Are You Hearing from God?

Are You Hearing from God?

“Hearing from God” is a curious phrase.

In the Old Testament, a rare few people received communication from the Almighty via audible sound (1 Samuel 3:8–10) or a supernatural vision (Daniel 8:1) or a divinely directed dream (Genesis 20:1–3). Sometimes, the message from God would come via an angel (Judges 6:11–12).

Theologians call this “special revelation,” meaning that the divine message came by supernatural (beyond natural) means and was exceedingly rare.

The New Testament era has changed all of that. Now, things are different.

Precisely fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, something extraordinary happened:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, [the followers of Jesus] were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

(Acts 2:1–4)

The gathered believers began to speak in the native languages of visitors from all around the world. The visitors said, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God! (Acts 2:11).

This fulfilled the promise given by Jesus: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

The indwelling Holy Spirit is now the inheritance of all who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Ephesians 1:13–14).

Consequently, New Testament believers have something that would have amazed Old Testament believers. We have the indwelling Spirit of God to guide us daily. Hourly. Moment by moment!

“Hearing from God” doesn’t mean what it used to mean. The New Testament way is a new and improved brand of divine communication. We no longer need audible voices or bizarre visions. We have something far better!

When the Messiah inaugurated the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34), it came with an extraordinary promise:

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.”

(Jeremiah 31:33–34)

Rather that write down commandments, send angelic messengers, induce strange dreams, or speak audibly, God has given believers His own Spirit to change their hearts, to help them think as He thinks, desire what He desires, and then act as He wants them to act.

Instead of giving us step-by-step instructions, God is changing our hearts to beat in perfect rhythm with His.

“Hearing from God,” then, isn’t about waiting for messages or seeking supernatural signs. That’s Old Testament. The New Testament way is to observe how God is transforming us and then make decisions in harmony with His new creation.

That’s what it means to be “led by the Holy Spirit.”

This isn’t a “do what feels right” theology. In addition to His indwelling Spirit, He has also given us His written Word and His church.

This isn’t to say that God can’t use audible communication or visions, or that He never will again.

This is simply to acknowledge that if God’s promise of a transformed heart is real, then “hearing from God” might include a discerning inward look.

What has God been doing in your life lately?

As you look back over your spiritual journey, what trends do you see?

What might this say about what He wants you to do with your life?

Resting in I AM

Resting in I AM

I received a divine tap on the shoulder.

That’s what the late preacher, Peter Marshall, called it. It’s a God-initiated interruption to life-as-usual that demands attention.

It could be a inexplicable sense of restlessness or unexplained feelings of dissatisfaction. It might come on the heels of a professional failure or a moral tumble. It’s not uncommon for a divine tap to follow a great success.

oil-warning-lightRegardless, to ignore the tap is like failing to heed the low-oil warning on your dashboard. You run the risk of a severe and costly breakdown. So, you’d better pull over.

In the Old Testament, God gave His people a weekly tap on the shoulder. “Sabbath” derives from the Hebrew command, “Cease.” This commandment gave God’s people permission to lay aside their normal routines, not only to give them rest, but to remind them that He–and He alone–is their provision and protection.

God’s call to rest isn’t a command to remain idle. He may call us to cease activity for a time, but idleness isn’t what He has in mind.

“Sabbath” involves more than the cessation of normal activity. It’s often described in Scripture as “solemn rest” (Exodus 16:23). It carries the idea of rest with purpose, in the same way we might block out time in our schedule to spend time with a spouse, a lover, a child, or a friend.

The Lord gave His people a Sabbath one day each week, and then one year out of seven to not cultivate their fields–to forfeit valuable income–to rest in His provision and protection.

While we are no longer bound by these Old Testament, land covenant laws, the principles that animated them remain alive today. We are granted an opportunity to enjoy a day of “solemn rest” each week. And, from time to time, God’s issues a personal command to “cease” and to give Him focused attention.

It’s a divine tap on the shoulder, calling us to stop, turn around, and discover what He wants to reveal. (For some of us thick-headed people, the “tap” comes like a brickbat to the head.)

For me, lately, the Lord has invited me to reexamine my identity and calling. I have described it as my “crossroads moment.”

If you have received a divine tap on the shoulder, cease! Stop what you’re doing. Give the Lord your complete attention by asking, simply, “Lord, I’m listening. What do you want me to know?”

If you know what I’m talking about, let me know. I’d like to hear about your divine tap on the shoulder.

No Admittance: Coming to Terms with Limits and Failure

No Admittance: Coming to Terms with Limits and Failure

I don’t like admitting failure. No one does.

Failure is especially difficult for those of us who embraced the American myth: “With enough determination and enough desire, you can do anything and become anyone!”

