Friday, June 29, 2012

How Different Our Weapons: Peace!

     I want to continue my series today on how wonderfully different our weapons are from those that humans typically resort to apart from a relationship with Jesus. Today, I will share some thoughts on one of my favorite weapons: peace.
    If you read my first post about these wonderful weapons, you may remember that I mentioned peace as a means to exercising the other weapons in our spiritual arsenal, and that is true. Peace is both a means to exercising the other weapons and a weapon in its own right. I think of Bill Johnson's oft-repeated statement, based on Jesus sleeping through the storm: "You only have authority over the storm you can sleep through.” I think as well of Peter sleeping the night before he was supposed to be executed and of Paul and Silas singing in the jail in Philippi. I think of Philippians 4:6-7 where we are told that peace guards our hearts and minds, etc. All of these indicate that peace can be a weapon, both offensive and defensive. Here are some more thoughts about peace.
     First, peace is not passivity, it is a deep, settled stillness in the midst of Spirit-directed activity. Passionate peace and peace-filled passion are not oxymorons. God's peace isn't attained by being passive, but by resting in and surrendering to His love and by being infused with His power and by living from His perspective. 
     Second, peace allows for intensity of purpose and strength of will (I think of Paul's "I press on") while simultaneously preventing one from falling back into human effort/striving. Real peace truly does guard our heart from being troubled in the midst of activity, not just when things are perfectly still around us (if that ever happens!). 
     Third, peace has to be nurtured, maintained and often recaptured! We listen and surrender (collapse) our way into peace, and we may find it necessary to "collapse" often and seek to be re-infused with God's Spirit by stopping and asking for His Spirit to come and saturate us. Do whatever it takes to practice this, and you will be amazed at how your life and your serving others changes, dear ones!
      Fourth, there are several key scriptures that help me in my nurturing peace. Some of these are Psalm 94:17-19, Psalm 27, and Isaiah 26:3 and 30:1. Note well that these serve us best if they are "in us" and not just "with us." In other words, these and similar passages work best if we memorize them and then meditate on them as needed. 
     Fifth, another way I maintain my peace is that I ask the Holy Spirit to help me constantly monitor my "peace-o-meter." Early on in my journey, Papa told me that whenever I noticed that my peace/inner stillness was gone to stop and do whatever needed to regain it. I have sought to practice that over the years, and it really works. Yes, my peace has been severely tested and often lost, but it's easier today than ever to detect those subtle shifts in my inner being. And the cool thing for me is that God has shifted me from being concerned about being peaceful for personal reasons to monitoring my peace for the sake of others. My peace-o-meter now helps me remain ready to love others well. (Not that I have perfected this, but it's a growing thing). The more peaceful I am, the more I am able to respond to Papa's leadings instead of reacting to the enemy's deceptions. I think you get the picture, eh?
     Sixth, peace is an offensive weapon and not just a defensive one. I expect God’s peace in me to invade where I go. I expect His peace in me to not only enable me to use His other weapons but to be a weapon. I expect a "bow wave" of His love and peace to invade places that I go and touch people that I meet. And, of course, as I learn more and more to live in His Presence, in His Peace, the more this actually happens. Try it, you'll like it!
     Finally, maintaining my peace means that Holy Spirit and I have to guard what comes into my life. In my case that means that I turn away from things that get me too riled up. It may be weakness on my part, but I simply cannot spend much time paying attention to what the enemy is doing, and that means that I rarely follow the news while also guarding what I watch and listen to, etc. Maybe my life is different than yours, but I generally find that I have enough challenge maintaining my peace without exploring what the enemy is doing via news reports and other sources of negativity. And no, this doesn't mean I ignore things totally, it just means that I listen to Holy Spirit for what I let in :-) I prayed much and continue to pray for friends and others in the Colorado Springs area because I am aware of some very troubling events there even as I write today.
     I hope this is helpful. As always, I will probably come back and rewrite this entry a little, so if you read it early on and it's fuzzy, check back later! But my sincere hope and prayer is that He will keep you in perfect peace as you fix your thoughts on Him, and that you will carry a huge "peace-sword" wherever you go. 

