Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lessons from the "Feary Furnace"

     "Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear." Psalm 56:3-4 (NKJV).
     Charlie and I have been in a battle of late for healing of annoyingly persistent pain in her right hip and leg. In the process of seeking both divine and medical solutions our journey to a (thankfully temporary) trip through an oncologist's office (she is fine, and it was just part of the process of eliminating causes for her pain). 
     Any of you who have been reading this blog for very long will know that our adversary the devil used the specter of the C word to cast us (especially me) into the furnace of fear (the "feary" furnace). But rather than allowing us/me to be defeated by fear, Papa used this season to teach me some new things about overcoming fear. Much of this is still in the formative stage for me, but I promised my intercessors that I would share a little of what I am learning, so here goes.

  • The battle is for our minds and hearts, and it's a battle centered around the character of God. From humanity's first temptation to this very day, the enemy's tactic has always been to attack God's character in order to cause us to doubt His goodness. I have known this for a long time, I guess, but this latest battle has caused this truth to become crystal clear. The thoughts of doubt and fear that the adversary tried to plant in my mind were clearly based on the premise that God is not truly good and likes to use bad things to bless us! God's answer especially to Charlie and me this time was to remind us over and over of what Matthew 7:11 and similar passages say: that He is totally good and never causes or needs bad things to accomplish His will, even though He will use those things when they come our way. There is far more that I am learning in this area, both about the battle for the mind and the absolute goodness of God, but that's for another day.
  • The devil never fights fair, and he won't back off without a fight. We know this, of course, but there's always been something in me that forgets this. But remembering these truths helps to keep me from being surprised or overwhelmed at the force of his wickedness when it comes against us. It also reminds me that there's a reason why we are told to "resist" (take an unyielding stand against) the devil! Hoping he will "be nice" and "play fair" only leads to discouragement. Our hope must be in God's goodness, love and power, not in some notion that our adversary will grow weary or back off all by himself. I don't mean for this to sound gloomy--life can be very good at times, of course, and it has been and is for my family and me. But if an attack comes, I will fight the battle best if I remember how our adversary works.
  • God's answer to our fears is both comfort and "command." This is the biggest new one for me, I think. I have written previously about Psalm 56:3 (do a search on it and you will find those entries). Papa showed me how that verse tells us that we can always collapse onto Him when we are afraid. That truth alone carried me a long way in the painful journey of 2009-2010. But in this season I am seeing very clearly what God says about fear: When He speaks about fear to us there is not only encouragement but also an instruction to choose not to yield to it.  There is a choice we make, empowered by His Spirit, to turn away from fear, to choose not to feed it, to resist it by strategic collapse into God's goodness. I am sure I have known this at some level before--after all, most of the times in Scripture where God says, "Don't be afraid" it really is a command. But I am taking this command more seriously theses days, realizing that "where God guides, He provides, when He commands, He empowers." Specifically in this latest journey this has meant obeying His many instructions not to feed my fear by allowing my mind to run to "what if" or by doing "research," or listening to the wrong input. Taking my thoughts captive has taken on a whole new meaning, of late, as I have learned to listen very carefully to Papa, to trust His speaking and my ability to hear Him and to choose not to whine (whining is music to the devil's ears!). We have a choice as to with whom we will agree when fears and troubles assail us, and agreeing with our fears, with our adversary only empowers them. Hence God's gracious command says: "Don't be afraid!" (or as it often reads: "don't go on being afraid," "don't go on yielding to fear.").
  • Listening to God is absolutely essential. This is obvious from the paragraph above, but the absolute necessity of listening, listening, listening to Papa's stream of communication (battle instructions) has taken on new clarity for Charlie and me.
  • Fear and faith are not opposites. I have written about this before, but I close today with a reminder about this. Fear is an emotion, faith is a decision based upon our growing experience and understanding of God's goodness and power.  Psalm 56:3-4 shows us this clearly, I think. David starts by collapsing onto God when the emotion of fear comes his way, then he chooses to transfer his trust from himself with his limited perception of things to God, who knows all things and who is unwaveringly good and trustworthy. (Fear can also, of course, be a demonic spirit, and the attack by such a spirit can be vicious and persistent, but God's answer can and will rise up within us as we remember that He, the Infinite One, lives inside us.)
       That's it for today. The battle for Charlie's healing continues, so the furnace is still burning around us at times, but I share these lessons in the hope that they may give you courage and encouragement. God is for us--and that means more to me than ever. May it be so for you as well.

