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Compelling God

A religious idea current in the church is that prayer works much like a pair of scales: each prayer request weighs a certain amount, so that the prayer needed must weigh enough to bring the prayer scale to the tipping point and thereby be answered.

So we work to multiply prayers, either by praying more ourselves or enlisting others to join with us. Or, we densify the prayer; we can either pray more intensely1 or we fast.

There is a certain amount of truth in this way of thinking: for big prayers needing big answers, the unified prayers of many are needed. And we have seen the effectiveness of prayer chains, at many levels.

However, there is an important limit to this idea. And that is, no how matter how much or how intense the prayer, we cannot compel the Lord to do what He has decided He will not do. Here is the fundamental theological truth: He is God, and we are not.

Another example of a desire to compel God is the slogan we hear nowadays, “We’re going to bring Jesus back!” This idea seems to stem from the Matthew 24.14 passage, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ta ethane), and then the end will come.” The assumption here is that immediately after the last people group has heard the gospel, Jesus will immediately return and rapture the Church away.

According to some projections, the gospel will be brought to the last people group around the year 2030, or possibly even earlier. So the strategy is, Let’s pray and work and take the gospel out there to those groups as quickly as possible, and then Jesus will be compelled to return. And we can get outta here, because the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and we’d rather abandon ship than work on long-term strategies to address all the challenges.

But the text does not say that Jesus will return in the instant after the last group receives the gospel; it says only that at some time after that He will return. In other words, the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom to every people group is one necessary precondition to His return; but it may well not be the only one. And since every prediction of the timing of the immediate return of Jesus up to now has been wrong, without exception, we should assume that the Father has other conditions for the return that we do not yet understand.

In any case, we must realize that no action on our part obligates the Lord to do anything. He is God, and we are not.

Finally, another way we think that we can obligate God is to serve Him sincerely and sacrificially over a long time. We construct a contract with God; even though the process may not be articulated or even conscious, it is nevertheless very real.

The assumed contract goes something like this: I have served God well, I have sacrificed much, so nothing bad can ever happen to me, or to my loved ones. Or if it does, God will immediately fix it. One symptom that shows we have constructed such a contract is this all-too-common reaction to a personal disaster: “Why me?”

Mary and Martha assumed they had such a contract with Jesus; and that His love for them obligated Him to come immediately and heal their brother Lazarus (John 11). Jesus did indeed love them, and their prayer was not only reasonable but biblical. There was only one problem with their plan: it was not what Jesus had decided to do. He was in fact not obligated to do anything for them; He is God, and we are not.

There’s good news, and bad news. The bad news: if you think you have a contract with God, He didn’t sign it. He doesn’t do contracts; one reason for that is that a contract is an agreement between two more or less equal parties: you have something I want, and I have something you want. We are not anywhere at all equal with God, and are in NO position to sit down at a table with Him and negotiate terms. He is God, and we are not.

The good news: another reason He doesn’t do contracts is because the blessings He wants to give are bigger and better than anything we could have planned (Matthew 19.27-30). To sum up, we are far better off not trying to obligate God to do what we wish; because first, it doesn’t work, and second, His plans for us are so amazing that we cannot even imagine them (I Cor. 2.9). Glory to God in the highest!

1 Praying more intensely is not wrong – unless it involves us thinking we have to convince God to be loving. For example, we often hear prayers like “Save my family member/friend/government official”, or “Bless my nation”. These prayers betray a false understanding of the character of God: He is already loving our relatives, friends, and nations much more than we are, and is working in their lives to the extent that He can and still remain just.

In other words, in His justice He cannot bless selfishness and idolatry. Our prayers would be much more effective if they were directed to pulling down the idols that people are devoting their lives to. We don’t have to convince God to love the people we love; we need to rather be Elijahs whose intercession is preparing the way of the Lord’s actions.

Cynthia gone 22 months

I had always taken the 56th Psalm literally, about the Lord keeping each of our tears in a bottle; but it was only when reading it over and over these past months that it sunk in that He also writes each one in a book. I imagine the book with each of our names heading a section, and each new tear noted as it falls.

People have said, “Oh, that’s only poetry, it’s not literally true!” A remark that would not be appreciated by David to whom the psalm is attributed, nor by the likes of John Milton, or C.S. Lewis. Poetry is not less true than prose; that is an Enlightenment superstition. A strong case can be made that poetry actually leads us closer to the heart of truth than do declarative statements.

A newly-widowed sister wrote to me that at times she felt the flask on her cheek. Some of us have graduated to bigger bottles over the past months; we live in the land of sacred tears.

Tears came to my eyes recently when I was in Amsterdam, at the building where we had lived for 6 months in early 1988. I was thinking to myself again, “I’ll have to tell Cynthia how much this has all changed.” Then I remembered that I would not be doing that.

But the tears come less often now, and I have many moments of joy such as seeing my winter flowers all blooming despite the layers of new snow we have had recently. I have now finished the 30 short episodes of my webTV series on Kingdom lessons from the garden; and one of the recurring themes was this: Life is stronger than death!

And the rainbows remind us of the covenant: “Seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease.”

