That Still Small Voice

Fire

Happy Father’s Day! This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/still-small-voice/. I’m re-posting it here in honor of my dad!

“Let your conscience be your guide,” my father used to say.

Compass

Let your conscience by your guide.

I don’t remember him ever telling me what my conscience was, but somehow I knew. It was that still, small voice that stopped me when I was tempted to go along with the wrong crowd. It was that slight, uncomfortable prodding when I was tempted to take the easy way out. It was the seed of something beautiful that would grow with me and become at times the clear, almost audible voice of God.

Sometimes that voice needs to work through a lot of tangle before I can hear it. I am reminded of this when I read the story of Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19). There was a great and powerful wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by fire, but the Lord was not in any of those things. Instead, these cataclysmic events were contrasted with the gentle whisper of the Lord.

The thing that struck me recently about this story was not the contrast of catastrophic power with gentle instruction, but the fact that the catastrophic power came first.

We read this story in a few lines and it seems like Elijah waited only moments before he could walk to the opening of the cave and talk with the Lord. When my life is in cataclysmic upheaval I wish that I, too, could wait for just a moment and then walk out of the devastation and into gentle instruction. I yearn for God to say to me: “You are not the only one left. Come out of there. Let me tell you what to do.”

But we don’t know how long the winds blew as they tore apart everything that once seemed secure. Or how long the earthquake rooted everything into upheaval. Or how long the fire burned to rubble even what little remained. What we know is that even after all of that, the still small voice was still there for Elijah.

And that still small voice is still there for us.

Footsteps

He is guiding our steps.

Sometimes we have to go through wind and fire before we are in a place where we can hear His voice, but we have a promise from God that even when we cannot hear Him over the tumult, He is still by our side, guiding our steps. He is still stopping us, prodding us, growing us, until we come to a place where we can hear Him more clearly again.

I recently asked my father what lessons he hopes he passed on to his children.

“Integrity,” he answered. And in that one word he summed up a multitude.

Integrity is how you treat people. Integrity is how you do your work. Integrity is when you listen to that still small voice…  and let your conscience be your guide.

I have more than one Father teaching me that lesson.

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Pentecostal Listening

Fifty days after Passover, Jews from all nations gather in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost. On one very special Pentecost a little over 2000 years ago, the gathering Jews witnessed a never-before-seen event. With a sound like rushing wind and a visual of leaping flames, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles. They began proclaiming the wonders of God in different languages. Some of the gathering Jews were amazed – “How is it that each of us hears them speaking in his own native language?” – while others laughed at them, thinking they were drunk.

Fire

How is it that such an outpouring of power could be witnessed by some as a great miracle and by others as drunken nonsense? The answer, I think, is that they heard different things.

God’s spirit has been poured out on all people, but not all people recognize the voice. Jesus gave the analogy of sheep that follow their shepherd when they know his voice. To the unbelieving Jews He said, “You do not believe, because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26-27).

Likewise, on the day of Pentecost, God sent His Holy Spirit to speak through the apostles. From the gathering crowd there were those who recognized the voice. They heard, each in his own language, the wonders of God being proclaimed. Astonished, they looked around, and in the neighboring faces they saw similar amazement. This divine encounter was not happening to them alone, but to everyone who connected with the words being spoken.

But there were others in the gathering crowd who did not share this amazement. Perhaps they did not press in close enough to truly hear. Perhaps they had hardened their hearts to not recognize God in their midst. Whatever the reason, it is not hard to imagine what they heard: the sound of eleven men shouting in multiple languages could easily be confused with drunken gibberish. They turned away from the presence of God and scoffed at the apostles, saying, “They are filled with new wine.”

The outpouring of God’s spirit at Pentecost was an inaugural event, but the outpouring of God’s spirit has never ceased. When the crowd asked Peter what they should do, he replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Bible1Did you catch that? The gift of the Holy Spirit was for them, and their children, and for all who are far off, including everyone whom the Lord our God will call. In other words, this promise is for us, too.

Whether the entire Christian faith is foreign to you, or you are a believer who struggles with confusing elements, don’t be too hasty to mock. If it sounds like gibberish to you, press in closer. Listen more intently. Read God’s written word, and listen to biblical teachings. You may be surprised to discover that through the tumult around you, God is speaking directly to you.

He is waiting to pour His Holy Spirit into every area of your life.

