Friday, November 27, 2009

Ever More Simple

The older I have gotten, the longer I have walked with the Lord Jesus, the simpler and more childlike this life has become, especially during this recent time of great testing.

More than one of you who read this blog have noted how a lot of my entries earlier this year foreshadowed this fearsome test. I caught one of those hints of the future today as I returned to a quote by one of my favorite mentors, Andrew Murray, and it was another epiphany about how simple things have become for me (and how simple they can be for all of us).

It started with an entry in my journal this morning: "Papa, I am beginning truly to believe that you are hearing our prayers, brief though they may be, if we are indeed listening to you and praying as and when you lead! There is much, much more, of course, that you wish to show me. Ah, Papa, how did we make everything so complicated and 'religious' when you have told us all along that it was simple and childlike? Yet you are rescuing me/us and I am so undone, so grateful!" This thought in turn led me to the following from Andrew Murray about prayer, "We are to begin in the patient love of the Father...Think about how His great love understands the poor beginnings of His little ones, clumsy and simple as they may seem to others. All this and infinitely more lies in this blessed relationship! Don't be afraid to claim it as your own!" (With Christ In the School of Prayer, chapter 6).

Can receiving answers to prayer be this simple? I believe the answer is yes--I still believe the answer is yes even given the long season of wrestling that we are experiencing. You see, one frequent temptation for me during this trial has been to make things complicated--fear does that to us, I think. But I have noticed something very important along the way that combats this temptation to complexity: all of God's answers and gifts and thousands of creative ways to bless us have come not through our own heroic effort--indeed, there has been no connection to our effort at all! Instead, as Father again and again gathered me/us into His embrace and invited us to share what was on our hearts, His gifts have come. It seems, then, that when I have been most childlike and have found myself "simply asking," simply trusting that Father has given those good gifts that He promises (Matthew 7:11).

And so, as Brother Lawrence affirmed over 300 years ago, prayer has become increasingly simple (along with all of life, really!). And this morning's wonder at a clear answer to a very simple prayer that began with an awareness of "the patient love of the Father" underscored once again to me our Father's commitment to make all of the Kingdom so simple that it would be fully accessible to babes and children!

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." (Luke 10:21)

Living ever more simply in Father's love,

Tom, one of His children

Friday, November 20, 2009

What is God Like? Evidence of His Kindness

Graham Cooke often says, "God is the kindest Being in the Universe." And as I have reflected this week on last week's question ("What is God like?"), I realized that this time of testing for Jettie and me has provided us with overwhelming evidence that God is indeed kind beyond comprehension. And His kindness extends down to the most minute details of our lives and contains subtle nuances and loving touches on our lives that cause me to bow in stunned worship. Let me illustrate with a couple of touches that Papa recently gave to me.

As you can imagine, Jettie's health battle has caused me to be very much the object of repeated attacks designed to make me afraid. Many times, those attacks succeeded to the point that I would find myself crying out to God while clinging to one of my theme verses, Psalm 56:3, "Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in (lean into, lean upon) You." Two of God's recent responses to my desperate cries deeply touched me with His kindness and attention to detail.

First, a couple of weeks ago I went to bed wrestling with various fears, falling into fitful sleep while calling out to God (whimpering to God?). In the middle of the night, I rolled over and glanced at the clock, which read 3:57. As soon as I did, I heard Papa whisper, "Mark that time." So I did just that, marking in my mind those numbers. In the morning, I realized that it probably pointed to a Bible verse, but I assumed that it would point to something like 35:7 ("Surely there are no chapters that long in the Bible," I thought). But as I began my search for a meaningful 35:7 (Psalms, Isaiah, etc.), I heard Papa say, "No, look at 3:57!"). I did a quick search, not really confident that I was hearing God at that point. But wait! There is one 3:57 in the Bible--in Lamentations! By now I am thinking that this can't be good (Lamentations!), but then I read it: "You came near when I called you, and you said, 'Do not fear.'” I was stunned, and began weeping, not only because of the "spot on" words but because of my wonder at God orchestrating so many things to speak directly to my fears. And as I wept I felt His smile.

The second and more recent evidence I will relate via a journal entry from November 17.

