“Listen, God” (Part 2)

The next day I was still thinking about the previous day’s all-day conversation and referenced it in a conversation with a former coworker.

While we discussed it, God shared a final word. Adding to his direction to get my eyes off myself, he pointed out, “John, you know how you don’t like to hear people talking over each other and are frustrated when you catch yourself doing it? How about you practice that with me, too?”

He had the final word. Graciously, it was a question. And my “Listen, God” posture was altered.

Left me wondering what a “Listen, God” posture sounds/feels/looks like. Not too hard to imagine, really. Probably sounds similar to a Christmas morning temper tantrum from a six-year-old who just finished opening more gifts than they know what to do with. Probably feels similar to the tightness in a hair stylist’s chest whose client berates them because their work doesn’t match the picture from the magazine. Probably looks like the adult child rolling their eyes at their aging parent whose short-term memory loss has them repeating the same question three times in five minutes.

How God manages to keep a “You’re my son in whom I’m well pleased” posture is beyond my comprehension. That posture transforms mine from “Listen and do what I say” to “I’m glad you’re here. What would you like to talk about?”

Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash

“Listen, God” (Part 1)

One night this week, I woke from a dream and felt like I was mid-conversation with God. Not necessarily thrilled at the timing, I engaged for another hour and a half before going back to sleep.

When my body said, “You’re done sleeping,” our conversation picked back up and kept going throughout the day. I shared this with four different people. And pretty much each one of them asked me what God was saying. At that point, I admitted I was doing most of the talking. My tone was very much, “Listen, God. Here’s the deal. I need some things today. And I’m not going to hold back in telling you what they are.”

I got very specific with what I wanted from him before the day ended. I mean really specific. Guess what…I didn’t get anything I asked for. Instead, I got better things, things I really needed.

As I saw what I was receiving, in God-like fashion, He gave me more than I asked for. And when I gave him a chance to speak, this is what he said: “Get your eyes off yourself, John. Can you see that I heard you? Can you see what I’m giving you?”

He really is a good Father. He receives my tone, demands, and attempts to “ask and receive.” Then he responds with loving correction and gifts that show he’s everything he promises to be.

Photo by Social Income on Unsplash

God Has Competition

Here’s a common question I’ve been asked over the years: “I don’t seem to hear from God like many people say they do. Why?”

There could be several answers to that question, but allow me to answer it with a question: “What other voices in your life is God competing against?”

I believe God desires to speak to us, to communicate with us constantly. When we stop to consider who else desires to speak to us, it’s rather eye-opening, explains how important it is to lend our ear to the voices that matter.

To answer the “what other voices” question, here’s a suggestion. Get out a piece of paper or open a digital notetaking app. Make these three headings at the top: Spiritual, Physical, Digital. Then start listing the voices attempting to speak into your life under each heading.

Be brutally honest. For example, don’t avoid listing all spiritual voices that desire to speak into your life. To deny the existence and working of demonic forces actually shows they are ahead of you. Acknowledging their existence provides a means for God to speak to you as your protector and defender.

As for the physical heading, focus on human relationships. Again, be brutally honest. Include the good and the bad voices that have some level of authority in your life. List them all. This list should be pretty lengthy if you consider them all. By the way, go ahead and list yourself. You probably listen to you more than anyone else.

That third category, digital, may seem weird to consider. Basically, all things visual and audio are speaking into our lives simply by their presence. From TV to movies to apps to music to texts to emails to blogs to videos, list them all.

Finished yet? What’s that list look like? How does that help frame God’s competition?

What I have found in my listening for God is the need to silence his competition.

The fewer voices speaking the better odds He will be heard.

The fewer voices speaking the louder His voice seems.

The fewer voices speaking the easier to attune to the one that matters most.

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

Mimickry

I’ve been at it for over two years. It’s a slow burn.

When I transitioned to a new job and anticipated working more from home and not having an office, I knew something had to be done. All my books weren’t going to fit on one bookcase at home. So it began. The personal library deconstruction. As the walls enclose, the books are finding new homes.

I’m guessing all book lovers have similar problems. Not only do we buy more than we need nor have room for, we tend to not get around to reading all of them either. I’d guess someone has labeled this a disorder. I mean, chocolate lovers don’t buy boxes of chocolate just to put them on display never to be opened and eventually discarded. At least I don’t. I enjoy what’s inside. The chocolate box, just to be clear.

To address this problem, I’ve continued the deconstruction in two ways. One, if I’ve never read the book and don’t see that I will in the near future, “off with its head (given away in some fashion).” Two, rather than buying new books (Kindle doesn’t count), I’m reading the books I haven’t read and then deciding if it deserves to stay or go.

