Saturday, March 24, 2012

One Thing!

     One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
     “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
     When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor... Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:32)
     But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14 HCSB)
     The phrase, "one thing," when used in reference to someone's life indicates that which is most important: the very core of a person's being, his/her central focus and reason to live. And the Bible is remarkably consistent in its description of what this one thing is: it is to live a life utterly given over to gazing upon God in His goodness. David said it most clearly in Psalm 27:4 (my life verse), but we also see the same theme in the other verses quoted above. Mary's "one thing" was sitting transfixed at the feet of Jesus looking and listening with single-minded focus. Jesus' description of the "one thing" to the wealthy young ruler was for the man to rid himself of anything that hindered his ability to spend his life focused on Jesus (you can only follow someone you keep your eye on!). And Paul's "one thing" is defined a few verses earlier in Philippians 3, where in verse 10 he describes his life focus: "I want to know Christ..." 
     The longer I live life with Jesus, the more convinced I am that life really can be this simple! If we can indeed make the primary focus of our life to "gaze upon the beauty of the LORD," getting to know Father more and more intimately, everything else falls into place. 
     Too simple you say? But have you tried it? Have you asked God to create such a hunger in you for Him that nothing else will satisfy? Have you asked Him to captivate you with His palpable Presence so that like Moses you cry out, "If Your Presence doesn't go with us, don't send us up from here"? (Exodus 33:15). Have you asked God to give you the kind of hunger for him that the sons of Korah (not David!) describe in Psalm 42: "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."? 
     I could go on, but maybe you get my point. Most believers dismiss the simplicity of the "one thing" life because they have never experienced it, finding their lives distracted from the one thing by serving like Martha in Luke 10 or the pursuit of lesser things like the wealthy ruler. But I am not writing this to shame you or "convict" you. Rather I want to invite you to ask God to create such hunger in you for him that nothing else but a "God-transfixed, God-blinded, God-bathed life" will do!
     If you ask with a sincere heart, you will find Papa more than willing to begin a drawing of your heart to His, creating the same hunger in you that burned in David, Moses, Jesus, Paul and others. If you set your will to pursue this "one thing" life, trusting in His grace to create what is lacking in you (He is, after all, the Creator), you will be amazed at what happens--admittedly not over night (we want everything instantly!) but over a period of time that He knows is best.
     And when Papa does that, some amazing things will begin to happen in you. Faith will grow (Looking upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Hebrews 12:2). Shame and fear will diminish (Psalm 34:5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.). Transformation of your life will take place because you will begin more and more to look like the One you gaze upon (We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18 HCSB). And much more.
     Those who read this blog know that I am not speaking here from theory. For almost 8 years now I have been on a "One Thing" journey, a journey that has had some very unexpected and painful turns in it as well as some seasons of great joy and overwhelming wonder. And I am more convinced than ever, through experience as well as Scripture, that "only one thing" is needed. And if you haven't found this to be true for you yet, Lord Jesus and I invite you to consider starting today. I cannot tell you how my heart longs for that for you, dear one, but God's heart to give it to every one of His children is infinitely greater.
     Gazing upon His beauty...

