Friday, March 29, 2013

Finished!

     After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said ( to fulfill the Scripture), I thirst. A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished!" and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30 ESV, italics mine)
     Good Friday has increasingly become a day of sacred wonder for me, feeling at times almost too holy to talk about. But that would miss the point entirely of what Jesus was doing on the cross, of course, so I write today about "the sixth word" from the cross. 
     What was finished? Certainly Jesus' life was finished--His very next words would be His last until after His resurrection. But Jesus was clearly referring to far more than His brief time on earth. Come along with me as we look with wonder at some of what this single but remarkably powerful word means (John used only one word to translate into Greek what Jesus said).
     Jesus evidently shouted "Finished!" in a loud voice (Matthew 27:50). And He didn't say, "I am finished" (as in "done in") but rather "It is finished" (as in a work or task to be completed). Also, the Greek word John uses to translate what Jesus (in Aramaic) uses a verb tense that means "an action completed with continuing results." This is amazing to me. Jesus didn't whimper at the end as His death drew near. Instead He shouted out His triumphant certainty that He had accomplished, with eternally lasting results, all that the Father had assigned to Him see verse 28 above). 
     "Finished!" Jesus' work of revealing the Father's heart and love was finished! Jesus came to reveal a loving Father, a Father seeking to reconcile His wandering children to Himself, not a string of theological facts,. He did this by doing the Father's works, co-laboring with His Father to heal the sick, destroy the works of the devil, confront religion's harshness, teach listening hearts, bring life to the dead. "Finished!"
     "Finished." But there's more, of course, and that's what makes this remarkable day (only one like it in all of time!), so sacred and full of wonder. The Father's final assignment was to do the unthinkable: to suffer beyond what any human could ever suffer, to suffer so far beyond the physical torment and gore of the cross that we simply cannot grasp what He endured. Death was part of Jesus' life assignment (John 12:27); and it was a death on behalf of those He and His Father love (John 10:11,18); a death that would bring judgment on the world, defeat to the evil one and that would draw all people towards Him (John 12:31-32). Please, dear ones, pause a moment and reflect on the wonder of those last words! Don't let familiarity with the story rob you of the holy awe that can overtake us as we place ourselves firmly at the foot of the cross, refusing to move until we catch in some new way why "Good Friday" is so very, very good! (Selah).
     "Finished!" A life that perfectly modeled living in the Father's love, perfect intimacy with Abba, was not ending but being transformed. The earthly modeling of "living loved, listening, saturated and surrendered" was finished.
     "Finished!" A life's work of perfect obedience to the Father that glorified the Father by pouring out the Father's love and power upon all He met was finished.
     "Finished!" All the power of Heaven, all the love of God were brought to bear upon the dark and evil kingdom and upon death itself, and the result was complete and eternally enduring victory! "It is finished!"

Bowing my head and heart in loving wonder.

Tom, one of Jesus' joint-heirs

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Quiet Soul

     I have been thinking lately about how "me-oriented" many contemporary Christian worships songs tend to be. Since we remember what we sing, too much me-orientation in our songs is almost certainly not a good thing. If you are wondering what I am talking about, compare some of the modern songs with some of the classic hymns like "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" or "Crown Him with Many Crowns," or even better, the hymns embedded in the New Testament like Philippians 2:6-11 and/or 1 Timothy 3:16. Note that I am not suggesting that personalizing God's love for us is not a good thing--certainly the psalmists do that, and anyone who cannot grasp God's personalized love for her/him in an experiential way cannot possibly live the life of Jesus as He offers it, but extreme and overly-frequent me-orientation robs us of what worship is really all about: Adoration and praise of the One who is worthy and holy and great beyond comprehension.  
     I may write more about this later, but my reflection on me-orientation spurred me on to jot down a few thoughts about how inner stillness is really about living God-oriented and other-oriented lives. So here goes.
     I am learning that inner stillness is absolutely essential to "Practicing the Presence of God" like Brother Lawrence describes. I have discovered that it's only when I am still and peaceful that I can tell when I have turned my face (the inner one) away from Papa. A noisy heart or soul cannot possibly know where its focus lies. Second, I have discovered that inner stillness is the only way I am able to detect whether I am living a willful life or a surrendered life of partnership with my Abba. Third, I have discovered that inner stillness is essential to my carrying on a two-sided conversation with God. Apart from a quieted and still soul, my prayer life becomes a very one-sided conversation. Stillness enables me to detect when I have stopped listening to the One who above all others has much to say. How remarkably dishonoring that is! We are in relationship with God Almighty, Maker of all things, who contains all of creation within Himself and all of time within His timelessness! How sad and profane my conversation becomes when it's all about me! And I am only able to detect the shift to me-focus in my walk with Papa when I have stilled and quieted my soul. Does this make sense? I could go on, but perhaps this is enough. Inner stillness is not about me (although it's wonderful). Rather it's about God, enabling me to live in a way that is increasingly aware of His Presence in and around me so that my life honors Him.
     I think it's probably obvious how the God-focused life that inner stillness facilitates also enables us to be other-oriented. If my peace-o-meter is working correctly, I am able to hear God's heart for the other person and respond accordingly. The fruit of the Spirit become more and more a part of my life because my stillness enables me not only to draw upon Holy Spirit's guidance but also receive His power to live loving. Furthermore, inner stillness helps me hear God's intentions to bless, heal, encourage, set free, etc., others He brings across my path. How can I hear that key word that goes to the heart of another if it's "noisy inside"? I think you get the picture.
     That's it for today. I close by reminding you that it is possible for any and every believer to learn how to "still and quiet" her/his soul. Don't give up! It is a lifelong journey, not a project with a clear date of completion! But you will find to your great wonder that God-focus and other-orientation grow in remarkably synchronization with your level of stillness. Try it, you (and those around you!) will like it!

