Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Learning to treasure others

Hmmm. I am hesitant to share what I think God wants me to share this week because of the danger that you will think more highly of me than you ought! I believe that God wants me to share a note I sent to my wife a while ago about our probable move out of our current house. I am sharing this partly because someone recently asked Jettie and me if I am as kind and encouraging to her as I usually am with others. Jettie answered "Yes," (whew!), but it was not always so and still isn't that way all the time. But God has changed me deeply over the years and especially the last five years have changed me more than I could have imagined (with more still happening!). my March 4 blog 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.'” So...there should be evidence in my life that I am living this out, right?

I am also sharing this because I sense that there are some husbands out there who need to read what I wrote and catch the heart of it. If we are indeed called to treasure others as God treasures them, then it seems to me that our spouses should be the most treasured of all. I offer this little note as one way Father recently invited me to treasure my bride of almost 40 years.

This morning I spent part of my Secret Place time in our master bedroom. As I sat there quietly in Papa’s presence, I began to look around the room and see the precious little special touches that you have added to the room to make it our “nest.” There were the stuffed animals neatly arranged in a herd of fluffiness on top of the blanket chest. There was another small herd of them over the door to the bathroom and there was your Willow Tree angels on your dresser. Everything in our home speaks of neatness, order, stability, care and peace! Then I started weeping. And I wept and wept as I realized how disruptive it is for you to have this very peaceful and personal nest called our home changed yet one more time. I realized more than I ever have before how God has wired you in such a wonderful way. You were created to be a “nester” and to arrange and order your nest with incredible care and skill and then open that nest to others. You were created to settle in, with a remarkable, innate ability to make a home special to you and to those you love. Yet, in the past, I along with others haven’t appreciated or treasured you or this special ability in you. Instead, I have tended to view it more as an obstacle or an annoyance rather than the precious expression of the stability of God that is so much a part of who you are. Forgive me/us for that, please. It will not be that way from me in the future!

I also realize now, more than ever, how much we broken human beings try to make others into our image instead of allowing God to express His infinite uniqueness in a one-of-a-kind way through each person. We do that, I suppose, because we are ourselves unaware of our own special and highly valuable uniqueness and because we are afraid that God can’t be trusted to handle other people! That last remark looks silly as I write it, but it’s true, I think.

But now, having wept many tears on your behalf, although I hear Father reminding me never to live in regret, I also hear Him inviting me to share your pain. I hear Him gently telling me that I have in the past been calloused towards the deep invasion of who you were created to be that a disrupted nest brings to you. And I am appalled at how many times your nest has been disrupted without my having even a clue as to how this violates who you are. By God’s grace, I will not allow this to be so in the future, and I am asking Him even now to help me enter into your pain.

Yes, we both know that we can rebuild the nest again as needed, and we both know that we will grow in our trust in Him through any and every disruption, but I hope never to view the shaking of your nest in the same way that I have in the past. I see now how true it is that "good nesting" and stability are very special gifts and a remarkable expression of how Father has made you, and I therefore also see what a deep and painful shaking it really has been for you to have your nest dismantled so very many times. I will weep, then, as I look at the little herds of fur and at the treasured memories arranged so carefully around the room…


Dear ones, please, please ask God for grace to treasure others... (also, SHMIRLY is short for "See How Much I Really Love You--I figured someone would ask!).

Learning to love as I live loved.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Friday, June 19, 2009

