Friday, July 30, 2010

The Real Battle

From my journal this morning: "As I peeked at some of my blogs ("What is God Like," parts 1-2, November 2009), I realized once again that the battle almost always seems to center on who you really are and what you are really like. And the image most folks have of you virtually guarantees that they will struggle to trust you. No wonder the enemy works so hard to obscure your love and kindness!

The long battle Jettie and I have been in and are still in has made the simple things of the God journey more and more clear to me, I think. And the battle for God's character has been at the center of much I am learning. Is He really good? If He is, then I can trust Him even when I don't understand things around me ("LORD, those who know you will trust in you." Psalm 9:10 NIRV) . But if He is like what many people think He is like, who can really trust Him? And without growing trust, how can we fulfill our destiny which is to be in relationship with Him forever? Bottom line for me of late is that I am realizing that I desperately need Father God to be showing me who He really is and where my perception of Him is still faulty. The frequent plea in scripture, "Show me your ways" therefore has taken on new meaning. It is a cry to know what God is like, not a request for direction!

As I have pondered this, I remembered that section in The Shack where Mack is with Sophia (Wisdom) for "judgment." I pick up the dialog starting on page 161.
"You must choose two of your children to spend eternity in God's new heavens and new earth, but only two."
"What?" He erupted, turning to her in disbelief.
"And you must choose three of your children to spend eternity in hell."
Mack couldn't believe what he was hearing and started to panic.
"Mackenzie...I am only asking you to do something you believe God does."

This dialog continues for quite some time, but in the end Mack begs to be sent to hell in place of his children. It is there, of course, that "the lights come on." Sophia commends Mack for sounding like Jesus and for judging well. When Mack says that he hasn't judged anything, Sophia's answer is riveting and revealing: "Oh, but you have. You have judged them worthy of love, even if it costs you everything. That is how Jesus loves."

Can you trust a God like that? Who demonstrated His love to us while we were still rebels (Romans 5:8); who loves and blesses even His enemies (Matthew 5:44-45); who readily forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin (Exodus 34:7a)? In the earlier blogs I referenced at the top I noted that God is like what He desires for us to be like (only perfect), so the sections on love, fruit of the Spirit, showing mercy and grace, etc., are pale but accurate reflections of His goodness. (God is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled!). Yes, we can trust One who is like that!

"So...whenever trust begins to erode in me, Father, please once again 'Show me your ways.' Anything that suggests that you are cruel, vindictive, delighting in evil, unkind, etc., is a lie stirred up by the evil one who hates you and us with never-ending malice! Ah, Papa. This world (and my world right now) is filled with things that would make me question your goodness, and I would be easily led there except that in your goodness you are holding onto me and pursuing me with unspeakably great kindness and love! Thank you, my Abba!"

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, July 24, 2010

God Shouts In Our Pain

It was C.S. Lewis who said that God "shouts in our pain." That phrase has come to my mind again today, as it has many times in the past several months.

Today I write more from a place of pain than anything else, yet I am amazed at how Papa is shouting to me. I have written about some of His "shouting" in past blogs (August 26 and November 20, 2009, and January 21 of this year come to mind), but each of the previous times I was writing from a better looking place than the view I am currently experiencing. Yet Papa continues to shout encouragement to me, and I am so undone by this evidence of His stubborn, pursuing love.

It is common, of course, to think that God stops communicating when things get rough, or that He whispers while pain and the enemy shout, but how sad that would be if it were true! Thankfully, the truth is that God not only shouts when the storms threaten to drown out His voice, He shouts at just the right time with just the right words! All we have to do is pay a wee bit of attention once we "hear" His shouting. Today, for example, everywhere I was looking, I was being reminded of key scriptural promises God has given to us. He was using glances at the clock, license plate numbers that just happened to be on the car in front of me, emails and FB comments, etc. I would have to be really beyond reach not to hear Him right now!

Isn't this just what we would anticipate a good parent doing? Any time a good parent sees that the noise is threatening to drown out what her/his child needs to hear, s/he raises the volume and intensity. And the greater the danger and the larger the need, the louder and more pervasive the communication will be until the message gets through!

Now a child can still choose to ignore their parent's voice, of course, but I for one don't wish to do that. And so I come, listening as best I can and stopping to fix my gaze on where the Speaking Voice is coming from. Then His peace comes, His face begins to blot out the false perceptions and His truth begins to replace "the facts" (as I perceive them).

Thank you, Papa, for shouting today until you got my attention. I long for the day when I can hear your whisper in the storm, but I am unspeakably grateful that for now you shout!!!

"Unless the LORD had given me help, I would have soon dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, 'My foot is slipping!' Your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul." (Psalm 94:17-19 NIV).

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, July 16, 2010

Blind Faith?

