Friday, October 21, 2016

"I Have Stilled My Soul"

     "Wait in silent expectancy for God alone, O my soul, for my hope is from Him. He alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. My salvation and my honor rest on God. My mighty rock, my refuge, is God!" (Psalm 62:5-7, TW paraphrase).
     "My heart is not proud, O Yahweh. My eyes aren't prideful. I don't concern myself with lofty matters or try to figure out things that are too complicated for me. Instead, I have stilled and quieted my soul. Like a young and trusting child is my soul within me. Yes, my soul is like a young and trusting child." (Psalm 131:1-2, TW paraphrase).
     These are troubled/troubling times that we are living in, aren't they? It's times like these that make us more aware of the importance of living with inner stillness. It's always important, of course, to live with a "quiet soul," but we become more motivated to find peace and stillness when noisy storms are all around us.
     One of the most important things Papa God has taught me over the past several years is how to "still my soul." My ability to maintain inner stillness has had some major interruptions along the way, as many of you know, but lately, more than ever, Papa has been restoring to me the grace to live in inner stillness (most of the time, at least).
     So how does someone still her/his soul and reach that place of inner stillness? The psalms quoted above not only show us the importance of it but also a substantial part of the process. So how do you do it? I can't take time today to write out everything I have learned, but here are a few thoughts that may help you.
  • Believe that it's possible and extremely valuable to learn to "still one's soul." My journey into the quiet place was launched because of a desperate longing for God's life, love and power to flow through me to others. He surprised me, though, by inviting me first into intimacy with Him instead of bestowing on me the power I was seeking. It was my subsequent hunger for intimacy with Him that moved me to pursue inner stillness because I couldn't hear His voice due to all the internal noise in me! But I did eventually reach a place of consistent inner stillness in the midst of a very busy and highly driven life. The fact that I did so tells me that this is possible for anyone. It is possible for any and every follower of Jesus to learn how to still his/her soul. And the value, of course, is obvious to anyone who longs to hear God's voice and know Him intimately.
  • Remember that it's a journey, not a project. Learning to quiet your inner world doesn't happen overnight. It requires time in at least two ways. First, it takes a long period of time to learn the discipline itself. You don't learn to still your soul in seven easy, 5-minute lessons. Second, it takes lots of time, each time, (especially at first) to get our minds to stop spinning and whirling enough to get quiet. It used to take me far more than an hour to still my soul (quiet my mind).
  • As Psalm 131 clearly indicates, it begins with humility and the perspective that humility brings. The psalmist obviously has no problem acknowledging his smallness, his weakness, his limitations. His approach to God begins with that humble perspective. How does this help us reach inner quietness? It helps, first, by reminding us to surrender things that were never meant to be in our domain or under our control. It helps as well by affirming to God and ourselves that we are dependent on Him. And it helps by reminding us let go of our need to "understand" things that are beyond us or at least currently hidden from us. I think you get my drift here: humility opens the door into the quiet place of the soul.
  • We rest and surrender our way into stillness. This is seen clearly in many of the various translations of Psalm 62 (especially meaning-for-meaning translations). The HCSB, for example, translates Psalm 62:5 "Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him." And the NIV is similar: "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him." Both of these translations show us that quieting our souls is more about relaxing our way into stillness rather than fighting our way into it. This is obvious once we "say it out loud," of course, but I am amazed at how many people try to "make themselves be still." Yes, the psalmist says "I have stilled my soul," but he did so by relaxing into an awareness of God as His Abba and by picturing himself as a little child. Stilling one's soul is about making a decision, not making an effort. For me, quieting my soul always involves a decision to relax and surrender and re-surrender various things into God's hands. This surrender is often accompanied with truths from Scripture that speak to the anxiety that is creating or adding to the inner noise, so Scripture also helps us find our way into stillness. (see the next point for more on this).
  • Yes, Scripture helps us find our way into stillness. Another way that Scripture helps me still my soul is that it gives language and power to my desire and decision to enter into God's embrace (where stillness is found). In addition to the psalms quoted above, other passages also help me to picture myself approaching Abba or lifting my life/soul up to Him. Psalm 25:1 often finds its way into my heart and onto my lips as I quiet my soul: "To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. In you I trust, O my God." I am sure you will find your own collection of passages that help you express desire and decision to approach our loving Father with a surrendered heart. 
  • We trust our way into stillness. I think it's important to mention trust specifically, rather than just assume it, because inner stillness for a follower of Jesus is about relationship, not some kind of mind control or new age meditation. I quiet my soul because of my relationship with my totally trustworthy Abba. I quiet my soul in order to hear my Abba's voice, experience His embrace, honor Him with my attention, etc., and it's my confident trust in Him that enables me to surrender my way into that place of stillness. 
     And when stillness comes, my soul delights to find Him there waiting for me in the stillness. And when I find Him there in the stillness, it's beyond wonderful and really indescribable. But let me at least say that it's utterly peaceful and that I am wonderfully aware of Him when I have quieted and stilled my soul. That's as close as I can get right now. But I really can't find words to express how good it is to live with Him in the quiet place, nor do I have words that adequately explain how deep my longing is for everyone to live in inner stillness with Papa! For now, the words I have written today will have to do. I welcome your comments and thoughts. 