Even more thoughts on faith

I am on the road and on vacation, so I am not sure how coherent this will be, but my blog is one thing that I like to continue even while I am resting. I want to write at least one more entry on faith. I am going to review a bit before I talk about “faith and hearing,” so bear with me, please.
First, remember that faith is meant to be a trusting response, not a reaction to a crisis that leads to our frantic attempts to “build our faith.” Because increasing trust is the soil in which relationships prosper, we will find that God is always desiring to reveal Himself to us in new ways. Some of these ways look like major obstacles when they first arrive on the scene, of course, but our deepening trust in Father’s love and goodness prepare us for each new opportunity to know Him. And because these new opportunities have not been faced before, it is not surprising that we feel inadequate to face them when they arrive. This is why it’s never productive to berate oneself for lack of faith. Rather we can collapse into God’s kindness with anticipation that the needed trust will develop as we walk through our fears into Father’s love.
Because biblical faith is relational in nature, it requires us to hear God, Spirit to spirit, and also to know that He (really) hears us. Relationships are built on communication, so hearing God is absolutely foundational to any growing relationship with Him. The better we hear Him, Spirit to spirit, the greater potential there is for growth in our relationship. John 11:41-42 comes to mind here, where Jesus says to Father, “I know that you always hear me,” because it reveals the depth of intimacy that Jesus knew was possible with His Father. When we couple this passage with John 5:19 and 12:49, we see both sides of the ongoing communication between Father and Son that is a model for us. Yes, it is just as important, friends, to realize that Father is listening to you very intently as it is to learn to listen to Him.
When we talk about faith and hearing, some people will think of Romans 10:17 which is often quoted to encourage people to “read their Bibles” to build their faith. The KJV and NKJV versions make possible this misunderstanding. The NKJV reads, “So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” But this verse is not talking about reading or hearing God’s written word in a way that somehow automatically builds your faith. The context of this verse is the proclamation of the Good News about Jesus, so the “hearing” in the context really is “hearing,” hearing of the message about Jesus. Second, the proclamation of the Gospel in Paul’s day was not merely the sharing of information, rather the message came with demonstrations of supernatural power and the deep convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Faith, therefore, was not a decision to believe an idea but a heart response to a God who showed up in power and invited the hearers to respond to an invitation into a relationship with Him through Jesus.
Why is it important to understand this passage properly? Because it is often misused in a way that actually hinders faith rather than helps it. Yes, God’s written word deposited into our hearts through memorization, meditation and obedience does help to increase our trust in God as a loving Father, but it does so because it reveals His nature and character, which He then certifies in our experience again and again. Also, hearing God’s words to our spirit, although it is (must be) built upon His written word, the latter cannot substitute for the former. God’s written word may increase our “vocabulary” for hearing God and give depth to His voice (and will keep us from error), but it cannot replace the Spirit-to-spirit communication that nourishes our personal relationship with God.
I have written much in earlier blogs about hearing God, so I won’t repeat myself. I just wanted to underscore the place of hearing God in our spirit as a primary means for growing in our trust in Him.
Let me close with some of the words that I sensed God saying to me last December 12, 2008 as I was praying. Maybe you will hear Him speaking to you as well.
Asking apart from a deeper and deeper understanding of and confidence in me, my nature and character, simply cannot bear fruit. But if you will let me lead you into ‘God-confidence’ as you have asked and as I continue to endeavor to do, you will be utterly amazed! But you are just beginning to see, child, and just beginning to live loved, and you have barely started tasting of my goodness and barely gotten your feet wet in my River! Child, I know you want to hurry, because of your love and compassion for others, but you can trust me with them while you learn, and your feeble faith at present, expressed on your initiative independently of me, will gain nothing. Trust me, little one, and take time to savor the revelation of Who I AM. It is more important than any activity that you could possibly engage in. Fly! My Wind won’t let you down, nor will my Wind lead you astray! Enjoy the ride, child, and trust that as you do, I AM changing you! Fly, beloved, fly! Dance, child, dance with me. Feel my embrace as you lean into me! Feel the cool freshness even as you breathe in my goodness!”
Learning to listen to the One who listens most carefully to us,
Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A few more thoughts on faith

Hmmm, I keep getting more things on faith as it is biblically defined, so I will keep writing on it for at least one more entry, possibly more. Perhaps I am writing so much about this because Jettie and I are privileged to be in the "school of trust" right now! Okay, here goes some rambling thoughts.

Faith and fear. Because faith is something that grows as our relationship with the other person grows, it means that it grows only by "being needed." We learn that God is faithful when we see Him prove Himself faithful in our lives when we respond to our fears by turning to Him. This helps us to see that fear, in and of itself, is not bad nor an indication of "weak faith." Fear when it first arrives is simply an invitation to consider where my trust will be placed!

So it's what we do with fear once we realize its presence that will determine whether or not our trust will grow. David, writing during a truly frightening situation said, "Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You." (Psalm 56:3 NKJV). Then, in the next verse he says, "In God I have put my trust; I will not fear."

So living in faith doesn’t mean that we are never afraid. It means that we know to whom to turn when we sense fear/anxiety coming. Yes, over time our trust can grow into a deeper and deeper trust that results in almost unshakeable peace, as I have previously written about, but because faith by its nature must grow, there will often be things that challenge our peace, no matter how deep it is. The difference is that with maturing faith, the fear will become an invitation to run to our Refuge and to re-surrender conrtol rather than the dominating factor in our life. (Is this making sense? I hope so!).

Also, since faith/trust grows only as it becomes necessary, it doesn’t come first or automatically. That’s why filling our minds with Scripture, although helpful, will not automatically build faith. No, faith becomes biblical faith (trust) only when it leads to a decision which leads to "action" (even if the action is to "stand still and wait for God). So even though the revelation of God’s character in His word, the testimonies of other people, the reminders of His work in our lives up to this point--all of these--help us make the decision, they aren’t the decision! By the way, on a related note, my experience is that the "decision" is most often a series of repeated decisions (whenever I am afraid, I will decide again...").

