Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Golden Strand of Father's Love

Jettie and I continue to be overwhelmed by the expressions of God's love to us through this season of testing. Some day, on the other side of victory, I may chronicle some of the thousands of ways He has expressed His love to us, but today I simply want to share my wonder at how the thread of awareness of God's love (and genuine affection for us, for you, for me) has been woven through church history.

Some people may think that "living loved" (Wayne Jacobsen's term) is something that was known in biblical times and then basically disappeared until recently when Father God began reviving intimacy with Him among His people. Not so! I have already given this quote from Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite lay brother, who lived over 300 years ago! Brother Lawrence clearly caught God's affection for him as we can see from this quote from his second letter. "I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King; touched with a sensible regret I confess to Him all my wickedness, I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence." (This was first quoted in my March 26, 2008 blog).

Now let me introduce you to someone you may or may not have met who discovered God's affectionate love even before Brother Lawrence: Lady Julian of Norwich. Lady Julian was born in 1342! That's quite a while ago, eh? But listen to just a few quotes from her and see if you catch her understanding of living loved.
“…love is nearest to us all. And this is the knowledge of which we are most ignorant; for many men and women believe that God is almighty and has power to do everything, and that he is all wisdom and knows how to do everything, but that he is all love and is willing to do everything—there they stop. And this ignorance is what hinders those who most love God; for when they begin to hate sin, and to mend their ways… there still remains some fear which moves them to think of themselves and their previous sins. And they take this fear for humility, but it is foul ignorance and weakness. … for it comes from the Enemy, and it is contrary to Truth. … It is God’s wish that we should place most reliance on liking and love; for it makes God’s power and wisdom very gentle to us; just as through his generosity God forgives our sins when we repent, so he wants us to forget our sins and all our depression and all our doubtful fear.”

Pretty amazing, eh? And there are many others down throughout history, even in the darkest periods of church history who lived in God's affectionate embrace and encouraged others to do the same. Religion, with its terrible orientation towards performance, always seeks to squelch the power and simplicity of living embraced by Father's affection, but there has always been a witness, a golden strand, of God's love rising from the quagmire of the "religion of Christianity."

How does this apply to you? Why not read the quotes from Brother Lawrence and Lady Julian again and ask God to show you? Maybe you will be invited to probe even more deeply into an infinite love that pursues you only to shower you with kindness. Will you yield to His stubborn advances?

Tom, one of Abba's children

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sidelined Into What Really Matters

First, for you non-sports types, to be sidelined is to be taken out of the game and put on the sidelines because of injury, poor performance or change in game strategy, etc.

From the perspective of some, I have been "sidelined" twice this year: first when budget cuts moved my denominational role to a voluntary status (i.e., I was laid off) and more recently when Jettie and I faced a crisis in her health (which God is winning) that required me for several weeks to give virtually of my attention to caring for her and the household. But from my perspective (and God's, I think), I have been taken out of the "game" (what didn't matter nearly as much as one would think!) to the things that really matter.

The first sidelining, earlier this year, allowed me time to pursue God and follow His leading with absolutely no restrictions. How amazing is that!!!? I also found myself getting to examine what really matters in terms of living more simply, more freely. So I was indeed sidelined into things that really matter.

But this latest trip to the sidelines has been a far more incredible journey into what really matters. More than once as I have rubbed Jettie's back to help with her pain I have whispered to her things like, "I cannot believe how privileged I am to be allowed to serve you like this! Not many husbands get to love their wives like this." and "Do you realize how sacred and holy such times like this are--wow! And we sense God's presence so strongly right now."

Now lest you think I am some sort of super-husband, let me assure you that there were also many times where I would moan and whine about the stress, the work load, the stretching (grocery shopping at Wal-mart about did me in the first time). But overall, throughout this journey I have had this deep conviction that more than any previous time in my life, I am doing what matters. And God seems quite bent on reinforcing that thought very regularly. Just yesterday as I was serving Jettie at a time I usually hang out with Him in the Secret Place, He whispered to me, "You are worshiping me right now, child!" (Later I thought of Hebrews 13:16).

So today I find myself marveling at God's kindness. A few years ago I would not have been able to see what I see so clearly now. I was still in "The Matrix" that illusory world of performance-based religion that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. My worth was tied up in what I did, and what I did had to be "impactful" and visible and ...well, you get the picture. But Father has done something wonderful in me over the past few years in spite of my stubbornness at times: He as given me the gift of living loved and of beginning to believe what He says about me/us. I am filled with wonder and gratitude even as I write these words, and I grieve for those who still believe that I have been taken out of the game...

By the way, a man named Roberston McQuilkin walked this kind of journey for far longer and to much greater depths than I have and gave up everything to care for his wife, Muriel, during her descent into dementia and death. You can read his amazing story in his book, A Promise Kept. I haven't read the book, but I was very aware of his story as he walked it out, and I can assure you that this man knew what it meant to give himself to what really matters (and that in the face of voices who questioned why he would leave "important position and influence" just to care for his wife).

