Saturday, December 31, 2011

Won To Trust

     I finished reading The Cure (by John Lynch, Brice McNicol and Bill Thrall) this week, and it was as good as I expected it to be. Its treatment of various subjects (like forgiveness, how we must receive love in order to give love--and the definition of love, the importance of a safe and accepting community, how healing leads to maturity which leads to destiny, the difference between trusting God versus pleasing God as motivation for believers, etc.) is among the best I have ever seen.
    Reading it was a good way to end the year, I think, since I often reflect on things at this time of the year. (Maybe you do, too). Last year I was too devastated, I suppose, to do any truly useful reflection, but God has done a lot of healing in me so that I trust my "reflector" is working a little better now.
    So as I reflected on things today, the phrase "Won to Trust" came to mind. Against the backdrop of my own life experience (which I write about only if it benefits others, I hope), I realized how aggressively Papa has pursued me through every means possible encouraging and inviting me to trust Him more deeply than ever before. I realized how much the enemy has stolen from us in his battle against our knowing God in His goodness. In my own life the scars of grief and loss, the rebirth of fears long buried, the strain of unanticipated transition all combined to create a "trust vacuum" in my heart. I don't think I will ever grasp how large this trust gap was, but I do know that as Papa has addressed it He has done so not by chiding me to "suck it up and just believe Him." Instead, in a million different ways He has shown kindness to me. He has, as He tells us to do, overcome evil with good. At every point where fear and mistrust have entered in, He has wooed me back to trust (and continues to do so, of course) by negating the lies of our adversary by revealing His goodness over and over and over. 
    I wrote about this today in my journal and I will put a little of it here: "Father, your words to me on July 30 are a perfect description of what has been the course of my life this entire year! You have been and continue to 'smother me with grace and shower me with kindness.' And how intriguing, yet right in line with this entire Secret Place journey, that you say to me that it’s in your doing so that I will for sure learn to trust you. I see this, Papa, I think. I see that your strategy against the enemy’s attack on my life is to counterattack with blessing upon blessing upon blessing—to reveal your goodness so persistently and unmistakably that I cannot but help be healed and deepened in my trusting relationship with you!"
    I trust that you can see as I did this morning how counter this thinking is to much of how Christians think and act. Instead of our striving to do better, trust harder, and overcome the enemy by doing the right things, having the right attitude, God instead destroys the enemy's work in our lives by overwhelming us with kindness. In other words, just as a man would seek to win the trust of the woman he loves, so God seeks (in infinitely better ways) to win our trust.
    "But wait," you say, "I have seen many instances where there seemed to be little evidence of God's goodness and much evidence of evil instead." And I would answer, "I have felt that way as well and have experienced evil, up close and personal, as readers of this blog know." But hindsight on my painful journey has given me a new perspective, one that has redefined God's kindness in such a way as to open my eyes to His goodness in a way that overpowers the darkness. I have seen how patient Father has been with me, how generous, how persistent in His holding onto me even when I couldn't begin to hold onto Him. I have seen how instead of correcting me in my weakness, He kept wooing me with His gifts and kindness. I kept waiting for Him to tell me that it was time to strive again, but those words never came. Yes, He has challenged me to make good choices when I finally had the capacity to do so, but even when I occasionally failed to do so I found Him chasing me with love, ready to embrace me in my failure just as warmly as in my successes. Like Brother Lawrence, to my surprise I found my King gracious beyond belief or description. I first put this quote from his second letter in my blog from March 26, 2008, but it bears repeating: "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." 
     Can this really be true? I think so. And I see, too, that my view of everything is changing because of this. I tweeted this  just a couple of days ago: "I see, now, Papa, that your kindness doesn't mean the absence of pain but rather the presence of your love and grace in the midst of it." It's hard for me to explain how this one little insight opened my eyes to things I couldn't see, but it has done that very thing. So more than ever I see that God is wooing and wowing me into trusting Him ever more deeply, overcoming the enemy's evil with overwhelming displays of His goodness! Who could not trust One like Him?!! 
     Ah...but we have to have eyes to see, Papa. Give all of us eyes to see (Ephesian 1:17-21 comes to mind)!!!

Being won to trust,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Saturday, December 24, 2011

By This Shall All Men Know, part 2

    It's Christmas Eve, and even I don't like working on Christmas Eve! But I did want to keep my promise from last week's blog about sharing a few things Papa has brought into my life that have helped me learn to communicate in a way that leads to healthy relationships (i.e., in a way that loves others as He loves me). By the way, I did rewrite part of last week's entry to make it clearer. Sometimes I forget to edit my posts after I write them!
     Perhaps the most important ongoing thing that God has done in my life that helps me listen well and send messages in a more "other-centered" manner is to bring me even closer to Himself in experienced intimacy with Him. I hinted at this last week when I wrote about living in awareness of His presence. This intimacy has come into my life primarily through two things: by God's leading me away from performance-based living to grace-based living, and by my taking time as often as needed to "seek His face" until the Holy Spirit saturates me to the point of experienced awareness of His Presence. 
     The first part of this, living grace-based, is something most of us need ongoing refreshing in, especially when things rock our worlds (as mine has been). My most recent refresher for the grace life has come through reading The Cure, a wonderful rewrite of TrueFaced, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol and John Lynch (Kindle version). If you still tend to live a performance, behavior-oriented Christian life, I highly recommend that you read this book (I recommend it highly, anyway, but especially if you don't really get God's love for you.). Another good book for this is He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobsen, and the list could go on. And yes, I know that reading books won't change you--you need the Holy Spirit's work in you in a life-on-life community for that. But I can't write about that today. 
    The second part of this, seeking God's face until awareness of His Presence and His peace comes, I have written about many times before. I will take time over the next few weeks to see if I need to collect, condense and elaborate on this some more. All I know is that my experiential encounter with God 7.5 years ago, whereby He led me deeper and deeper into inner stillness and peace, is the key to everything else He has done in my life, and I find that this is true for most folks both historically and currently.
     There are other things, too, though, that God has done in my life that have helped me learn to communicate differently. I won't take time to elaborate on these today, but I will list them. If I get any response to this blog requesting further elaboration I will write more about them. :-) Some of these things are...
  • Get healed up! Deal with your stuff! Many of us are very wounded and need some inner healing to break harmful patterns, change faulty paradigms, etc. I think this is self-evident, but just in case...
  • Ask Holy Spirit to help you become more “self aware.” Ask Him to help you with the following.
      Ask Him to help you sense when anxiety is rising or your peace is leaving you. When that's the case, it's best to stop and allow Him to show you what's really happening in you. Then you can re-surrender to Him and invite Him to flood you again with His love. Obviously, when you are feeling anxious is not a good time to talk about hard and touchy subjects, but as God alerts you to what's happening inside of you, you can ask the other person to give you time to process, etc., and then take time to return to the place of peace. (And yes, I know some of you reading this don't have much peace, ever, but I am hoping to intrigue you into exploring a new way to live!).
      Ask Him, too, to  help you become more aware of your body language when you are talking! Most of you know that a very large percentage of our sending messages is not directly related to the words we use. Most of our communication to another is rather by means of vocal inflection, facial expressions, body position, gestures--you get the picture. So if Holy Spirit doesn't help us become aware of these other sending channels, we may be saying one thing with our mouths while denying it with the rest of our "communication devices."
  • Listen far more than you talk but when you do talk, listen while you talk. 
  • Communicate about communication! In your key relationships, talk about communication! It's amazing how that will help.
  • Get help from a loving community, a wise and trusted friend, a counselor/coach, etc. I could write more about this, but maybe later. Again, The Cure, Bo's Cafe, et al. can help you grasp how this works.

