Thursday

Too Much Talking. Not Enough Listening.

I need to speak (again) about things that I lack expertise on, and therefore about things wherein I am NOT an expert. This isn't so much about the issue, as it is about the process of addressing the issue. 

Recently, I posted about a revival I’m beginning to see in the homosexual community. One of the things that makes this subject hard to sort through (and yes, it happens on many other subjects as well) is that both sides are talking at the other, and neither side is trying to listen: it's polarizing an issue that doesn't need to be polarized, or not so much as it is getting. 

In that article (http://nwp.link/1A6zNVd), I attempted to avoid taking sides, because I’m trying to propose a better response: we need to love one another.

It's really interesting when I chose to step outside of the polarization, and declined to take one side or the other in this controversial topic. First, it's really hard to see the actual issues clearly through all the rhetoric. And second, when I declare myself (as I attempted to do with that article) as not on either side, then I get passionate emails from both sides, saying, "This is what I believe, and it's true!"

I received a pretty large number of messages of this sort from “both sides” of the issue, and they all pretty much assumed the same conclusion: “I’m right, so you must agree with me!” inferring, of course that “Anybody who sees this differently is deceived!” I was honored to be approached by both sides. I was disappointed that most of those approaches were attempts to convert me.

I deduce that since the two groups – both declaring that their viewpoint is true! – are declaring what are sometimes mutually exclusive opinions, it is conclusive that there is a measure of deception involved. And the odds are – as we are dealing with humans, here – that there is deception in both camps. (And the guys like me that are trying to stay out of either group – by virtue of our humanity – are NO less prone to imperfection than anyone else.) 

I've been walking with God and with his people for more than half a century, and one thing I've learned is that when everybody's insisting that they're right and the other guy is wrong, that’s not an environment where we can find a common ground. It's only when we quit telling others what they must believe, and start listening to what they DO believe, that we have any chance at all at finding a small place where we agree that we can start building some relationship. Besides, me telling you what you must believe is clearly not loving you. 

So here’s a challenge: if you have an opinion about the subject of Gay Christians, I challenge you to shut your mouth and listen to the other guys. I don’t care if you’ve got eleventeen Bible verses that conclusively prove that you’re right and they’re wrong, I maintain that shouting at someone about their wrongness will never encourage them to hear you, and that’s what we want: people actually hearing each other.

So I encourage us to stop talking on this topic, and listen to someone else’s point of view. And after you’ve listened, make sure you’ve heard them right (“I think I heard you say this… did I hear right?”) because we’re not used to hearing real people: we’re used to hearing out-of-context sound bites that our own side uses to prove the point you already believe. Both sides do this, and it’s normal. It’s also messed up.

After you’ve tested what you’ve heard, and you know you’ve heard them right, then still keep your mouth closed, and think about what they’ve said. Consider their heart. Consider the wounds they’ve endured from you and your friends (this has happened on both sides!). Consider that God loves them every bit as much as he loves you! And maybe, if you dare, consider asking God what HE thinks and how HE feels about those people who don’t agree with you. (If you can do this in less than a week, you haven’t done a good job.)

And one final challenge: Consider not telling others what you believe, until and unless someone has asked for your opinion. Then go out of your way to not alienate others. 

This is a place where Saint Francis’s sage advice is priceless: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” In other words, once you’ve demonstrated the good news of the gospel, once you’ve loved until it cost you more than you wanted to pay, once it’s become necessary (ie, they’ve asked), then consider the gentlest, most loving way to share how God has led you. And then listen some more.

I guarantee that Westboro Baptist won’t find you acceptable in this. And I guarantee you won’t get a smidgeon of support from the mainstream media: they both thrive on controversy, but controversy isn't actually our goal. 

But you'll hear Fathers heart better. And maybe you’ll make your Father (who loves both of you) smile.

And his smile is ALWAYS worth the price! Always.


Another Look at the Forsaking of Jesus

I grew up in a church that sang hymns. Lots of hymns. Old hymns. A big, red hymnbook full of hymns, each with a hymn number.

Did you know that many hymns, particularly the old hymns, often didn’t have titles. I don’t know if song titles hadn’t been invented yet, or if they didn’t want to waste the space, or what. That’s why we use hymn numbers, because often there was no name to use. In that old red hymnbook, Hymn 100 was “Joy to the World, the Lord has Come.”

Instead, they referred to the hymn by the first line. Several relatively well-known hymns are still known by their first lines. “Amazing Grace” is one of the more well known. I grew up singing hymns like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and “Blessed Assurance,” hymns that are still known by their first lines.

There’s a hymnbook that’s even older than the old red ones I grew up with. The Book of Psalms was the hymnbook of the Jews before Christ, as well as that of the early church.