Ah, Father, you take me to the Smith Wigglesworth devotional not to read the entry (although it was good), but to remind me of the Ellel bookmark there with the incredible picture I noticed the other day of a young man holding his baby aloft!
“Yes, little one, so precious to me; you are the child, I AM the Father. Ponder that, my beloved!”
Oh, Father! As I look back at Isaiah 63:9, I see the rest of the verse! “In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.” And then you have me look again at the love-locked gaze between father and child and then at the pictures on my blog where my gaze is lovingly locked on my sons. Ah, Papa! Thank you for reminding me in ways beyond comprehension what it looks like to "live in the Father’s affection." You are an infinitely better and more loving father than I ever could be and yet… I am so undone!

I suppose that some folks might find the above either too "mystical" or too syrupy, but I make no apology for these two stories. They are two of thousands that happen all the time to God's children who have learned to live "loved and listening." For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, God is always speaking, always encouraging, always expressing His love in remarkably consistent and precise ways. And these to me are part of the answer to the question, "What is God like?" He truly is the kindest Being in the Universe!

Finally, I am having second thoughts about the book I mentioned last week (The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford). Although the book has some really good thoughts, it also has some spots where the author tends to obscure or confuse things a bit. No need to illustrate this here, but I just wanted to be sure that if you do read the book, that you read it with the understanding that I am not necessarily recommending it.

Learning to look for His Kindness, even in the storm,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What is God Like?

     A. W. Tozer (and probably many others) points out that how people view God determines what they are like. No surprise there, eh? And now as you pause to think about the behavior of a lot of "Christians" you may be getting a hint as to their view of God!
     Knowing God--growing in our understanding of what He is really like--is important beyond description and is why so many people in the Bible describe their life focus as getting to know God better (Moses said, "Show me your ways." David many times in the psalms says the same thing or something similar. Paul described his life focus as "to know Christ," etc.).
     So what is God like? Obviously one cannot answer this question very well in a single blog post, so let me make just a couple of tiny suggestions in this direction.
     First, what is God like? The best answer to this that I can think of is that God is like Jesus. Jesus said "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:10), and the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus, the Son of God, is the "exact representation of His being..." (Hebrews 1:3). So whenever anyone asks me, "What is God really like?" one of my suggestions is that s/he reads the Gospels over and over asking, "What is Jesus really like?" (Be aware, however, that even when you read the Bible you will bring your own filters to that reading so that some of what Jesus said and did may be misinterpreted by you--but that's a topic for another day!).
     Second, God is like the person He encourages us to be. For some reason, people don't always equate the description of how we are to treat one another, the fruit of the Spirit, the description of how we are to communicate with one another, etc., with what God is like. But all of those things flow out of the nature and character of God. For example, when the Bible tells us that we are to use words that are "helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen," (Ephesians 4:29) or that "strengthen, encourage and comfort" (1 Corinthians 14:3), it is telling us what God sounds like when He speaks to us. And when the Bible describes the fruit that God's Spirit produces in us (Galatians 5:22-23), it is, of course, describing the character of God Himself. You get the picture, I trust.
      I am reading a book right now that does a great job of describing what God is like, taking the fact that God is love (1 John 4:16) and blending it with 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Love/God is patient, Love/God is kind, etc.). I can't fully endorse or recommend The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford, but his main concept of understanding God as how Scripture describes love is a solid truth.
      So, what is God like? He has shown us all along that He is good beyond comprehension, beyond the possibility of our fully experiencing that goodness. Yes, even in the Old Testament He reveals Himself that way. I have probably pointed this out before, but when Moses asks to see the full revelation of God's glory, God answers Him by saying "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you and proclaim my name, Yahweh, in your presence. I am having mercy on those I am having mercy on, and I am having compassion on those I am having compassion on." (Exodus 33:19). Then when God causes His glory (goodness!) to pass by Moses, He says, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7a). And yes, I know it goes on from there to talk about not leaving the guilty unpunished, but I will save that for another discussion--it's probably not what you think it means! What I want to suggest to you is that the phrase "compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love" is indeed God's description of His essence, His very nature (that phrase is repeated in crucial places in the Old Testament, including Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Joel 2:13 and Jonah4:2).
     So...what are people like who know they are treasured by a God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in love? Perhaps a better question for you is, "What is God like to you?" Darin Hufford suggests that for many believers, God looks more like the devil than the One who describes Himself as love! Perhaps Darin is right, but I am certain that this is not the case for those who read this blog, eh?