Okay, enough said for today. I think I am rambling anyway, probably trying to stuff too much into too short a space! And who reads blogs on Christmas Eve anyway!! But I offer this in love to any who happen by.

Joyful, Wonder-filled Christmas to you,

Tom, one of Abba's kids

Friday, December 16, 2011

By This Shall All People Know...

     The Christmas season sometimes gets me to thinking about how Christians are quick to go after the lesser things while missing the larger ones. It's especially puzzling to me how quick we are to fight to keep Christ in Christmas while being less likely to fiercely contend for the thing that will most change our culture: the healthy relationships that Jesus can create among His people who lived loved and listening. 
     Jesus gave only one commandment that He called a "New Commandment," so I assume that it's probably one of the most important ones, especially because He said that our living this one out would most clearly identify us as His people. But I need to paraphrase it, I think, to deChristianize it. "I give you a new commandment. Be in healthy relationships with one another. Just as I have related in a perfectly healthy way to each and all of you, so you must relate to one another. By this will everyone know that you are my followers, by the healthy relationships you have with one another." (John 13:34-35, Tom's paraphrase). But wait, Tom! You downgraded "loving one another" by stating it this way. Well, not really. The problem is that when we say "love one another" we do strange, "Christian" things with Jesus' meaning and miss His point that loving one another leads to noticeably healthy relationships. It's far too easy to spiritualize the word "love," even though it's clearly defined by Jesus' life, by God's actions, by Paul's writings, etc. So bear with me, please, and consider what Jesus was aiming for: a healthy unity among all of His people, modeled first and most effectively in families ("Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church," comes to mind). No wonder the enemy has worked so hard to hide the truth that healthy relationships are not only possible but essential if the world is to see Jesus in us!
    So today I want to write about just one aspect of living in healthy relationships: healthy communication. These are just a few thoughts today, of course. Books have been written on this subject. But these come from a lifetime of experience and interaction with God's word  and I trust are distilled down a bit to make it easier for you pack them away so Holy Spirit can shape you with them.
    But first, as that sentence implies, these are not principles to be applied in your own strength but tools for you to offer to the Holy Spirit for Him to use to shape you and lead you into healthier communication with those closest to you. Once you know, for example, that listening for understanding is the most important key to healthy communication, you can invite Holy Spirit to prompt you when you need reminding of that! I think you get the picture. So let's look at a two keys to offer Holy Spirit as He teaches you how to become healthier in your relationships by being healthier in your communication skills.
    First, the underlying foundation of good communication is to remember that the purpose of communication is to reach mutual understanding. Note that I didn't say agreement, but understanding. If we make agreement our target, we are moving away from nurturing the relationship towards controlling the other person. Agreement often comes, of course, when understanding is achieved, but it can't be the goal. 
    This underlying foundation is why the first and most important key to healthy communication is listening to the point of understanding. There is a reason, of course, why the Apostle James said, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger." (James 1:19 NIV). Understanding is built on good listening more than artful speaking! There are, of course, many challenges to our putting this into practice, beginning with all of the "filters" we put words through when we hear them. But God's Spirit is wonderfully able and willing to help us become aware of our filters as well as helping us to hold our reactions in check if we ask Him! I could write volumes on this, I think, especially because I am a coach and coach trainer, but for now I will simply suggest that you try really listening on for a while. Start with those closest and invite them to share with you until you both know that you have reached mutual understanding. This one thing will revolutionize your relationships as God enables you to put it into practice more and more.
     The second key to healthy communication does have to do with the "sending part" of communication. Mutual understanding obviously requires mutual listening and mutual sending. The important thing here, though, is to try to send in the way that's most likely to result in the other person really understanding what you say. This means that scriptures like Ephesians 4:15, 25 and 29 come into play. These are the only two I am going to address today because of time constraints. Verses 15 and 25 speak of being truthful in our communication in the context of love for the one receiving the message. Truthfulness is essential for trust to develop between people, of course. And transparency is also an essential part of intimate relationships when it is strategically exercised (i.e., not "letting it all hang out" all the time, but sharing what needs to be shared at the appropriate time in an appropriate manner for understanding to be attained). But it's verse 29 that is for me the gem of the sending part of communication: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (NIV). Paul here reminds us that communication works best when our "sending" is other-oriented to the max. This doesn't mean that we don't share our hearts, dear ones, because others do need to know who you are. Others are built up by hearing your hurts, joys, etc. That's what relationships are all about. But if I am other-oriented in my communication then I will ask God to help me be sensitive to the other person in terms of timing, how I phrase things, what my body language is saying, etc. Most of us know that there are hundreds of ways to communicate a need to another, but usually there's only one that doesn't trigger a reaction rather than the response we were looking for! For example, I try never to use the word "Why" in sharing with people because it almost always puts them into defensive mode. Good coaches know that "Help me understand..." or "Could you help me understand" are better ways to ask a person about motives. Sigh...I could go on and on here, but this is a blog, not a book! For now I simply suggest that you meditate on Ephesians 4:29 and ask Holy Spirit what it would look like in your closest relationships.
     Hmmm. This is already getting too long, so I think I will wait until next week to share some of the ways I have learned to cooperate with God in making these more and more a part of my life. (I will give you a hint--living aware of His Presence, living in His peace, paying any price to stay there, is a major part of it!)
    I close with two more thoughts. First, no one I have ever met has gotten communication perfected, so another major part of healthy relationships is the constant exchange of forgiveness :-) More on that later, I guess. Second, one thing that really helped me in my listening to others was a wise man pointing out to me that it's a myth that people say what they really mean when they are angry. The truth is that people are least likely to say what they want to say when they are angry. Think about it and you will get it, I trust. So if you are wondering if those angry words are really what the other person thinks or feels, rest in the fact that the answer is almost certainly "No." What they really think and feel is most likely to be communicated when they are calm and in control. That was good news for me when I heard it, and I felt led to share it here, so I trust it will serve someone.
    More later...for now, I invite you to "keep Christ in Christmas" by living in the kinds of relationships that make His Presence in your life unavoidably obvious!

Learning to listen...

Tom, one of His little children

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Don't Be Afraid!

