Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One Thing

"Am I your one thing, little one?" God's voice broke into my musings about the One Thing that Scripture points out so clearly. Wow! I was undone...and I am still pondering, but not in a self-focused sort of way but rather in a manner whereby my heart is reaching towards God in invitation and appeal. "Please, Papa, become so precious to me that I cannot say other than "Yes, Lord God, you are my one thing!"

There is a beautiful thread woven throughout the Bible related to God as our One Thing. One of the first places we see that thread is in the life of Enoch, who so made God his "one thing" that one day God just invited him directly into His eternal presence (Genesis 5:24). Then in Deuteronomy we hear God's invitation to make living in His love the One Thing, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5) and "man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 8:3b). Then it swells to a powerful high point in David's declaration in Psalm 27:4 "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."

In the New Testament, Jesus, of course, lived the perfect "One Thing" life, His life completely consumed with love for and dependence upon His Abba. "“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing." (John 5:19). His life was completely focused on His Father's face, so that He never missed a single glance of His Father's gaze nor a single moment of His Father's purposes. Jesus also invited others to live the One Thing life, most notably in His words to Martha and Mary in John 10:42 "Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The Apostle Paul lived the One Thing life and invited others to imitate him in it. "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14). But is Paul's "one thing" the same as the others? Yes. He defines His "one thing" a few verses earlier as "I want to know Christ..." (Philippians 3:10)

It was all of this that I was pondering this morning, with a sense of wonder at the incredible life that God has invited all of us to live in, a life blinded to anything else, anyone else except Him. A life so consumed with God and His goodness that He cannot be other than our One Thing, capturing us not by our will power but by His sheer, overpowering, persistent goodness!

And then He breaks into my reverie..."Am I your one thing, little one?"

I am so undone...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Worrying about Worry

I grew up in a household of world class worriers. We even learned to worry about not having anything to worry about, thinking we had forgotten some potential (and highly unlikely) tragedy that might happen! Thankfully, as you who read this blog know, I am learning a new lifestyle that is leading me, even in tumultuous times, to give up anxiety through collapse into God's caring embrace. I am still learning to rest in Him, especially right now in the midst of this great challenge with Jettie's health, but I am learning. And I want to pass along something that I think is solidified enough in me to share.

You see, I used to worry about the fact that I worried. I would read Philippians 4:6 and start feeling guilty. Most translations translate the first part of this verse with something like "Don't be anxious about anything" or "Don't worry about anything." What I was hearing Paul say here is that I should never, ever worry about anything. So...I found myself worrying about worry. So what? Well for me what that meant was that I started denying my anxiety, pretending that I wasn't worried when I was! And I got so good at this that I would often find myself unaware of how anxious I really was. This, of course, is not helpful. :-)

Thankfully, God eventually led me to discover that Paul is not saying in this passage, "Don't ever worry." In fact, a careful reading of Paul's letters revealed that Paul himself admits to worry and fear more than once (check out 2 Corinthians 7:5 where Paul writes of "fears within" and also 2 Corinthians 11:28 which the NRSV correctly renders "I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches"). And later on in Philippians, Paul clearly says that he had learned to be content in all circumstances--this clearly implies that he was not always peaceful and contented in all circumstances!

So if Paul didn't mean "Don't ever worry," what does he mean? Good question! What Paul is saying here is "Don't allow anything to cause you to go on worrying about it." Instead, he says, "When your anxiety detector lets you know that you are indeed anxious and filled with worry, make your concerns known to God, with all kinds of praying sprinkled liberally with thanksgiving for all the amazing things God has already done to reveal His love and faithfulness." In other words, Paul wasn't trying to make us feel guilty about the fact that we get anxious about things, he was simply giving us a way to walk away from our fears by pouring our hearts out to God.