Kept by His power,

Tom, one of His children

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Redigging Old Wells

     Some of you know that I have been thinking about writing a book for some time. I want to gather your input regarding this, dear readers. I plan to start with something fairly easy: a collection of some of my better blog entries. My question for you concerns what topics should I extract and publish first? Any of you who know me well, know that my passion is intimacy with God, grounded in His grace and infinite love for us. But I have also written a lot about the nature and state of the church, about making disciples, about the journey through grief and more. So I am asking for your input and welcome your thoughts and suggestions. 
     Today, for my blog I want to redig an old well, posting something I wrote quite a while back (see if you can find it). I have been going back and editing older entries in preparation for publishing the blog book, and as I worked on this one I realized that some of you probably haven't seen my earlier entries. I thought this one was good enough to share again. My apologies to any of you who have journeyed with me from the beginning :-)

A Few Thoughts on Becoming Like Jesus
     The Lord has repeatedly directed my attention to Psalm 44:3 lately: "It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them." (NIV) When I pondered why He was leading me to this passage so frequently, I realized it was because the Father wants me to "be like Jesus." Let me explain...
     Most followers of Jesus learn fairly quickly that our destiny is to become more and more like Jesus. Romans 8:29 says that becoming like Him is our God-determined purpose; see also Matthew 10:25, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 2:5 ff., 2 Corinthians 3:18, etc.
     Now before we go further, please remember that any transformation in our lives as believers happens because of God’s work in us and our trusting response to Him, not our own effort! We don’t become like Jesus by applying His teachings or by trying to copy His example, rather we allow Him by His Spirit to live His life in and through us. As we surrender to His guidance and trust in His power we are changed. It is a simple, childlike way to live that replaces human effort with childlike trust and dependence and surrender to the One who loves us most.
     So, having established “the how,” what does it mean to “become like Jesus?”
     Most Christians answer that question by suggesting that we are supposed to become like Jesus in terms of His character (loving, compassionate, kind, etc., Galatians 5:22-23 comes to mind), and that's certainly true. But my conviction is that there are many other ways in which we are to become like Jesus. A few that stand out are "doing what Jesus did" (signs and wonders, see John 14:12), living in close community like Jesus did ("All men will know that you are my disciples by your healthy relationships--John 13:34-35), discipling like Jesus did (by example, demonstration, leading to discovery, and occasionally by words!), living in faith like Jesus did, and the list could go on.
     But there is one way that we are to be like Jesus that is more important than all the others because it is the foundation of everything else. Can you guess what it is? It is to have the same kind of intimate, love relationship with Father God that Jesus did. If we are to become like Jesus and "do what Jesus did," we must first learn how to live in the Father's love as Jesus did. In fact, this is the core of “the how” that I talked about above—you cannot become like Jesus apart from learning to “live loved” like Jesus.
     We know that Jesus did nothing apart from the Father and that He lived a life of total obedience and dependence upon the Father (see John 5:17-30), but do we really understand how He lived such a submitted, obedient life? It was because of the intimacy He enjoyed with His Abba. From the time Jesus was a little child He knew God as His Abba, and what He knew most of all was Abba's love for Him.
     The love relationship between Jesus and His Father was passionate beyond comprehension, and I am convinced that Jesus' love for His Father was so perfect and complete that, more than anything else, it is what moved Him to perfect obedience and trust. And Jesus' love was in response to His Father's love for and delight in Him. It is no accident that the Father said, "You are my Son; I love you and I delight in You," before Jesus had done any ministry! (Ponder that one for a while and you will understand why it's so important for you to have the same relationship with Abba that Jesus did! Can you hear Him affirming you apart from what you do?).
     In addition to John 5, we see this intimate relationship with Abba in Jesus' life throughout all of the Gospels. Two places that always capture my attention are Mark 1:35-39 and Luke 5:15-16. Both of these passages show Jesus in the midst of extremely successful ministry. In the first passage, Jesus leaves very successful ministry behind after spending time with the Father (how many of us could do that?!!!). In the second passage, in the midst of the crowds and success it says of Jesus, (literal translation): "But Jesus was withdrawing to lonely places and praying." Most translations don't catch the meaning here, rendering this into something like "But He would often withdraw" but that's not what it says here: it says that in the midst of crowds all around Him, Jesus was (always/continually) withdrawing and praying. Think about this and you will catch the huge implications of what it means for us!
     You see, I believe that Jesus lived His life looking at the Father's face! He saw what the Father was doing (John 5:19), not because He was watching the Father to see what to do but because He loved His Father and couldn't help but gaze at Him! And it was His overwhelming love for His Father that motivated everything He did and enabled Him to trust Father God completely. And in my opinion, there is no other way to be like Jesus than to enter into this same kind of awesome, intimate love relationship with Abba.
     Too idealistic, you say? Perhaps you should read what David wrote in Psalm 27:4 (look it up). Perhaps you should consider a proper translation of 2 Corinthians 3:18. The NRSV gets in right: "And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." The background of this passage is Moses' request to see the glory of the Lord in Exodus 33-34. You see, David and Moses were consumed with a love for God that drew them to a place of simply wanting to gaze upon His beauty (and His beauty includes His love for us/you).
     Want to be like Jesus? You can't! Not unless you first enter wholeheartedly into the Father's love. Romans 5:5 says that the Holy Spirit pours Abba's love into our hearts in an experiential way. My prayer is that as you read this, He will do that very thing for you in such as way that you can see "the light of His face."
Tom, one of Abba's children

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about a book! Thanks!