     I missed writing last week because Charlie's mother did in fact pass peacefully into the embrace of Jesus early Thursday morning, December 1. Thank you for the many of you who have been praying and encouraging Charlie and her family. We welcome your continuing prayers.
    Today my thoughts run to a repeated theme of the Christmas season in Luke's Gospel. Three times we read there of an angel saying, "Don't be afraid." Christmas, then, seems to be to be a good time to consider what real courage looks like--over the years I have learned that it doesn't look like what I thought!
    In a nutshell I have learned what I tweeted today: Courage isn't a feeling, it's a decision based upon deeply held convictions that runs over or through feelings of fear. This is seen even in the three admonitions in Luke's Gospel. The literal translation of this phrase is, "Stop fearing," not "don't feel afraid"! In other words, when the Bible tells us to "fear not" it's not telling us to change how we feel (afraid), but to choose to put our focus on something other than our fearful feelings: God's faithfulness, love for us, commitment to us, etc., and then choose to move past our fears to do that which is right and good.
    I am fairly passionate about helping folks understand this, I guess, partly because we live in a such a feeling-based culture. If we aren't careful, the idea that feelings are how we should measure life and its quality can creep into our lives as believers. Indeed, I am quite sure that is the case for many of us. How often do we catch ourselves evaluating something based on how it made us feel? How often do we make decisions based on whether something makes us feel good or feel better or feel whatever? I am not asking this question to add shame or guilt to anyone's life, dear ones. Rather I am simply suggesting that we stop and ask God to help us practice true courage, asking Holy Spirit to help us evaluate what we are basing our decisions on, especially when we are feeling afraid (worried, anxious, etc.).
    I am also not suggesting here that we deny our feelings, of course, but that we put them into their proper place in our lives. I am glad that I can feel God's touch, feel happiness and fulfillment and satisfaction and pleasure! Yup, I am am glad for all those feelings and many more. But if I base my choices in life on how I am feeling or how something will make me feel, I end up all over the map, and at no time is this more evident than when I am feeling afraid!
    I want to be courageous, don't you? If so, then we will do well to understand that courage is an act of the will: a decision to do that which is good and right and loving, rooted in our conviction that God can be trusted. And God is not absent in the midst of our choice to be courageous, dear ones. If you look and listen you will realize that the message of the Christmas angels is still echoing in the halls of time: "Stop fearing." I think I can hear them even now, whispering encouragement to your heart as well as to mine: "Don't be afraid. Choose the courageous way!"
    So I will press on, not waiting for the feelings of fear to go away or for feelings of courage to come, but in the power of God's Spirit, choosing that which is good, right, wise and best. Papa, help us to be truly courageous, strong in your strength, as we choose to trust you and not our fickle feelings!

Learning to trust,

Tom, One of Abba's children

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Doorway into Eternity

     My writing this week has been slightly delayed because Charlie and I are keeping watch as her mother passes through the valley of the shadow of death into her eternal home. This morning as I write these words Frieda is slipping away from this life and slipping into the eternal embrace of her beloved Jesus. It is a holy, difficult yet God-infused time, and His manifest Presence is palpable throughout the house. 
     Those of you who read my blog know that I have had a lot of very personal experiences with death over the past couple of years. These experiences have increased my understanding of life and death and especially my understanding of the Marvelous One who calls those who know Jesus into their eternal destiny with Him. The more we know Him, really know Him, the more marvelous, holy, awesome He becomes! I hope to write more about this some day, but today, I want to share wonderfully encouraging thoughts about believers who die from one of my favorite fiction authors, Robert Whitlow. The following thoughts are from his book, The Sacrifice, and are words that the pastor in the story (Ben) is sharing with his congregation on a Sunday morning. I smiled as I read these words at this particular time--perhaps they will encourage you as much as they have us. Listen in with me:

     "One of the greatest lessons my mother taught me came at the time of her death. Now, there is no doubt that death is an enemy. Paul writes that 'the last enemy to be destroyed is death.' However, there is something even more remarkable about death found in the words of Jesus in John 8:51 'If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.'
     "This verse troubled me for a long time. I mean, a lot of Christians have died in the last two thousand years. Didn't they have to face death?" My mother's last day on earth helped me to understand this truth....
     "She had a sense that her time was time to leave was was close at hand, and our family spent her last afternoon on this earth together in her hospital room. About four o'clock, she gave a long sigh, and stopped breathing. At that moment a lightness entered the room, and there was peace in the atmosphere and on her face. Immediately the Lord reminded me of the words of Jesus and spoke to my heart: 'She didn't see death. She passed directly from this life to the next.' We all stood around and said good-bye. As one of God's children, she walked seamlessly from this world to the next." (pages 346-347)

    I have seen and experienced the peace that Robert Whitlow's character speaks of, up close and personal, many times in my many years of loving and serving people. I have seen the release and freedom that is written on the faces of those who know Him and have rejoiced through my tears at the "seamless" transition into that God grants to those who know Jesus. Yes, death is an enemy, and it was never meant to be part of the human existent, and it is never convenient or pleasant to watch as whether it slowly creeps in or crashes into a human life. But for those who know their God, it is but a doorway into the full, face-to-face embrace of The One Who Is Love. And I am undone as I once again watch one I love step through the transformed door that our adversary intended for evil but that God has turned into the ultimate good.

Watching, weeping, waiting, marveling...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, November 18, 2011

Simple is Harder

     Some of my organic church friends jokingly refer to Traditional Church as "complicated church" (in contrast with the simple church label for organic church). There is certainly a lot of truth in that description, as most TC leaders know. And my continuing experiences with all the various expressions of the church certainly confirm the complexity of brick and mortar churches.
     I am quite convinced that one of the tendencies of humanity is towards complexity because"complicated" is much easier than "simple." Here are some of my reflections about this.
     First, complicated systems are easy to hide in. Human relationships, even healthy ones, are messy, and systems and processes and procedures are much easier to invest oneself in than the work it takes to have healthy relationships. So we find that we can hide in our offices or homes, working away on "complicated" projects, safely protected from the hurt and messiness that comes when we are inviting people deeply into our lives. Yes, it's easier by far, I think, "simply" to work the complicated system...just my opinion, of course.
     Second, "complicated" is highly seductive in terms of making us think we are accomplishing something significant while distracting us from the things that really matter. When we have marked off all the checkboxes, when we have gotten all the ducks in a row, when we have fulfilled every detail of the procedure, it feels deceptively like we have accomplished something transformational and important. It's easier and faster, isn't it, to make sure all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed than it is to take the time required to listen until we reach the point of really understanding another person? It's easier to work the system than it is to allow Holy Spirit to work forgiveness deeply into our heart, don't you think? You get the point. Complicated is seductive, making us think that all of those many hours invested in the system have achieved great things in the Kingdom, when in fact they may have distracted us from investing in a person or people in heart-stretching, life-changing ways. (I am not denying here that some things in life require detail and complexity. I like flying in complicated airplanes, driving complicated cars, etc., but in the Kingdom of God I doubt that human complexity is of much use because it so hinders the flow of God's power and wisdom.)  
     On the other hand, simple is hard! I have already hinted at this in my comments above, but let's look again at how hard it is to really pour life into one another and draw life out of one another. It takes time, it takes patience, it requires us (horror of horrors!) to trust God and one another in really scary ways! It's hard to open the door of our hearts enough to let someone into our deepest parts. It's hard to face our fears together, allowing Holy Spirit to expose them and heal them in the context of a loving community. I could go on, but perhaps you get the point, eh?
    And the sad irony of all of this is that most of the people I know who are lost in complicated church systems deeply long for real transformation and healthy relationships. Most of them strain against the complexity of the systems that are needed to sustain "church as we have known it." And so, in a way, complicated ends up being hard, too, because more and more effort and passion are poured into something, motivated by genuine love for God and others, that results in less and less real change. So after the system has been worked, the program has finished, the event pulled off, we find ourselves worn out with effort but wondering, "Where are the long term results????" Yes, complicated is hard, too, methinks.
    So what to do about all of this? Some of the harsher voices in the organic church world say that anyone who wants to serve God should "simply" walk away from the buildings, programs, events, etc. And I think that some (many?) are indeed called to do just that (I personally never encourage anyone to "plant" a complicated church). But not all are called to walk away from the system, I think, because we cannot abandon the many who are caught in the complexity of the system but whose hearts long for the "hard way of simplicity." And so we work, in the system but not of the system, seeking to bring simplicity and intimacy with God and one another in whatever way God's Spirit leads. And we work to chip away at the lie that the frantic effort required to feed complexity is really the best way to see His Kingdom come. And we love and heal and invite into our lives all those Papa brings across our path, choosing the harder way of simplicity while we continue live in the world of complicated. 
    That's what I think, anyway. My ramblings today are just that--ramblings. But I welcome your thoughts and invite you to ask yourself whether you are choosing the easy way of complicated in your pursuit of God's Kingdom. :-)