Have you ever noticed that those psalms, like many hymns, don’t have titles. We generally refer to them by number (like we do with hymns). But the chapter numbers and verse numbers weren’t added until the middle ages (by Steven Langton, in the 12th century if you’re interested). Before that, there were no numbers associated with the psalms.

So before that, they used the first line as the title. People referred to that psalm which we now call “The Twenty Third Psalm” as “The Lord is My Shepherd.” It worked well, because that’s how everybody did it back then.

In fact, it functioned as kind of a shorthand as well. When someone spoke of “The Lord is My Shepherd,” others of their culture knew that was a reference to God’s faithfulness in trying circumstances. (Read Psalm 23 again: that’s what it’s about.)

Star Trek followers may remember “Darmok.” This memorable episode was about a race that spoke only by this sort of reference. In that context, the phrase, “Darmok and Jelad at Tanagra,” clearly spoke of cooperation, while “Sokath, his eyes uncovered” was an obvious reference to understanding or revelation.

The Psalms worked that way. Quoting the first line referenced the entire psalm, and brought the message of that psalm into people’s mind.

Another example: We talk about Psalm 22 only as the twenty-second song in a very long list of songs. But the Hebrew people knew that this psalm spoke about the Messiah, in more detail than many other passages.

Verse 8, for example, predicts his mocking: “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” (See Matthew 27:43.) Or consider verse 18, which says that “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” (Compare that to John 19:24.)

When someone referenced Psalm 22, Hebrew listeners knew that they were talking about the suffering of the Messiah.

But they never called it Psalm 22, because the numbers hadn’t been added yet. They referenced it by quoting the first line: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Do you remember Jesus saying that on the cross? (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)

When we hear Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1, we scratch our heads and wonder why Jesus was accusing God of abandoning him. But that question didn’t occur to someone who grew up with the Psalms, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees. To them, Jesus was clearly referencing Psalm 22. Jesus was reminding the people listening of the Messiah who suffers.

When Jesus quoted this verse, he was saying, “Guys, what you’re witnessing is the Messiah suffering. I am that Messiah, and you need to recognize it.”

Jesus wasn’t accusing God. He was announcing, finally, now at the end of his life, that yes, he was God’s Messiah. Messiah has come. Messiah has been killed. Now what are you going to do about it?

--

Note: Dr. Jonathan Welton provoked these thoughts in me.
Others have considered them as well: http://bit.ly/1I5R2JZ

My Times with God

Sometimes it was in the morning, if I was able to drag myself out of bed. Mornings were my preference, and before too long, this confirmed night owl was up before the sunrise. Sometimes it happened before retiring for the night.

More often, I just grabbed an hour or so wherever I could. I remember many times in an abandoned church building near where I lived, at my dining room table, in an empty classroom or lunchroom or conference room or a table at the library. Often times I parked for a while in a rest stop, or some wide spot in the road between here and there.

The first thing after I sat down was usually a sigh, and I’d just sit there for a few minutes. Then I’d open my knapsack or reach to my bookshelf and pull out three things: my Bible, my journal, and a mechanical pencil.

But before I opened any of them, we’d talk. “Hi Dad. Love you! I’m looking forward to what you’re going to show me today. Help me to see, eh? Help me to recognize what you’re showing me, please. Thanks. You’re awesome!” And I’d open both books at the ribbon.

In my Bible, I was working my way through one of the books, section by section. Most translations have headings dividing up the text: I’d tackle no more than the space from one heading to the next.

In my journal, I listed the date and the passage, and then I pushed that book out of my way, and I devoted my attention to the Bible.

I read the passage through. You know the way you read a text book assignment that you don’t love? Yeah, this was not that. I read it slowly enough that my attention didn’t drift. If I could, I’d read it quietly out loud.

During this time, I turned my imagination loose to walk among these people, hear the sounds, smell the smells of the story I read. If I was in an epistle, I’d listen for the apostle’s tone of voice, and I’d imagine how the people it was addressed to felt as they read it. If I felt like it, I’d look at a few cross references, but I guarded against bunny trails.

But more than anything, I waited for the light to go on. Invariably, one verse would catch my attention, as if my Father were pointing to it, and saying, “Look here, son.” Sometimes it was just a word, or a phrase. Maybe it was a repeated word. Or an idea that never actually made it into words.

If it didn’t happen the first time, I’d go back and read it again. I’d often underline the verbs, using a set of markings I developed for myself after years of this. If there was a list of things or a progression, I’d number the points. Sometimes I circled adjectives and adverbs. Sometimes I’d ask questions, of the text, of Father, about what was going on. But everything was just keeping me involved with the text until my attention was drawn to one part.