 

Thanksgiving letter

I am thankful again this year – especially for family.

Having time with Phil & Amy was a treat, we took a week after our UofN meetings in September to visit many of our Midwest family – they got to meet Amy, and she learned a lot more about the Bloomer and Aderton clans as well as meeting several of Cynthia’s family.

Then I have had great times with my YWAM family, more “circles of covenantal love”: the people here at Burtigny, and also the groups at Chatel, Lausanne, Yverdon and Wiler; YWAM France, and Schloss Hurlach near Munich; Cape Town in South Africa; Portland, Oregon and Kona in Hawaii; the Romanian staff and Central European leaders; our UofN Workshop down by Tijuana; and the many dear Swiss believers who make up that particular branch of the family of God.

Speaking at a family camp in the canton of Glarus, I visited the village my Swiss ancestor left in the early 17th century; I had been there only once before, with my parents in 1977. They were much in my thoughts in those days, and I dream of them often. My 91-year-old Mom is still with us, although we came close to losing her in October. Then she decided she wasn’t ready to leave, and got better! Now she’s back to playing Bingo (and winning!) and singing along when my brother plays the piano.

Finally, thanks to all who pray for me – you are many, and so much appreciated. The Lord has gotten me through 19 months after Cynthia’s passing now, and you have helped me in so many different ways. Sometimes I feel the loneliness, but I am sure of nothing more than this: I am not alone. Relationships are without price; and the One Who grants them, along with every other good and perfect gift, is wonderful beyond our imagining. I count each of you who receive this letter as members of my family.

Love to all,

Tom

Cynthia gone 15 months

Once again I wasn’t going to write anything on the anniversary of her passing. But I got a call at 5 PM yesterday saying, “The tombstone is installed!” To say I was surprised is putting it mildly, I talked with the stonemason just a few days ago and assumed he would call me so I could be present at the installation. I had been waiting for the tombstone to get here, and the waiting was much more difficult than I thought it would be . . . the waiting was a weight. Perhaps it’s the final finality of it.

I recruited Elaine and Anouchka to go with me to see it – it’s simple, natural granite with the green hills in the background.

I won’t send a photo until Anouchka and I can get it re-planted next week, the present plants suffered with our extreme weather these past months and masons are better with stone than with plants. Plants need more tender handling . . . .

Below is one of Richard Rohr’s meditations, it sums up the emotional path I’ve been on. It actually began many years ago, as I look back I can see how the Lord was leading me out of living totally in my head (left brain) and to getting in touch with my heart and emotions. Little did I think I would ever say that!

At the end of his meditation RR says, “My emotions are still a mystery to me” and I can say ‘Amen’ to that. But I don’t want to miss a single thing of all that the Lord has for me.

Thanks again for your support and encouragement,

Tom

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Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations

Emotion               Meditation 35 of 52

We must go through the stages of feeling, not only in the last death of anything, but all the earlier little deaths. If we abort these emotional stages by easy answers, all they do is take a deeper form of disguise and come out in another way. So many people learn that the hard way—by getting ulcers, by all kinds of psychosomatic diseases, depression, chronic irritability, and misdirected anger—because they refuse to let their emotions run their course, honor them consciously, or find some appropriate place to share them.

Emotions are not right or wrong, good or bad. They are merely indicators of what is happening, and must be listened to, usually in the body. People who do not feel deeply finally do not know or love deeply either. It is the price we pay for loving. Like Job we must be willing to feel our emotions and come to grips with the mystery in our head, our heart, and, yes, our body too. To be honest, that takes our entire life. My emotions are still a mystery to me, and without contemplation they would control me.

Adapted from Job and the Mystery of Suffering:

Spiritual Reflections, pp. 54-55

Cynthia — gone 14 months now

I am doing well, finding great joy in sharing ‘Kingdom Lessons from my Garden’ in short episodes on www.DieuTV.com (type Jardin de Dieu on the site’s search bar). But the moments of loneliness still happen, the most intense when I’m with friends we knew together.

Last week I spent a couple days with the group of Swiss spiritual leaders we prayed regularly with for over 30 years; I was the only single, and kept thinking, “She would have loved to be here!” Good people, good food, beautiful setting in a completely-renovated old mill.

We were in Protestant territory in southern France, and our host is one of the world experts on the history of this people. He reminded us of the 5 major moves of God that had impacted the area, and told us of the hundreds of Protestant pastors who gave their lives for their people in the 16th-18th centuries. They would go to the scaffold singing the ‘song of the martyrs’, Psalm 118, and especially verse 24.  We have sung “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it”, so lightly; they sang it in the moments preceding their execution; and it so strengthened the watching believers that finally the French authorities banned the song.

We were very conscious of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us there (Hebrew 12.1); of which Cynthia is now a member.

Let us remember when the solitude becomes more intense, that we are never really alone. We have friends and family who have crossed over already, and the Spirit within us to comfort us. The veil grows thinner as the time passes . . . .

Here’s another thought that came to me: pain can bring us closer to God, and to each other. But we have to take it by the handle, not the blade . . .