Learning to quiet my soul for His honor,


Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I Have Calmed and Quieted My Soul

     "But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me." (Psalm 131:2 ESV).
     I am continuing to feel drawn to write from time to time about the "activities" of intimacy (something I started in my November 3, 2012 entry), and since Father has had me thinking about inner stillness a lot these days, I want to offer a few thoughts about it--some old, some new.
     First, I have written before about stillness and peace, and I don't want to repeat myself too much, so if you want more than I write here today, take a look at here, here and here for some of what I have written about stillness (or just search my blog for "stillness").
     Now a few thoughts (just a few) about the importance of inner stillness. There was time not too long ago (pre-Secret Place encounter with Papa) when I would have dismissed the notion of inner stillness as a myth or at best, the experience of a few special and highly mystical people. I know better now :-). Inner stillness is an essential and very available part of every believer's life. It is the peaceful center from which hearing God's voice, knowing His love, drawing on His grace and power flow. And yes, remarkable inner stillness is available and attainable for every believer! How does one get there? 
     The answer to that question begins with a God-initiated desire, I think, that won't be satisfied with a distracted and noisy relationship with God Most High! And perhaps desire isn't a strong enough word: desperation might be more fitting. So I would ask you, "Are you satisfied with your experienced understanding of God's love and power? Are you content with the level of your hearing/sensing/seeing of God's communication? Are you one whose 'peace-o-meter' is so finely tuned that you are instantly aware of changes in it? Are you one whose inner life is free from noisy self-talk and the raucous racket of life?" Or are you desiring what I just described, indeed feeling a certain desperation after reading my words?  My prayer is that hunger for stillness will be ignited by the questions I just asked. If that is indeed the case, then you are positioned to enter a life of increasing inner stillness.
     So what follows hunger/desire? David's words quoted above give us a hint. Even though the desire for stillness, for intimacy with Papa God is initiated by Him, there is a choice we must make to "quiet and calm" our inner self. This part was a rather maddening experience for me at first! As some of you know from my earlier writings, my first attempts to "quiet my soul" (achieve inner silence), took about 3 hours, and the "noise" would return all too readily. But persistence at sinking down into surrender, into God's affection eventually led to a place where noise is the exception not the rule and where stillness is so "normal" that any disruption to it stands out like a sore thumb. 
     Impossible for you, you say? If Papa can take someone as driven, busy and worried as I was and bring me to a place of peace, He can do it for anyone! My one contribution to the journey was to not give up--something that anyone can choose to do.
     So don't give up and consider what I have written before (November 20, 2008): "Take the time needed to get still. Get alone, tune out the outside noises, put on some soft worship music if that helps, and just sit until your soul quiets down. Certain scripture passages have helped me get still and may help you, too (Psalms 46:10 and 131:1-2, for example). Finally, don’t give up! Most of us are so unaccustomed to stillness that it takes practice to get really still. But when you do get still, hang on! You will find God speaking volumes to you, and you will learn how to take that stillness with you wherever you go."

Hope this helps at least a little in your journey to stillness.

