Saturday, July 30, 2011

Show Me Your Ways, O Lord!

One of the first psalms I memorized (many years ago now) was Psalm 25. I was struck then and now by David's passionate cry in verses 4-5 to know God.

“Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior, and I wait in expectancy for you all day long.” (my paraphrase).

Interesting, eh, that the Bible never suggests that we ask God to teach us principles, or show us His doctrines? And this morning as I reflected again on what was happening in my life one year ago (battling for Jettie's life) I realized that I am more convinced than ever that we head in the wrong direction when we think of the Jesus walk as mostly about theology, doctrine, principles, etc.

Papa again confirmed this to me today in His words to me as I wrestled with some more grief, triggered by only He knows what. I once again allow you to listen in on my conversation with Him. From my journal this morning.

Ah, Father. I will trust in you!

“Child, I have been showing you these past few days how trustworthy I am, how generous and kind I am... I am gracious and generous and wanting to show you my ways, the riches of my kindness, so that you can enter into this next season. And I will succeed in my intentions, little one. Yes, even now you can glimpse (if but barely) what will be radiantly apparent for you in just a little while. My goodness is coming upon you, child, more than you can imagine or bear. I will smother you with grace and shower you with kindness over and over until you get it. Then, yes, then, you will trust me in an unprecedented manner! Taste and see, indeed, little one, that I am good—very, very, very good!”

Ah, Papa. I do indeed glimpse things, if but barely, but I seem unable at this point to hold onto what I see. But you will change that, I know. Open my eyes! Show me your ways!

Isn't Papa kind to us? And this persistent kindness is how it must be for us to learn what "faith" really looks like. Even human relationships teach us this. It isn’t just knowing that a friend might help that causes me to trust her/him. And it isn’t knowing about a friend’s supportiveness to other people that invites me to trust him/her. No, it’s the actual experiences of that friend’s help that invites and then increases my trust. It is no different for us in learning to trust Papa God. And that's why David (and others) cried out to God to know His ways, learn His paths. They weren't asking this in order to have something to do or an example to copy. They wanted to know by experience the One who invites us to trust Him because of His loving kindness.

Yet much of "Christianity" seems to get lost in complicated and convoluted facts, principles and proof texts. So I am once again beating the drum of intimacy as I so often do (I was writing something similar to this last year on this date, even in the midst of the battle!). Maybe some who didn't hear the drum beat yet will join me in marching to the beat of a different Drummer! How about you? Does your heart crave for facts or for a Father's embrace, for more principles or for more of His truth (His faithfulness, not facts about Him)?

Crying out to know Him.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Friday, July 22, 2011

Not Safe, Not Tame, but Good!

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you." (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis)

I probably read C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia to my two sons at least 3 or 4 times as they were growing up! A lot of their good theology came compliments of C.S. Lewis!

The quote above is one of my all time favorites from the books because it captures so well the blend of love and fear that healthy intimacy with God creates in us. In fact, the blend of intimacy with reverent fear is a common theme in the Chronicles. At some points in the stories C.S. Lewis describes intimacy with Aslan in remarkably tender terms with Aslan embracing, playing with, breathing on, romping with various characters in the story. In other places, Lewis describes the awesomeness of Aslan in breathtakingly powerful terms: Aslan's earthshaking roar (many places), Aslan's infinite power (many places), even Aslan's claws stripping Eustace of his dragon skin (Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and inflicting wounds on Aravis (The Horse and His Boy), etc.

As I view the church these days, I find myself often longing for that healthy balance of simultaneously living loved and in reverent fear. I know that true intimacy with Papa always increases one's reverence for Him, yet I see some who seem to advocate a casual familiarity with the God of the Universe.

