Saturday, January 21, 2012

We Want More!

     I was "born again" ("born from above" is closer to what the term means) when I was a Bible college freshman (better late than never!). From that day to this, Papa has placed in me a longing for genuine encounters with Him and especially for His people to be truly awakened! I became an early and devoted student of spiritual awakenings, and my reading the stories of what God has done and is doing even now has only served to increase my hunger. 
     Perhaps this is the reason why I am most at home with those who share this passion, regardless of their church tribe or format. I love being around people who are so hungry for God that their continuing cry to God is "We want more of you! More of your presence, more of your power, more!"
     Some, I suppose, would question the legitimacy of asking God for more of Himself, since in some ways we already have Him living inside of us and we live in Him, but there is clear biblical precedent for asking God to saturate us with His Spirit. Paul's passionate hunger to know Christ (in resurrection power and in His sufferings) comes to mind. There is no doubt that Paul's words here are speaking of ongoing encounters with Jesus. And then there's his admonition to the Ephesians not to get drunk on wine but to "be being filled with  the Spirit." That sounds like "We want more!" to me, especially since the context implies an experience similar to the Day of Pentecost. And since Paul was definitely one whom we would describe as already full of the Spirit, his instruction has special weight. This is the man who prayed in tongues more than all of the Corinthians! This is the man who was caught up into the third heaven. This man, writing late in his life, encourages his readers to be seeking to "be being saturated" with God's Spirit.
     Church history also gives encouragement to seeking ongoing and increasing encounters with God. Every great spiritual awakening was preceded by intense hunger for God as well as a spirit of repentance. And the descriptions of what transpired when God answered the desperate cries for more of Him are remarkable (and scary for those for whom God is an idea rather than a Person whom you regularly encounter!).
     So I cry out with many of kindred spirit, "Lord Jesus! Saturate me, inundate me, overwhelm me with your Spirit!" I am not seeking a mere experience, but I am expecting encounters that leave no doubt that God has touched me at levels beyond my comprehension. 
     An infinite God always has more of Himself to give to us, dear ones. And biblical encounters with God are always attended by experiential evidence (often overwhelming) that He has revealed Himself in a special way. 
     “But some who want more don’t give it away very well. They don’t deserve more, do they?” Yes, it's true that some people seem to be "experience junkies," and it's rather annoying to some folks that God keeps on touching them! But no one deserves grace! God gives us Himself to us, He overwhelms us with His embrace and pours His Spirit out upon us, not because we deserve it but because it’s His nature, and because He loves us with an unconditional love. Unconditional love will always give more—no strings attached. And it's my opinion that anyone who gets really "saturated" will eventually overflow. Some people stop short of saturation because they feel unworthy or because they stop listening and get stuck somewhere short of maturity. But the scandalous “wastefulness of grace” will keep giving more until we get it. 
     And so we cry out for more! And I will do so until I see His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, until what I have read about in history becomes our reality!
     It is written about Smith Wigglesworth that he wept when he saw Niagara Falls and cried out, "Like that, Lord, like that!" I weep even as I think of his passion, and I marvel that I understand it! And we are so close, dear ones! Just last Sunday Father said to me that what we have experienced so far is just a thimbleful, and that what He has ahead for more than Niagara Falls, it is IguaƧu Falls! (Largest average annual flow of water in the world!). 
     So I will unashamedly align myself with the desperate but expectant ones who say, "We want more!"

Tom, one of Abba's thirsty little boys              

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Please Don't MOGWOG Me!

     "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth." (1 Corinthians 3:5-7 HCSB).
     For reasons not entirely clear to me, Christians universally seem to have a tendency to MOGWOG those who serve them (Man Of God, Woman Of God). That is, they place them on a pedestal and give them undue honor (there is, of course, a place for honoring folks, but not in the way that places them in a superior position in one's mind, hence my use of "undue." See Danny Silk's Culture of Honor for more.).
     There are so many dangers in this tendency to MOGWOG people that I don't know where to begin, so let me simply list a few and trust the Holy Spirit to bring you whatever insight you personally need from these thoughts. Here we go.
  1. MOGWOGing people leads to our dividing from others who choose to MOGWOG someone else. This is Paul's major concern in the first part of the 1 Corinthian letter. Whenever we exalt a person we inevitably set ourselves up to not esteem others, and in typical human fashion we end up "choosing sides" based on whom we MOGWOG. See Paul's horror at this in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, and the first part of his answer to it in verses 18-31 of the same chapter (he reminds the Corinthians of God's supremacy, of the frailty of all humans, of the remarkable "equalizing effect" of the Gospel, etc.)
  2. MOGWOGing people also causes us to miss what someone else may have to contribute to our life. We see this a lot, don't we? It's seen in the long prayer line in front of the "mighty Man of God/Woman of God." It's seen in people choosing to read only from a few select sources, etc. How sad to miss a treasure simply because it came through someone not recognized as a MOGWOG! And how contrary to how Jesus wants His Body to function when it's the Holy Spirit who distributes through whomever He wishes for the common good (including many whom others may not "exalt" as a MOG or WOG). I could write pages on this, but for now, take a look at 1 Corinthians 12 and see if you get what I am hinting at.
  3. MOGWOGing people can lead to personal discouragement in our own spiritual life. When I designate someone as a "mighty Man/Woman of God" I either imply that they are exceptional in some way and have by their own efforts achieved some sort of elite status that most people cannot attain, or I imply that God has somehow shown them special favor not available to others. I don't know about you, but for me this is discouraging! I look at the few abilities and life experiences I have and think, "Well, I guess I can never really amount to much, since I am not like MOGWOG over there." 
  4. MOGWOGing people can also lead to our depending upon the MOGWOG instead of Papa God. This is a big one, I think, and one that keeps folks stunted in their spiritual growth (perhaps that's what Paul was getting at in the verses above, eh?). If we think a MOGWOG has a special inroad into God's favor or a special elite ability to hear God better than most, it's almost inevitable that we would take the spiritual and emotional shortcut of looking to the MOGWOG for that which Holy Spirit wants to supply to us through our own exercise of taking the time and discipline needed to hear/see it. 
  5. MOGWOGing people is not good for the person we are MOGWOGing! Not that this is a big issue for an obscure person like me, but please don't MOGWOG me! I struggle enough with the tendency to pride (born out of insecurities waiting to be healed and an insufficient view of Papa's love). I don't need your "help" through your thinking I am special. Yes, encourage me, love me, forgive me, rejoice with me at what Papa's grace does in and through me, but don't MOGWOG me or anyone else you love. I really do want to be just Abba's little boy, and it's struggle enough to stay there without fighting of the misguided accolades of those who need to MOGWOG someone. (But you are forgiven if you have done so! :-).
     Okay, so this is sort of tongue in cheek today. But please catch my heart and what I trust Papa wants to say to you through these simple thoughts. Maybe I will write more later, but for now, may there be many brothers and sisters in Jesus in your life, and yes, even a few mothers and fathers, but no MOGWOGs!