Tom, one of Abba's (simple) little boys

Saturday, November 12, 2011

God's Antidote to Fear

     I once heard Wayne Jacobsen say that whenever he finds anxiety present in his life, he stops and asks Father, "What aspect/part of your love for me don't I understand yet?" I love that! God's answer to our fears is not "have more faith" but rather, "Let me love you," or, "Step into my embrace, or perhaps, "I am with you." Only love drives out fear. You can't make it go away by trying to "have more faith." In fact, it's impossible to make yourself "have more faith" when you are afraid--that would make faith a work instead of trusting collapse in Papa's love. I have written earlier that faith is not the opposite of fear (or vice versa), but rather fear is the invitation to collapse into God's kindness and love (see Psalm 56:3 and 1 John 4:18). Faith is about surrendering and resting and leaning upon Papa than about "laying hold of" or "rising up," etc.,  in my opinion.
     So...why is it so hard for us to get this, I wonder? Papa reminded me of His answer to that question this morning during my journaling time: We still don't really get His love for us! (hence Wayne's question). So instead of living loved, learning to trust Him more and more deeply, we end up still thinking in terms of behavior, allowing the stumbling and failing to cause us to shy away from Him. This means that when fear tries to attack us, we are hesitant to run to the One who drives out fear. The irony of this shying away from Him is that when we fail, God is in hot pursuit of us with His love. (Unconditional love pursues the loved one--it's active and alive, not passive). And about 1 1/2 years ago, Papa really nailed this for me as I was struggling fears related to Jettie's journey. Perhaps His words to me then will help you to draw near to Him now in the middle of your storms.
     “Yes, child. You still tend to see me as a punishing God, so that your little sorties away from me become points of self-focus for you as you think in behavioral terms. Child, when you turn from me, I am chasing you with my love, and the thought you need to bear in your heart is that of running from a loving Father who is less than one step behind you. Stop thinking in terms of punishment and behavior, child, and let me love on you. And yes, I will help you in this! Fly, Eagle, fly into my Love with my Wind under your wings and my wings sheltering you.”
     There you have it. Not a very long post today nor particularly deep, but perhaps a good reminder for you and me when anxiety comes upon to ask Papa, "What part of your love for me don't I understand?" 
     "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).

Learning to trust in His love.

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Friday, November 4, 2011

What Am I Doing Here????

     “Any human system will eventually dehumanize the very people it seeks to serve and those it dehumanizes the most are those who think they lead it. But not everyone in a system is given over to the priorities of that system. Many walk inside it without being given over to it. They live in Father’s life and graciously help others as he gives them opportunity.” (So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore, p. 105) This quote came to my mind as I pondered again why I remain engaged in the traditional church while holding to simple/relational church values. It seems that Papa answers me the same way every time I ask Him, "What am I doing here?" in reference to ministry in a traditional church setting. 
     Last week I wrote about the tension I feel as I move in a TC world while holding simple church convictions, and more than one person was tweaked by my mentioning that tension. Doug even wrote a comment about it. So what am I doing here? Am I violating my conscience? Am I just a chameleon, an impostor, who changes to match whatever group I am with? What am I supposed to do when I see things that violate my own sense of what Jesus wants His church to be? These are the questions I wrestle with, and I know I am not alone in this. And so I share a few thoughts (mostly from one of my "daughters") and hope they resonate with you.
    First, please note that I have wrestled with these questions for as long as I have been writing this blog (before that, actually, of course). If you want to see a good summary of this wrestling, search this blog for the word "traditional" to pull up several entries where I raise questions about TC while also noting my continual involvement in it. Please, dear ones, if you have time, do the search and read these entries if you want to understand this tension. If you do, one thing that will stand out to you all along, I trust, is my conviction that Jesus loves His people no matter what wineskin they are restricted by. :-) Some wineskins are more restrictive and less productive--that's a given, but my experience is that Jesus seems to change people not by going after the wineskin but by going after individual hearts. My experience also agrees with another statement from Wayne and Dave in So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore (pp. 104-105) "“They are not all frauds, Jake. Not all groups become as destructive as yours. Those who treat leaders as if they have some special anointing are the most susceptible to being deceived by them. It seems people who assume or who are given the most human authority forget how to say no to their own appetites and desires. It is so easy for any of us to end up serving ourselves when we think we’re serving others by keeping an institution functioning. But not all of those who do it end up so broken. Many are real servants who only want to help others and they’ve been led to believe this is the best way to do it. Always separate the failure of the system from the hearts of the people in it."
    I, like Wayne and Dave, know that there are many in the TC who serve with pure and sincere hearts for good motives, and those I serve with now are such people. It's the heart of the leader, perhaps more than anything, that determines the health of those s/he serves.
    But still I wrestle, and as I wrote last week, it's only by constant listening to Holy Spirit's voice that the tension remains constructive and formative. My dear friend Pam shared with me a great example of how this works that I received her permission to share with all of you, as she listened. I close with her beautiful and transparent reflection. I have put her words in a different font and edited them only slightly. (Thanks, Pam! You are blessing many with your transparent and tender walk with Papa!).
    So, I was chatting with Papa about my current struggle, understanding people and their actions/lives and the whole traditional stuff that is in many of our lives that ekes out and defiles many...and I personally struggle with the question of what am I to do about what/who I am I to respond..or not, and what am I to think about it all. The process can leave me dizzy and and wanting to be "snarky". The prophetic side of me can flare and like the sons of thunder I could enjoy a fire bolt zap on a person at times!
     So as I'm asking Him if it makes him sad and what he does with all his sadness about it, he responds..."I'm just sad" (moment to contemplate..then) "Can you, Pam, just be sad"? The Ah ha light clicked on about "just being," this entered another level though, of my "doing/responsible" layer I know He's working then I say, "Ugh it feels so helpless though, to which He responds, "Ya, it's sad, huh?"
     "It just is." I don't have any responsibility or need to "do" anything, is most of what I came away with in that...THEN He says;
     "You know how you teach people not to use the 'shot-gun' approach to missions? (An approach a church sometimes takes when it knows it's 'supposed' to be doing mission work or sees the needs, but doesn't really have a direction or relationship with anyone or anyplace, so they scatter funds to different missionaries or organizations, they send a team to Mexico one year and Africa the next, then hear about some orphans in Russia and send gifts there, all the while losing steam/interest in the congregation for 'missions' and eventually drop the program for the most part as there was 'no fruit' or 'no real interest' or a lot of frustration)."
     Anyhow...I of course, said yes. He then says, "So maybe you are taking a shotgun approach to life at times in this area...with people?" 
     (I see so many and so much sometimes and being prophetic I can often see beyond in some ways and feel that because I see then I should take some action too, in some way to address or redress it especially if I am directly involved with the person.) Then the light goes on...just as when we see the needs all over the world for outreach/mission that doesn't mean we are to throw "action or time" in all of those places. I may see the persecution in Pakistan and be moved in my heart for their plight, but I know I am called to the persecuted church in SE Asia, so I'm sad for those believers and I pray for them and then focus my hearing and participation with the Father where He has told me to be. 
     It's the same with people then and their actions/reactions/lives I see, even if they directly affect me...if I am not called to "THAT" place I can simply be sad for them, pray for them and release them.
     I know it's one of those Duhh times when you look at it and want to say "I knew that"...but now I know it, at least to another level! Funny how that works, eh? We all see thru the glass dimly until He opens our eyes of understanding and lets us "see" in a little more, but we must also remember it is still just another level of "dimly".
     Such good reflections, I think, and a wonderful example of how, as we "keep listening," Papa brings growth and returns us to peace. Thanks again, Pam!