How can this be? Yes, Father invites us in Jesus never to fear Him in the sense of fearing punishment or rejection, but never does He cease being God. Our Abba is also God Almighty, infinite in power, worthy of all honor, GOD! And when He shows up in Scripture He often creates such awe that people immediately go face down, losing all ability to stand, to speak, to do anything other than tremble. Perhaps that is why "Mr. grace" himself, the Apostle Paul wrote late in his life, that we are to work out our salvation "with fear and trembling." Perhaps, too, that is why Peter admonishes us to live our lives here as strangers in "reverent fear." (1 Peter 1:17) Perhaps, too, that is why even in eternity, fearing God is part of our life forever: "Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." "Praise our God, all you His servants, you who fear Him, both small and great!" (Revelation 15:4 and 19:5).

Dear ones, God's love for us, His invitation to intimacy with Him, is not an invitation to casual familiarity. He is good, yes, He is infinitely good and merciful and kind and loving. But He is not safe! He is not to be treated with casual familiarity. Indeed, every great awakening in history has as part of its inception a renewal of a healthy fear of the Lord. I cannot imagine that this next great awakening will be any different.

"If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared." (Psalm 130:3-4 NIV).

For more thoughts on this, check out this link to an Elijah list article by Bobby Conner. I think Bobby nails it! Intimacy is not familiarity! Aslan's roar of love is still a roar!

Restore to us, O Mighty God, love touched with reverent, healthy fear!

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

     A few weeks ago (May 28), I wrote about the "healing power of healthy relationships." Today I expand on this in a way by writing about one of the most important factors in healthy relationships (the free flow of forgiveness) which also turns out to be one of the most important factors in physical, emotional and relational healing: forgiveness.
     I suppose the connection between relational health and forgiveness is obvious, but if it is that obvious I wonder why it isn't at the top of the list for people with relational challenges. Personally, I believe that listening and the free, two-way exchange of forgiveness are the two most important factors in healthy relationships. Constant forgiving and re-forgiving are non-negotiable parts of good relationships, in my opinion. (The Bible would seems to agree, given its constant emphasis on forgiveness).
     The connection to emotional health may be just as obvious, I guess, but again I wonder if that's the case why forgiveness isn't the first response in pursuing emotional health. Just wondering...
     But what about physical health? I have written previously about the connection between receiving supernatural healing and forgiveness (see this article, for example). But my recent reading of yet another remarkable book (now moved to my highly recommended list), Deadly Emotions, by Don Colbert, M.D., has brought forgiveness into renewed focus for me. Although Dr. Colbert lists many "deadly emotions," I couldn't help but notice that those related to unforgiveness were at the top of the list (anger, bitterness, cynicism, drivenness, etc.)! And Dr. Colbert's suggestions for dealing with toxic emotions, although far more ranging than just forgiveness, make forgiveness one of the very most important factors in living healthily.
     "But I have already worked through forgiving ______ ...." So say most North American Christians. I have been astonished at the depth of deception many believers walk in regarding their need to forgive. They are angry, perfectionistic, controlling, passive-aggressive, etc.--all of these often symptoms of unresolved hurts--yet they think they have dealt with the things that feed these negative (and deadly) emotions! Dear ones, if negativity is part of your life in any ongoing way, something isn't right! And more often than not, the inner healing needed in such a case begins with a serious, lengthy and specific round of forgiving people (and sometimes God and/or oneself). Often I find that asking a person to "re-forgive" gets things started, sometimes releasing an avalanche of emotions, especially when the person names and forgives very specific things.
     Dr. Colbert notes that forgiveness may indeed involve a process before we are truly able to forgive from the heart. I quote him below.
Forgiveness releases layers of hurt and heals the raw, jagged edges of emotional pain. Saying "I forgive" is like taking an emotional shower-forgiveness cleanses and frees the entrapped soul.
Many times we have to take an initial step of forgiveness to start the forgiveness process. Sometimes we must repeat the act of forgiving each time a new set of painful memories comes to the surface.
One woman, who had divorced her abusive husband, said to me, "I know why Jesus said to forgive 70 times 7. I think I've forgiven my former husband 370 times by now. I just may need another 120 times of forgiveness before I get to the bottom of the forgiveness well!" (See Matt. 18:21-22.)
     Don Colbert M.D.. Deadly Emotions: Understand the Mind-Body-Spirit Connection That Can Heal or Destroy You (Kindle Locations 1684-1689). Kindle Edition.
     Here are a few more thoughts on forgiveness.
  1. Forgiveness is rooted in God's forgiveness for us. Most NT passages about forgiveness make this abundantly clear, including Jesus' compelling parable about forgiveness in Matthew 18:23-35.
  2. Forgiveness is never given on the basis of the other person(s) deserving it. Dr. Colbert says, "Forgiveness is not based on finding some redeeming quality that makes a person worth forgiving. We can never base genuine forgiveness upon an individual's 'good behavior' compensating for his previously hurtful behavior. Forgiveness is something that happens on the inside of you-it comes solely from your desire to forgive for the sake of forgiving." Deadly Emotions (Kindle Locations 1699-1701). Forgiveness is simply handing the other person over to God, releasing them and your right to "hurt them back."
  3. In the case of deep and continuing hurts, forgiveness is usually a process, repeated often, going deeper, etc.
  4. Forgiveness does not mean continuing to put oneself in harm's way.
  5. Forgiveness does not guarantee reconciliation with the other person. It may open the door for it, but it is a one-sided act on your part that releases you from bitterness and the other person into God's care.
     I could write more here, I suppose, but I think I will simply leave this to you and the Holy Spirit to sort out. Scripture makes it clear that there is a connection between forgiveness and healing (see James 5:14-16), and it also admonishes us to shower forgiveness (literally "graciousness") on one another as God has showered grace-filled forgiveness on us (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13 come to mind). Try it. You may be amazed at the depth of healing that is released in you or in others you care for.