Learning to live in peace,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Father Aware" Praying

     I will return to "How Different Our Weapons" on my next post, but a very intriguing thought from my Secret Place time yesterday is motivating me to write a "Father's Day" entry today.
     The "Big Thought" that caused this change of plans came as I was reading Romans 8:28-39. As I read verse 29 where Paul defines the "good" in verse 28 as being "conformed to the likeness of His Son," it struck me like a ton of bricks that I have always thought of being conformed to the image of Jesus in behavioral terms, i.e., that I would "do what Jesus did" more and more. But what if being conformed to the image of Jesus means primarily to live in the same awareness of Father and Father's love that Jesus did? This is a huge thought for me. If we were to live with the same awareness of Father God as Jesus did, everything else would follow.
     Maybe this isn't a new thought for you, but it was for me. I realized once again how I still tend to view the walk with God more in terms of behavior instead of life-changing intimacy with Father God that transforms my heart and then my behavior. 
     But how does this connect to praying? In what is not mere coincidence, I am at this time reading about God's "Fatherliness" as I re-read With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (my all time favorite book on prayer). Andrew Murray states repeatedly that our awareness of God as the best possible Father is the number one key to praying joyfully and effectively. I couldn't agree more, so I offer you a few "Father's Day" quotes from this amazing man to encourage you to consider trying "Father Aware" praying (page numbers are from a 1981 Whitaker House version of this classic book).
     "The secret of prayer in spirit and truth is in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God, the revelation of His infinite Fatherliness in our hearts, and the faith in His infinite love of us as His children." (p. 21)
     "The first thing in prayer is to meet the Father. The light that shines in the place of prayer must be the light of the Father's face. The atmosphere in which we breath and pray is God's Father-love, God's infinite Fatherliness. Thus, each thought or petition we breathe out will be in simple, heart-felt and childlike trust in the Father. The Master teaches us to pray by bringing us into the Father's living presence." (pp. 24-25) 
    "The knowledge of God's Father-love is the first and simplest, but also the last and highest lesson in the school of prayer." (p. 31) 
     Andrew Murray goes on to encourage us to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into a deep awareness of Father and His love before we pray. I wonder how it would change our praying if we became conformed to the image of God's Son in the sense of becoming as aware of God's Fatherliness as Jesus is! Let it be so, Father God! 
     I close with a You Tube clip (one of many) of "Team Hoyt," the most remarkable human demonstration of a father's love that I have ever seen. I recently watched this again and was brought to tears as I realized that this human story gives only the tiniest glimpse of our Father's love for us. Perhaps, like me, it will help you enter a little more deeply into Father Aware Praying as you see a demonstration of a father's love for his child. A Father's Incredible Love.

Grasping Father's love in new ways,

Tom, one of His little children

Friday, June 8, 2012

How Different Our Weapons!

