Saturday, December 29, 2012

Slow to Anger, Abounding in Love

     A conversation God and I had yesterday gave birth to today's reflections. God's words to me yesterday triggered a lot of reflection on what I call the "golden thread of God's goodness" in the Old Testament, a repeated phrase that describes God as "the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness..." (NIV) Nine times in the Old Testament we catch a glimpse of this shimmering expression of the true character of our Father (Exodus 34:6,  Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 86:15, 103:8 and 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2 and Nahum 1:2.). The New Living Translation renders it well. Exodus 34:6 reads, "Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness." 
     I am not sure why this is so hard for me/us to grasp. Maybe it isn't for you. But even though I have had this worked into me for many years now, even though I have written similar words to what I write today (see, for example, the following previous blogs by clicking here or here.), I still tend to forget that God's basic nature is one of patient, unfailing, endless love (the settled commitment to do what is best for me, no matter what it costs Him along with deep affection for me and much more). 
     I smile as I write this, though, because God's patience with us is why He keeps reminding us that He is patient! And God's love for us is why He keeps reminding us and showing us (in thousands of ways) that He loves us! We find ourselves in a beautiful quandary: no matter which way we turn, we run into His love!
     But does His patience with us give us permission to take advantage of Him or to continue to wallow in self-focus or engage in harmful things? Of course not. God's love for us is what leads us to transformation and gives us the power to get there (both in choosing and in doing). What His patience does is give us an always-present, safe Person to run to, no matter what. Father knows that He alone is our refuge, He alone can lead us to wholeness and purposeful living. He alone gives fruitfulness and life, not as some sort of Heavenly Santa Claus but as a loving Parent who guides His children to mature partnership with Him in His purposes. So it is that He will pursue us with His patience and chase us down with His love neither to leave us in a mess nor to "make things magically easy" but to bring us once again into the sphere of His transforming love and power. 
     So what about you? Do you need a reminder of Papa's patience and love for you today? I feel like I am still a toddler in terms of really understanding intimacy with Him and/or how to partner with Him in His purposes, yet if I don't lean on His patience I become discouraged and disabled. Perhaps that's why He and I had the following interchange yesterday as He once again reminded me of the "golden strand of His goodness." Now I invite you to step into the inner sanctuary of my heart as He and I converse. Perhaps something in our conversation will speak to you as well. I close with this excerpt from my journal.
     (Excerpted from my journal, December 28, 2012). "I am making progress, Papa, as you lead and shape me. Forgive me for complaining along the way. I suppose I would do that less if I would just let you love me. I realized afresh this morning (or was it last night) how little I truly understand intimacy with you and how I have tended to view even the journey into intimacy as a series of things to be checked off a list! Show me your ways, bring me into your heart, I pray, Papa. I can’t even understand this, and certainly can’t live this, unless you aid me all along the way.
    'It’s not that hard, little one. Just keep listening and allowing me to love you! I won’t lose track of you nor will I run out of love and patience.'
     Ah, Father. That last line especially gets to me: you never run out of patience! I need to remember that 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 really is a description of who you always are." 

Marveling at His abounding love,

Tom, one of His little children

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Wonder And A Marvel

     "Season of Wonder" has for me always been one of the best descriptions of Christmas. The marvel of the incarnation has captured me for as long as I can remember. Perhaps that's why my favorite Christmas passages to read to my sons when they were little--something we did every Christmas before opening any gifts--were John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:5-11. Yes, we read the other Christmas passages as well from time to time, but these two incarnation passages were, I think, the most popular by far, even with my sons.
     My sons both caught the wonder and marvel in the same way, I think, and I can't describe the joy that I have as a Father to see that my sons "caught" the same wonder that their daddy did! Josh even wrote a song about it a few years back, entitled "A Wonder and A Marvel." The words to his song capture many of the high points of this amazing season, so I paste them here in the hope that they will aid you in seeing the wonder. You can also download a rather low quality MP3 of the song by going here

A Wonder and A Marvel
© copyright by Josh Wymore.
Wonder of wonders: eternity entered time.
Marvel of marvels: the Word became flesh.
And I wonder, and I marvel how he came and dwelt among his own.
And I wonder, and I marvel how his own knew him not.
Wonder of wonders: majesty clothed with humility.
Marvel of marvels: the Word became flesh.