Tom, one of Abba's learning-to-be-still children


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Living as The Fourth Soil

     "As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. But the seed in the good ground — these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit." (Luke 8:14-15 HCSB)
     In my last post I promised to write more about believers and money, and that I will do, but not like I first thought because I found a very good book about the subject that is far superior to anything I could quickly throw together. That book is Randy Alcorn's Managing God's Money (under $5.00 on Amazon Kindle), and I highly recommend its careful and thorough exploration of this topic (while also disagreeing with its view of healing!).
     But I do want to write some about this and give my thoughts in a set of statements that may prove useful to you as you think about you and your money. So here goes. Living simply and generously is...
  • A matter of wisdom, not salvation. We are always and only saved by grace through faith (trust), so any discussion about believers and our money is not about our eternal destiny but about how much treasure is waiting for us in Heaven. Living generously is about living from an eternal perspective and storing up treasure in the right location. That's Jesus' point when He speaks of the wisdom of putting our treasure in Heaven (see, for example, Matthew 6:19-21).
  • A matter of maturity and fruit-bearing, not religious obligation. The words of Jesus quoted at the beginning of this article clearly warn us that riches and possessions can hinder the maturity and fruitfulness of His followers. To the extent that we invest our thoughts, time, energy and other resources in this present age, to that extent we remain stunted, immature and limited in Kingdom significance. Anyone who owns anything knows how hard it is to keep that thing from owning you! It is painfully easy to be distracted from Kingdom things by earthly things.
  • A matter of well-placed trust. After his strong warning not to make getting rich a life focus, Paul, in 1 Timothy 6, writes, "Instruct them (the wealthy) not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real." 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (HCSB) italics are mine--TW This passage, along with many others, reminds us that living generously is ultimately a matter of what and whom we trust. Those who deeply trust God and His love find it easy to live generously. 
  • A matter of joyful compassion and compassionate joy, not guilt-ridden obligation. Paul makes it clear in his instructions to the Corinthians about giving that giving is a matter of joyfully expressed love, not compulsion. "Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver."  2 Corinthians 9:7 (HCSB) And elsewhere Paul states that even outrageously extravagant giving apart from love has no reward (1 Corinthians 13:3). Note well how this provides a huge clue as to how to learn to live generously: Getting to know God intimately as a loving Father, who freely gives us all things, will allow joy and compassion to lead us to live simply and give extravagantly. And our greatest joy will be to bring joy to our infinitely generous Father! The love that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13 is first of all God's love for us and then secondly our love for Him and others that flows from our being dearly loved. Living more and more aware of His love will inevitably lead us to joyful, compassionate generosity. On the other hand, even sacrificial giving apart from our experience of His love won't move us even one tiny little bit closer to His heart.
  • A matter of paradigm. Only our holding to an eternal paradigm will move us to relax our grip on this present age, dear ones. If we really believe what the Bible says about treasure in Heaven and the importance of living for eternity, we will find it increasingly easy to give freely and sacrificially with great joy and great peace! Randy Alcorn gives a very clear illustration of this paradigm that I dearly love: "Imagine you’re alive at the end of the Civil War. You’re living in the South, but you’re a Northerner. You plan to move home as soon as the war’s over. While in the South you’ve accumulated lots of Confederate currency. Now, suppose you know for a fact the North’s going to win the war, and the end is imminent. What will you do with your Confederate money?   If you’re smart, there’s only one answer. You should immediately cash in your Confederate currency for U.S. currency—the only money that will have value once the war’s over. Keep only enough Confederate currency to meet your short-term needs. Managing God's Money: A Biblical Guide (pp. 86-87).  
  • A matter of perspective. What do I mean by perspective? First, as Americans we tend to view our world only on the basis of what's immediately around us. This tends to blind us to the fact that even lower middle class Americans are enormously wealthy compared to much of the rest of the world and most of the people who have ever lived on this planet. Does that mean we should feel guilty or deny ourselves to the point of lack? Of course not! That would violate the principles stated above as well as missing the heart of our Father. But what it does mean is that we can hear God's voice much more clearly if we remember how truly wealthy we are. Holding to that perspective will lead us to a change of actions. Maybe it would mean buying less than the top of the line so that I can give the difference to someone who can't even see the next day's provision, eh? That kind of generosity is something I am more likely to consider if I remember how the world really looks in terms of wealth. Second, even within the American church we need to shift our perspective so that we notice the single mother who is struggling to make ends meet and therefore choose to joyfully forego buying that new "whatever" in order to help her make it through a rough time. Note that these are just illustrations. All I am asking is that you "notice" and then listen to Papa God. The point is to allow Holy Spirit to shift your perspective to a larger and more accurate view of things regarding "things."
     I could go on, but this is enough for now, I think. See Randy Alcorn's book for more.