That signal was like arriving at the X on a treasure map. It meant “Dig here.” That was the real assignment.

The first part of digging was to write – legibly – the verse that stuck out to me into my journal. And then I go to work to interact with that verse, that passage, to dig for treasure in that spot. I figure that the investment of an hour was just about right, and good success would probably show evidence of at least one full page, more or less, of reaction in my journal.

So I looked closely. My personal Bible always has cross references, but is never a “Study Bible.” I don’t want to hear what other people think. I want to discover what God thinks, and see if I can make my own thinking line up with that.

My first step was pretty often to “center myself” and to dig into that little nudge itself, the nudge that said, “Dig here.” Often, that would give me some direction for my searching or meditation.

I used different tools to dig. Sometimes I would literally outline the sentences, like in English class in high school. Sometimes, I chased down the cross references, both those in the margins and especially the ones in my own heart.

But sometimes, it was just meditating on my one verse, reflecting it, asking questions of it, that brought the reward.

For example, when reading through Mark 8, I was caught by verse 31: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

This time, I found myself outlining what I saw in that verse:

1)      What are the “many things” he would suffer? (I listed them, cross referenced to Matthew 20:19 for details.)
2)      Who rejected him? (I listed them.)
3)      He would be killed: he doesn’t say by whom.
4)      He’d rise again after 3 days.

And as I was writing the outline, I realized I was thinking most about the fact that Jesus had never discussed this before. He was only free to talk about it after verse 29: after they realized that he was, in fact, the Messiah they were looking for.

I wrote for a while on what it must have been like, knowing that this terrible stuff was coming, and not having anybody – not a single person on the planet – that he could talk to about it.

I meditated for a while on how he himself learned of it, since he had been born as a normal baby (cf Philippians 2 and Hebrews 4:14,15) and he had to learn all this stuff in his own times with Father. I reflected on what that first conversation might have been like, when Father talked about what was going to happen.

And I realized that Jesus got his direction from – more or less – from the same thing that I was doing just now.

And I was done. Either I was out of time, or “the anointing lifted,” or something else. And that’s the point: I’m not looking to write a pretty article from this (though that came from it once or twice). I’m not looking for some big and powerful conclusion.

The big conclusion isn’t the point of this. The point is that Father and I have time together in his Word. Years later, I realized that he was training me – through these times – to hear his voice, and that it was remarkably effective. But even that training wasn’t the point. The point was our time together, our relationship.

Now, why have I just told you all this? It’s because of something I heard in our time together: I had the sense that some folks are pretty well grounded in hearing Father’s voice, but others are still scratching their heads and wondering how we do that?

Father showed me that during our times together, he was teaching me how to hear him, how to hear his voice and how to recognize his voice. And it seemed to me that he was suggesting that someone might want to follow the trail that he and I cleared together.

If you want to learn how to hear Father’s voice well, this is one way to learn. It has the additional benefit of giving you a solid grounding in the Bible.

If you decide to follow this trail, you have my blessing, and more important, Father’s. May you have as much fun in your time with Father on this trail as I have! I know he’ll enjoy his time with you!




The God Who Never Changes!


Every so often, usually when somebody is thinking outside the box, someone will quote the Bible that God doesn’t change, and then assert that we can’t change either. I got hit with that again this week.

We can’t think new things, because God doesn’t change, doncha know!

And there's some truth in that: God does declare, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

And the New Testament declares, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Yep. It’s true that God doesn’t change. He’s the same forever.

But that doesn’t mean that change is ungodly. Think about it:

    That God who never changes is an unchangingly creative God!

    He is the One who declared, "Light, be!" when there was no light.

    He is the One who decided to create man in his own image, when there had never been anything created in God's image before.

    He is the One who proposed a covenant of intimate personal relationship (Ex 19:6) into a nation of slaves who knew no covenant, and who rejected his proposal outright (Ex 20:19).

    He is the One who put on human skin, who became a living, breathing, squalling, pooping part of his creation so that he could re-offer a covenant of intimate personal relationship.

    He is the One who is always creating something new, whether it’s manna in that generation or wine in this generation, or a new heaven and a new earth in this other generation. Or stars. Stars and planets before there were any generations.

    He is the One who has adopted us, changing us, removing our slavery to sin and hell and making us his own children, his own heirs, and his own friends.

So yeah: God never changes. He's always the same, always changing everything around him, always up to something new and different that we've never seen before, always creating new ways to bring people into his family.

This is the same God that declares, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  (Isa 43:19)

Yeah: THAT is the God who never changes. He never stops being good, he never stops loving you and me, he never changes who he is. That’s really good.

But please stop trying to tell us that new things are evil because God doesn’t change. God is the greatest source of new things this universe has ever seen!