And I wonder, and I marvel that the light stepped into the darkness.
And I wonder, and I marvel that men loved the darkness instead of the light.
Wonder of wonders: God the Son became the Son of Man.
Marvel of marvels: the Word became flesh.

And I wonder, and I marvel that he came not to condemn but to save.
And I wonder, and I marvel that he made those who received him the very children of God.

And I wonder, and I marvel how the light broke through into the darkness.
And I glory, and I glory that the darkness could not overcome the light!

Wonder of wonders.
Marvel of marvels.
Glory of glories.
That God became a man.

Lost in wonder that God became a man!

Tom, one of Abba's wonder-filled children

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Running Towards His Smile

      It started with a footnote. Two little lines at the end of Psalm 16 as translated by Brian Simmons in the Passion Translation. Here's what it said: "There is no Hebrew word for 'presence.' When the psalmist wanted to speak of God's presence he used the word for 'face.'"
     It's hard to describe what happened to me when I read those words, but one thing for sure is that I was drawn into a deeper place of intimacy with Papa as I meditated on the difference between the rather impersonal sounding "presence of God" and the much more intimate sounding "face of God." I thought of one of the theme passages of my life, Exodus 33:14-15 and how different it sounds to read it when we hear God saying, "My face will go with you, and I will give you rest," and to read Moses' response as "If we can't see your face, don't send us up from here." I thought of the lyrics to the Paul Wilbur song, "Show Me Your Face." (Which you can view by clicking here.) And I thought of the chorus to a worship song I wrote a few years back, "Face to Face."
          So we will run, we will hide, we will rest in your grace.
          We will laugh, we will dance in your loving embrace.
          For you are willing, and you are waiting
          To meet us face to face.
     I thought, too, of the amazing truth that as a believer my spirit is constantly gazing upon God's face through the Holy Spirit. We really do live in the constant state of meeting God face to face!
     Papa showed me part of the significance of this yesterday as I watched our newest grandson, Kai, show me how he can walk. I noticed something I'd never caught before: as Kai walked into his daddy's arms, he was looking intently at his daddy's smiling face the entire time. Not once did he look at his feet, not once did look at me to see if I was watching. He simply ran towards his daddy's smile.
     I wonder what it would look like to look at Daddy's face and run towards Daddy's smile....

Looking at His face, running towards His smile, even while deeply aware today of how broken our world is and how so many today need our prayers and not our explanations.

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, December 8, 2012

His Tender Mercies

     I was in Brazil last week, and we were quite busy most of the time, hence no blog entry for last week.     
     Today, in continuing my writing on intimacy with God, I choose to give you yet another glimpse of my conversations with Papa as I reflect on His remarkable tenderness with us. I wrote these words in my journal this morning.
    "I am glad, Papa, that you have healed me up a lot compared to 2 years ago. The poignant and gripping words from this date in my journal there let me know that you are healing me, Father. If nothing else, of course, I have seen through this journey just how amazing you are, how patient, how kind, how infinitely good." 
     As some of you know, two years ago I was deep in the throes of grief and wrestling with all kinds of emotions as I looked at the ruins of my life. For some reason, even back then, though, I found myself expecting God to tell me to "suck it up" and be tough. I am not sure why that was the case--that's pretty much how I was raised, I guess--but whatever the reason, I kept being blown away by God's kindness and by His tender yet relentless pursuit of my heart. At every point I found myself in His embrace, no matter what my frame of mind or emotional state. Whether I was in the depths of despair, feeling like a miserable failure, trying hard to be strong, or whatever, I kept "bumping into" my Father's love. He was and continues to be infinitely patient and tender with me, and I am convinced that His "tender mercies approach" is what brought me to my current state of strength and wholeness. The following is from my journal on December 8, 2010.
    "I keep expecting you to tell me to 'suck it up' like my dad tended to do. Somehow it rarely occurs to me that you don’t do that when someone is 'bleeding all over the floor,' or even that I would never, ever do that to anyone. Do I think I am kinder than you are???? Where on earth did we get this notion that telling wounded people to be tough is best for them? Who would go to a doctor who gave that advice? And this is a wound far deeper than any physical wound."
     But wait, you say! Surely there is a place for toughness and pressing in and on. Yes, of course there is. But timing and context determine how the encouragement to be strong is given. God is perfectly attuned to where you are and what your circumstances are, dear one. So when you are "bleeding all over the floor" because of tragedy, you will find His tender mercies inviting you to be healed, not cruelly telling you to get over it! When you are starting to recover but still walking with a limp, you will find His tender mercies urging you forward: "I am with you. Don't be afraid. Keep pressing on. In your weakness you will be made strong." And even when you are feeling on top of the world, you will discover His tender mercies! This time they will be there to remind you to live in gratitude and graciousness, to fiercely enjoy the feeling of the wind beneath your wings while also preparing for the inevitable trials ahead. Everywhere you turn: His tender mercies! It's not like He runs out of grace, eh? I think I read something somewhere about His mercies being renewed every morning..... 
     Not sure why I wrote about this today. I am still fuzzy from a virus I've been fighting, so maybe this is the best I can do! I truly do wish, though, that I could convey what's in my heart--what I saw this morning as I peered into God's heart and saw His kindness. Yes, He will stretch us, challenge us, exhort us, but I marvel at how He does all of this with such grace and gentleness as His first resort!