Enough for now. I again recommend that you read Bo's Cafe if you haven't done so. I may post a few more thoughts about it next week.

Caring more and more about what really matters,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tom's Reading Right Now

Most of you know that I read quite a bit. I am more selective than I used to be, reading now mostly things that I sense God leading me to, but I still read a lot. And since I don't have a lot of time this week to post something, I thought I would share some of what I have just read or am in the process of reading. I am only listing things that I highly recommend.

First, I just finished a re-read of TrueFaced by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol and John Lynch. I am seeing it now through the eyes of someone I am now mentoring, and that has reinforced my conviction that this book is a must read for those who want to understand healthy community in Jesus. The same authors have just released a novel built around the truths of their first book call Bo's Cafe (published by Windblown Media). It's a truly great read and in some ways more powerful in presenting the "true faced message" than the original book. Try it, you will like it if you like reading my blog.

I am also re-reading one of my all time highest recommended books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

I have also recently re-read my top recommended books, The Shack and So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore. In the midst of this healing journey that Jettie and I are on, I needed to be reminded again of Father's great love and trustworthiness, and these two books do a great job of reminding!

Also because of Jettie's healing journey, I have been re-reading books that build faith, so Andrew Murray's Divine Healing is getting another read along with The Wigglesworth Standard by Peter Madden (a truly great book if you like Smith Wigglesworth!). Two other books that are new discoveries for me (thanks, Steve Schell!) are some classics by Dr. Charles S. Price, The Real Faith for Healing and The Meaning of Faith. These both are remarkable faith builders in the best possible way--no hype, no performance orientation, just biblical truth clearly presented and supported with great stories.

Finally, I have probably never mentioned Robert Whitlow in my blog, but I enjoy his fiction a great deal. He is an attorney who writes with a wonderfully supernatural emphasis. I have recently re-read The List, The Trial and Mountain Top. If you like stories that center around the legal profession, you may enjoy these.

I could go on. As I said, I do read a lot, but these are books that I have culled out from many and can recommend to you if you have a hankering for some reading.

Stay lost in Papa's love,

Tom, one of His children

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Imitate or Follow?

One of the most arresting discoveries God has led me into over these past few years is the lack of conversation in the New Testament about leadership. With all the emphasis in the western church on leadership, one would expect to find discussions about leadership on every page of the New Testament. But that is simply not the case. Apart from Jesus' defining leadership as slavery (not just serving), there is very little mention of "leaders" in the New Testament. (Leadership is simply one gift among others mentioned in Romans 12). In fact, as far as I know, Jesus alone specifically invited people to follow Him, and it appears that the early believers (healthy ones at least) did not think of themselves of followers of anyone except Jesus (the immature and carnal believers in Corinth being the glaring exception).

I could suggest many reasons why the NT doesn't emphasize leadership, but others have done a better job of that than I could ever do (check out Wayne Jacobsen's stuff at www.lifestream.org). I will say, though, that I strongly believe that the main problem with emphasizing leaders/leadership is that it subtly pulls people away from dependence upon the only One whom we are to follow. Anything that creates dependence upon me rather than Jesus is working contrary to the purposes of God and your needing to follow me creates that kind of dependence. (Yes, I know that many will disagree with me on this, but it's an uphill battle to win that argument.)

On the other hand, there is an emphasis in the New Testament upon living a life that is to be "imitated." Not only does the Apostle Paul plainly say this in 1 Corinthians 11:1 "Imitate me as I imitate Christ," his writings are filled with references to his life as an example ("You know how ... and check out 1 Corinthians 4:16-17!).

I think you can see how following my example or allowing the impact of how I live my life in Jesus to shape you is very different from "following me as a leader." The first is an invitation into my life that allows you to see life in Jesus lived out with an authenticity that doesn't create dependence upon me but does create hope in you that this Jesus life is possible. But the second, "follow me," creates dependence upon me, diminishing your felt need to hear God for yourself, and it also allows for pretense because I can lead folks to a lot of places without allowing them into my life!

This brings me to the questions I like to ask those who are called "leaders." First, if someone were to live with you 24/7, having access even to your thought life, would they want to be like you? Second, if not, why not, given the emphasis upon modeling in the New Testament? Note that saying "yes" to the first question doesn't imply the need for perfection, just authenticity and a genuine conformity of one's life to the leadership of Jesus by His Spirit. Neither does it imply superiority or better anything, just the fact that one has been living the life of dependence upon Jesus in a way that can be seen. Neither do I mean anything that smacks of self-effort. Review my first few entries on "Be Like Jesus" in the blog (2007) to catch my heart in how we become people others can imitate (and/or read books like Grace Walk or True Faced, etc.)

May God deliver us from "leaders" and grant us instead servants (slaves, really) whose lives we can enter and whom we will want to imitate as they imitate Jesus.

Tom, one of Abba's children