Listening while living in the healthy tension that invites deepening trust...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Keep Listening!

     Not sure how long this entry will be, but I have been pondering of late how important it is to "keep listening" to Holy Spirit's nudges, all the time, without restricting what He might say with assumptions as to what He couldn't possibly say (other than the boundaries of Scripture, and even there we have to be careful that we aren't mistaking our understanding of Scripture for what it really says--think about it).
     A number of things of late have re-awakened this common theme in my life and blogs (I know I often remind you to live loved, listening and surrendered!), but perhaps the most prominent one is how God has led me to stay connected to more traditional forms expressions of the church while also deepening my convictions about organic church life. Those two facts would create a lot of tension in me if I weren't able to hear God's voice!
     Perhaps there are areas in your life where tension and apparent contradiction make you perplexed from time to time. I am fairly sure there are areas like this in all of our lives since, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12, we see everything now only dimly. "Keep listening" is what Papa would be saying to you as well, then, I think!
     Why wouldn't God just make everything clear so we can plan out our lives accordingly? I think you know the answer to that, but in case you don't, here are a couple of my thoughts about this. First, God knows it's best for us to live in ever increasing trust in Him. Life is never certain, dear ones, it only appears to be more uncertain at various times. Who are we to think that we can really anticipate what life will throw at us today or tomorrow? But Papa knows all things and is infinitely committed to what's best for us. And the way we "access" what is best is to live trusting Him, and that means listening each day for the words that continually proceed from His mouth to our hearts (Deuteronomy 8:3). To live trusting is to live listening. Second, God knows that even if He chose to show everything to us, we wouldn't understand it! Think of all the ways that God works at once in just one human life! Now add to that life all the other people's lives that intersect with that one life and then add all the other factors of life, including the unseen spiritual dimension which is far larger than the seen dimension. Do we really think we could grasp all of that even if Papa showed it to us? Nope! So living listening seems to be a much better approach to life and the only reasonable one. I could add more reasons, of course, but the bottom line is that God's answer to all of life is quite simple and all-encompassing: "I will be with you." So keep listening!
     And the really cool thing about all of this listening? It's a remarkably peaceful and joyful way to live! We don't have to figure things out. I find that the only time anxiety or discouragement really gets hold of me is when I forget that I don't have to lean on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6), and that I really can trust God to speak to me and guide me and change me and... Am I the only one that finds that fear increases to the extent that I think that I am alone in facing whatever? No wonder God's continuing promise is "I will be with you." And how amazing that He is communicating with us all along the way and that we can trust Him to get through to us as we choose to live in a listening mode.
     So how do you listen? I have written about this before, and there are many good books on hearing God (Dallas Willard and Mark Virkler come readily to mind as good resources here). For me, though, the one key factor above all others is the inner stillness that Papa has helped me cultivate over the years. When the stillness is disrupted, it becomes an immediate invitation to stop and re-center my life (not by trying but by resting, collapsing and surrendering). I trust that you have found the same thing to be true.

Listening in the stillness.

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Friday, October 21, 2011

Harmful Clichés of the Christian Religion

I have written before about how deadly the Christian religion is, being a terrible substitute for the vibrant and transforming walk with Jesus that the Bible describes (April 8, 2011). Today I felt I should tackle some of the sad, silly but harmful clichés that express religious rather than relational thinking. You may question why I bother doing so, but I hope to answer that question as I debunk some of these common sayings. The truth is, they not only belie the depth of our religious thinking but they perpetrate it every time we club someone or ourself with one of these clichés. So here's just a few of many.

"I am so unworthy!" Sigh...if you or any human being had no worth (the meaning of unworthy) then why did Jesus die for you? The worth and value of every single human being ever to live on this planet has been eternally established as "priceless" by the infinite price that Jesus has paid to reconcile us to Father. I took a swipe at this one earlier in the week via Twitter. What we are really trying to express is that we are undeserving, not without worth--that what God has done for us through Jesus is far beyond what we deserve. But it's our value and worth to God in His love for us that gives us worth. Why bother correcting this one? I hope the answer is obvious, but in case it isn't, seeing ourselves as "worthless" prevents us from being in a healthy relationship with God and with others. It also tends to make us grovel before God rather than coming boldly as beloved (and highly valued) sons and daughters.

"I just want God to use me. Use me, Lord!" Every believer has probably said this one, I think, and from a sincere desire to honor the One who redeems and heals us. But in any other context, one person "using" another is a negative and undesirable thing. How many times have we heard it rightly said, "We use things, we love people"? So why would it be any different for God? What God desires is to flow through us and partner with us to see His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We humans were not created to be God's servants, but God's children and friends. God created angels to be His servants. He created you to be in intimate relationship with Him. Yes, from that relationship we will gladly serve Him (Paul gladly described himself as a bond-slave), but we serve Him as free sons and daughters, not mere slaves. And we serve Him from intimacy not by being "used." I think you can see why this one is important to get right.

