must always wait until full awareness of my presence comes before doing anything, even praying. And you must return immediately when you lose it.”
Ah, Father! At least I can at last “see” this. It is possible to live this out! Anytime that my sense of your presence leaves (usually due to a willful choice on my part, but other things can cause it as well) I can and must turn immediately back to you. There is a way to live life totally dependent upon your grace as Brother Lawrence describes, yet in a way that requires us to be mature and interactive in our relationship with you. I see it, and that gives me hope that I will live it! “Show me your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.”

Okay, so as I am pondering this little review from Papa God and realize that I still struggle at times to live this out, I ask Him for help. And He graciously responds by taking me back to one of the books I recommend most highly and most often, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero, particularly the section where Pete writes about the Daily Office (taking time at points in the day to refocus on God). And the lights come on for me in a way they never have before: there is a power to living with rhythms in our lives that we in our western culture have almost entirely lost. As I ponder this, I realize that several times in the past couple of years, Father has told me that I need to be intentional about taking time throughout the day to purposefully re-center on Him. In other words, He was telling me that as someone made in His image, there is place for rhythm in my life.

As I have continued to reflect on this today (taking time to re-focus), I have come to realize that for thousands of years, God's people have had rhythms in their lives. Moses established the rhythm of the Sabbath, and Jesus and his contemporaries practiced the rhythm of set times of prayer throughout the day, etc.

Why is the place of rhythm so important in our lives? I am not sure. I am sure that there is a difference between routine and rhythm, though, and that the difference is found in how we view the regular part of a rhythm. I won't fall into routine if I remember that it's about building relationship with the One who loves me most. And allowing Him to lead during the times, adapting it to my own unique "wiring" keeps things fresh. My wife and I enjoy a date night every Friday night--and some of it is similar--but it's always good and fresh because of the dynamic part of being in relationship with one another. How much more true is this when we are with the One who is the most creative Being in the Universe!

I close with a few quotes from Peter Scazzero, so that you will want to get this book if you haven't already. I think these quotes will help you catch both the power and the freedom found in this rhythm. (Note: I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this book, at least in my journey. I am convinced that if people "really get it," everything will change!).

"At the heart of the Daily Office and the Sabbath is stopping to surrender to God in trust. Failure to do so is the very essence of the sin in the Garden of Eden." (p. 156)

"The root of the Daily Office is not so much turning to God to get something but to be with Someone." (p. 157)

"God has built us each differently. What works for one person will not for another. Geri and I approach our Daily Office very differently. I prefer more structure...Geri utilizes a variety of tools...and enjoys great flexibility to what she does in her time with God." (p. 159)

"The purpose of the Daily Office is to remember God and commune with him through all our days. Keep that clearly in mind as you (TW note: I would say, He) develops structures and habits that fit you." (p. 162)

So what will this look like in my life? I am hearing Papa invite me to two specific changes in how I approach my life. First, I am planning to add brief times around noon and in the evenings to refocus (stop, re-center, still my heart, ponder Scripture). Second, I am asking Holy Spirit to make me even more sensitive when my peace leaves and to call me back--at that moment--to a "mini-Daily Office." I am sure I will have some things to report as this unfolds in my life. (And I have now made myself accountable to my entire blogging audience--what was I thinking????

Pressing in to find the rhythms that Father has for me. I invite you to do the same.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Working for God or Bearing Fruit?

Today, a very personal and perhaps stretching entry for some of you. Please know that I offer it to you with a tender and childlike heart!

I gave up working for God on July 2, 2004. That was when my journey into intimacy with Papa God commenced with unprecedented force and reality. Now, almost 5 years later, I think I am just beginning to understand what the difference is between working and bearing fruit.

When God called me into this "Secret Place Journey" or this life of "abiding," His first words to me (in response to my reading Exodus 33:15) were, “This is to be your pattern from now on, son. Don’t leave until you know my presence goes with you.” I was soon to realize that what He meant was literally a continual and conscious awareness of His presence--something that up to that point seemed beyond comprehension!

On the next day, as I basked in the wonder of what I was beginning to understand, I asked, "Are you doing this in me because You are up to something, Lord, or is this how it should always be?" and He answered me, “Both! This is how I want all my children to walk, but my people have so lost this that I have to restore it before I can bring my next great move on the earth. I am calling you and many others to experience this and then lead others to the same place. I am raising up an army of those who know me so intimately that I can guide them with my eye.” I am sure that you can imagine how blown away I was this statement at the time, yet I knew that I was hearing His voice.

Later that same month, as I struggled to understand how to live this amazing, childlike, surrendered life and was berating myself for my failures, He said, “What part of ‘nothing’ don’t you understand? Apart from me you can do nothing—should do nothing. Read again John 15! Fruitfulness comes from me, from our relationship. Return to the ‘ancient paths,’ my son and turn not aside from them. I will be with you, I AM with you!”

Since that time it has been a rather bumpy journey at times, as I reverted again and again to self effort, to self-accusation, self! It is incredibly counter-intuitive to live in such a way that you are consciously aware of God's presence and instantly aware of when you have turned away from Him and again seized control of your life! But as Father continued to woo me back and change me deeply, I began to notice that the "practice of the Presence" was becoming if not continuous, at least remarkably consistent, with fewer and briefer seasons away from this life.