Marveling at His mercy,

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Activities of Intimacy

     Last week I promised to write this entry about the "activities of intimacy." It's important, as I said last week, that we get the motivation right first, but there are actions involved deepening our relationship with God (or with anyone, for that matter). What are some of those actions? Here are a few thoughts.
     First, one of my favorite things to say to people about their relationship with God is, "If you turn your relationship with God into a human relationship and it looks odd, you need to question how you are going about it!" What I mean by that is that even though a relationship with the God of the Universe has many obviously unique qualities about it, at its heart it's still a relationship and is built in the same way any healthy relationship is built. 
     If I want to get to know someone and deepen my relationship with him/her, I have to hang out with that person, listen to that person, share my heart with that person, care about what that person cares about, etc. So what do these things look like when we put them into practice in our desire to deepen our relationship with God? Perhaps it's easier to say what it shouldn't look like: "Having devotions," checking off the Scripture reading for today, going over the prayer checklist are shallow and often feeble attempts to build a relationship with Papa God. This is where my little suggestion comes into play. What would my wife think if I spent time with her every day in the same place in the same way covering the same things, etc., like some believers do with God? What would my best friend think if I listened to him via a checklist, reading, for example a certain number of emails or listening for a certain length of time then moving on to other things? What would I as a parent think of my sons if they came to me with a checklist of things to ask for? I think you get the picture.
     Now I am not saying that there shouldn't be intentionality in our times with God. I am not suggesting that we can't have some "routine" in being alone with God or similar activities. There are, in fact, several things in my walk with God that are quite routine and very intentional. I always present myself to God in the mornings and choose to sit with Him until the awareness of His presence overshadows everything else. I always journal my thoughts (and His thoughts) on a daily basis. I often lift concerns for others into His presence for His answers and for His counsel. I do seek to discover Him in the pages of Scripture as He leads. I guess the difference is that I view my times with Papa as a "date" rather than a duty. And I when I read Scripture I am seeking to get to know the Promise-Keeper more than I am looking for promises, and I am longing to meet the Prince of Peace rather than find 10 principles for having peace. I also find myself in conversation with Him throughout the day rather than relegating my relationship with Him to a set time and place with a checklist in hand. I trust you can see the difference here. And I hope you don't hear me implying that I have this down pat! It's important for you to know that it's taken a while for God to lead me to this shift from religious activity to activities of intimacy, and I am still a work in progress. But I am living proof that a highly "religious" and duty-oriented "Martha" can become a Jesus-captured, intimacy-addicted "Mary." If it can happen for me, it can happen for you if it hasn't already.
     It's also important to know that our uniqueness as individuals means that God will customize and personalize how He relates to each of us in ways that best fits how He made us. For example, some folks find that being outdoors in natural beauty helps them to draw close to God, but others find that being outdoors distracts or otherwise hinders their relationship with God. Some folks find that music helps them quiet down and hear God's whispers. Others find that it pulls them away from inner stillness because they start singing along! My point is: find what best works for you in terms of building awareness of God's love and grace, find what works best in terms of how you "hear" Him and let Him lead you deeper into those kinds of activities. Remember that Papa is far more eager about this than you ever could be! My sense is that anyone who chooses to stop "doing things to be a better Christian" and starts living in a way that builds a trusting relationship with Papa will find their own unique "activities of intimacy." That's certainly my prayer for any and all whom Papa brings across my path!