The farther I go on this healing journey with Jettie, the more I am convinced that I know nothing! It is said that Augustine as he lay dying was granted a vision of heaven before he fully departed and that as his eyes were fully opened to God's reality he exclaimed something to the effect that "all my works are as straw." That's sort of how I feel these days, and it's a good feeling not to have confidence in oneself, believe me, although it is also unsettling to say the least! I am not sure why it is so, but it seems much easier to trust in the unreliable perceptions I have of things than the certainty of Father's declarations, but I have discovered that He is faithful to pursue me with His love and truth until I trust Him a little more.

So...I have been drawn once again to ponder what it means to trust God, to "have faith in God." And since I don't know anything I want to share a couple of remarkable thoughts from others who have been forged in God's furnace enough to have something to say about faith.

My basic premise for this blog entry, as the title suggests, is that there is no such thing as blind faith for a believer. I have written about this earlier (January of this year, I think), but I ran across a couple of remarkable thoughts about faith being rooted in a greater reality (and therefore not blind) that I want to share with you.

First, J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler write about a reality that is so compelling that "not believing" seems foolish. Ponder their words from In Search of a Confident Faith, pp. 22-23.
"Merely exhorting people to be more committed to God--'just have more faith'--seldom produces greater confidence and dedicated trust in God. Rather, what is needed is a realistic picture of a flourishing life lived deeply in tune with God's kingdom--a life that is so utterly compelling that failure to exercise greater commitment to life in that kingdom will feel like a foolish, tragic missed opportunity for entering into something truly dramatic and desirable."
What I hear in these words, among other things, is that trusting God is not something we have to do blindly, but rather the compelling example of others before us and around us who live "flourishing lives lived deeply in tune with God's Kingdom" helps us to "see." Can you think of those who have lived before you and who are now around you who enable you to see? Just wondering...

The second statement that negates the idea of "blind faith" is from one of those people who has gone before us and who lived the compelling life of faith. His name is F.F. Bosworth, and he was a remarkable man of faith whose life and ministry of evangelism was marked by the miraculous. I was captured just this morning by his beautiful picture of what it means to walk by faith, not by sight (and yet, as you will see, he doesn't think of faith as blind but as seeing beyond the current world!). In Christ The Healer, he writes, "The great spiritual realities and facts that God sees and tells us about are just as real as though we could see them with natural eyes. Because of God, His faithfulness, and His promises, faith is the surest ground possible to stand on. To the man who is not enlightened or who does not see the promise of God, it is stepping out into space. To those who who have faith in God's Word, it is walking on the foundations of the universe." (italics mine).

I have nothing more to add this week. I know nothing, nothing, nothing! :-) But I am content to rest on what I am learning and am asking God to enable me more and more to walk on the "foundations of the universe."

Walking but not blindly,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, July 9, 2010

Simple Church Reflections????

Any of you who follow my blog may have noticed that the title of my blog doesn't really match what I write, at least not in an obvious sort of way. I suppose that's because when I started writing I was still detoxing from the previous misconceptions of what life in Jesus and His family is all about (and I am not done, of course). But I figure if I changed the title now it will make things worse, so ...

I also want to thank you for your patience with me. I know the last few posts have been rather disjointed, a reflection of how our lives have been of late. Today, though, I am going to try to be more coherent :-) And I am also actually going to "reflect on church at its simplest"!

Although I am hardly a "purist" when it comes to simple, organic church, I do ponder from time to time how form (or more accurately the thinking that it gives birth to and expresses) can either hinder or help folks grow in their relationship with God. My own preference, as you know, is to think of God's family in the very simplest of terms, similar to what Wayne Jacobsen describes in his writing and speaking. But I find myself often in all kinds of "church" settings and choose not to pass judgment. Rather I like to ask questions or make a few observations.

Here are some observations about tendencies which become hindrances to real life in Jesus that may be more common in traditional expressions of the church. I am not saying that these obstacles cannot be overcome, but I wonder why we put up with them if we really want to see God's Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven... Note, though, that many of the tendencies I describe are also present in the house church world. See what you think.

Some tendencies that must be overcome are...

  • The tendency for people to have the leader hear God for them, instead of hearing God's voice for themselves. Since hearing His voice is at the heart of a growing relationship with Him, this is a big obstacle (and not limited to TC!)
  • The tendency to think “come” to a church building, an event or even a house instead of coming to Jesus.
  • The tendency to think of the extension of God's Kingdom in terms of "you come" instead of "as I go." (Note that I am not suggesting a missional lifestyle here as some think of it, but rather a life that expresses Father's love all the time, in every context, as the Spirit leads).
  • The lack of life-on-life connection around Word and Spirit that is the absolute essential for true discipleship. We cannot get past this, and any structure or form that makes life on life more difficult or less visible needs to be carefully examined, in my opinion.
  • The tendency to be information-based rather than "obedience-that-flows-from-being-loved" based in our approach to life in Jesus.
  • The many obstacles to practicing “one another” that a focus on meetings, buildings and events presents.
  • The tendency to think of the life of a believer as events, meetings, etc. This is a really prevalent tendency, but it is often subtle and not obvious to those living in the "matrix" of religion and churchianity. Think about it.
  • The tendency to take a cookie cutter or otherwise programmed approach to the deep transformation of lives that can happen only in the context of living together in natural and growing relationships with God and one another.
  • The tendency for people to feel that they must hide their pain rather than bring it out into the light because everyone else in the crowd seems to "have it together," perhaps especially the "leaders" up front. And yes, a transparent leader and a "safe" environment can help with this, but can a truly safe environment be created any other way that living life on life with others in the loving presence of Father God? And how simple can we make this? (Really simple, I think).

