Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gentle Father

     In just a few days, I will be marrying a most remarkable woman. I am a twice blessed man in the area of marriage! King Lemuel's mother said to him, "A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies" (Proverbs 31:10), but God, the ultimate Matchmaker, has found two such women to bring into my life! I am undone by His kindness, overwhelmed by His goodness.
     And I marvel at how much healing Papa has brought to me over the past many months so that I am able to love again, laugh again, trust again, live again! I am filled with joy, and I cannot thank God enough for bringing me to this season in my journey.
     What has stood out the most to me all along my journey with God, and especially over the past couple of years, has been God's gentleness as He shaped me even while healing me. I sometimes hear people describe God's words to them as sounding harsh, but I have never heard a harsh word from Papa--firm and direct, yes, but never harsh and never condemning. I invite you, then, to reconsider your hearing if our Gentle Father sounds otherwise to you.
     I was reminded of God's gentleness today as I went back one year in my journal at His nudging and found the following interchange between Father and me. I have edited the interchange only a little, but as I often do, I am giving you a transparent look into my Papa time in order to invite you into the place of intimacy with a Gentle Father who loves you more than you can imagine and who invites rather than coerces, woos rather than shames and commands only if love fails to bring a life-giving response from us. See what you hear Papa saying to you in the following interchange between God and me February 18, 2011. (The blue text is what I sensed Him saying to me). 
You have caused me to face my worst fear, then experience it, and then you come to me to restore. I have had to be humbled in order to be healed, yet this is your kindness, not cruelty. Help me to find your kindness more than ever, Abba. Ah, Papa, I still don’t get it, do I? I still don’t get your love for me…
“Little one, no, you don’t get it. Not like you will get it. Yes, you still seem to think that once you get a little bit okay, you should not be ‘needy,’ and so you run from my embrace like you always have. But I will change that, child. I will pursue you with my love, I will trash your faulty paradigms, I will destroy the enemy’s lies with the Breath of Truth. But I will do all of this with utmost gentleness and kindness. Child, I know you don’t need harshness! Do you know that? I know that you don’t need someone telling you to ‘Buck up!’ And so I will woo you with my tenderness, invite you with my affection. But you are still thinking that this cannot be, that it’s too good to be true, that it will make you selfish to live this way. I must change this, little one, and I will. I will allure you, chase you down, persist in my invitation, redirect your thoughts, until I have you at last! Yes, I will do all of this and much, much more. Believe it, child. I am good beyond your wildest dreams and I will reveal my goodness to you. Does that phrase sound familiar to you, child?
     “I love you, child, and I am NOT disappointed in you. Live in my love, little one. The road I have placed you on is THE WAY, and it will not slip away from you nor will I allow you to slip away from it. The purposes I have revealed for you stand firm, child. Yes, this is your destiny, and I have to keep making things deeper in you for that destiny to be fulfilled. So come close, child, and let my Spirit come upon you and my love embrace you. I will indeed show you my face."
     Yes, God is that gentle for those who respond to His gentleness! I know that some of what I and others like me write runs against the "religious grain" of a performance-based Christian religion, but I am more convinced than ever, having been through the fire and watching beauty rise from the ashes, that our best ideas of a Gentle Father, a Kind yet also Holy Father, fall infinitely short of how gentle and kind He really is. So I unashamedly invite you to enter into His kindness and experience His gentleness and watch what happens as His kindness leads to transformation beyond your wildest dreams!