Learning to live loved by the One who is Love,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, November 6, 2009

Trusting Because We Are Treasured

For obvious reasons, I have been thinking a lot these days about trusting God. Last weekend, as I was preparing for a trip to Pittsburg, I found myself marveling that I sometimes invest more trust in the pilot and crew of an airplane than I do in Papa God! If you stop and think about this, you will realize how ironic it is that we invest total trust into the hands of many, fallible human beings every time we fly. In a sense, we surrender to their expertise and good intentions (and healthy self-interest on the part of the pilot and first officer--they strongly desire a safe flight for personal reasons!).

Now before I go any further, I need to say that yes, my ultimate trust when I fly is in God, not those who fly the plane, maintain the plane, etc., but bear with my illustration for a moment longer, okay? You see, when I first started flying I did not like it at all, and the reason I didn't was that I wasn't in control of my journey (as if I ever really were!). Rather I was trusting my safety entirely into the hands of another. Yet even in my initial fears of flying I never once tried to break into the cockpit and fly the plane. Why? Because even in my fear of trusting myself to another, I knew that I lacked the expertise and experience to fly the plane.

So...if I apply this metaphor to my relationship with Papa, what do I find? I find that in the case of my life, I am invited to surrender to the One who not only has total "expertise" and "experience" (knowing everything counts here, I think), but also to the One who is pure love and goodness. How odd, then, for me to find myself balking at surrender to the One who is love and who can be totally trusted while at the same time gladly getting on airplanes all the time!

So what's the problem here? For me, it often boils down to the fact that something has obscured God's goodness--His treasuring me. If I remember and truly understand that the most powerful being in the Universe also treasures me beyond comprehension, trusting Him becomes easier. And isn't this where the enemy attacks most? From the first temptation until now, his tactic has always been to get us to doubt God's goodness, love and good intentions for us. And if he succeeds in this, we choose independence that leads not only to painful and destructive choices but also to constant fear (sometimes manifesting itself only as a lack of peace, sometimes manifesting itself in overpowering anxiety).

We trust because we are treasured, dear ones, and the more deeply we allow God's Spirit to place His love for us within our deepest parts, the more likely it becomes that trusting surrender becomes our first response to whatever comes our way. (Not than any of us perfects this in this current life--that much I have learned for sure of late!)

A few months ago, as I was reading Danny Silk's book, Loving Our Kids On Purpose, I wrote the following thoughts about trusting surrender based on knowing we are treasured. I close this week's blog with these thoughts.

(June 6, 2009) One new insight from my reading that I need to record is a new view of surrender. Instead of it being surrender to a despot or master who wishes to control me, it is a surrender to the wisdom of the One who loves me most. I have seen this before, of course, and you have told me that when I surrender it is surrender to your goodness, but I saw it more clearly than ever last night as I read. Or perhaps what I saw is how it changes how we view our relationship with you. In your leading us your are not coming to control us but to empower us to live as “partners” and as part of your family—your representatives (as your children) on earth. And your guidance comes to us from One who treasures us beyond comprehension and who desires for us to learn to think and choose, etc.

I am still pondering all this, Pai, as you know, but even as I write I realize that what I am describing is how you have me treat others! Wouldn’t you do this as well, only infinitely more so? And obedience, which is a NT concept that we cannot avoid, is not compliance but surrender to your wisdom in a way that "treasures your heart" to use Danny’s term. And I see from a search on goodness that I was writing about this on March 3, 2008. What is new, I think, is how I am seeing your view of our relationship more clearly in terms of treasuring and esteeming us, valuing our thoughts, etc.

Papa, this is huge, I know, and is a quantum leap away from the master/slave view of Calvinism and most western theology and “Christianity,” but it is clearly a wiser and better picture not only of our life with you but of you as God! And it clearly fits with Exodus 33:19 and so much more! I am undone. The thought of you valuing my thoughts and opinions and inviting me to participate with you—wow!

Papa, this is why it is so important to see you as treasuring us, isn’t it! If we don’t see that, then we cannot have the mature type of relationship with you that you created us for! And yet, even in your treasuring us and choosing to invite rather than coerce, your infinite wisdom is available to us, and only a fool would not want to receive it. And when we treasure you in response to your treasuring love for us, we desire only your honor. Wow!

Enough for this week. Perhaps the next time you get on an airplane you will, as I did, hear Papa's invitation to trust Him because He treasures you!

Tom, one of Abba's children