Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What If I am Rufus!!

"Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too." Romans 16:13 NIV

There is a natural and good tendency in most of us to identify with some of the characters in a story that we read or hear. Thus as a child (yes, I still remember my childhood) I found myself drawn into the stories in such a way that I was Superman or the heroic cowboy, etc.

This natural tendency, given by God, also works when we read scripture, of course. So it is that we become Abraham or Sarah, Deborah or David, Peter or John, the Apostle Paul or Barnabas, as we read Bible stories. There is much that is good about this. The Bible itself tells us that the stories are there as an example for us, and identifying with the characters helps move the example past our head into our hearts. And certainly as we read the Gospels it's powerfully compelling to place ourselves in the story as we read or listen to them. And Paul says, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ," something that isn't possible without some degree of identification with him.

But there is also a little danger involved in identifying with someone like Moses or David or Peter or Paul, I think. It's the danger of so identifying with a "larger than life" figure like these that we lose sight of our calling to become our own unique but not-so-visible expression of God's image. In other words, if I am called to be me and not Paul or Peter or John, then I must be careful not to try to walk in a path that only they were supposed to walk. It will only frustrate me to try to be a "five talent man" like Paul when in fact I am one who has been given 1/2 talent!

What I am getting at is that I have met oodles of believers who are frustrated because they try to be just like Peter, etc., when in fact they are not Peter. Peter was the only one of his kind! And as one of the 12 chosen by Jesus, he was a rare person indeed! Jesus had hundreds of followers (over 500 of them saw Him after His resurrection according to Paul), but only 12 of them were chosen to be in that original apostolic band. What if I am more like Zacchaeus, or Lazarus or Rufus or Rufus' mother? Can I give myself permission to be more "ordinary" but just as important in the overall scheme of things? Is it okay to go down in God's history as the one someone else simply identifies as "chosen in the Lord"? Or for you ladies, is it okay to go down in God's history as someone "who was a mother" to others?

I am not suggesting that we shouldn't aspire to become all that God has meant us to be. Rather I am suggesting that I allow God to be the one who defines that. For me that has meant taking a longer look at some of the less visible people in Scripture: one of the unnamed 300 men that went with Gideon, the unnamed servant girl who told Naaman's wife about Elisha, the unnamed prophet who anointed Jehu (see 2 Kings 9), and yes even Rufus! It has also meant giving myself permission to learn from great men and women without pressuring myself to measure up to the huge calling they had. And finally, it has meant "reading between the lines" to discern the wonder of the uniqueness of every person's role in God's unfolding story. That helps me be more comfortable in my skin, yes, but even more importantly it helps me honor each person I meet as an equally important part of the journey, whether or not they are visible or seemingly"important."

Just thinking...

Tom, aka "Rufus" one of God's less visible children

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Where Our Confidence Lies

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah (Psalm 46:1-3)

I didn't want to go there, back 5 months in my journal where Papa was leading me, because I knew that was right at the start of the terrible/wonderful journey into healing that Jettie has been on. I knew I would read there many reminders of just how weak and how much pain my beloved was in at that time. But Father was gently insistent, so I found the entry for August 21, 2009, and I was riveted by what I saw there, especially the reference to Psalm 46.

You see I have been pondering for several days now the undeniable fact that true wholeness and rest can only be found when we learn to place our confidence in God alone, and I mean in God alone (not what He does, not what He gives, etc.). Others have said this along the way, of course (starting with the Psalmist!). A.W. Tozer, in his towering work, The Knowledge of the Holy, talking about Abraham's faith in receiving the promise of a son, says: "so do we base our hope in God alone and hope against hope till the day breaks. We rest in what God is" And Graham Cooke can often be heard telling us that our confidence must lie only in "Who God is, not what He does; in His nature and character, not His actions."

This is not to say, of course, that faith is blind. As I have written earlier, God very much shows up in tangible ways to reveal Himself when the Gospel is properly presented. But because biblical faith is the trust that grows out of our deepening intimacy with God, it by definition can only rest on God Himself (a person) and His character, not on our perception of His "behavior." I am convinced, as you probably are, that what God is doing is always good, very good, but the fact is, my understanding is so limited that I am likely to misinterpret what He is doing even when it "looks good" from my perspective. And when things don't look good from my perspective, I find myself blind to His work and prone to despair if my confidence rests anywhere besides in Him, who He has revealed Himself to be.

Now the challenge with this, of course, is that circumstances are so much easier to experience and see than the intangible goodness of God. And this material world with its experiences good and bad seems so very real! How then am I to trust in an invisible God? Yes, I can look at His acts in the past to see a pattern of His faithfulness, and I can read about his faithfulness and goodness in Scripture, but at some point I am face to face with a decision to cling simply to Him, not my understanding of these things.

So how do you do this? Perhaps it's different for everyone, but I am learning to give expression to my fears to Him (even when it feels like He is not there). And I am learning to collapse into Him even when I cannot sense His presence. I simply choose as best I can (which is often a pretty shaky choice) to come, rest, collapse, lean on, wait. And then He comes...often not as I expect but He always comes... And I find myself again quoting Psalm 94:17-19 (see my entry for September 17, 2009).

But it can't be that simple, can it? Ah, but it is. It has to be simple because God wants to be accessible to the simplest and most childlike of us. "When I said, 'My foot is slipping!' your love, O LORD, supported me." (Psalm 94:18). "You came near when I called you, and you said, 'Do not fear.'" (Lamentations 3:57).