Tom, one of His God-blinded little boys

Saturday, March 10, 2012

God Above Time

     "See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you." (Isaiah 42:9 NIV)
     One of the most remarkable, yet unknowable, things about God is how He contains all of time within Himself. In some way that our human minds cannot begin to grasp, an eternal God stretches out infinitely before time began and infinitely beyond the end of time as we know it. How can that be? Before time began, God always was (is?) and after time ends, God always will be--He simply is (hence His name I AM).
     Because God contains time within Himself, it's really easy for Him to tell us anything He chooses about future events (He is, in a sense, already there in the future even as He is always in some sense always in the past). In fact, in more than one place in Isaiah God's ability to foretell the future is highlighted as one of the things that marks His "Godness."
      Is this kind of thinking giving you a headache or making you say, "So what?" I hope not because, if nothing else, such thoughts can bring to us a sense of worship and awe that takes us completely out of ourselves and bring us to a place of holy fear. In God's eternal nature and the omniscience that flows from that we can see, if only dimly, the infinite gulf between Creator and creature that He so willingly spanned to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus. And we are undone (I tremble as I write this!)
     But we also have some amazing reassurances contained in God's being above time. One of these relates to God's sovereignty. I have written earlier about how God's sovereignty works in a way that allows Him to work out everything according to His predetermined purpose yet do so without violating the free will of His creatures. Without His knowing all things, God couldn't do this, but because He does know all things, His promise to work everything out for the good of those who love Him brings us comfort even when evil seems to be winning the day. Because He knows the end from the beginning God is able to work "in the background" so that even the (infinitely-stupider-than-God) devil's worst works will be turned to good in the end. (And no, I don't understand how that will happen nor does any creature He has made!). As one who has stood in the wreckage of tragedy not only personally but with many others, I take great comfort in knowing that God is above time and therefore able to use time to fulfill His perfect and perfectly loving purposes.
     Another wonderful implication of God's containing time within Himself shows up when He takes us back to something in the past to encourage us in the present moment. I had one of those moments this morning. I was needing very specific encouragement about some very specific things in a very specific way. Papa's answer was to nudge me to go back exactly 11 months in my journal to read what I had written there. When I did that, I was blown away to see exactly the specific encouragement I was needing in exactly the specific form I needed it. I could write much more about this (there were many, many "God coincidences in this event), but suffice it to say that only a God who knows everything could have orchestrated this. And God has done this for me so many times that I could never count them up! I smile as I think of what He said to me when I asked Him how He does this so often for so many of us. I sensed His joyful laughter as He said, "It's easy when you know everything!" I smile even now as I think of that. What wonder and love is this, that an infinite God would bend His infiniteness to bless His very finite creatures!!?? Ah, Papa, we are undone by your kindness and by your impossible-to-grasp power and knowledge!
     God above time, we worship you even as we realize how remembering this about you enables you to reveal things to us whenever we need them to serve you and others! You can at any moment, as needed, drop into our listening spirits whatever we need to know that will best serve others! Keep me/us listening, then, God above time, that your Kingdom may come and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Tom, one of Abba's listening children