Utterly undone by His gentle ways,

Tom, one Abba's very grateful children

Friday, February 10, 2012

Two Are Better Than One

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 ESV)
"And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing." (Luke 9:1-2a ESV) 
"And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits." (Mark 6:7)
     God never intended "ministry," perhaps especially the ministry of announcing the Kingdom of God with its accompanying supernatural power, to be done alone. At least three reasons for this come readily to mind. The first and less obvious reason is that the message of the Kingdom of God is a message about "family" and loving, healthy relationships. A single individual, alone in proclaiming this message of family without any brothers and sisters with him/her to demonstrate it, is an giving an incomplete proclamation at best. In other words, the disciples who were sent out in pairs not only announced this new Kingdom and validated it through supernatural power, they also modeled it through their relationships with one another. It would, after all, be rather odd to have one person speak of "loving one another" if there was not "another" to love!
     I am quite convinced that this is one of the main reasons why Paul never traveled alone in his journeys. He knew that he was called to model the loving relationships of God's new family as well as to talk about it. The Apostle Peter, too, traveled and ministered with others (see, for example, Acts 10:23).
     A second reason that God intends ministry to take place through community rather than a lone individual is seen in the scripture from Ecclesiastes above: there is a strength and support in being connected with others. And in my opinion this is not just personal strength for the people in the relationship, but also an increased benefit  in terms of what God is able to bring to others through the partnership. In other words, as powerful as Paul's ministry was, it would have been less powerful if he had chosen to be alone rather than teamed up with Barnabas or Silas or Timothy and/or others. It may not be mere coincidence, then, that Paul's least fruitful time of ministry happened when he was alone in Athens--see Acts 17. There is a synergistic release of God's love and power that happens when His people choose to serve others as a team rather than alone. 
     The third reason that we should avoid the "one man (or woman) band" approach to ministry is perhaps the most obvious: there is too much danger for the raw power of the Kingdom of God to lead one astray when s/he is all alone. Jesus clearly taught that power alone is not a sign of God's approval or true fruitfulness but rather character is. It's character, not power, that most clearly demonstrates the Kingdom of God (see Jesus' rather scary words in Matthew 7:15-23). And character cannot be developed in a relational vacuum but obviously requires us to be in deep relationships with others. This does not mean, of course, that character alone is enough, but it's clearly the premier mark of authenticity.
     But if we are in healthy relationship with another as we experience God's power demonstrating His Kingdom's presence, we have a built in safeguard against pride and the "pedestal syndrome"  that people have when they see "success" and power in an individual. There's nothing like God flowing powerfully through your partner while you are in the background to help bring a healthy perspective to one's heart! There's also something good about having a partner remind you of whose power it is when things do happen through you!
     Western church history is littered with the wreckage of "great" evangelists and pastors who crashed and burned with painful consequences not only for themselves but for many others. But I am quite convinced that most of these crashes could have been prevented if those involved had gone out "two by two" as Jesus sent out the disciples. And it is my prayer that in these days of increasing supernatural power that God's people will return to ministering "two by two" so that the Kingdom will be modeled well, released in the power of a godly partnership through those who walk in humility with others.
    What do you think?

    Tom, one of Abba's many children 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Follow Faith, Not Fear

     I was on the road last week, watching Papa love on some folks that He and I both love, so I somehow didn't get around to writing anything for the five of you who read this :-)
    "Follow faith, not fear." These words, given to me long ago by a wise friend (Thanks, Steve!) while I was wrestling with a major decision, have stayed with me ever since. They came back to me today as I was once again made aware of how we humans tend to live so much of our lives from a place of fear. I have written about God's answers to fear more than once--if you want to check those entries out, just do a search of this blog on "afraid," and you will find lots of stuff. In a nutshell, God's answer to fear is "I AM with you," as you may know. Think about why this is so, and you will understand... 
     But today, I want to write just briefly about my friend's counsel: what it looks like and why it's been so formative in my life. 
     What Steve was saying to me in that critical decision time in my life was that I should choose the direction that caused encouragement and expectant faith to rise up in me, rather than making a decision based upon the various fears that were also a part of the decision. I took his counsel, taking time to walk in the desert where I grew up and systematically lay each option as I understood it before Papa to see what rose up in my heart (and also to see if I could sense what would motivate that particular choice if I made it). To my great delight, this worked really well. As I laid the various options before God, only one caused faith to well up in my heart (planting a church in Austin, TX). The other options either brought no response at all or were clearly a choice that I would be making because of fear. Interestingly enough, the choice that caused faith to rise up was also the riskiest choice and the one for which I had the fewest answers! But that one choice, made way back in 1995, has probably influenced my entire family's history as much as any one decision (including, but not limited to, my sons finding their spouses, my journey into intimacy with Papa and much more--amazing!).
     I trust you can see that I am not focusing on the particular "method" I used to make this or other decisions--it's the underlying truth about following faith, not fear, that Papa wants us to catch. I trust, too, that you who read my blog will remember my previous thoughts about faith not being something that you work up or talk yourself into but rather the growing trust that comes from living loved. But that having been said, I commend this truth to you: you will do well to make your life choices, all of them, from the place of peaceful trust rather than anxiety and fear.
     Over the years I have incorporated this "principle" into as many areas of my life as I can. I will be the first to admit, though, that I failed to do so at times during the painful journey (hence Papa's frequent words to me, "Don't be afraid."). But as a general rule, I have found it best never to make any decision, large or small, based on reacting to something I am afraid of. This doesn't mean that I am not afraid! Far from it! Rather it means that I am learning to collapse into Papa's embrace when I am afraid until His peace comes and I am able to think and choose with clarity based on my growing confidence in His goodness. 
     In all of this, of course, we are brought back to the "one thing" life of living in His love, getting to know Him better and better. And part of getting to know Him better, I am now learning, is to find Him in the middle of my fears, standing there waiting for me to turn my heart His way. And my friend Steve's little phrase, so powerfully compelling, has helped me immensely in this. More times than I can count, I have heard this phrase rise up in my heart so that I have been able to stop and ask myself, "What am I following right now?" And when the answer is fear, Papa has been kind enough to step in and lead me to a better place. Try it, I think you will like it! Follow faith, not fear!
Following Him who is never afraid...

Tom, one of His little children