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why Is It Taking So Long Me to Get Better?????

I was ambushed by a wave of mourning again this past week. Some of it was expected. Jettie's birthday was last Thursday, June 30, and I knew that "first" would be a bit rough, and it lived up to expectations with grief starting several days before the actual date then abating by the time the actual date arrived.

But the deep emotions and sense of loss didn't stop. Instead I felt like I was being assaulted by one wave of sorrow after another! I began to wonder if I had somehow messed up this mourning thing! But once again, Papa came to me, speaking to me through the Comforter, and reminded me that I was actually in the midst of three "firsts" within a short period of time: her birthday, July 4th (which she loved) and then our son Jon's birthday (today--happy birthday, beloved son!). As soon as Holy Spirit told me this, the lights came on for me. No wonder it felt like wave after wave was coming over me, with me having just enough time to get upright before being hit again!

It's a marvel to me how understanding something helps us to go through it. Just having God show me what was happening helped me put fears aside and once again lean into my mourning and embrace the tears. Our God is so very, very good, and I am grateful beyond words for His kindness to this still very broken man!

But there's more to this season right now, and I think I am supposed to share it with you. Obviously, one question that has come up for me of late is "Why is this taking so long?" In typical male fashion I keep wanting to get this thing over with! And because I am in a wonderful new relationship I had been thinking that I was indeed done with all of this, except for a few minor bumps. Okay, so that's a bit naive, but I am an indomitable optimist!

Anyway, Papa has been kind enough to answer my question about this, and I thought I would share a few of our conversations about this, lifted once again from journal. I trust that our conversation will be of some encouragement or other use to some of you.