Okay, I have done some simple reflections on the "church." Nothing original here, nor earth-shattering, but I felt I was to go this direction this week, not sure why. I trust you can hear in these words, though, a cry for God's people to live simply in His love, escaping whatever entrapments their church paradigms put in their way, regardless of form.

Simply reflecting...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Unlearning Worry

Somewhere along life's journey I learned how to worry. I know that it's learned behavior because children don't worry, at least not like adults do. They may get afraid and have some apprehension about things that are frightening to them, but the constant projection of fear into the present from the imaginary future that comprises worry is not present in children who are in healthy environments.

I am not sure how I learned to worry so well. I had plenty of models, of course, both in the home and outside of it. And there were enough harsh events in life to darken my thoughts about the future. Neither did I have anyone to teach me any other way of looking at life, so worry became the culturally acceptable way for me to look at the future.

But how do you unlearn "the fine art of worrying"? Our recent and continuing journey through the dark places of life has revealed to me that I still don't have a lot of answers to this, but I have learned a few things that are beginning to erode the old patterns and replace them with new ones that are "worry free" or at least worry diminished.

First, I am learning not to worry about worrying. I wrote about this in an earlier blog (September 23, 2009). Taking the guilt factor out of worrying has helped me run to God more quickly with my fears (worry is fear, of course).

Second, I am learning that learning not to worry is in fact a learning process. Paul says this in Philippians 4:12, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation" (i.e., "I have learned not to worry about my circumstances"). Since Paul wrote this late in his life, it gives hope to the rest of us, eh? But what this means for me right now is that even though by last year at this time I had learned to be peaceful and unafraid about many things, the huge and unexpected pressure of this one year battle against disease has exposed a whole new flock of fears that I get to learn how to give to God! And if I didn't know that I am learning (and that that's okay) I would tend to be discouraged by the fact that something I thought I had learned seemed to have disappeared. I hope this makes sense--it's really important to me right now. The last thing we need to do when great pressure is on us is feel defeated about things that God is making deeper in us!

Third, and most important, I am learning that connecting to God in His Father-love (to use Andrew Murray's term) is the key to banishing worry. Now I have known this for a while now, and I have even written about it before, and I have read buckets of books about it, of course, but learning doesn't take place until something is experienced. And if we are to learn something more deeply than before, the experience must be something that presses us harder, I think. This, of course, is what I am learning by experience right now (perhaps some of you are as well). Now the hard part about this is that worry/fear by definition tend to drive us away from God's Father love, and this tendency is reinforced by our adversary whose weapon of choice is fear. But this is precisely where my new discovery is found. I am discovering that God pursues us in our fears. In remarkable ways, even when I am too weak even to call out to Him, God chases me down and arrests me with His love in the midst of my worry. Yes, I can still choose to turn away from Him (and sometimes I do), but He persists in His pursuit of those whose hearts are set on Him, and eventually He captures me/us again with His love. That happened to me even this morning as I was reading (for the umpteenth time) With Christ In The School of Prayer by Andrew Murray. In the midst of recent struggles with fear (again!), I was ambushed by God's Father-love as I read chapter three of this remarkable book. I saw again the picture of a loving Father bending down and reaching out to His floundering child. Perhaps you will smile as I do now as you see the picture of what happened. I close with this picture.

I am reading along, trying once again to learn how to pray, aware of underlying worry and yet not aware of it, trying to connect with God's Father heart yet focused more on me than Him. In that condition I read the following words (italics are mine): "when you go to private prayer your first thought must be that the Father is waiting for you..." Don't let a cold and prayerless heart keep you from the presence of the loving Father...Do not think about how little you have to give to God, but about how much He wants to give to you. Just place yourself before His face and look up into it. Think of His wonderful, tender, concerned love. Tell Him how sinful, cold and dark everything is. The Father's loving heart will give light and warmth to yours."

Sigh...I am still learning, but I can assure you that what this dear departed saint wrote is true. We can learn not to worry, not all at once but in stages, and our hope for doing so rests not in us but in a loving Father who pursues us even in our fears and arrests us with His love, chasing us into the darkest valleys of despair and waiting there for us to turn and look up. What wondrous love is this? And yet I am still just learning...

Tom, one of Abba's children