I am a citizen of a nation founded upon this myth, and reared by a generation who lived and preached the myth of no limitations. I was bathed in “can-do,” clothed in “can-do,” and fed to the gills with “can-do.” Failure, according to this myth, is the result of my own unwillingness to claim my birthright or my lack of faith in God, who gave it to me.

Having come to my crossroads moment, I’m beginning to accept the possibility that my successes and failures may have little to do with my character, and everything to do with my identity.

As author, Parker J. Palmer, writes,

Each of us arrives here with a nature, which means both limits and potentials. We can learn as much about our nature by running into our limits as by experiencing our potentials. . . . Our problem as Americans . . . is that we resist the very idea of limits, regarding limits of all sorts as temporary and regrettable impositions on our lives. Our national myth is about the endless defiance of limits: opening the western frontier, breaking the speed of sound, dropping people on the moon . . . We refuse to take no for an answer.[1]

I hate limits. I despise failure. They offend my American sensibilities and they challenge my male identity. Consequently, I have made them my lifelong sworn enemies.

Now, as I stand at a crossroads, I’m beginning to see that limits and failure may have been my allies all along.

It’s not that I didn’t have the smarts to succeed or that I lacked the work ethic. Instead, my failures show me where I did not attempt the right things while my successes reveal where my strengths are best applied.

Limits help me channel my potentials in harmony with my God-given identity as I walk the path He has set before me (Psalm 139:13–16). Failures are the signs that identify limits and keep me from going down dangerous paths that may harm others or myself again.

Coming to terms with my failures will not be easy, but I’m already beginning to experience the peace that comes with admitting limitations.

Enjoying success should be simpler now.

 

 

[1] Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2000), 41–42.

 

“Now I Become Myself”

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before–”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!

“Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton, 1993.

Hello, Silence. I hear you.

Hello, Silence. I hear you.

Here, at my crossroads moment, I hear the voice of silence bid me to linger.

“Voice of silence.” That’s how Elijah described his crossroads moment in the Negev wilderness of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 19:12).

Yeah, I know. Your version probably says something like, “the sound of a low whisper” (ESV), “a gentle whisper” (NIV), “a still small voice” (NKJV), or somthing like that.

The literal Hebrew expression reads, “a voice of small silence” or “a voice of thin stillness.” It’s meant to be paradoxical, a seemingly self-contradictory, absurd description. In other words, Elijah perceived God’s presence supernaturally.

Elijah’s crossroads moment occurred after a significant personal failure.

For many years he had steadfastly opposed the despotic, idol-worshiping rule of Ahab and Jezebel, boldly speaking truth to power. His long campaign then climaxed with a triumphant showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:20–46).

After this dramatic victory,  the prophet’s confidence should have reached an all-time high. His years of ministry had been validated by God’s omnipotence and he stood on the threshold of victory. Yet when Jezebel threatened to kill him, his courage wilted and he ran.

As his personal failure sank in, he prayed, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

After God gave His servant food to replenish his body and sleep to restore his mind, He called Elijah to enter a season of solitude. Forty days of quiet reflection in a very special place (1 Kings 19:5–8).

When the time was right, in the midst of his crossroads moment, Elijah perceived God’s silent voice and received the affirmation and direction he needed so desperately.

My natural response to moments like this is not to remain where I am. Ordinarily, I would take action, get busy doing something positive, seek constructive change.

But this time is different. There’s nowhere to go. Nothing different I should be doing. My triumphs and failures have led me to an empty cave, where life has left me famished, and I hunger to hear from God.

While I am still, I am not idle. I have work accomplish–worthy work. I have people who need me to be present when I am with them. Waiting to hear from God isn’t a time for passivity.

There are things we can do to prepare for perceiving God’s silent voice. And I am doing them.

Entering My Circle of Trust

Entering My Circle of Trust

Everyone needs a circle of trust.

Sadly, the movie, Meet the Fockers, has all but ruined the phrase in popular culture. Even so, The Center for Courage & Renewal, owns the phrase (literally trademarked) and keeps the true meaning alive and well.

This video, featuring Parker J. Palmer, explains how a circle of trust is especially important when you’re standing at a crossroads moment.

I must confess that, as of this writing, Parker’s every word resonates deeply with me.

 

My Castaway Crossroads

My Castaway Crossroads

My journey has led to a crossroads.

A true crossroads moment is rare. It comes along once–maybe twice–in a lifetime. It’s more than a mere intersection, where one must decide which direction to take toward a particular destination. A crossroads moment, instead, begins with the realization that you have no particular place to go.

A crossroads moment represents the end of a journey, along with the mourning that usually accompanies loss. And it represents the potential start of a new journey, with all its frightening uncertainty and tentative hope.

