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