Saturday, April 27, 2013

Journey with Papa or Project for the Boss?

     Like many believers, I used to think of discovering God's will as very hard, and I consequently lived with a low level anxiety inside of me about "missing God's perfect will." Yes, for many Christians "missing God's plan" is a real fear. How differently things seem now from within the embrace of a loving Father!
    Today's entry was triggered by my reading a chapter from An Apple for the Road (a great book). In chapter 8, Pam Spinosi writes poignantly about her struggle to free herself from the tyranny of the fear of missing God's plan. (The title is appropriately called "Should I buy bread? Should I wear red? ... What's that God said?"). Her story elicited so many resonating responses in me, that I felt led to attempt to write down a few things that may help set you free from this tyrannizing fear. I will just scratch the surface of this topic today, but maybe a few foundational truths I have learned will help you live more peacefully in the middle of God's purposes for your life. Here's a few thoughts.
     Our life with God is best viewed as a journey with a loving Father, not a project for a demanding Master. This one truth unfolds into many wonderful implications that help take away our fear. Because God is the best of Good Fathers...
  • He makes discovering His purposes for our lives easy, not hard. What kind of father would make the best choices hard to find? Yet Christians often seems to think God is like this. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God's will is clear for all who take time to enter into intimate, listening relationship with Him.
  • He gives us increasing freedom in partnering with Him in making our life choices. Every good father knows that one of his duties as a dad is to help his children make increasingly wise choices. The children are able to do this based on their learning more and more to be like their daddy, more and more filled with his wisdom and character. The more they become like their daddy, the more their choices and desires become totally trustworthy, made in dialogue with their daddy, and the more their father can partner with them rather than dictate to them.
  • He delights in our desires, is not threatened by them but rather is calling them forth and folding them into His purposes for our lives, especially as we share more and more of His heart and character. God knows how He made you, including the things that make your heart sing. Do you really think He would dismiss those things that He Himself planted within you as He helps you discover your highest purposes?
  • He brings us back on course when we call out to Him after missing a turn. Like a Heavenly GPS, God makes all things work together for our good, including our missteps. (Romans 8:28-29). A quick survey of Scripture shows us how this works. Even the Apostle Paul couldn't find God's will for his second missionary journey without missing a few times, but God kept "reeling him in." (See Acts 16:6-10). 
     So does this mean that we can just do anything, and it somehow becomes God's best for us? I think you know that's not the case. Living the Jesus life entails being led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14), keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), etc. But since Paul clearly states that being led by the Spirit is the mark of sons and daughters, not slaves, (see Romans 8:14-17), whatever else "guidance" means, it's not like getting orders from some sort of heavenly boss. It's best to think of it as a dialogue of a father and his son/daughter as they journey through life. This is obviously how Jesus lived. He was intently focused on His Father and committed to total obedience to Him (John 5:19, 30), but He also clearly dialogued with His Father with a confidence that He was always heard (John 11:41-42). Combining these two thoughts gives us a picture, I think, of a surrendered Son in constant conversation with His Father, sharing His heart and desires with His Abba while also surrendering completely to His Father's infinitely (at the time) superior wisdom and insight. This seems to me to be a fairly good picture for us as well, don't you think?
     So from that place of growing intimacy with God, fueled by our getting to know Him through His Word and Spirit and by living life with Him, our journey through life with all of its choices becomes more and more a joyful conversation about the journey rather than a discussion of an unalterable blueprint. What do you think? 
     One final thought: I often remind people that if we listen to God only for guidance and correction we are missing 95% of the conversation God wants to have with us.  Again I ask, what kind of relationship would you have with anyone if the only topics were guidance and correction? Guidance is only a small part of our life with Him, and even calling it "guidance" makes me nervous because God is a father first, not a taskmaster, and relegating Him merely to the role of guide seems to miss the heart of what the Good News is all about. So I will journey with my Papa and we will discover together this amazing future...

Checking my GPS...

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sometimes I wonder...

     Maybe it's just me, but I sometimes wonder about things in a way that seems upside down to much of the "Christian" world. Today's wondering may fit in that category. See what you think. Please note that I don't mean to be negative in this wondering, I am truly just wondering and longing for Papa's love to be more fully expressed through His children.
     Sometimes I wonder how helpful it is for believers to be perceived so often as "against" things (and by deduction, against people) in light of the fact that the world of unregenerate people by nature is against us already. I wonder if it feeds that negativity for us to be mostly known for opposing something rather than offering something better. 
     Please note that I am not suggesting that we should abandon truth. It is not loving to suggest to those caught in deception and sin that they are okay and not broken and in danger. On the other hand, I wonder what it would be like if we prayed more than we picketed, if we blessed and healed more vigorously than we boycotted, if we served more zealously than we organized, if we loved more fervently than we stood for truth and righteousness. I wonder if those caught in deception and brokenness might be more likely to be drawn to kindness and respect and generosity. Just wondering...
     I wonder what it would be like if Christians were known for being "for people." As far as I can tell from Scripture, God is "for" every human being, and it's only an individual's choice to reject the blessing of His being for them that prevents him/her from being reconciled to Him and healed. I wonder what it would be like for folks to very much be aware that we are for them like God is for them. Just wondering...
     I wonder what it would be like if the first thing that touched anyone who encountered us was kindness. If it's God's kindness that leads us to repentance, I wonder if we should try it as our first and best approach. Just wondering...
     I wonder, too, what it would look like for us to be able to live out what Paul said about the Kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 4:20, "For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." It seems to me that this is rather reversed in church culture. I wonder what it would be like if the lost sons and daughters of Adam and Eve met love-cloaked power through the touch of Jesus' people more than just words or a reasoned argument. Just wondering...
     But when I wonder, I also hope! My deep conviction is that Papa is awakening His people to what He is really like, and they are beginning to reflect that powerfully. I see that happening more and more--Aslan is indeed on the move, and His people are beginning to reflect His character in remarkable ways, and my wondering is being changed into wonder. But I still wonder... :-)