From my journal entry on July 5 (with minor edits).
And speaking of my loss, you reminded me this morning that I have experienced a double loss in that Jettie was not only my lover but also best friend. I shared everything with her, as you know. This is a big thought, Papa, and one that helps me understand why more time is needed for mourning and for building relationship with CJ. And I also know this will go into what I write and/or speak about to others about the journey through grief and loss.
Pai, thank you, too, for the conversation with Jon. I was so broken that I couldn’t really talk that much, as you know. I am so broken right now, Papa, that I can’t even think of the conversation without starting to cry. What’s up with this, Papa? This is the most broken I have been since Valentine’s Day, I think, and it feels a little “dangerous” in that I am not very much in control of my emotions nor am I aware of what’s up! But I am still certain that you are holding me, Papa, in your righteous right hand.
But now, Papa. I seek your face. I am weary, as you know, of being so scattered and fragmented, but I cannot reassemble myself! My heart is still broken, I guess, on many levels.
But you are the One who heals the brokenhearted, so I bring my broken heart to you. Ah, Papa. Ah, Lord Jesus! Ah, Spirit Holy! I don’t want to go back in my journal even though I am sensing telling me to do so! But when I do go back, you send me back only 6 months, and there I find much treasure, including the truly apropos quote from Henri Nouwen, “The more afraid we are, the harder waiting becomes.” How true and how fitting for this season I am in right now when fear is once again troubling me. But I will rest in you.

From my journal entry on July 7 (with minor edits).
Papa, you know all things, though, so you know I am still more fragile than I expected to be this trip. I am fairly sure, too, that it’s connected with the challenge I am having getting and staying centered, yet even in this strange place I marvel at the level of peace I live in. Thank you for holding onto me so tightly, Father! But I long for more, so much more! And, Papa, I so don’t want to presume on your grace!
But even this morning, Papa, I find you reminding me that I am still more broken than I realize. Sigh. But I hear you encouraging me, and I find my mind and heart running to your word. But I dare not spend too much time “in my head,” Father, so I run back to you.
And as I listen, you tell me to go back one year, and I fearfully do so. It still hurts so much, Father! But it hurts differently than at first. Now it seems more about simply feeling loss. The first few months it felt more like I was grieving my sense of failure. It is clearly healthier to grieve loss! And the loss is far greater than I realized because it was obscured at first for a number of reasons. But I feel it now, Papa! Forty-one years! Why did I ever think I would recover from this in just a few short months? But you have led the mourning process all along, so here I am.

So there you have it. I am hoping that my transparency will once again serve at least some of you, if not right now then later. And I trust that you see most of all that this is so about God, not me. He is the one leading this process, carrying me along, speaking clearly and persistently until I get it. And the One who is Kindness and Grace will be just as persistent in His Kindness to you, dear one.

Healing at His pace...