I trust you see how this understanding is consistent with the rest of scripture and with a healthy understanding of life itself. Throughout scripture we hear the repeated admonition, "Don't be afraid" given to people who are indeed very afraid. It's as if God is saying, "Ok, you and I both know that you are afraid, but I want you to know that you can give your fears to me now." And this is a much healthier approach to life, I think. Instead of ignoring our fears or feeling guilty about having them, we can freely acknowledge them in God's loving presence and press into His love until we surrender them fully into His care.

Does this mean that we have to live with our fears? Not at all. We can indeed learn to live in deeper and deeper peace. In fact the "book ends" around Philippians 4:6-7 are practices that can help us be less prone to worry (live joyfully, live gently with others, live with increasing awareness that God is near as vv. 4-5 say, plus live in a way that your mind begins to dwell on the good, the positive, etc. as vv. 8-9 say). But even with these bookends more in place, there will come things that test us beyond previous things, and if we are honest our first response when it is a really big test may indeed be fear/anxiety/worry. But we need not worry about being worried. Rather we say to God, "Daddy, I am afraid!" and then patiently unpack our fears in His presence, surrendering to Him in an atmosphere of gratitude and wonder, until that incredible and "irrational" peace comes.

Still learning,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Thursday, September 17, 2009

As Soon As He Hears

Two scriptures that God has raised up a lot for me during this season of testing are Psalm 94:17-19 and Isaiah 30:19. God had me memorize the first passage long ago, but it has taken on fresh and deeper meaning of late. In the NIV it reads, 17 Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. 18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love, O Lord, supported me. 19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. And Isaiah 30:19b says, "How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you."

I cannot describe for you how often these truths have been displayed in our lives over these past few weeks. As we have faced the up and down of medical challenges, doctor's reports, etc., again and again, Father God has responded to our cry for help. So many times when fear would be taking hold of my heart and everything in me was wanting to "fix things" or "make something happen" (totally impossible under the circumstances), I would hear an invitation from God simply to cry out to Him and then surrender again to His loving embrace. And even though it seemed so counter-intuitive to do so, every time I surrendered instead of continuing to wrestle or make my fears go away, He would come and bring His peace with Him. Amazing! And I am not sure I am even beginning to do justice to what we have been experiencing. Suffice it to say that when I said, "My foot is slipping!" God's love did in amazing ways support me.

This in turn has made me think of another passage that many people have sent our way as we walk through this crisis: "Be still (cease striving) and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10). Again, it isn't "natural" to cease striving and simply collapse when things are coming against us, but when we collapse into God, He always reveals Himself in fresh ways.

This all reminds me of the quote that I have given before from Emma Murray (Andrew Murray's wife). I leave you with her thoughts, even as I will admit that I am still very much learning to live them out in the furnace of life's challenges!

"There is a step higher than just looking forward to Heaven. We may have our life so in Christ that even here below we may enjoy peace and happiness in Him which no earthly events can shake or destroy. And it is not by despising or trampling upon earthly things, but living above them, willing and loving to live for His glory and the good of others, and counting it all joy even in tribulation for His sake.
"God means us to know and experience that perfect peace and quiet of mind under all circumstances
is possible. Nothing interferes more with work or renders it more difficult than fretting or worrying. In such a state of mind we can do nothing well. We must in a childlike way acknowledge God's will in everything with His peace in our hearts and a truly humble walk with God, bowing to his will....
"All this is attainable through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God, through receiving Christ as our Sanctification as well as our Justification. It is through an entire, unconditional surrender of ourselves to Him and an entire cessation from our own efforts and works, while waiting for the suggestions and influences of the Holy Spirit. And through believing in His indwelling and expecting His guidance even in the minutest concerns of our daily life."

Learning to collapse, learning to listen,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, September 11, 2009

Who Defines Love?

Jettie and I are learning a ton about God's love for us right now, but most of it is still too fresh and precious to write about, especially since we continue to walk this journey into wholeness. (We did get really good news today, though!) But I have one thought that I think Papa wants me to share about allowing Him to be the One who defines what love looks like.