A Whole New World

NewWorld

It’s been a long time – too long! – since I shared some of my writing. Here is a recent post I wrote for www.Inspireafire.com. I think it speaks to the deep feeling of struggle we all must walk through… and the new place God is trying to take us. It is, indeed, a metaphor that at times feels very real.

“You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:7)

The birth metaphor is more than a metaphor.

Yes, the process of birth is a beautiful picture of God’s grace and sovereignty. Grace because He is bestowing new life. Sovereignty because it is God who bestows it. Just as the baby does very little to usher himself into the world, so we do very little to experience rebirth. It is God who takes away our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. It is God who calls us and leads us forth.

But that doesn’t mean the journey is easy. The metaphor, my friend, gets real.

Butterfly in Hands

Once the process begins, there are only two options. (Photo by J. Canino)

Physical birth changes the most fundamental aspects of your existence. The way you breathe. The way you eat. The way you engage with the world around you.

Spiritual birth is just as shattering. It may be true that the transformation is the result of something happening to you, but the effects demand a response from you. Once the process begins, there are only two options. You can push forward into new life, or you can retreat. The journey forward leads to life. The path of resistance leads to death.

Sometimes the path forward doesn’t seem like the best way. The journey itself is so dark. And every comfort you have ever known lies behind you. There is a loneliness and a disconnection you have never felt. You are being pushed and pulled and twisted until it feels like your insides are spilling out. What has happened? Everything was just fine! If you knew how to scream, you would, and your scream would be a cry of “Help me!”

The response is one of greater pushing, greater darkness, greater aloneness.

The path out, my friend, is forward. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the way; it turns out there is only one. And once God has gotten ahold of you, He will never let you go. He will push you and push you and push you until you feel your insides coming out. He will twist you and turn you and flip you upside down. He will cut you off from the very things that seem to sustain you. And all of that, all of that, is the path forward.

Desert flower

Just because you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

I don’t know what happens next, but I’ll tell you what I think. I think we come into a whole new world we can’t even begin to imagine. It may be a long journey, or it may be a short one. It may come in a single arduous stretch or a series of sharp contractions. The journey is not really our choice. But eventually the new world comes. We take our first breath in a way we didn’t even know we could breathe. We feel things we didn’t know we could feel. We see things we didn’t know we could see. How small and dark is the place we come from, compared to the place we go! In this new place we learn and grow and live in a way we could never imagine.

God will bring us there. He may be bringing you there right now. And if He is, if you look around and all you see is darkness, remember: Just because you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Your eyes may be closed to the fact that an entirely new world is just above the crown of your head.

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked.

Oh, Nicodemus, Nicodemus. You will find out. You will feel it. You will feel what it is to be born even when you are old.

You don’t even know what it is to breathe. Until you take your first breath.

 

Lessons from the ‘Hood

Sheep & baby

This post originally appeared at www.inspireafire.com/lessons-from-the-hood.

I wanted to hear from those who have been there. Not just read about, visited, or studied it, but those who have lived it.

So I pulled up the contact list on my phone, fingers flying over the keys. Yes, I’ve got some friends in the ‘hood. Motherhood, that is.

I sent an impromptu poll: What’s one thing you’ve learned from motherhood – first thing that comes to mind?

Geese and baby

Lessons from Motherhood for all of us.

Within moments a flood of text messages came back. And one of the most remarkable things is how many of the responses are relevant not just to motherhood, but to all of us.

We may not all be mothers, but all of us – young or old, male or female, married or single – can learn important lessons from those who are. I am reminded of the time Jesus’ mother came to visit him and he said to those around him, “Who is my mother? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

There is no doubt that mothers have a special calling, and the experiences they’ve had hold lessons for all of us. Here is some insight from those on the front lines:

  • Everyone wants to be heard, no matter how small they are. Take the time to listen.
  • There is more than one right answer.
  • Patience!
  • If you knew everything that motherhood entailed, you would never willingly choose it. Once you have it, you can never imagine life without it. A nice conundrum!
  • Make sure that the first face you give your child in the morning is a positive face so they know they are loved and safe.
  • Nothing is impossible.
  • Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Love-never-failsReflecting on these thoughts in light of the scriptures I couldn’t help but see similarities. We know from God’s word how Jesus encouraged the little children to come to him, and how he listened, cared for, and encouraged “the least of these.” He mystified the scribes and Pharisees and enthralled the crowds with his teachings and wisdom. He taught that with God, all things are possible.