Occasionally, I encounter deja vu. Happened yesterday. I finished a book, which deserved to stay on the shelf. So I picked out another one I was pretty sure I hadn’t read. Not even sure where I got it, honestly. It’s signed by the author, which most likely explains why it’s still on the shelf. As I’m reading the first few chapters, it reads like a new book-nothing familiar at all. And then, with the light on the page just right, I see faint yellow highlighting. Are you kidding me? I’ve read this book before, even highlighted it, and I don’t remember. Another book lover problem. Actually, there’s several problems in that realization, but let’s move on.

One joy in re-reading a book is your eye, your mind being captured with more. Something you didn’t engage the first time speaks to you the second time. Like re-watching a movie. Here’s the line in this book that captured me:

We mimic the god we serve.

God’s Resting Place: Finding Your Identity In His Peace, by Ron Marquardt

Marquardt explained that our belief of God’s character plays out in how we live. “If I believe God is angry and hard to please, I find myself behaving the same way. If I find Him happy one moment and angry the next, I will soon follow suit.” (p.19) Mind captured.

So I chose to meditate on that in a journal entry. Rather than analyze my mimicry, I decided to make a list of truths I believe about God. This list, certainly not exhaustive, can then serve as a checklist of how I’m mimicking Him:

  • God loves us as we are
  • God sent his son not to condemn
  • God receives us from our wandering
  • God seeks the lost sheep
  • God rests
  • God listens to his children
  • God blesses those who bless him
  • God humbled himself for his creation
  • God keeps his promises
  • God forgives
  • God is faithful
  • God has eternity in mind
  • God gives generously
  • God has compassion
  • God remembers we are dust

Deconstruction leading to deja vu leading to mimickry. Here’s to the slow burn!

Photo: Izabela Zagaja-Florek

Tucson Reflection #4

A little travel trivia for you based on an article by Livability (2016):

  • The average American has visited 12 states.
  • The top five visited states are Florida, California, Georgia, New York, and Nevada.
  • California, Florida, and New York residents have visited fewer states than the typical American.
  • 10% of Americans have never been to a state other than the one they live in.
  • Americans take more than four leisure trips per year.

My Thanksgiving trip of 11 days, counting airports, took me to five states. Looking at these trivia points, it would be foolish of me not to see my life as privileged.

At some point on this trip, maybe on a plane or driving around Tucson, a thought occurred to me. The more I travel to new places the smaller I get. I’m pretty sure it was while I was in Tucson. I’m guessing because Tucson was unlike any other city I’ve visited.

Sure, it is American. Sure, it is modern. Sure, it is multicultural. Sure, it is a University town. Sure, it is picturesque. Sure, it is probably just about anything you’d want a city to be where you live or visit.

Something about Tucson, though, expanded my world and reminded me that the world is quite big. Therefore, I am quite small.

Now, someone might read that and the takeaway would be, “That sounds depressing.” Thankfully, with the worldview I have, my response is the opposite. I’m grateful for the reminder.

Too often my world revolves around me. I’m “bigger” than I really am. Is that because I’m American? Single? Male? White? Privileged? Floridian? Alabama fan? Probably. But it’s also because I’m human, in the lineage of Adam. I fall prey to wanting to be like God.

The smaller we children of Adam see ourselves in comparison to God the better our lives are. We allow the fullness of His presence; we give him more space to reveal he’s bigger. Bigger than us. Bigger than our stuff. Bigger than our circumstances. Bigger than our doubts. Bigger than our fears. Bigger.

On behalf of all the children of Adam, thank you, Tucson! You remind us God is Big!

Photo by REVOLT on Unsplash

Welcome to Egypt!

“Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards.” (Genesis 37:36)

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Now that your father and brothers have come to you, the land of Egypt is open before you; settle your father and brothers in the best part of the land. They can live in the land of Goshen. If you know of any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” (Genesis 47:5-6)

No idea what Egyptian road signs existed in 1700BC, but it doesn’t take much to imagine that Joseph and Jacob would have had different emotions if they passed one welcoming them to the country.

Joseph: “What just happened? I don’t want to be here. God, why did you let this happen?”

Jacob: “What is happening? I’m so glad to be here. God, how can I thank you?”

Genesis 37-47 recounts many of the most familiar biblical dramas. Dramas that were foreshadowed in dreams. Dramas that no one saw coming. Dramas with immediate answers to questions. Dramas where silence still lingers.

Our lives aren’t much different.

Rolling along with seemingly no problems, then WHAM! Welcome to hatred, to betrayal, to dysfunction, to lies, to prison, to loss, to loneliness, to misunderstanding, to abandonment, to…..

Or doing the best with what’s been handed to us, then SURPRISE! Welcome to blessing, to grace, to forgiveness, to renewal, to acceptance, to explanation, to honor, to peace, to hope, to…..