It has the vague sense of being lost, except there’s nowhere to be . . . other than here.

Staying put is the only wise choice.

A crossroads moment calls for a deep reevaluation of self. My past has contributed to who I am, but God now wants to fashion someone new out of that old me. To join my re-Creator at this crossroads, I have spent the past couple of months in a detailed examination myself in the harsh, unforgiving light of truth.

I have reviewed my Myers-Briggs, my StrengthsFinder, and my Enneagram results. (Please don’t suggest another assessment; I have moved on from this phase.) I participated in the painful affirmation of a 360 Feedback Review and engaged the honest insight of trusted colleagues by asking the questions, “How have you experienced me as a co-worker?” and “What advice would you have for me to improve as a leader?”

I think I have a reasonably objective view of myself, including admirable and shadow qualities. I struggle to make sense of my mixed bag of abilities, education, and experience, which qualify me for a vast array of vocations . . . and, therefore, none in particular. At least none in plain view.

So, at this crossroads, feeling more than a little paralyzed by too many options, I have decided to embrace the moment. I will savor this unsettling freedom and allow God to do His work within me. And I will do the hardest thing of all: wait.

If you think of me, pray that the Holy Spirit will bring clarity.

If you find yourself at your own crossroads moment, I hope these words offer encouragement and insight. I pray you find your path.

Where Anti-Christian Attitudes Thrive

In my research for a potential book, I’m looking at statistics on Christians, especially those identified by the term “evangelical.” I’m happy to say the news is generally good. That is, if you ignore certain Christian “research” groups that derive financial benefit from shocking believers with gloomy statistics. Two sources with credible data and competent analysis include:

Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012).

Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse, 2010).

In Wright’s work, I ran across this passage near the end of the book. This should be of great interest if you have a loved one in college, especially if it’s a generally secular school (with or without former religious ties). Here it is without further comment from me. His information is sobering enough on its own.

In 2007, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research surveyed the religious beliefs of over twelve hundred faculty members at various American colleges and universities. As I understand it, this study was looking for anti-Semitism among faculty members, but they instead found something surprising: a strong intolerance toward Evangelical Christians.

christians-are-hate-filled-hypocrites-professors-regard-for-religious-groups

One of the questions asked faculty members if they had negative feelings toward various religious groups. As shown in Figure 8.10, over half-53%-of the faculty members reported having negative feelings toward Evangelical Christians, and this was far more than toward any other group. Twenty-two percent of faculty members had negative feelings toward Muslims, 18% toward atheists, 13% toward Catholics, 9% toward non-Evangelical Christians, 4% toward Buddhists, and 3% toward Jews. The study’s authors concluded that “if not outright prejudice, faculty sentiment about the largest religious group in the American public borders dangerously close.”[1]

[1] Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse, 2010), 205–206.

 

 

My Vote in 2016… Principled or Practical?

At the risk of offending almost everyone, I’m pondering my vote-casting options openly in this forum.
Here is my dilemma, which (apparently) I share with many these days:
I must not cast my vote for Clinton, and I cannot cast my vote for Trump, and I will not cast my vote for Johnson, who opposes most of my convictions. So, on election day, whom shall I write in?
 
I’m tempted to write in Ronald Reagan. I realize he’s not healthy enough for office (being dead and all), but with the right spin machine, that shouldn’t be a problem. Having served two terms, his election would be illegal, but that doesn’t seem to matter these days. His convictions, even with a dead brain, are more reasoned than than the third-party man.
 
Still, while a dead man cannot fib and has a suitable temperament for office (being dead and all), it’s more nostalgic than realistic.
 
So, whom shall I write in?
I have been told that voting for anyone outside the two-party race is a wasted vote, or that not voting for the lesser of two evils is a vote cast for the more evil candidate. Some have even urged that I should not allow my principles to guide my choice but to vote pragmatically, lest we end up with a more evil president.
As I survey my memory of world history, a disturbing trend emerges. Dictators and despots thrive on this kind of thinking. They rise to power and establish regimes that no one wants when individuals ignore their principles and make choices based on which way they perceive the political winds to be blowing.
When people succumb to their fear of standing on the wrong side of a political victory, they hastily toss aside their convictions and let self-preservation guide their choices. Consequently, they become capable of abominable decisions that contradict their own core values.
On the other hand, the power of despots crumbles when people allow principles to guide their choices, independent of what their peers may or may not do.
So, whom shall I write in this November?