Many of us as children probably said at one point, "If you really loved me, you would ____." (Or if we are parents, we may have heard it from our children!) As I have watched God demonstrate His love for us in very special ways these past few weeks, I have come to realize that I still sometimes say that to Him. But my choosing to define what His love should look like is a dead end road. Anytime I find myself questioning God's love for me, I know I have headed down this dead end road!

For love to be freely and properly expressed, the Lover must be allowed to define what that love looks like and how it is expressed. There are a number of reasons for that, of course, even in the realm of human love, but especially in terms of God's love for us. Consider the following.
1. If I decide how God is supposed to behave in terms of His love for me, I will miss many if not most of His expressions of love for me simply because my "filter" prevents me from seeing His love.
2. Since love is about receiving and trusting and surrendering, if I am the one who defines what love looks like, I am the one in control and my control will block my ability to receive what God is freely offering me!
3. In God's case, He alone knows how best to express His love for us. Our limited ability to see, understand, etc., keeps us from having any real clue as to what we really need. God in His perfect love and "Godness" and perfect goodness, however, can always see everything and always does what is best for us (He really is a GOOD FATHER). So...who do I really want defining what love looks like, eh?

I remember as a parent how odd it felt for my sons to question our love for them (which they didn't do very often). Jettie and I knew that we loved them without limit and that we were always seeking to do what was best for them. How odd, then, for them to question that. How much more odd and unwise it is, then, for me to question the love of the Perfect Parent! May God help us all to start with "God is love" (period!) and then live lives that allow Him to define and express His love as He knows best. My guess is that living that way will open up new understanding of His wonderful love in thousands of ways. His love will explode onto the scene of our lives in ways that stagger us with its sheer goodness and power!

"I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all of the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know (by experience) this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God!" (Ephesians 3:17b-19).

Falling into His embrace, especially when it's dark.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

God's Symphony

Jettie and I continue to be in a pitched battle, so this will again be brief. As I mentioned last week, I hardly feel qualified to write anything at this point, sort of like the great church father, Augustine as he lay dying. It is said that he caught a glimpse of heaven before he finally passed on and upon catching that glimpse said of all his writing: "It's just straw, just straw!" So here's my offering of straw for this week.

"But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body." (I Corinthians 12:18-20 NIV)

I have pondered for quite some time the wonder of God's symphony: His arrangement of His people in a way that creates beautiful music when each part finds the joy and freedom of simply playing his/her part in the musical score. Paul describes this symphony in the quote above in terms of the Body of Christ--a better metaphor than a symphony for sure, but looking at Christ's body as a collection of musical instruments has helped me see some things that I had missed before. Let me elaborate a bit.

In a symphony, each instrument is unique (even those of the same type) and adds its own unique sound to the music. And a truly beautiful score requires all of the instruments to play at some point or another, sometimes together, sometimes individually. Each instrument can and gets to play only the part made especially for it: a tuba cannot play the flute's part, the cymbal cannot play the clarinet's part, etc. And when all the instruments are playing their parts according to the direction of the conductor, the result is truly beautiful music--a symphony that brings joy to those who hear and honor to the Conductor and Composer!

I am writing in a metaphor, of course, but here's the bottom line for all of us: First, no one else can play your part! God has designed you in a wonderfully unique way and reserved a part in His symphony that only you can fill. His symphony is diminished if your unique part isn't played. This tells us all just how truly significant each of is in God's musical score. Second, you don't have to play anyone else's part. How liberating is that thought?! Instead of wishing you were something else or striving to be something you were not created to be, you get to be you as God intended. Third, the Conductor can be trusted to show you how and when your part is to be played. (The jazz-loving part of me believes that this might include some improvisation, but I will save that for a later blog--for now, just know that you can trust the Holy Spirit to lead you in a way that liberates you to play wonderfully in God's symphony.

That's it. Maybe a bit fuzzy, but I hope to have conveyed in some small way how treasured and important you are in God's grand scheme of things! And that in turn, hopefully, will help you treasure others as well.

Listening for the next note...

Tom, one of Abba's children