Tom, one of Abba's wounded little boys

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hearing and Faith

     We learn to trust someone by getting to know them. We get to know them by listening to them and hanging out with them, in a sense, by “experiencing them.” Most of us know this, so it shouldn’t surprise us that it works the same way in our relationship with God. Our trust in Him grows as we get to know Him through our ongoing conversations with Him and our continuing experience of Him.
     For some reason, though, this truth has taken on deeper meaning for me lately. I find myself marveling that I spent so much of my life (55 years!) mostly deaf to Papa’s voice. Oh, my internal world was filled with voices, to be sure! But God’s voice was a rare visitor amidst the cacophony of sounds in my inner world. But I am indescribably grateful that those other voices have now been almost completely silenced and that the voice I now hear almost continuously is God’s voice. Yes, I am becoming more aware of just how clear He has made His voice to me! Much of the time, in wonderful ways, I hear even His whispers. And hearing Him (which includes sensing, seeing, knowing) has led to a deeper and deeper trust in Him. How remarkable this is, coming from a man who just a few years ago barely knew that God talked!
     The connection between hearing Him well and trusting Him more was recently reintroduced to me via my being led back to a journal entry from one year ago. In that entry I was reflecting on the connection between hearing and faith in the midst of the battle for Jettie’s life. I think that what I wrote may bless you:
     From a June 28, 2010 journal entry (slightly edited):
     Papa, as I ponder the events of last night, I think what strikes me the most is the wonder of how listening to you works. I am in awe that you are speaking so clearly to me right now, Papa, if I will just listen. And last night, as I was feeling I should be “more productive” you told me instead to read more in The List, and I was blown away by how deeply what I read touched me and confirmed so many things. And this morning, as I was wondering why we all don’t just listen all the time, I sensed you saying, “Because you think it’s too good to be true—that the God of the Universes would speak to you that clearly, that often, that well, that tenderly!” And that is so true, Papa! But you are changing this in me right now in ways that seem to be deeper than ever. And I am so undone with gratitude, even as I continue (as you of course know) to fend off fears. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Ah, Papa. Because you love us so much and want us to trust you, daily bread is all that we are promised, but it is promised! Yet we read so casually the passages in the Exodus story that tell how manna was given only for each day, without stopping to ponder what it would have been like to wake up each morning wondering if the manna would be there! What a picture of constant dependence and trust on you, and that’s only in the physical arena! Ah, Papa, we so want to find our security in things we (wrongly) think we have control over, when you are offering us yourself instead, the only true security. “In you, LORD, I take refuge…” “You are my refuge…”
     So once again I find myself face to face with how utterly important it is to hear God, all the time, about everything. If we cannot hear Him, how can we grow to trust Him? If we are to live by “every word that proceeds from His mouth,” (Deuteronomy 8:3b), how can we live if we cannot hear the words that are constantly proceeding from His mouth? Oh, how I long to help every believer know and understand by experience how to hear Papa’s voice! And please know that hearing God clearly is every believer’s privilege. You can learn to hear Him really well, too. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice” NOT “some of my sheep hear my voice.” If you are one of His sheep, you can hear His voice.
So here are a few thoughts on how you can increase your moment-by-moment hearing of His voice. Please note that these are listed as equals, not as a prioritized list. All of these are important, methinks!
·        Listen! You won’t hear what you are not listening for. It takes practice to learn to listen, whether we are learning to listen to other people or to God. But taking the time to listen, listen, listen, quieting our heart to do so, is really important if you would learn to hear God’s voice well.
·        Be willing to do whatever He says. He loves you and wants to “partner” with you, not obliterate you and your desires, so it’s safe to listen and respond when He gives guidance and instruction!
·        Lay aside as many assumptions and preconceptions as you possibly can. You won’t hear what you don’t think He will say. One way this has worked out in my life is that I now am able to hear Papa’s frequent affirmation and encouragement. Until I realized that He would actually say things like, “That was well done” or “I really liked it when you…” I was unable to hear Him even though He was indeed saying things like that to me (every good Father affirms and encourages, so the Perfect Father does so even more).
·        Learn to hear Him in Scripture. Most believers know that there is a connection between hearing God in His Word and growing in faith and they usually quote Romans 10:17, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” to “prove this.” And they read God’s word to “build their faith.” But this is not what this particular passage means. “Hearing God’s word” in this passage refers to hearing the spoken message of the Gospel about Christ. So just reading the Bible, stuffing ourselves with information to “build faith” is not really how hearing God’s word and faith are connected. Rather, because faith is a relational term that refers to trust, the kind of “hearing God in His Word” that builds faith is hearing God as He speaks to us Spirit to spirit through His Word. It is hearing God’s word spoken into our circumstances and spoken into our hearts. We hear Papa in His word and get to know Him better when the Spirit enlightens what we are reading so that we hear God speak directly to our hearts through a passage. Again, stilling our hearts and taking time to listen (and respond as is appropriate) will greatly increase our hearing God through Scripture.
     Well, I am not sure I have said what is burning in my heart, but I have at least tried. My burning passion is to help every follower of Jesus engage in a “running conversation” with Father God, by His Spirit, in the same way that Jesus did. In my opinion, there is no other way to truly “build faith.” But if we hear Him and get to know Him, there is no limit to how much “God-confidence” will grow! May it be so for us all!

Listening for Abba's whispers,

Tom, One of His little boys