Love, we learn, is patient and kind. Love trusts, protects, hopes and perseveres. Love willingly lays down one’s life for another and counterintuitively finds joy in some of the hardest places. And love beckons us, not to wait, but to act now. “Encourage one another daily,” we are told. “As long as it is called today.”

Whether you’re part of the ‘hood or outside it, you too can put these lessons into practice. Within our own special calling, we should all go and do likewise.

Have more lessons from the ‘hood? Add them in the comments below!

The Joy of Yoga

I recently started a yoga class that should be described in the brochure as “death by planks.” The instructor initiates each class session with the statement:

“My goal is to make you all sore tomorrow. And I love planks.” Followed by a long, cackling laugh.

A plank, if you’re not familiar, is essentially the “up” position of a push-up – arms and toes extended against the floor, back straight, pain searing through the abs. Most instructors consider the plank to be a strenuous pose to hold for 30 seconds and then release. This instructor considers it a resting pose.

“Now come back to plank for a few resting breaths,” she’ll say. Or, “Rest in plank position for a moment while I change the music…. Hmmm. Where is that song?” (Long, cackling laugh.)

I did well for the first set of plank exercises. I was “pressing strong against the floor.” I was “feeling the heat rise within my center.” I was “toe tapping” and “stretching my intercostals” and “maintaining my shoulder position.”

By the second set I lost all will to continue and collapsed into face plant position.

“Remember to do what is comfortable for your body,” the instructor continued. “You can drop down one arm and thread the needle if you’d like a deeper pose…”

A deeper pose?

By the time we got to side planks, I had modified my pose to the twitching log. Across the room I saw another participant curled in the fetal position. This gave me hope. I was pretty sure the class would end only when we were all collapsed on our mats. I tried not to look at the lady across from me who was still soaring like a carnivorous bird on a magical updraft of hot yoga wind.

That is not normal.

Speaking of carnivorous birds, as a break from planks we entered into the eagle pose, which the instructor described like this:

“Stand on your right leg and wrap your left leg around your right leg about three times. Now slide your right arm under your left elbow and intertwine—“

At which point I went into the toppling tree pose. I also learned yelling “Timber!” in the middle of yoga class is not appropriate.

The peace and the light within me greets joyfully the peace and the light in you. It does not topple with a death crash onto the floor. Ever.

We continued with the chair pose, which makes me understand why chairs were invented. And the hoverboard position, which requires you to somehow scrunch up your abs enough to levitate your entire body off the mat. I can tell you there was lots of scrunching but very little levitating on my mat.

“Notice how your breathing may have changed,” the instructor said.

Yes, my breathing had changed. I think it had stopped altogether.

“Try to return to the same gentle flow you had at the beginning of class…”

Right. I returned to a modification of the twitching, gasping log pose.

“There is so much more we could do, but I’m sorry our hour has come to a close,” the instructor finally said.

There were general sighs of relief and one chirpy voice that suggested a two hour class sometime. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”

I hope my grimace looked like a smile.

I slowly rolled my mat and hobbled toward the door. I am so into this yoga thing.

What’s your new thing for 2017?

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19).

Don’t Miss the Disguises of Jesus

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/dont-miss-disguises-jesus/.

In the dream, we had to shepherd all the kids inside, because there was a strange man outside trying to lure them away from the house. And not just with penny candy or puppies. He was setting up extravagant bounce houses right in the front yard. Tall ones to climb, and sturdy ones to jump inside, and long ones to race through and slide down. This was a serious threat for even the most stranger-wary child.

bouncehouseOnce safely inside we pulled the curtains. The kids were playing happily since none of them had noticed the extravagant playhouses just outside our door; I stood guard at the window. I watched the man move from one brightly colored obstacle to the other. It was an entire playland, just waiting for someone to join the fun. Each time he glanced at the house his whole face lit up with a beaming smile. Then when no one appeared, his face fell into such a deep sadness that I felt my own heart twist inside me. Again and again this happened until someplace in the recesses of my subconscious another idea knocked against the dream. I jolted awake with the realization that it was not a scary man after all – it was Jesus, waiting for us to come out and play.

Jesus comes to us in many different disguises. Mother Teresa talks about serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor. Jesus himself said whatever we do for his brothers in need we do for him (Matthew 25:31-46). But service to Jesus is not limited to those in need. Sometimes Jesus comes to us simply to have fun. Sometimes He flings open the door to the banquet hall (or bouncy house) and invites us to join the party. We should ask ourselves how often we choose to stay behind a locked door, peering through the window, and mis-judging his intentions.