Pursuing the Pursuer,

Tom, One of Abba's children

Friday, November 9, 2012

Responding to the Great Initiator

     Last week, as I began my multi-part answer to Tony's question about intimacy with God, I wrote the following: "The word 'responder' implies action. But it's a different kind and type of 'action.' A response to another's initiations is different from my effort to initiate something, but it's still a response and involves activity. But it's a very different kind of activity, motivated by a very different understanding of the why of that activity." I also said I would have to expand on these thoughts later, so today is the "later," at least for the question of motivation.
     It's probably obvious that motivation varies depending on how we view a relationship with someone. We can all think of stories of one-sided or lop-sided love where only one partner was fully engaged and participating. But surely that's not true for our relationship with God, right? In reality, of course, the answer is "No!" But what about our perception of God's role in our relationship? Most of us would deny that we view God as reluctant or "playing hard to get," but the behavior of many believers says otherwise. I often find a striving and anxiety in many "seekers of God" that is totally out of line with a mutually passionate relationship, and I am convinced that the reason for this is that many folks really don't know God as the fiercely loving and pursuing God that He is. 
     As we experience the truth about God's love in our hearts, our motivation shifts from one of fear and frantic desperation (hoping we might find Him if we work hard enough, are sincere enough, etc.) to one of desire and expectancy that stirs us to go to any length to find Him. We find ourselves "waiting in ambush" for the God who is already after us! (There's a reason why "wait" in the Bible means "wait in hopeful expectation," isn't there? It gives us a picture of us waiting in ambush for a loving Daddy rather than chasing heartlessly after a rather disinterested God who plays "hide and seek.")
     I won't talk about the activity of intimacy until next week, but please note that any action that flows from healthy motivation is even more focused and intense than action that's motivated by fear. Unhealthy, fearful motivation ("I hope He loves me," "If I can just make Him love me...") can never lead to a healthy relationship because we are attempting to build a relationship with a distorted image of God rather than with God Himself--you cannot have an intimate relationship with an illusion! Furthermore, we simply will not be able to allow our hearts to fully embrace One we fear more than we love and trust. On the other hand, if "I know that I know that I know" that I will find infinite love waiting for me, I will gladly allow the Lover to love me and will passionately pursue my Pursuer. Looking for the One we know adores us and desires us far more than we desire Him changes everything, and it opens the door to intimacy beyond comprehension. We can forever drown in the depths of His love--there is no end, not ever. Song of Songs 3:4 captures some of this, I think: "I found the One I adore, my Beloved! I caught Him and fastened myself to Him, Refusing to be feeble in my heart again." (Brian Simmons, The Most Amazing Song of All by King Solomon- The Passion Translation.
     So my friends, if we really do grasp that God is the Initiator and is actively and fiercely pursuing us in order to be good to us and "love on us," it changes everything! But how do we get there? One thing that has helped me immensely is Papa's frequent reminder of the many love-infused times I had with my sons. The two pictures on this blog are snapshots of many, many fun and love-filled times that Jon and Josh and I enjoyed. I think of many walks down the beach, times going fishing, wrestling on the floor, etc. I also think of times when my love was fierce and aggressive: a time when I rushed down a hill to pluck Josh out of an anthill--nothing would have stopped me from reaching him! I think of how my sons were hesitant to tell me about anyone "messing with them" because of how fiercely I would move to protect them! My sons knew that I was fierce and unrelenting in my love for them (I still am), and God has used the images of my life with my sons many times to show me how to respond to Him. He is infinitely more loving and fierce in His love for me than I could ever be, even though I cannot imagine a love stronger than the love I have for my family!  
     But lest you think I write as one who has all of this down pat, I will tell you that even writing these words today has caused me to "repent" and adjust my view of Papa. How easy it is, this many years into this journey, to revert back to pursuing a God I believe is rather distant and committed to making things hard on me! (But the good news is that He still comes after me/us in my faulty perspective and attitude--amazing!)
     And so I return to new motivation, responding to the Initiator because His love for me makes anything else worthless! I close with a "response" to the Lover of our souls from the Song of Songs (4:6)--another quote from Brian Simmons' Passion Translation that I think expresses well the deep motivation that comes from seeing our Lover as He really is: "I’ve made up my mind. Until the darkness disappears And the dawn has fully come, In spite of shadows and fears—I will go to the mountain top with You. I will climb with You The mountain of suffering love and the hill of burning incense. Yes, I will be Your bride."

Wandering in the depths of His love...

Tom, one Abba's dearly loved children