"If we don't, He won't." This one shows up in various forms but the basic idea is that God is somehow unable or unwilling to accomplish His purposes unless we pray, or witness, or whatever...(anyone else suffered through the evangelist painting the picture of people falling into the fiery pit because you didn't share your faith? The problem with this kind of thinking is threefold. First, it flies in the face of God's sovereignty. Ephesians 1:11b describes God as the "One who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will." This leaves no doubt that our failures or successes in doing His will are not going to hinder His purposes. Second, this kind of thinking motivates people to action via shame or guilt or duty, and Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that anything not motivated by and through love brings nothing to us. Third, the whole idea of needing to be motivated by shame or obligation exposes a "slave" mentality rather than a son/daughter relationship with a loving Papa. If I find myself having to be motivated by external pressure, the solution is not more external pressure but to press in even more deeper into Papa's heart so that His love compels me by its overpowering, overwhelming goodness to care about what He cares about and therefore to obey Him with joy and passion. (Ideally! Yes, sometimes the obedience starts from a pure act of the will, but even that can flow from genuine love, not a fear that "if I don't, He can't!" I think you get the picture.

Okay, I think you get the picture here. Or I hope you do. It might be good to ask Holy Spirit to ring your bell when you say some of the things "Christians" commonly say and ask you, "Does Father really say that, mean that?" You might find yourself debunking your own set of clichés--or at least that's what I am hoping :-)

Learning to live loved...

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Power of Healthy Transparency

     Anyone who reads this blog or my Facebook posts knows that I very much believe in and practice transparency. Big revelation, eh? :-)
     Why am I so transparent? Because I believe that healthy transparency is an essential gift to others. My deep conviction is that as a leader I need to model reality and give hope to others. Being artificial gives a false view not only of me, but of life in Jesus. If I appear to be better than I am then I portray something about the Christian walk that may be unattainable or at least unrealistic for most people. What a cruel thing to do! If I appear to have it all together, which is certainly not true, then I make others feel terribly defective. Another negative outcome of such artificiality is that others put me on a pedestal thinking that by some great power of achievement I have attained what they can never hope to attain. I cannot tell you how distasteful all of this is to me. Thankfully, I have many good examples in Scripture to encourage me in being transparent: David comes to mind (talk about transparent--some of his psalms are scorching examples of what he was feeling, thinking and doing at the time!). And Paul's letters are filled with remarkably transparent insights into his life and emotions. So...I will be transparent as a gift of encouragement to others and as a testimony of Papa's grace at work in my very ordinary life. 
     On the other hand, I once heard a very prominent pastor claiming to advocate transparency by stating that he believed in being transparent but only about things he had already gained victory over. I remember thinking at the time that something was very wrong with that statement. Now I know that what he was describing isn't even being transparent! To allow people only to see the victories God has granted us is not transparency. The truth is that we are always fighting something, I think, and sometimes allowing others to peer into the battle is the healthiest thing we can do, both for them and for us.
     Perhaps you have noticed that I am writing here about "other-oriented" transparency. There is, of course, healing that comes to us through our being transparent. In fact, we cannot make real progress in our Jesus journey without being transparent with some trusted others. That's what the books, Truefaced and Bo's Cafe describe so well. (By the way, Truefaced has now been rewritten and will be released around Thanksgiving under the title, The Cure. I am looking forward to reading it). I love this amazing description of a healthy culture of transparency in Bo's Cafe (p. 74): "What if there was a safe enough place where you tell the worst about yourself and not be loved or respected less, but more? You know what happens...? Hidden junk we've been carrying around for years begins to melt away. People come alive. They start to discover who they really are. They start doing good stuff with their lives. They find their future. They stop needing to be right. They stop trying to fix their symptoms, and pushing everyone away.... They get loved."  
     But I haven't seen many folks write about the blessing to others that transparency brings, so I thought I would highlight it today. Healthy transparency becomes more about you than me as I mature. Healthy transparency is filled with hope, not just misery. As I mature my transparency becomes more and more infused with the promises of God and awareness of His faithfulness even as I also reveal my struggles to lay hold of them. Healthy transparency is as much about you as it is about me, and it is laced through with hope and God's fingerprints! Healthy transparency is strategic in that it matches the ability of others to handle and benefit from it rather than just blurting out anything to anyone. Healthy transparency is shared without the need for a positive reaction from everyone (those still hiding are not comfortable around transparent people, for obvious reasons). I could go on, but you get the picture, I think.
     Note, however, that we don't get to the place of healthy transparency overnight. For most people "sharing their stuff" and being accepted instead of rejected because of it is such a new and wonderful experience that at first they just blurt it out. (Because I am so safe I often have people offload everything and then say in amazement, "I don't know why I told you all of this!" I just smile. :-)) But as they heal up some they realize that transparency is indeed as much about others as about them, and healthy sharing begins to become the norm for them. It's a beautiful thing to see that happen. Papa's fingerprints are wonderfully prominent!
     What about you? Do you have a safe group of friends who love you more not less as you are vulnerable and transparent? I certainly hope so. And are you learning to see that your transparency, wisely exercised, is a gift to others? This is certainly my hope and prayer for you. Let it be, Papa, let it be so!


Tom, one of Abba's transparent children

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Time For Everything

"The season of mourning is over." Those words from Papa God, whispered to me a few days ago were a bit of a surprise to me, but not entirely, and they were powerfully confirmed to me this morning during the message by our guest speaker who encouraged us to "let go of the old and step into the new" and "let go of the grief, pain and sorrow and step into the future," etc. Don't you love the way God orchestrates things so that He speaks to so many of us at the same time in the same way, yet with each of us in different situations? I am sure that many in the room this morning were making their own transitions into the future even as I was. Only Papa could have made sure that I was here in Houston, today, to hear Joshua Mills say those words on the one year anniversary of Jettie's departure!

So this will be the last time that I address anything specifically related to the journey of sorrow related to Jettie's death. These are random thoughts, too, so there may be some repetition from previous posts, but I wanted to put in one place some of the most important things I have learned.

First, I have definitely learned that "ain't over until it's over." I smiled (and sighed) as I looked back at my words on April 29 where I was celebrating how healed up I already was. Maybe I was healed up a lot at that time, but I can assure you that the season of mourning continued on for several more months after that date! Now, however, I can tell that it really is time to move ahead. Why I thought I could speed up the one year process of "firsts" is a mystery to me, but I am a humbled and better instructed man now! When God says something is over, it's over, but not before. 

Second, we know that healing is happening when we are able to enjoy life without guilt and remember things without sorrow. This is how I know that I have indeed finally turned a corner and entered a different season. At the same time I heard those words from Papa about the season of mourning being over, a dear older friend of mine gently told me that I was still holding onto Jettie in some way. That triggered a highly important time with Papa that led to some final surrender that I cannot even explain, but on the other side of it, I knew I was in a different place because I stopped feeling guilty for enjoying the new life that is unfolding for me here in Houston. And only in the past couple of days have I noticed that I can remember things about life with Jettie without sadness. Maybe some folks can get to that place sooner, but it has taken me until now to do so. But I know from both experience and from my reading about grief that enjoying life and remembering without sorrow are big milestones in this journey. And I am so grateful for what God has done (and continues to do) as He brings me into a "time to laugh" and a "time to dance."

Third, I have said this before but I need to say it again: regret is a real hindrance to getting on with life and into wholeness. Thankfully, God addressed this early on in my journey, but it's amazing how many times He had to re-address it before I finally let go of it for good. I realize now that regret is a subtle form of shame, and shame keeps us terribly locked into self-focus and bound up in the past. Jesus died to take away our shame, including the shame of "I wish I had" and "I could have" and "I should have," etc. 