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Trail of Altars

     Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your offspring.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. He built an altar to Yahweh there, and he called on the name of Yahweh. (Genesis 12:7-8 HCSB)
     Many years ago, one of my professors remarked that you could tell where Abraham had been by the trail of altars he left behind. Abraham marked his journey through life, and especially all of his major "God-events," by building an altar (See Genesis 12:7-8; 13:4, 18; 22:9). A quick look at Genesis will also reveal that his son Isaac and grandson Jacob did the same. 
     I believe there is something good and healthy about building altars in our lives, spiritual altars that mark major God-events in our lives, altars that remind and encourage us when we revisit them. The New Testament's frequent admonition to give thanks is encouragement to look back at God's faithfulness, to build and maintain altars of remembrance and gratitude. And today, 8 days into a remarkable marriage to a remarkable woman, I want to show you some of the altars in my life in the hopes that you will be encouraged to look at your own.
     My altars mark points in my life when God's always-present hand was more visible to me than at other times. He is always working in our lives, of course, but there are times when He intersects our lives in ways that change the course of our lives forever. So take a peek with me at some of those moments where I have built an altar and be encouraged to look for your altars as well.
     I was too young to know that I was building an altar during my first God encounter, but I came to realize later that when I was about 2-3 years old, I had a hugely impacting God encounter that set the course of the rest of my life. It happened as Papa awakened a "God longing" in me as I listened to a song my grandmother had given me, "God's Little Candles," by Hank Snow. I can still remember my little heart beginning to long for God (and His angels) as I would listen to that song over and over again. It's truly amazing to me to think of this, my first altar, the altar I call the altar of First Longings. What wonder is this that God would begin to call me to Himself before I even knew who was calling!
     The next altar I mark today is the altar called the altar of Awakening, and it was "built" in my first semester at Johnson Bible College when I was born from above (born again) after hearing a professor (Dr. David Eubanks) teach on 1 John 5:13 and explain that we can know that we have eternal life. To this day I can take you to the spot I was standing when "my heart was strangely warmed" (to quote John Wesley) as I placed my trust in Jesus. (Yes, I "got saved" in Bible college while training to become a pastor!). 
     The third altar I remember today also happened during my Bible college days when Dr. David Eubanks (now president of the college) lovingly confronted me about the terrible way I was treating my wife. Dr. Eubanks was as gentle as could be, but he was also firm as could be in calling me to repentance. God's intervention through this gentle but fiercely courageous man literally saved my marriage, my future, my ministry, my life! Yes, I pause and weep with tears of gratitude as I build this altar, Repentance, with stones of thanksgiving and awe-filled worship.
     Another altar I mark today was built when I was 22 years old as God in His kindness filled me with His Spirit, my first overwhelming encounter with Him. This altar I will call the altar of Overwhelming. And it was His kindness that caused Him to hold off answering my prayer to be baptized in Holy Spirit until I fully surrendered my marriage to Him. Again, God's intervention (this time directly) was life-altering and future-shaping, not only because of the infusion of power that came into my life but also because of the deep repentance that He (again) brought into my life.
     I have many more altars, of course: the births of my two sons, their marriages, the births of grandchildren, so very many altars! But I close today with just a few more that I have given names to.
     There is the altar of Father's Embrace. When I was 33 years old, in the midst of what I thought was total failure as a pastor, God came near to me as I was rehearsing my failures to Him and simply said to me, "I will be a Father to you." And He persisted in saying this, even in the face of my protests about failing Him, until I grasped His "Fatherness" for the first time. (I had never been able to call God "Father" before that time because of "father wounds"). Again, I can take you to the very spot on the beach at Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island where I felt Father's embrace. There is an altar there...
     Another altar was built during this same season of failure (I had split the church twice in one year!). I call this altar, the altar of Faithful Wounds. Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend," (NKJV), and my friend Steve loved me enough to confront my pride in a way that changed the course of my life. My repentance in response to his words transformed the way I treated everyone, especially those closest to me, and set me on a course of wholeness that continues to unfold to this very day.
     But there are three more altars I will list today. I have written much about the face to face encounter I had with God on July 2, 2004. On that day God called me into realm of intimacy and supernatural empowerment that will continue to unfold all the days of my life. There are no words to describe how deeply changed I am because of this encounter, marked today as I look with wonder at the altar of Intimacy with Abba. 
     Another, more recent, altar is the altar of Joy and Pain. I have written long and often about the painful journey that my family embarked on during Jettie's illness and departure, so I won't elaborate on it at this point. But I want to honor Father God for His unmistakably felt presence, His unshakeable grip on me, His indescribable redemptiveness, His infinitely persistent pursuit of me and so much more during the journey. I am filled with awe and endless wonder as I gaze upon this altar, dear ones. In the midst of unexpected and un-endurable pain God arose in power and love, and I will never be the same because of His blinding Presence in my darkest night!
     Finally, there is my most recent altar, built with wonder as I reflect on the joy, the amazing future, the abundance that stretches out before Charlie and me and our family. The altar of Beauty from Ashes glistens with grace and pulsates with power. God has redeemed and transformed that which the adversary meant for harm (in all of our lives!), and the beauty that rises from the ashes testifies to His infinite wisdom and never-changing goodness. I am undone... and there's so much more I could write!
     So there you have a few of the altars along the trail of my life. I trust that you will realize that these altars are about Papa, not me. Every follower of Jesus can look back and see such altars. My prayer is that yours will glow a little brighter today in response to my own trail of altars. 

Tom, One of Abba's grateful childen