Tom, one of Abba's (mostly) peaceful children

Friday, March 8, 2013

Jesus' Gifts To His Bride

     I was considering writing this week about inner stillness (how to live in it and keep it and why it's so important), but I will do that next week because I have a "promise to keep." I have told more than a few folks that I would write out a little teaching I do about Jesus' gifts to His Church (Ephesians 4:11-13), so here goes.
     Please note, however, that I am not writing everything I would like to say about this, but just the highlights about how I understand the five gifts to function. Please note, too, that I am much indebted to many others, especially in the house/simple church world for what I have learned.
     The first thing we notice about these gifts are that they are gifts to God's people, not people who receive gifts from God's people. I'll just let that one sit there and let you reflect on its many implications.  
     But how do apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers equip (repair to prepare) God's people for ministry, intimacy with Him, unity with one another and life in the fullness of Christ? I gently suggest the following.
     The first and most obvious function of each of these people gifts relates to their own, personal ministry. Apostles are sent-out servants (slaves) who prepare for their Master's coming; Prophets build up, encourage and comfort God's people through revelation gifts; Evangelists announce the Gospel of the King; Pastors care for God's people with compassion and skill; teachers enable people to understand by experience God's nature and character as revealed in His word and through the Spirit, etc.
     A second function of these gifts is to help discover and develop others who are called to be gifts in the same way: apostles identify and help develop apostles, etc.
     It's the third area of their function that I want to concentrate on most today, though, because it's the one that has most changed for me and seems to be freshest when I share it. So how to these five gifts function in the repair and prepare role? Consider the following.
     Apostles "equip the saints" by training them 
  • to be Sent in their own spheres of influence according to their uniqueness.
  • to Serve others. A true apostle is marked by how well s/he serves others. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:5, "We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake." (NRSV)
  • to Suffer well. Paul seems to list suffering as one of the primary marks of apostleship. See, for example, his list of struggles and how he thrived in them in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18!
  • to do miraculous Signs as part of the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Every believer can and should make the miraculous part of their presentation of the Gospel to folks (Mark 16:17--18), and they are equipped in this by apostles (Paul stated that signs and wonders are part of what marks an apostle as an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12).
    Prophets "equip the saints" by training them 
  • to hear God well, by helping them learn how God speaks to them (see, sense, hear, know, nudge, etc.). Prophecy is far more about hearing that talking, as you know. 
  • And New Testament prophets also teach God's people how to strengthen, encourage and comfort others (1 Corinthians 14:3). 
Evangelists "equip the saints" by training them 
  • how to share the Good News in their own spheres of influence in a way that is natural to them. There is no cookie cutter approach to evangelism, and a true evangelist, for example, will help the quiet, behind-the-scenes persons share their faith in a way that fits who they are and how they live.
Pastors "equip the saints" by training them 
  • how to "shepherd" their families
  • how to care without creating dependence
  • how to care for others with compassion and consistency
  • You get the picture, I think!
Teachers  "equip the saints" by training them 
  • how to learn! This is one of the more important corrections I want to make. People tend to think that a person is a "good teacher" if they are eloquent, easy to follow and understand, etc. But such a person is simply a good talker unless s/he also teaches others how to learn on their own. A good teacher is marked less by eloquence and more by extreme passion for others to learn and by a noticeable orientation not towards truth but towards others. (Think about it and you will get it! Jesus was the best Teacher ever, and Truth flowed from Him continually, but above all else what marked Him was love and compassion.).
     That's what I have discovered, at least so far. What do you think? 

Tom, one of Abba's little children 

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Embrace Precedes and Supports the Empowering

     I have been thinking of lot lately about how grace works in our lives. Since so many have written about grace and even more will do so in the future, I am not sure what I can add, but one thing that I think is absolutely essential to our spiritual growth and health is understanding how the grace that embraces us must come before and also always support grace that empowers us. What do I mean?
     I mean that the growing trust in God's power to change us as we "put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit" (Romans 8:13) must always be rooted in our absolute assurance that we are God's dearly loved sons and daughters. And this assurance must be based not upon our behavior but upon God's choice to love us unconditionally. Papa's embrace is what releases Papa's power in my life because Papa's embrace is what invites me to trust Him and His power to lead and change me by His Spirit. It is by "grace through faith" that we grow, and faith rests upon our assurance that God is for us and will always be for us because we are His dear children, not because of how well we behave (the scandal of grace). 
     Perhaps I should illustrate how this works, at least in my life. I have discovered that if I am nervous about God's affection for me, if I am convinced that His embrace is conditional, then I find my ability to trust His Spirit to lead and empower me is greatly hindered. I think this happens because of the distraction away from Father that my focus on behavior creates, but I am not sure. What I am sure of is that living as if I cannot displease Him nor change His good intentions for me no matter what releases a level of trust in me that has led to remarkable transformation in my life and the lives of others who live confident of His embrace. 
     "But wait!" you say, "this sounds to good to be true. And it sounds dangerous! If we remove behavior from how we relate to God, people will stay the way they are." It is more likely that this is too good not to be true, and too true not to be good. :-) And as for people staying the way they are, my experience has revealed just the opposite: It's the people who focus on their behavior rather than on Papa's love who are most stunted in their growth. Think about it, and you can discern why this is so, methinks.
     This is not to suggest that how we behave is not important, of course. Behavior is important, dear ones, not because it affects Father's love for us but because it affects the quality of our lives/relationships and the fulfillment of our destiny. Paul makes it clear in Galatians--the book of grace--that planting to the flesh results in a deadly harvest whereas planting to the Spirit results in a life-giving harvest. The fruit of the Spirit is definitely to be preferred to the works of the flesh! But it's the focus that I am addressing here. Focus on behavior rather than living loved and listening shifts our trust from God to self and stops the flow of His life-changing power.
     So it is that I will choose to live in His embrace, fully convinced that nothing can hinder His embrace, certainly not any behavioral checklist. And there in the center of His embrace, I will listen and trust and obey. And as I do, deep change becomes inevitable (albeit not always quick or easy!). It is my trusting, love response to Papa's unwavering love for me that releases His power to overcome, to win, to grow, to persevere, to....
     Trusting that this is somewhat clear. If not, please let me know!

Embraced and empowered.

Tom, one of Abba's treasured children