Fourth, God is the best grief counselor in the Universe, but He uses His people as part of His healing process. I could write volumes about this, and maybe some day when I write my book about the journey, I will. For now I simply elaborate on these two points. 1) God will for sure lead you through the grieving process as you lean into Him, collapse onto Him, cry out to Him, listen to Him. Some of my deepest healing moments have come after I wept and even shouted at Him but then stopped and listened to Him--amazing! And He has led and continues to lead this entire journey. The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, really is the best counselor in all of creation! He alone can lead us into the truth that sets us free. 2) God also heals us through other people. One of the things people naturally do during grief is isolate themselves from others (for many reasons), but I don't know of anyone who has been healed up in a truly healthy manner apart from lots of interaction with and support from others. The illustration of the input from my older and wiser friend (thanks, Ray!) is just one example of dozens of how this has been true for me. So I encourage the grieving to reach out, I encourage those who are not grieving to reach out as well, even if all you are able to do is weep with those who weep and hold their hearts close to yours.

Finally, the past year has only made me appreciate more than ever what an amazing woman Jettie was and is. I will always respect, honor and esteem her and always be thankful to God for giving me 41 years with her. But I will not cling to her, live in regret nor fail to move into my future (that would actually dishonor her). And so I step into the future, treasuring the memories while living in the joyful fullness that life in Jesus always brings.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Transfer of Trust

I will probably repeat myself in this post because I am once again going to write about "faith," and I wrote quite a bit about that during the season of testing our family went through in 2009-2010. But I thought it would be good to write about trusting God on the other side of things during a time when I am once again being challenged to trust Him at uncomfortably deep levels. So here's a few things I am learning.

First, more than ever I am aware that "faith" is something that is present in every human being. The question, of course, is where a person chooses to place his/her trust. We exercise enormous amounts of faith every day. We trust other drivers to stay alert and in their own lane of traffic, we trust those who worked on the airplane we are boarding to be responsible, we trust those who prepare our food to exercise good hygiene practices, etc. And, most of all, we trust ourselves and our own perception of things. It's that last truth that creates the challenges for us as we hear God invite us to trust Him. We are conditioned all of our lives to trust "self" and self alone, and this self-trust is so automatic as to be almost invisible and unconsciously exercised. But God invites and challenges us to transfer trust from a very limited and highly ignorant person (that would be you or me!) to Himself, the infinite, all-knowing, completely loving One. Sounds good when we say it, eh? But learning to transfer trust to Him is a lifelong process that is often fought tooth and nail by both our adversary and our self. Big revelation there, eh? We all know this fact all too well. But it does help to bring this to the light, I think. When I realized that I wasn't trying to create faith or generate more faith but rather transfer my trust from self to God, it helped me both to want to do so and made me see how possible it is to trust God (I just shift my trust from unreliable self to totally reliable Papa God!).

Second, "faith" is best built mostly during the good times so that it's there to sustain during the bad times. This isn't what I was taught in church, though. I was told that times of testing come to grow my faith (exercise my faith muscle, etc.). But this isn't what scripture says, and it isn't what life experience teaches us! Trust grows in our lives in response to our experience of another's trustworthiness. We learn to trust another person by their showing us through their actions that they are trustworthy. The more experience we have of their trustworthiness, the more we grow to trust them. Eventually our trust is deep enough that even when they ask us to trust them in something we haven't previously experienced with them, we do so because their character has been revealed through our experience with them  up this point. I think you can see how this applies to the God journey, too. And Scripture bears this out, showing us God's trustworthiness over and over again as experienced by people just like us, and telling us that struggles come not to grow our faith but to reveal it in the midst of the test (see, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7).

But how does the above truth help us? I am learning that paying attention to God's faithfulness during the good times, taking time to be grateful and to reflect on His goodness when things are going well can actually build my trust level in Him in wonderful ways. That is indeed what happened during the season of pain that we went through. The trust that had already grown in our hearts sustained us and invited us to trust in uncharted waters even in the midst of the storm. And God, of course, was also continuing to reveal His trustworthiness during the troubled times in many different ways. (So, in fact, faith can grow during times of testing, too, but that shouldn't be the primary place, in my opinion).

Third, by its very nature, faith is meant to increase and grow in any relationship, and especially in our relationship with God. We were meant to trust God, born for that very purpose because we were born in order to be in relationship with Him! But because increase is part of the journey, we will often find ourselves faced with a new choice to trust God in a new way. Personally my sense of self trust is so deeply ingrained in me that I find God's invitations to trust Him in new ways rather stretching at the very least and downright annoying and scary at the most! Yet the invitation continues all the days of our lives: "Trust in the LORD with all of your heart and don't trust in your own understanding." And so my anxiety becomes God's call to trust Him more deeply, not blindly but based upon His character as revealed by our experiences of His faithfulness and the testimony of many others. (But it's still scary and annoying at times! It wouldn't be faith if the need to trust weren't involved!).

Finally, I have discovered again that it really does help to translate belief, believe and faith as "trust" when we read scripture. There is something wonderfully down to earth and easy to understand about Jesus asking the disciples, "Where is your trust?" instead of "Where is your faith?" Because of our religious conditioning, faith often sounds like a commodity or something we do, whereas "trust" is easy to understand as a relational concept. Try it, you may like it. The word "trust" will fit in all of those places where believe, belief or faith show up.

And so here I am, facing the uncertainty of life in multiple dimensions, with no sure end in sight. But as happened during the painful journey, I hear again the words of Lamentations 3:57 and cannot do otherwise than transfer my trust once again to the One who alone is trustworthy.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Discerning Community, Part Two

"Test everything!" Today I continue my thoughts about how we as the people of God can be a discerning community. Two of you, at least, stated that you were looking forward to part two, so here it is.