We can learn many truths from Jacob and Joseph’s lives. Today, wherever and whatever you’ve been welcomed to, know that God has walked with many of his children through their whams and surprises. He goes to Egypt with you. How do I know? Here are some other verses within these same Genesis chapters:

“The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master.” (Genesis 39:2)

“But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:21)

“Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: ‘Jacob, Jacob!’ he said.

And Jacob replied, ‘Here I am.’

God said, ‘I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.’” (Genesis 46:1-4)

Welcome to Egypt! You are not alone!

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

Mountain Notes to Self

Exodus 26:30; 27:8

30 You are to set up the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you have been shown on the mountain.

Construct the altar with boards so that it is hollow. They are to make it just as it was shown to you on the mountain.

Moses had memorable mountain moments with God. These Exodus chapters and others surrounding them narrate life-changing moments for him and his entire nation.

The wording of these two verses gave me pause when I read them today. We dream of mountain-top moments-moments that we fantasize about, wish we could have more of, or possible build our lives around.

If we aren’t careful, mountain-top moments will come and go, and the point of them is lost. The life-giving, life-changing truths may not take root or, worse, are totally missed.

I’d rather not waste the climb. To avoid that tragedy, I made these notes to self:

  • There’s more to receive on the mountain that just a great view.
  • While on the mountain, after I’ve recovered from the climb and taken in the view, listen. And take notes.
  • Before starting the descent off the mountain, submit and commit to the Mountain Maker’s words.

Too Comfortable?

This quote is a screenshot from a Sunday morning message given this past week by Pastor Jordan Easley of First Baptist Church, Cleveland, Tn. He’s in a sermon series entitled “How the Church Acts.” In this message, he addressed that the church is to be made up of people who live with purpose. It wasn’t a message that churchgoers haven’t heard before, but this statement shed a different light on the message.

What is a non-negotiable anyway? My words-something that a person won’t budge about. For instance, I’m an Alabama fan-not going to budge on that one. I don’t eat brussels sprouts-pretty sure that’s not going to change. You get the point.

So when it comes to churchgoers, how is it possible that they have non-negotiables? According to Pastor Easley, it’s possible because they’ve become too comfortable. He wasn’t necessarily referring to being too comfortable in our lifestyle; he’s referring more to our view of God, our relationship with the Giver of Life both now and forever.

This statement made me think the rest of the day. Made me question what non-negotiables I may have. Made me wonder if I could be drawn to making some and what would be the result. Made me wonder enough that I’m sharing it with you.

Non-negotiables won’t exist in heaven. Makes me want to eliminate them today.

Two Things God Thinks of Me

In the last few days I’ve been struck by two ways to know what God thinks of me. They sound similar yet carry different meanings.

The first came from a devotional that highlighted Hebrews 11:16:

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

To be clear, no, Hebrews 11 is not about me. It’s a list recalling Old Testament lives of faith. And the writer pauses in the list to say, “God was not ashamed to be called their God.” Why? Their faith. Their faith to build an ark. Their faith to leave their families. Their faith to wait. Their faith to give up everything. Their faith to trust. Their faith to desire heaven over earth.

When I have and act by that kind of faith, I know God is not ashamed of me.

The second came from the book I’m reading by J. Paul Nyquist, Prepare.

“God never blesses anyone or anything He doesn’t approve of.”

Nyquist says this based on the beatitude: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11) He begins chapter four of his book with this verse to support that persecution isn’t a curse but a blessing. So in the face of false accusation, reviling, and evil, I can know God approves of me.

When I face evil attacks, I know God approves of me.

I don’t have to doubt what God thinks of me when my faith is steadfast. He approves. He is not ashamed.

Photo credit: Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Looking for Book #1?

Book #1 for 2021 done. And it was a good choice to kick it off.

It’s time to let God heal you. It’s time to let God restore you. It’s time to let God do a mighty work.

Franklin takes the first half of the book to define and describe love.

Don’t speak to the fool in others; speak to the king in them.

Chapter four, “Stop Keeping Score and Start Losing Count,” by title alone moves you in the right direction. He had this to say about Jesus’ work on forgiving:

Before he could leave this earth, Jesus had to forgive those who were torturing him, those who were mocking him, those who were blaspheming him. This was important because God’s hands will not touch spirits that do not release forgiveness. Wherever you release forgiveness, you release the power of the Spirit of God.

For several chapters, Franklin focuses on the family. Why? Perhaps because it’s the place where we learn about love and also where we are most prone to be hurt by it.

You cannot be so spiritual that you neglect natural things. And you cannot be so natural that you neglect the spiritual things. God’s will is somewhere between Martha’s kitchen and Mary’s altar.

The final three chapters address one’s love relationship with God. He argues that the enemy’s goal is to create distrust. And what happens often is instead he pushes us to pray more, to run to God, and to increase our faith-particularly when we love like we’ve never been hurt.

Franklin wrote a Keeper.