     I have been pondering much lately about why believers so often get drawn into using the enemy's weapons instead of those of the Kingdom of love. The sad result of this is seen in the world's perception of us. The average unbelieving person in America is more likely to think that the phrase "loving Christian" is a paradox whereas "angry Christian" is perfectly accurate. How on earth did that happen? And how is it that Jesus' desire that believers be known for their love is still waiting for fulfillment? I believe it's because we choose so often to use the wrong weapons when things or people come against us. So beginning today I want to start a series describing how to use God's weapons (love, kindness, joy, peace, etc.) rather than the world's (anger, force, coercion, shame, etc.). It will have to be a series, I think, because so many seem to be so confused about this area. And I am no expert, but I have learned a few things about kindness, peace, joy, etc., as weapons that I think I am to share with you.
     Maybe I should start this by sharing a deep conviction I have about how to do battle. I believe that any "weapon" I use that looks like the enemy's weapons or a mere human weapon is inadequate and actually counterproductive. For example, if I choose to "meet force with force" or allow anger to be what motivates me, I step into the enemy's territory, and I ensure my defeat because the enemy knows far more than I do about how to use things like anger, coercion, shame, etc. Furthermore, we are told clearly that anger never accomplishes righteousness (James 1:19-20). This is, of course, why Jesus told us to bless our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us: we confuse and conquer our enemy the devil only when we do the opposite of what he would expect! (And I love to confuse the adversary, as I am sure you do!).
     But wasn't Jesus angry? Yes, but He was angry for or on behalf of people, not at them! It is hugely important for us to get this! Far too often we read our own unloving attitudes into Jesus' actions when we read the Gospels. For example, have you ever really looked at Mark 3:5 and noticed that Jesus was angry not at the Pharisees but angry at the hardened conditions of their hearts that kept them from being who God called them to be? Do we really think that the One who said, "anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment" (Matthew 5:22) would violate His own teaching? My conviction is that even in reproaching the cities and Pharisees in the "woes sections" (Matthew 11:20-24, 23:13-39), Jesus did so not with fire in His eyes but with tears.
     What this means for me personally is two things: first, I try to live constantly in a place of deep peace (by living loved, trusting, listening, saturated and surrendered!) so that things won't anger me in the first place, and second, when I do get angry (which I do) I ask God to help me wait until He redirects my anger, transforming it from anger at someone to anger for someone. Yes, I could write a lot more about this--maybe later I will. For now, I need to go on to the first weapon in this series: Kindness.
      I have chosen "kindness" as the first one to discuss (and the only one for today) because kindness appears to be God's preferred method for bring change to people. Romans 2:4 says "the kindness of God leads you to repentance." (NASV). Kindness is such a rare and unusual experience for most people in today's world and so totally opposite the kingdom of darkness, that it's one of my favorite weapons (as it is for God). This is confirmed by the Apostle Paul as well, as he writes at the end of his life to his favorite son, Timothy: "And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:24-26 NIV) Isn't this an amazing passage? I wonder what this would look like in our nation if we took this to heart? Perhaps the words "loving Christian" would replace the more typical thought of "angry Christian"!
     More next week. I close with once again underscoring the importance of living in peace in order to live this out. If you are not at peace within yourself, living with inner stillness (remembering that peace is a fruit of the Spirit), you will not only react more than you respond, you will also miss hearing God's strategy for the use of His weapons. Okay, enough for now!

Choosing different weapons...