In today's musings I will simply write out some questions/reflections that we in the discerning community can use when "testing everything." Some of these may be repeat a bit of what I said last week, but I felt I needed to list out some basic questions that the community can use in evaluating everything from a prophetic word, dream or vision to teachings and books, so here goes. Some of these questions are without comment because they are rather obvious.
  1. What is the fruit of the person's life who is bringing this? In Matthew 7:15-23 where Jesus warns His followers to be on the alert for false prophets, He tells us that false teaching can be detected by looking for false living: "thus by their fruit will you recognize them." I could write a book about this passage, but for now please note that the warning Jesus is issuing here is not just about false teaching but false prophets--the people themselves. And we recognize these people by inspecting the fruit of their lives. This requires that we know something of their lives, of course, and of the effect of their lives on others. Does this person's life bring peace, love, joy, etc. to others? Do they live a life of integrity and healthy transparency--I think you get the picture.
  2. Do other, honest and godly, people endorse this? Note what I am not saying here: I am not suggesting that every honest and godly person endorse something. Perfect agreement will not happen this side of Heaven! For example, I know of very few people who adhere to Calvinism who would endorse The Shack, but there are many other trustworthy folks who do (including yours truly!). But generally there should be some sense of broad agreement by some who are clearly healthy followers of Jesus, in my opinion.
  3. Does this _______ promote humility or pride in those who accept it?
  4. Who is lifted up by this ________, the Lord Jesus or someone else?
  5. Does this _______ promote a sort of elitism, i.e., assert that only certain special people "in the know" are buying into this teaching or whatever? Does it imply that special revelation has been given to a chosen few? The sense of "being special" or having "special knowledge" is as old as the Church itself, of course. The early Christian heresy known as Gnosticism appealed to people's prideful desire to be part of the elite group composed of those who know special, deeper truth. Note that this call to elitism (the very opposite of the Good News) can be very subtle, but for me it's a dead giveaway that something is awry. Note, however, that something can be new and embraced early by those who are early adopters without it being elitism. The Pentecostal/Charismatic movements are proof that old truth, long hidden, can be unveiled to God's people and not be accepted by all! New understanding is always breaking in upon us as followers of Jesus, but it won't promote elitism nor will it disagree with the basic tenor of Scripture and the character of God as revealed in Scripture (and yes, I know there isn't even agreement on these two things in Christ's body!).
  6. How does this ______ fit with the whole of Scripture? I touched on this last week, but I bring it up again. The devil knows the Bible and felt free to quote it even to Jesus during His time of testing in the wilderness. But Jesus knew His Abba so well and the general flavor and sense of Scripture well enough to fend off the enemy's deceptive use of Scripture. As a discerning community we will do well to ask Him to empower us to do the same.
Okay, that's enough for now, I think. No one gets everything right, of course, and focus on mere doctrine and teaching will divide us rather than unite us as followers of Jesus, but as a community we can certainly learn to be discerning in the way that Paul described, testing everything and holding fast to the good while discarding the bad. When we do so, deep transformation, an abundance of the fruit of the Spirit, increasingly healthy relationships and the shattering of the kingdom of darkness will certainly be the result.

Learning to discern in love, in community...

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Discerning Community

"Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, The Message)

I am sometimes fascinated and sometimes frustrated by the gullibility of church folks. As one who visits many different streams in Christ's body, I have discovered that gullibility seems to be widely distributed throughout the various expressions of the church. Although some have suggested that the Pentecostal-Charimatic folks are more likely to be gullible and led astray into strange beliefs and behaviors, I haven't found that to be the case. Anti-supernatural folks are just as deceived as those who see God in everything supernatural, they are merely deceived about a different aspect of God's truth (a de-supernaturalized God is a serious deception and one that the devil loves to promote, methinks).

With the increasingly unsettled nature of our times, people seem to be even more open to strange things. Jesus and His Apostles predicted this, of course, warning us that in the last days the enemy would ramp up his attempts to lead people astray (see, for example Jesus' discourses in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 and 1 Timothy 4:1 ff., 2 Timothy 3:1-9, etc.).

So what are we to do about this? Certainly we are not to live in fear of deception, but just as certainly we do need to be sure that we become an increasingly discerning community. That's what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians in the passage I started with today. Writing to the community of believers in Thessalonica, Paul admonishes them, as a community, to be open to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit but also to test everything, holding onto that which is good but discarding that which is evil. So part of our becoming a healthy Body of Christ requires us to to test things as a believing community. So how do we do that? What do we use as the measure for our testing? Here are a few of my thoughts. Note that I am assuming that this testing is being done by the community, not just by one self-appointed "guardian of truth"--no one can discern rightly apart from the larger Christian community, in my opinion.

First, Paul himself gives us the first measurement in this passage from 1 Thessalonians: good and evil. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have seen unthinking believers embrace things that, while not blatantly evil, clearly led in that direction. Usually the reason they had embraced such things was that they hadn't fully thought out the implications of what they were hearing, seeing, reading, etc. Testing something means using our minds to carry it out to its full and logical conclusion. Some things that start out looking good can end up looking pretty strange and downright evil if we do this.

Second, it's good to test things with plain old common sense. Many years ago I heard a woman give a prophetic word stating that financial prosperity would be ours if we would all just take out our wallets and jump up and down on them in Jesus' name. I still smile as I think of the expression on the pastor's face :-) But thankfully, common sense prevailed and our wallets were spared. This is a humorous example, but other examples are not so obvious. For example, I have heard it said in some circles that "God wants to destroy your dignity in order to humble you." How ridiculous is that? Why would a loving Father destroy the dignity of one of his children? God may want to dismantle pride in some of His kids, but He protects the dignity of those He loves (those who wait for Him are never put to shame! Psalm 25:3). Other assaults on our common sense come when people suggest that God "took someone home" through death (Jesus died to conquer death, not use it to get someone to Heaven!), or when folks suggest that natural disasters are God's judgment (see my friend Steve Hill's excellent comments on this by clicking here.)

Third, we can test things against history. Church history and history in general have many lessons to teach us about how people are led astray and the tragic results when that happens. History also helps us be alert to patterns that may help us become more discerning. For example, throughout the past few hundreds years of Western civilization, every time things have looked really bad there have been those who predict that Jesus' return is near. Now we all know that His return is certainly nearer now than ever before, but before we listen to those who drag out their charts and proof texts we may want to consider that this has always happened when things get bad. Similar charts and prophecies of doom have occurred before. (I am not saying that we shouldn't pay attention to the signs of the times but that we will do well to take historical context into account when we do).

Fourth, we can depend upon the spiritual gift of discernment. I personally think this is one of the most important gifts for believers to value and seek to function in, not just to detect error, however, but mostly to discern the good. But a believing community will also do well to pay attention to those credible people in their midst whose "discernment-o-meters" sound yellow alerts at various times.

Finally, and most importantly, we can test things against Scripture. Again, this may seem like a no-brainer, but I am amazed at how rarely this is done, especially in terms of things supernatural. Just because something appears to be a supernatural experience (like trips to Heaven, out of body experiences, seeing angels, etc.), that doesn't mean that it isn't to be weighed against Scripture. Paul said that even an angel who announced a different gospel should be eternally condemned (Galatians 1:8-9), and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says to "test everything" which would include visions and other supernatural experiences. And when we test such things, we test them against the whole of Scripture, not just a few short verses, comparing such things to what Scriptures shows us about the character of God and the nature of the New Covenant given to us through Jesus. I recently came across an example of this. I heard or read about a little child's trip to Heaven in which s/he was told that Christians are to start keeping the feasts of Israel! Anyone familiar with Paul's letters knows that such a statement is not trustworthy (Galatians comes to mind, along with Colossians 2:13-23), yet because the false teaching is couched in supernatural language some folks will naively embrace this and become entangled in something that will lead away from the grace-filled life in Jesus.

I could go on with many more examples, but this is getting pretty long already. Can you tell I am passionate about this? Yes, Tom, the man who emphasizes intimacy with Papa God as primary, still very much believes that what we believe about God matters! Mere intellectual belief is, of course, a false teaching in and of itself, but that doesn't mean that some attention to thinking about what is true and trustworthy isn't necessary, especially for any community of believers. Paul made it clear that we are as Christ's people not only to be open to the supernatural working of the Spirit but also to be open to testing together everything that comes our way. Gullibility may be cute when we are pulling someone's leg for fun, but it can be dangerous when we are dealing with the deeper things of life.

I will write more about all of this next week. This is part one :-)

Thankful to be part of the larger, discerning community.

Tom, one of Abba's children