How does this apply to you? Part of that only you can answer. But I am also convinced that God is giving western Christians a huge gift in the shaking of everything unreliable that we have typically placed our confidence in (money, political process, knowledge, etc.). And whenever everything is shaken He stands ready to receive us and personally be our refuge.

Note that you can sort of tell where your confidence really lies by what keeps coming up as your recurring fear! (Think about it). You can also determine where your confidence really lies by where you run to first in times of trouble. I mention this not to condemn you but to invite you to examine your fears, taking them into Papa's presence and allowing Him to shift your confidence to Him. :-)

Just "thinking out loud" this time, I guess. I hope you hear Father's invitation to examine where your confidence lies so that you can rest in Him.

Finally, just so you know, Jettie's symptoms are gone and we live in the expectancy that the doctors will soon certify her healing. We thank you for and welcome your continuing prayers.

Learning to place my confidence in Him alone.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Compelled by Love to Follow Him

"So they pulled their boats to shore, left everything and followed him." (Luke 5:11).

What was it about Jesus that caused Andrew, Simon (Peter), James and John to walk away from everything and follow Him? It was, I believe, the compelling love and undeniable power they experienced in Jesus' presence.

I used to believe that Jesus just walked up to these fishermen, called to them to follow HIm and they just up and left without any discernible reason. Now, of course, I know that long before Jesus called him by Sea of Galilee, Andrew had, along with John (we think), spent an entire day with Jesus, and that day in His presence convinced both Andrew and John that Jesus was Messiah. So spending a day in Jesus’ presence led to an openness to “discipleship” for Andrew and John and probably Simon and James as well. And during that first encounter with Jesus, Simon experienced powerfully experienced Jesus’ love because it was in that first encounter that Jesus “rocked” Simon’s world by giving him a new name, “Rock”! (see John 1:35-42 for the whole story). So all four of these men who were later invited by Jesus to leave everything and become "fishers of men" were men who had first been touched by Jesus' love in some life-altering way.

Secondly, when Jesus gave the invitation to these men to leave all and follow Him, it was in the context of miraculous power. Before He gave the invitation to follow Him, He demonstrated His power by the miraculous catch of fishes that Simon experienced and led to his acute awareness of his sinfulness! (See Luke 5:1-11 for the whole story).

So what compelled these men to become His disciples? It was, in my opinion, the compelling love they (and most others) felt when in His presence, plus the unmistakable demonstration of His power.

So what you say? What if that is still the case? What if the reason “following Jesus” is so hard for most Christians is that they are doing so without a tangible encounter of His compelling love and an undeniable experience of His power that He brings when He comes? What if the the intended "method" for making disciples is to begin with an experience of Jesus' presence that oozes love and power? It is sad to me that so many people “try harder” to be followers of Jesus in a vacuum where He mostly an idea rather than an experienced, supernatural Presence. And I wonder if it would see more disciples (Dallas Willard calls them "apprentices") if the encounter we owe people with Jesus' love and power were our first means of invitation.

Just wondering...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I am reading another remarkable book by Danny Silk, Culture of Honor. I am not done reading it yet, so I am not saying that I recommend it to you, but it does contain some amazing insights and so far mostly rings true with my understanding of Father God and His Word.

One thing I truly love about the book (and Danny's previous book, Loving Our Kids On Purpose) is Danny's reminder that we are to live as people of the NEW Covenant, as people who are truly forgiven and no longer subject to condemnation or punishment. To make this point in his latest book, Danny coins a new term: "Un-punishable." It's amazing, though, how many believers and churches still live in atmosphere of behavior-orientation that is expecting punishment and ready to mete it out on those who get out of line. This completely misses the point of the Gospel, of course, and leads to the "practice of the Christian religion" rather than the passionate living out of the life of the Kingdom of love.

But are we really un-punishable? Has God indeed laid upon Jesus the punishment that brings us peace? (See Isaiah 53:5). Sounds like it to me. See what you think. 1 John 4:18-19 (NIV) says, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us." It seems to me that John is telling us that the more we grasp Father's love for us, the more we move away from the idea that He is waiting and wanting to punish us.

I suppose we could list many reasons why punishment needs to be taken out of the way in order for us to be in healthy relationship with God and one another, but one that stands out to me is how punishment (and the focus on behavior related to it) speaks of coerced behavior, something designed to make me do something. You see, I am sure, that loving relationships can never be forced or compelled by outward pressure. In this we see the amazing kindness of God, don't we!! He so wanted a loving relationship with us that He paid the ultimate price to remove punishment from the equation so that our lives would honor Him because of our ever growing love for Him. And that ever growing love is a response to our ever increasing knowledge of His love for us (Ephesians 3:14-21 comes to mind here).

It's important to remove fear from the relationship equation. Relationships also require trust and fear is the opposite of trust. Furthermore, fear leads to a desire to control, and once control kicks in we eliminate the possibility for a loving relationship (at least temporarily) because we are back to coercing something that cannot be coerced! Danny has a really good paragraph on this that I want to close my thoughts with this week. It will give you a brief slice of some of the content of this thought-provoking book.

"When we are afraid, we want control, and our responses to the sin of other people are a set of controls that help us feel like we are still in charge. The typical practices of the family, churches and the government are to set a series of behaviors called punishments in front of an offender and require the offender to walk through these in order to prove that the family, churches, and government are still in charge in the environment. In doing so, we help to confirm the belief in the person who has chosen to sin that he or she is powerless to change and take responsibility for his or her behavior. This whole business is just what Jesus died to get rid of. He's introduced a whole other world with a whole other way." (p. 93)

Learning to be less afraid as I learn that I am loved,

Tom, one of Abba's children