Wondering in hope because of Papa's kindness to me,

Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mentored Into the Grace-Drenched Life

     One of my mentors graduated to Heaven yesterday. Although I never met Brennan Manning nor even listened to him speak, several of his books have impacted me greatly. Twice in this blog that I can find I quoted from one or more of his books. You can find those blogs here and here.
     But I am not feeling nudged to write today about Brennan Manning and his remarkable influence on Abba's children. Rather, his passing has triggered in me a desire to share just a few thoughts about mentors and a few pithy quotes from some of my favorites. 
     First, however, I remind you that you may or may not be able to relate to how I am mentored. Most of my mentors (living and departed) have mentored me from afar via what they have written. Not everyone, however, is wired to learn via reading, so although I cannot imagine anyone growing into maturity in Jesus apart from mentors in her/his life, I also recognize that each person must discover how s/he best learns. 
     Now about mentors. Everyone needs them, regardless of what we call them. The process many Christians call "discipleship" (an often loaded and very "Christianeze" term) involves being mentored by those a few steps ahead of us in the journey. Jesus mentored His disciples and Paul clearly followed His example (see, for example, his words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2). I cannot imagine life without the influence of my many mentors, nor can I imagine a life where I am not mentoring others. It seems to be at the heart of the life of the Kingdom. 
      But that's all I will write about this today, because I want to share a few treasures from just a few of those who mentor me. I was going to make a list of these mentors for you, but I choose instead to let you find your own list and share a few pearls about living the grace-drenched life that Jesus invites us to.
     First, another quote from Brennan Manning that I carry around with me. It is a simple prayer from Ruthless Trust, p. 152 that invites me to live surrendered to Papa's love: "Abba, I surrender my will and my life to you today, without reservation and with humble confidence, for you are my loving Father. Set me free from self-consciousness, from anxiety about tomorrow, and from the tyranny of the approval and disapproval of others, that I may find joy and delight simply and solely in pleasing you. May my inner freedom be a compelling sign of your presence, your peace, your power, and your love. Let your plan for my life and the lives of all your children gracefully unfold one day at a time. I love you with all my heart, and I place all my confidence in you, for you are my Abba."
     Then there's this little jewel from Lady Julian that attempts to help us grasp God's endless love for us and the infinite grace it extends to us: “…love is nearest to us all. And this is the knowledge of which we are most ignorant; for many men and women believe that God is almighty and has power to do everything, and that he is all wisdom and knows how to do everything, but that he is all love and is willing to do everything—there they stop. And this ignorance is what hinders those who most love God; for when they begin to hate sin, and to mend their ways… there still remains some fear which moves them to think of themselves and their previous sins. And they take this fear for humility, but it is foul ignorance and weakness. … for it comes from the Enemy, and it is contrary to Truth. … It is God’s wish that we should place most reliance on liking and love; for it makes God’s power and wisdom very gentle to us; just as through his generosity God forgives our sins when we repent, so he wants us to forget our sins and all our depression and all our doubtful fear.”
     And one of Brother Lawrence's many reminders about "living loved" and always aware of God's presence: "That his prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine love: and that when the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might, so that he passed his life in continual joy; yet hoped that God would give him somewhat to suffer, when he should grow stronger."
     I have used this one from Brother Lawrence at least twice before, but it so wonderfully illustrates the scandal of God's messy grace for us that I share it again: "I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King; touched with a sensible regret I confess to Him all my wickedness, I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself into His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence."
     Finally, although I could give many more, here's one on how to handle failure in view of God's amazing grace by Andrew Murray (The Deeper Christian Life, chapter 6): “Don’t be discouraged. If failure comes, at once, without any waiting, appeal to Jesus. He is always ready to hear, and the very moment you find there is the temper, the hasty word, or some other wrong, at once the living Jesus is near, so gracious, and so mighty. Appeal to Him and there will be help at once. If you learn to do this, Jesus will lift you up and lead you on to a walk where His strength shall secure you from failure.”
     And yes, all of these quotes fall mostly on the side of God's embracing love and grace. It would seem wrong of me not to head that direction in light of my mentor Brennan Manning's watching today from Heaven. No one I can think of understood the scandal of God's grace better than he.

