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