      And above all else, my friends, remember that change in our lives is something that God initiates, guides and empowers. When we live from the center of His loving embrace, it's quite easy to hear Him ask us where our trust really lies, hear Him when He highlights the struggling brother or sister here or overseas, hear His reminder to invest in eternity instead of this very temporary season. As one who is still very much learning to live generously and for eternity, I would be truly dismayed if my words led to sorrowful obligation rather than joyful liberation! Live joyfully in His love without fearing or shrinking back from His constant stretching and healing!

From His Embrace,

Tom

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Buy One, Give One


     Tears streamed down my face this morning as I looked at this picture and several others from my trip to Papua New Guinea way back in May 2004. These children are part of one of the poorest tribes in PNG and lived in the garbage dump of PNG's capital city, Port Moresby. 
     Even now as I try to write I find emotion making it hard to write. Why? Partly because the little girl in the dirty yellow and green dress had so captured my heart that for years I kept this picture on my computer as the background picture. Partly because of memories related to this trip wherein the beautiful people of PNG also captured my heart, and certainly because my heart was so drilled by the poverty and need of these beautiful people. And I find myself asking how I have so thoroughly forgotten the needs of such people while I live in midst of all my wealth? (I write these words from our sunroom as I view the peaceful lake that is behind our spacious and ridiculously comfortable home!). 
     I want more than ever in my life to embrace these tears! I want to always keep before me the great disparity that exists between American Christians and their brothers and sisters in developing nations.  And I want this not because of some kind of shame-based desire to salve my conscience about having so much but rather because of a growing passion to live ever more generously and ever more freed from the "things" that crowd out fruitfulness in our American lives (see Luke 8:14). And I want this because of simple, heartfelt compassion and love that grows out my own even increasing experience of God's love. And I want this because the older I get, the more aware I am that storing up treasure in eternity is the only truly wise "investment" that I can make ("You can't take it with you" makes a whole lot more sense at age 67 than it did at age 27!). 
     All of this has grown out of a thought that keeps coming back to me again and again (most likely from the Holy Spirit). That thought is: How can I help American Christians, many of whom are so oblivious to their extreme wealth as compared to much of the rest of the world, begin to live more wisely and generously? It was in that context that the phrase "Buy one, give one" first popped into my mind. What if we who have so much would begin to set aside an equal amount of money for everything we buy beyond our necessities? What if that extra pair of shoes you want but don't really need was purchased with a commitment to share an equal amount of money with a compassion-related type of ministry? What if that new "man-toy" was matched with a gift of equal amount to a ministry that developed young men in developing nations or to a ministry that develops young men from our own impoverished areas? I think you get the picture. The possibilities are endless.
     I plan to write more about this within the next few days and include a fairly thorough study of Christians and Money from a New Testament perspective, but somehow the tears this morning moved me to put this idea out there in raw form so that I can hear from you. As you reflect on all of this, take a look at another picture of my little sweetie and some of her friends (I never even learned her name, but her face is forever treasured in my heart!)