Now the good news here is that God never requires more trust than what is possible for us at the moment, but it will usually “feel” like it’s more than we have because that’s the nature of faith. The struggle we face at those times is one of surrender and release of control. It is at those times that His word and the record of His faithfulness in our life up to that point become helpful reminders that increase the volume of the Holy Spirit's invitation to collapse again into the River of God's sovereign, loving faithfulness.

Now why have I written so extensively about fear and faith? Because I know so many folks who beat themselves up for being afraid. (And sometimes other join in on the party and beat them up as well. Ironically, the only time anyone else "beats up on another" because of their "lack of faith" is because the one doing the beating is him/herself afraid!). But fear is a natural, expected first response to things. It's what we do with the fear that will determine how trust develops in our lives. "Whenever I am afraid, even if it's a hundred times a day, I will decide again to collapse in trusting surrender into Your loving arms!" Remember, dear ones, that God wants you trust Him for your own good, not because He has some kind of need to be trusted or need to control you. He wants you to enjoy the great level of easy trust that exists within the Godhead itself, a trust that is rich with infinite love and immeasurable peace. So beating up on yourself is neither helpful nor required! :-)

Hmmm, this is long enough. I guess next week I will write about the connection between "faith and hearing." Stay tuned...

Living in peace, learning to trust whenever I am afraid...

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Faithfulness to the Skies!

     "I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself." (Psalm 89:1-2)
     "For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies." (Psalm 108:4)
     I have been rather overwhelmed by God's faithfulness of late. In fact, if I am honest, I pretty much remain overwhelmed by His faithfulness. Like Ethan (the author of Psalm 89), I am compelled to make God's faithfulness known, and like David describes in Psalm 108, my experience is that God's love and faithfulness stretch to the skies and beyond. (Interesting, isn't it, how God's love and faithfulness often appear together--I'm sure you can guess why!).
     It is God's faithfulness which is an expression of His love, that invites us into a truly biblical understanding of faith. As you may know, biblical faith is relational to its very core. It is the growing trust that develops as persons get to know one another better and better.
     This is very important for us to grasp. It's particularly important for those of us in the Western World. We need to redefine faith from something that is mostly a head thing into the beautifully relational expression of trust in God that He invites us into. Much of what people have described as faith is more a reactionary attempt to believe God's promises than a heart-response of trust in an infinitely loving and faithful (trustworthy!) God. Thus when sickness or other distress comes to someone, we often find people "trying to build their faith" rather than responding with confident expectancy from a place of deep trust that was already in them because of their knowledge of God in all His love and power. When we truly understand that this whole God journey is a relationship then "building my faith" becomes irrelevant--indeed, counterproductive--because our trust is growing deeper and stronger as we get to know the One whose faithfulness stretches to the skies. Just a thought...
     Wow, I wish I could fully express what is in my heart right now! I so sense Papa God inviting us to allow Him to express His faithfulness to us so that we can walk with Him in confident expectancy all the time (like a trusting little child. Does that sound familiar?).
     I ran across a quote by Andrew Murray recently that expresses what I am saying in a few sentences. It's from his book, Divine Healing: “Remember that faith is not a logical reasoning that obliges God to act according to His promises. It is, rather, the confident attitude of a child who honors his Father and counts on his love. He knows His Father fulfills His promises and is faithful to communicate the new strength that flows from redemption to the body as well as to the soul, until the moment of departure comes.” Wow, there is so much there! Faith is not something that I "use to get God to behave," but is instead the trusting expectancy of a child who really knows his/her Father!
     And then there's this amazing conversation in The Shack (p. 127): "The real underlying flaw in your life, Mackenzie, is that you don't think that I am good. If you knew that I was good and that everything--the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives--is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me..."
     "Mackenzie, you cannot produce trust just like you cannot 'do' humility. It either is or is not. Trust is the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved. Because you do not know that I love you, you cannot trust me."
     Hmmm, so that brings us back to Ethan's and David's declarations that link God's love and faithfulness: God's faithfulness means that He is always, always good and always, always loving! 
     So what now? We cannot, of course, create trust by wishing it into existence. Rather, as the conversation in The Shack goes on to point out, we can only go on living our life in an increasingly surrendered relationship with Papa, Jesus and Holy Spirit, learning to depend on love and faithfulness that reach to the skies!
     Now here's a couple of suggestions for you, if you want to try them. First, do a search on faithfulness in the Bible and ponder what you discover. Second, to help combat the westernized version of "faith," take every place in the NT where you read "believe" and translate it "trust." You will be amazed at how this one little adjustment changes things for you.

Marveling at His faithfulness, trusting in His love...

Tom, Abba's little boy