Why Love Must Be Active

In his epic ode to love, Paul the apostle declared, “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4). Good words for today, when gentleness is such a rare quality in relationships. Unfortunately, our desire to be patient and kind can also lead to passivity when a loved one begins to fall into sin. While it might seem loving to step lightly and speak softly when a loved one begins a pattern of wrongdoing, nothing could be more dangerous to a relationship. Here’s why:

Passivity Camouflages a Trap

Passivity allows a wayward loved one to gradually and comfortably enter Satan’s trap. An old folk legend claims that a frog dropped into a kettle of boiling water will immediately recognize the danger to his life and waste no time leaping out. However, a frog placed in a kettle at room temperature will happily continue to bask as the water is slowly heated, even to the point of boiling. The legend has become a standard illustration for the mortal danger of gradual change.

Sin is a trap that hypnotizes its victim into thinking that all is well. Convinced that the first transgression caused no harm, the wayward one rationalizes his or her decision. Meanwhile, Satan works overtime to insulate his prey from reality and to provide an opportunity to take sin a step further. Gradually, “bad” behavior seems less and less bad until the person becomes capable of astounding evil with little or no feelings of remorse. It’s not uncommon for a deluded sinner to become convinced that others are ultimately responsible for his or her sin and, in many cases, that the destructive behavior is actually good!

Whereas truth frustrates this gradual twisting of the mind, passivity allows Satan greater opportunity to isolate and deceive his prey. The wayward loved one needs, more than anything, a shocking dose of reality. The most loving response is to turn up the heat so that he or she will sense the danger and escape Satan’s trap.

Passivity Reinforces Sinful Behavior

Passivity reinforces the false promise of sin that we can do whatever we want without suffering negative consequences.

As Eve gazed at the forbidden fruit hanging within easy reach, she saw that it was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6). A serpent saw her longing gaze and moved a little closer. “You surely will not die!” (v. 4). His words contradicted her Creator’s stern warning; nevertheless, she and her husband swallowed Satan’s poisonous lie. And from that moment on, nothing would ever be the same. Within hours, the couple stood trembling as God explained how they would experience the consequences of disobedience. “Death” would not come immediately. Worse, death would painfully distort all of creation; death would come with sudden, unexpected certainty; and death would carry the soul to yet another kind of death, an eternal death too horrific to describe.

Imagine if, instead, God had remained passive and silent. At lunchtime the following day, Adam and Eve return to the forbidden tree to find the serpent lounging in its branches, wearing a contented smile. “See? What did I tell you? There you stand, quite alive! Take off that silly fig leaf underwear and have another delicious meal—on me.”

Fortunately, the Lord didn’t remain passive. Moved by love, He confronted Adam and Eve, opened their eyes to the consequences of their disobedience, and then cast them out of the Garden to make repeated sin more difficult (Gen. 3:22–24). His righteous anger reaffirmed His earlier warning that eternal life and disobedience cannot coexist. Sin leads to death. It’s a fundamental law of the universe that’s as predictable and as certain as gravity.

Remaining passive while someone balances precariously on the edge of skyscraper is not love. A wayward loved one needs intervention, not the casual affirmation of a passive response to sin.

Passivity Allows Sin to Harm Others

Passivity allows the destructive consequences of sin to devastate the innocent. Sin is a fire that destroys everything it touches. Substance abuse, rage, violence, sexual immorality, abandonment, neglect—any sin that burns out of control affects everyone, especially children. And a passive response to unrepentant sin is like standing idle while an arson sets fire to the people we love.

Passivity Undermines Respect

Passivity undermines a crucial element of any healthy relationship: respect. In his book Love Must Be Tough, Dr. James Dobson warns that nothing destroys a romantic relationship quicker than passivity and appeasement. On the other hand,

Successful marriages usually rest on a foundation of accountability between husbands and wives. They reinforce responsible behavior in one another by a divinely inspired system of checks and balances. In its absence, one party may gravitate toward abuse, insult, accusation, and ridicule of the other, while his or her victim placidly wipes away the tears and mutters with a smile, ‘Thanks, I needed that!'”1

Love

Love That Is Tough

Unlike passivity, a proactive response to unrepentant sin reflects the character of God. He is relentlessly loving yet utterly uncompromising when it comes to behavior that undermines our relationship. Similarly, our loving response to sin must come from a place of strength, and sometimes, love must take strong, decisive, even aggressive action.

Tough love requires courage. Paul’s ode to love also declares that our selfless care for another “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). That means we may have to endure a period of time when our loved one doesn’t like us very much. But if we cling to the truth of God’s Word, and steadfastly reject destructive behavior, and with unwavering devotion call our wayward loved one to turn from wrongdoing, we offer our loved one a compelling reason to escape the trap of sin, and a chance to experience love as God intended it: love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

1 James Dobson, Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Families in Crisis (Dallas: Word, 1996), 19.