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Friday, June 1, 2012

Living Loved, Listening, Saturated and Surrendered--in Community

     Wayne Jacobsen writes often about "living loved," and I believe that living loved is one of the best summarizing statements of what our journey with God is all about. But as is often the case, I can't help tinkering with things that other folks write, so I have expanded Wayne's "summary" of the Christian life to what you read in the title of today's blog: Living loved, listening, saturated and surrendered in community with others who are doing the same. Today's blog will be an elaboration on some of what I think this means.
     Living Loved.  I am not sure how Wayne would fully describe this phrase (read his books and see what you think!), but for me, living loved means living in an increasing, and increasingly complete, awareness of Father God’s love and grace. Here are a few things I have been learning about living loved.
     I have learned that God's love for me/us is far more than a feeling. Yes, God does "feel" affection and passion for you and me, but His love for us is far more than emotion. It is most of all His endless commitment to do what’s best for you/me, from an eternal perspective, no matter what it costs Him. He has, as you know, already paid an infinite cost because of His love, demonstrating it through the cross (Romans 5:8), and now He continually works this priceless love into the fabric of our individual lives. 
     So living loved means that I am becoming more and more aware of the evidence of His working all things out for what's best for me. But I may miss this evidence (in spite of the constant reminder of the cross of Jesus) if I forget that God, as the One who is love ,is also the One who defines what love looks like! His love is expressed from His eternal, all-knowing perspective so that He is always doing what is best for me from that perspective, and that often doesn’t look quite like what I think is best in the moment! My limited perspective often defines “best” in terms of what feels good or seems right rather than what is best over the long haul. (Of course none of you ever do that, right? :-)).
     On the other hand, living loved does also mean that we become increasingly aware of His affection and passion for us. None of us would appreciate a love that doesn't include passion and feeling. So it is that Holy Spirit pours a genuine (and felt) awareness of God's love into our hearts as Paul says in Romans 5:5. And if you've never "felt" God's love, I am quite convinced that you can do so if you will but ask Him. Just be aware that feelings by themselves encompass only a very small part of God's love for you.
      Living loved also includes our getting healed up: emotionally, spiritually, relationally. Many people grow up in environments almost completely devoid of love; environments that are instead filled with anger, rejection, hatred, violence, etc. Someone who has experienced things like this cannot possibly grasp God's love apart from lots of inner healing in the context of a loving community. But it is God's love, of course, that draws us wounded folks deeper and deeper into His healing and into His community. I trust that's been your experience and pray that if it isn't that God will lead you into that kind of healing community.
     Living loved also means getting an increasingly better handle on God's grace, and it’s this that leads to deepening trust (faith). I am discovering that many believers don't really "get grace" and therefore think of their lives in terms of behavior rather than heart, and in terms of performance rather than expressions of who they are. I don't have time to elaborate on "getting grace" today, but grab a copy of The Cure or He Loves Me if you still struggle to understand grace. Remember, dear ones: you don't "work up" faith. Rather it expands and deepens in response to your understanding (from the heart) of God's love and grace!
     Wow! I have only written about the first of these, and I have already written a lot. And I could write much, much more. But let me cover the others at least briefly.
     Living Listening. I can't tell you how important I think this is! Hearing and heeding God's voice, in my opinion, is absolutely essential to living the abundant life that Jesus promises to His followers. My life with Jesus is one of constant conversation with Him, with me doing a lot of listening! In John 10:27 Jesus says, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." I can't think of a better summary of what listening means.  The word "listen" here can be translated as "hear," "recognize" and/or "listen," and in the context of this verse it means all three: God's people are able to hear, able to recognize and encouraged to listen (and follow). I have written previously about this, though, so I reluctantly leave this subject for now, pausing only to remind you that inner stillness, fed by ongoing surrender (which we will talk about in a minute), is the foundation for hearing God well. 
     Living Saturated. I haven't written as much about this topic, and I can't write much today, but I have grown increasingly convinced that Paul had good reason to tell the Ephesians to “Be being filled with the Spirit." Inviting the Holy Spirit to come and saturate, permeate and overwhelm me as often as needed is one of the ways that I am learning to be able to "practice the presence of God" and live in the place of peace that enables me to hear Papa's voice and respond from His heart rather than react from mine (not that I do that 100% of the time!). Why not take time right now to pause and invite Holy Spirit to come, fill and refresh you? You will be pleasantly surprised to discover that, as you allow your heart to "go soft" before Him and invite Holy Spirit to fill you afresh, He will indeed make His presence known!
     Living Surrendered. I trust that this one is rather obvious. We can’t be led unless we are willing to follow, so surrender is a huge key to living loved, getting healed up, hearing God's voice (why would He talk to someone who didn't respond?), etc. I wonder if surrender isn't rather scary for most people, though. Maybe it will help, if you are one of those, to remind yourself that you are surrendering to a loving Father, not a harsh and cruel master. Remember, too, that we are not surrendering to an idea, a principle or even a way of life. We are surrendering to a Lover who never coerces but always knows what's best. Renewing our surrender often (I tend to take it back at times!) is an essential part of the living loved life, as I trust you can see.
     All of these work in concert with one another, and none of them are optional. Love is the foundation, but unless you surrender to the One who is Love He cannot lead you into wholeness and your destiny. Indeed, surrender to His love, even when you don’t feel it, is one of the ways that your knowledge of His love grows! And unless His Spirit saturates you in ways that overrule your flesh life, you won't fully experience the flow of His life in you and through you to others. And He cannot lead you anywhere if you cannot hear His voice! 
     There's much more I could write, but maybe later.... And I haven't even really touched on how this all happens in the context of community! Suffice it to say that you cannot live loved and listening in isolation. Father's love is primarily expressed to us through others, and neither can we learn to hear Him apart from others. And Ephesians 5:18 (be being filled with the Spirit) is also in the context of community (check it out!). Maybe at a later time I can elaborate further on these, eh? For now, I am...
     Increasingly aware of His love,

Tom, one of Abba's dearly loved children