And recently I had a day when I could sense His presence in a palpable way almost the entire day, and it was remarkably “fruitful” and filled with ongoing communication between God and me. Then this morning, at His leading, I reviewed Isaiah 30:15 ff and my entry in my journal. I was amazed at what I read there. I again quote directly from my journal. "What wonder is this? For my noon time Secret Place you lead me to John 15, and there I see more clearly than ever the connection between abiding and fruit bearing. Wuest makes the connection between vv. 5 and 8 especially clear, and also verse 5 says that the one 'maintaining a living communion with me bearing fruit.' This on top of yesterday's reading (in chapter 21 in Andrew Murray's With Christ In the School of Prayer) and today on page 99 (same book) are filling me with gratitude and awe. What you have told me from the beginning, and I am now just beginning to live, is being overwhelmingly confirmed." The discovery today of what Wuest's translation is really saying continues to amaze me: bearing fruit IS the absolutely predictable and certain outcome of maintaining living communion with Jesus!

And my friends, trust me. Compared to one year ago, the confirmation and the actual living out of this kind of life is even greater. Not that I have "arrived" by any means, but I now see how badly we have missed what was for the early followers of Jesus the normal "Christian" life!

So does this mean that we do nothing? It’s not that we don’t do anything, check out Colossians 1:28-29, rather it’s a matter of whose power and direction we are depending upon, and for me, I must sense His presence in genuine actuality (I remind you that Andrew Murray told us long ago that this is possible as did his wife, Emma--search for Murray on my blog and you will find their words about this). For me, then, as I go through the day, the questions I am asking myself are, "Who am I trusting right now? Who is in charge right now? Who am I depending on right now?"

For me to even approach living this way has required much time with God, constantly renewed surrender, learning more and more to live loved (deeply aware of His love), and seeking to be "being filled with the Spirit" (some call it soaking but it's more than that--you actually get so still and tender that you sense Him coming upon you and welling up from within you). And all along the way, He is the One who is carrying me along as I yield and yield and yield to His love and seek to be constantly inundated by His Spirit.

Again, I have not perfected this—I have just finished a season where I “lost it” to some degree. But I no longer “lose it” like I used to (there is an almost continuous inner focus on Father's smiling face in my life now), and as I do live in this place, sin has very little grip on me and the supernatural becomes increasingly natural. It's wonderful, amazing and explains why the Gospel is indeed Good News.

Hmmm. This is a long one. I trust that it's at least sort of clear. And my purpose in presenting this to you is not to suggest that I am farther along on the journey than others. Rather I want everyone to know that this kind of life is possible, normal and what God has planned for each of us. Yes, how it unfolds will look different in each of us (not everyone has the luxury of extended times with Father as I do), but it is the norm, I believe, for all who wish to bear fruit and give up once and for all "working for God"!

Stay lost in His love, inundated by His power!

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Joy Set Before Him

Last week's blog didn't elicit any comments--I guess it wasn't very clear, eh? Sorry about that. I want to try a different angle on the same theme this week. But first, Wayne Jacobsen's latest Body Life is saying what I was trying to say, I think, only much more clearly. Check it out by clicking here.

Ok, so is it really possible to be so "God-blinded," God-intoxicated, that obedience flows from love rather than fear, duty or obligation? Absolutely! This is what Jesus modeled and it is the way He intends for us to live. It was Jesus' sense of the Father's constant love for Him and His responsive love for the Father that enabled Him to live the life that fully and perfectly obeyed the Father's will. This is wonderfully clear over and over again in John's Gospel (read it from that perspective: the love relationship between Jesus and His Father). And it was Jesus' ability to look into the Father's face that enabled Him to wrestle through the time of His suffering.

Perhaps the most tender illustration of this is in the Garden of Gethsemane where in Mark's Gospel we find the only written evidence of Jesus using the term "Abba" for His Father (Mark 14:36). There in the Garden, as He wrestles with things beyond our comprehension, His first word is "Abba" (Papa!), the word that His lips had first assigned to His Father when He was a child. And Luke's Gospel tells us that Abba answered Jesus' prayer, not by eliminating the cross but by sending angelic help (Luke 22:43).

While Jesus was on the cross, in spite of popular songs that suggest otherwise, His mind was on His Father (not you and me). We see this in the seven sayings from the cross: His first record words are, "Father, forgive them..." and His cry of terror "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me" was clearly birthed by His sense of the Father's withdrawal (not in reality but the sense of it), and His final words are, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

I am convinced, dear ones, that only by gazing at His Father's loving face (momentarily obscured at one crucial point) was Jesus able to endure the incomprehensible pain that He endured. The joy of obeying the One He loved the most (the "joy set before Him" described in Hebrews 12:2--note that the context is gazing upon Jesus just as He did upon His Father), the sense of His Father's complete trustworthiness and the constant awareness of His Father's love and delight are the factors that enabled Jesus to say at the end, "It is finished."

The question is, do we think that some other, lesser motivation will work for us? If Jesus lived loved and therefore lived fully, dare we think that we can do something different?

'Tis the face that Stephen saw,
'Tis the heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw: (Ora Rowan--see last week's post)

Gazing ever more intently,

Tom, one of Papa's little boys