More to come from Abba's deeply moved child,

Tom

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Transferring Our Trust

     This post is a lightly edited repost of one I wrote back in 2011. I am reposting it because I am sensing a need to update some of my earlier posts as part of my plan to write a book or two. I also believe, of course, that I may have learned a wee bit more over the past few years and wish to incorporate those things in these rewrites.
     I know I am repeating myself because have written "faith" many times before, and I certainly wrote quite a bit about that during the season of testing our family went through in 2009-2010. But I continue to learn a lot (by experience!) about trusting Papa God, so here are a few things I am learning or learning more thoroughly.
     First, I am more than ever aware that "faith" (trust) is something that is present in every human being. The question, then, is not whether I have faith, but where I choose to place my trust. All of us exercise enormous amounts of faith every day. We trust other drivers to stay alert and in their own lane of traffic, we trust those who worked on the airplane we are boarding to be responsible and careful, we trust those who prepare our food to exercise good hygiene practices, etc. And, most of all, we trust ourselves and our own perception of things. It's that last fact that creates the challenges for us when God invites us to trust Him. We are conditioned all of our lives to trust "self" and trust self above all else. And this self-trust is so automatic that it's almost invisible and is exercised without conscious thought. But God invites and challenges us to transfer our trust from this very limited and highly ignorant person (that would be me or you) to Himself, the infinite, all-knowing, completely loving One. Sounds good when we say it, eh? But learning to transfer trust to Him is a lifelong process that is often fought tooth and nail by both our adversary and our very own self. Big revelation there, eh? Once we stop and think about this, we realize how true it is that we all have faith--mostly in ourselves, and that it's a fight to transfer it elsewhere! When I realized that I wasn't trying to create faith (trust) or generate more faith (trust) but instead transfer my trust from self to God, it helped me both to want to do so and made me see how very possible and wise it is to trust God (I just keep choosing to shift my trust from my unreliable, ignorant self to all-knowing, totally reliable Papa God!).
     Second, I am learning that it's best to "build faith" during the good times so that it's there to sustain us during the bad times. This isn't what I was taught in church, though. I was told that times of testing come to grow my faith (to "exercise my faith muscle," etc.), but I was left with the impression that this is the primary way to build faith. But this isn't quite what really Scripture says, and it isn't what life experience teaches us! Trust grows in our lives in response to our experience of another's trustworthiness. We learn to trust another person by their demonstrating through their actions that they really are trustworthy. The more we experience their trustworthiness, the more we grow to trust them. Eventually our trust can grow deep enough that when they ask us to trust them in something we haven't previously experienced with them, we do trust them because their trustworthy character has been revealed through our experience with them. I think you can see how this applies to the God journey, too. And Scripture bears this out, showing us God's trustworthiness over and over again as experienced by people just like us. And yes, the Bible also tells us that struggles come not so much to grow our faith but to reveal it in the midst of the test (see, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7). Our faith does grow, of course, after the testing because we see God's faithfulness as we go through the test. But it's our confidence in Him that's already there that enables us to endure, not some "faith" that I work up while the test is going on.
     But how does the above truth help us? I am learning that paying attention to God's faithfulness during the good times, taking time to be grateful and to reflect on His goodness when things are going well can actually build my trust level in Him in lots of ways. That is indeed what happened during the season of pain that my family and I went through. The trust that had already grown in our hearts sustained us and invited us to trust in uncharted waters, even in the midst of the storm.
     And God, of course, was also continuing to reveal His trustworthiness during the troubled times in many different ways. Which means, as I said, that trust does grow during times of testing, too, but that doesn't negate the need to grow it first and most during the good times, in my opinion. It's my already established trust in God that helps me stand firm when hell assaults me. It's my already established ability to hear His voice in the good times that enables me to hear Him shouting to me over the noise of the storm!
     Third, I am learning that by its very nature, faith is meant to increase and grow in any relationship, and especially in our relationship with God. We were meant to trust God, we were born for that very purpose because we were born in order to be in relationship with Him! But because increase is part of the journey, we find God encouraging us to pay attention to His goodness, calling us into deeper trust in the good times, and we also find ourselves faced with a new choice to trust God in a new way during hard times as well. Personally, my own sense of self trust is so deeply ingrained in me that I still sometimes find God's invitations to trust Him in new ways rather stretching at the very least and downright annoying and scary at the most! Yet His invitation continues every day of our lives: "Trust in the LORD with all of your heart and don't trust in your own understanding." And so even our anxiety becomes God's call to trust Him more deeply, not blindly but based upon His character as revealed by our experiences of His faithfulness and the testimony of many others. But it's still scary and annoying at times! It wouldn't be faith if the need to trust weren't involved! Faith always "feels like faith," not certainty!
     Finally, I have discovered again that, when we read the Bible, it really does help to translate the words "belief, believe and faith" as "trust." There is something wonderfully down-to-earth and easy to understand about Jesus asking the disciples, "Where is your trust?" instead of "Where is your faith?" Because of our religious conditioning, the word "faith" often sounds like a commodity or something we do, whereas "trust" is easy for us to understand as a relational decision. Try it! The word "trust" will fit in all of those places where the words believe, belief or faith show up.
     So here we are, facing the uncertainty of life in multiple dimensions, with no sure end in sight. But I hear again the words of Lamentations 3:57 as Jeremiah writes in the midst of his great pain, "You came near when I called to you, and you said, 'Don't be afraid!'" And now you hear them with me. What can we do otherwise than transfer our trust once again to the One who alone is fully trustworthy?

Tom, one of Abba's sometimes trusting children