Slipping off the pedestal....

Tom, One of Abba's little boys

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Living Loved????

     I have, I think, written before about the sum of our life in Jesus being to live loved, listening and saturated (by Holy Spirit), but that phrase has come back to me again and again in recent days because of my (our?) subtle tendency to return to performance-based living.
     I continue to be amazed at how easy it is, even 7 1/2 years into this journey, to occasionally revert to behavior that is based upon a paradigm of needing to earn/deserve what God wants to freely give. Last week I wrote about how God wins us and woos us into trusting Him, and I continue to see Him do that, of course, even as I still sometimes suffer amnesia as it relates to His unconditional love for us.
     God's unconditional love for us means that it's never a question of deserving or earning by doing in order to receive from Him. I can always receive from Him the very best by simply asking, resting and trusting. Yes, real love sometimes says "No" or "Not yet" to what we ask, because love will supply us what we really need, not just what we want or think we need! But the question of deserving is once for all settled by the infinite extent and unconditional nature of God's love for you/me. Clearly, then, the  more we can learn to live fully aware of God's love for us, the more likely we are to live lives that are maturing, peaceful, wholehearted and a genuine blessing to others.
    But we do forget! And I wonder if sometimes the reason you and I "forget" how to live loved is that our church culture (every form of it) has in it a subtle tendency to shift our focus away from Papa's love (and His sovereign working out of that love in human history) and back onto us. It seems that I often hear subtle distortions that say something like this, "Yes, you are loved unconditionally and live only by grace, but if you really want to position yourself to be blessed by God you need to do _____." For some reason those of us who live under the New Covenant (by grace, always by grace, because of love, always because of love to which we respond and which we receive but cannot strive for), seem to think we still live under the Old Covenant ("If you do ____, then I will do ___.") This Old Covenant thinking is apparently fed by the common failure to read the Old Testament through the filter of the New Testament. And the problem with it is that an emphasis on "I must/should..." inevitably leads into self-focused and self-conscious behavior and us away from simple childlike trust that alone leads to wholeness and maturity.
    Another subtle thing that seems to feed this tendency to forget God's love is that Christians sometimes seem to imply that God somehow needs us to do things. "If we don't pray then He won't work." "If we don't, He won't" Even if we don't say these things this blatantly, such thinking seems to color our view of things, doesn't it? But not only is such thinking totally at odds with how God really works (Ephesians 1:11 says, "God works everything out according to His predetermined purpose." (italics mine), it also shifts the focus back to our responsibility and then back on to performance. 
     But God doesn't need you or me to do anything to accomplish His perfect will. Yes, He does invite us to join Him in what He is doing. But we are joining Him because He wants us to share in His joy as He works, not because He needs us to accomplish what He is doing! I pray you can see the difference that this little tweak in thinking will make in how we view our walk with Him. It releases us to enter into His joy by following Him while also freeing us from the self-focus that inevitably comes from a warped sense of responsibility. The joy of doing God's will is that it is God's will, and He will accomplish all that He intends. When we understand that we are simply joining Him in His inevitable and unshakeable purposes, we are free from self-focus, measuring the wrong thing, jumping to conclusions, etc. No wonder, then, that Jesus was, because of His awareness of Abba's love, constantly watching for what His Father was doing! (John 5:19)
     "But wait," you say! "What about the principle of sowing and reaping?" "What about "as each part does its work" in Ephesians 4:16? "Don't these suggest that there is doing involved?" Yes, but when we live loved, the motive for doing is different: I am doing, sowing--whatever--from a place of deep awareness of Father's love for me and others, not from a fearful place of false responsibility and striving. This type of thinking keeps me focused in utter fascination on a loving Father's face, whereas the other type of thinking causes me to always be checking progress and performance. I highly recommend the first one!
     Perhaps this tendency to forget God's unconditional love is why Paul prayed that very familiar prayer for the Ephesians, "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge –that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (3:17b-19 NIV). Paul knew, as experience teaches us, that we need constant infusions of Papa's love, poured out by His Spirit, imprinted on our lives in a million ways, to keep us on the journey towards wholeness and destiny. 
     And how encouraging it is to know that God is still answering that prayer! God's love for you and me is not passive. Rather He is pursuing us with His love, chasing us down with goodness and mercy (the real meaning of Psalm 23:6). And His unrelenting persistence in loving us in this way, will, I pray, eventually win our hearts!
     "Papa, love us away from self-focused performance into the joyful dance of childlike trust, I pray!"

Tom, one of Abba's dearly loved children