Jesus wants more than anything else to be with us. We know this truth especially well during this time of year when we celebrate Jesus’ most famous disguise of all. A little more than 2000 years ago He was born into the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Herod tried to kill him, the magi came to worship him, and the shepherds praised God for him. He was so well disguised that it is likely no one, even Mary who pondered all these things in her heart, really understood what the birth of this infant truly meant. Jesus came to be with us. And He went to the cross so that we could always be with Him.

desert hills

In moments of quietude, God is there.

Today, don’t miss the many disguises of Jesus. Don’t miss Jesus in the poor and downtrodden, but also don’t miss Jesus in the joy and the fun.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. See Him in the moments of quietude.Jesus is the Light of the World. See Him in the brightest of moments.

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. See Him in all wisdom and knowledge and truth.

Jesus is Love. See him in the love of your family and friends.

two friends

In the love of family and friends, God is there.

 

Take some time, this Christmas season, to have fun. Have fun with your family. Have fun with your coworkers. Have fun with your friends. Have fun with Jesus. He may be setting up the most fun activities on the very doorstep of your heart.Jesus is Emmanuel: God-With-Us. See him, even when you can’t actually see him.

Don’t hide inside.

Connected

Colored Pencils

This post originally appeared at www.inspireafire.com/connected. 

It was a long day of travelling followed by a harrowing drive through an unfamiliar city. I arrived at the hotel with thoughts only of food and sleep. Too spent to venture far, I ordered a cheeseburger at the hotel bar and sat down to wait. I was counting the minutes until I could retreat to my room when a man grabbed the chair next to mine and called for a menu.

“Where you from?” He asked.

When I responded, he proceeded to explain that he was from Nebraska and was travelling back and forth every week for the next couple months to a job site here. I never did determine exactly what he did, but I was surprised when a few minutes later, after he had placed his order and departed, I felt my spirits lifted. Sometimes the simplest of human connections can make you feel less alone.

The next couple days contained more driving, meetings, presentations. But, I’ll never forget when I finally arrived at the main event, and one of the organizers introduced herself.

“I am your buddy. I am here to make sure you have everything you need,” she said.

She escorted me throughout the day. She showed me to my presentation room, joined me for lunch, checked in on me during my meetings. What a simple and powerful message that sent to me: I’m glad you’re here. I’m here to help.

I was starting to sense a theme of this trip, but God wasn’t done with me yet.

I was safely through airport security and standing gate-side when a mother with two little girls laden with luggage hurried by. A dozen feet from me, a container the little girl was carrying sprung open, and markers flew through the air. Dozens – I mean dozens – of markers. They clattered to the floor, bounced on the tile, rolled in every direction. The look on the little girl’s face was one of complete shock; the look on the mother’s one of complete helplessness. I barely had time to register what had happened when the scene was nearly lost from view for all the people who rushed forward to help. Other passengers who had been standing nearby bent down. People who were walking by stopped. A pilot who was waiting for his gate stepped forward.

“Thank you,” the mother kept saying.

Within moments, the case was filled, the cover was snapped shut, the flow of people was moving again. The mother and little girl vanished from my view.

cleaning-cart

Every time I pass a cleaning cart I am reminded: God has connected us for a reason!

I made a last trip to the restroom before my plane started boarding. I was in the stall when I heard someone on the other side say: “Thank you for keeping this restroom so clean for us. You are doing a great job. I really appreciate it.”

I could almost see the surprise on the worker’s face through the bathroom stall.

Okay God, I get it.

All around us are a million ways that we can reach out to another. It’s so easy for me to focus on myself and the thoughts that preoccupy my day, but it’s not much harder to shift that focus ever so gently outward. It can be as simple as a casual conversation with a stranger. Or the comforting presence of being nearby in case you’re needed. It can be a physical act of helping when things come crashing down around someone. It can be a word of appreciation.

Look around. In the next few minutes, someone is going to enter your sphere of influence. A stranger on the plane. A coworker in the office. A family member on the phone. A friend who just popped into your mind.

Don’t let this moment pass. Give an encouraging word, a friendly smile, a pat on the back, or a quick note to say “I’m thinking of you.”

God has connected us for a reason.