Tom, one of Abba's needing-endless-grace children

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Those Being Transformed

Today's entry is actually lifted from a message I hope to share tomorrow morning and draws on a previous entry. I have "grown some" since I last covered this topic, I trust, and below is the fruit of that. This is in outline form--my apologies, I am helping to babysit grandchildren today and didn't want to take time away from Charlie and the munchkins to rework this. The main question being answered below is "What do people whose lives are truly being transformed have in common with one another?"
People who live lives that are being transformed...
·       Have experienced the basics (see Hebrews 6:1-2). They have been truly reborn from above through repentance and trusting in Jesus alone. They have marked this by being baptized in water, and have also been filled with the Holy Spirit. These are the starting points, the "bare minimum" requirements for transformation, I think, because they are what every believer in New Testament times had experienced.
·       Live in increasing intimacy with God. In my mind this is the key to everything else. Living loved and listening, drawn ever more deeply into a constant love-infused awareness of Father's Presence is the source of everything else. This is supported by:
o   Learning to really “grasp grace.” (Grace that Embraces and Empowers). The indispensable requirement for true transformation is a heart-impacting, paradigm-shifting experience of the scandal of God's grace. Until we "get" how outrageous God's grace really is—that it is His very nature to express it continually, that it means we as believers are always and continually eligible for everything, that we are unconditionally and specifically loved, etc., we cannot possibly lay hold of the power of grace to change us. Ephesians 2:8-9 is always true! Romans 8:31-39 also seems appropriate: God is completely for us from this point on, and nothing can separate us from His love.
o   Learning to truly hear God and live listening! John 10:27, Romans 8:14 are in the present tense. Intimate relationship with anyone requires two-way communication, and our relationship with God is no different, of course. And it brings with it the additional aspect of surrender to the leadership of the One who loves us most and knows all things. (We cannot be led if we cannot hear and will not follow.)
o   Learning to live trusting. Biblical faith is trusting, not just believing and is relational not transactional. J.P. Moreland describes faith as “confidence, trust, reliance.” (In Search of a Confident Faith)
o   Learning to live "filled with the Spirit." Most western churches, no matter what their form, fail to provide New Testament levels of the power of God. Unless we are saturated, marinated, permeated, inundated by God's Spirit, we cannot possibly really know what it means to live a life that is "led by the Spirit." Jesus told the Apostles to wait until they were "clothed with power from on high" before starting their mission (Luke 24:49). Living "clothed with power" makes for radical transformation both personally and "environmentally" and is not, in my opinion, optional for those who wish to be transformed and also be "transformers" of the people and culture around them.
·       Live in open, transparent, safety-giving community. Yes, these kinds of relational jewels exist, but they are not often found in the things that "church" typically offers. They are found among those who may be part of church but who hunger for more than shallow, pretend relationships. It is in this kind of relational community that we experience life-on-life discipleship. Transformation requires relationship with other believers who are willing to sacrifice in order to pour life into others and who are willing to be transparent and vulnerable. When Jesus told His disciples, "As you go, make disciples..." they thought of what they had experienced. That experience of living life on life, translated into today's culture, still changes lives as deeply as it did then.
·       Understand that merely agreeing with Scriptural truth changes nothing whereas Holy Spirit-led and empowered, trust-filled response to Scriptural truth changes everything. Matthew 7:24-27, James 1:22-25 are two of many scriptures that come to mind here.
·       Do whatever it takes to get healed up! Christians who are walking wounded and "packing critters" cannot possibly mature as they long to until at least the major life wounds are healed and any critters are evicted.
·       Live in giving mode rather than consumer mode. Much of our approach to ministry encourages people to act like consumers rather than transmitters of grace. For example, when the early church gathered, "each one" brought something to give away (see 1 Corinthians 14:26 for just one example of this). I wonder how a return to this thinking would change "church as we know it." What if every believer was trained to be a transmitter rather than just a receiver? Just wondering.... :-)
·       Recognize that transformation is a journey, not a repair project. Deep change, even in the context of all of these things, doesn't happen overnight. I am quite sure that some of the immaturity we see among believers is simply due to their giving up at some point. Yet the Bible is noticeably consistent in its encouraging us not to give up. Joseph waited 13 years for his purpose to begin to reveal itself, the Apostle Paul waited about 15 years, even the first apostles required 3 years of intensive care with Jesus Himself for them to be changed enough to be trusted with their mission. You get the point, I trust. Fruit (Galatians 5:22-23, John 15, etc.) grows over time--it cannot be instantly manufactured, and nothing of true value comes without process (and often, some pain).
Now the question of response lies before us, eh? I will leave that to you and the Holy Spirit in this blog format. The questions Papa may want to ask us are contained in the body of the outline above, methinks. For me, I am compelled to press on and in, more aware than ever of my being drawn, not driven, invited not coerced, empowered not shamed by the One who loves me most. What else can I do but keep on following?

Tom, one of His "being transformed" children.