Check the Power Cords

How does God speak to us?

Someone might say, “Maybe the first question isn’t how, but does He.”

To answer that one, most folks would give examples illustrating their “yes” or “no.” I’m a “yes.”

My “yes” has had the usual answers through my spiritual journeying years. They include prayer, creation, spiritual texts, and other people. Oh, and one more, dreams.

In my early church history, dreams weren’t high on the list. What I mean is, teachers didn’t give them much attention. That was for various reasons. So as a young follower, I didn’t give it much thought. Then as an adult when others have mentioned visions or dreams as means of God speaking to them, it felt like a foreign language. It came across as very real and personal for them, so it left me feeling left out.

The first time I recall believing God had spoken to me through a dream was in 2005. I remember it very vividly. Both the dream and the message I received. I no longer felt like an outsider. Since that experience, I often wake from a dream with a notion to pause and listen. And when there’s a message, it’s pretty obvious. It happened two nights ago.

This post isn’t written to share the message (If you know me and want to know about it, reach out to me). I’m sharing these thoughts for one main reason. I believe the answer to “does God speak” and “how” are found in the heart of each created man and woman. Creators commune with their creations. The challenge we have is returning the favor. Sometimes from boredom, emotional hurt, doubt, discontent, impatience, expectations, or arrogance, we disconnect from all the communion avenues with our Creator. Which offers this counter question posed to the mirror: “Am I plugged in?” Like the first question about IT issues, “Did you check the power cord?”

My experience has led me to believe if I’m not hearing from God it’s not His fault. It’s on me to check all the power cords.

Photo by Steve Johnson 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

Understanding Yes

Yesterday gave me the answer to a question. The question had to do with having said yes and wondering how that particular yes was going to work out. Turns out, pretty good…way better than expected.

The older I get the more weight each yes carries. What I’ve noticed this year focusing on flow, saying yes doesn’t always mean everything’s in order. In fact, the best yes results so far have started with very little in order.

Improving on flow and yes seems to only come by experience. It’s a product of better listening, deeper trust, and reduced paralysis from fear. These improvements, our growth, comes from both our wins and our losses.

For example, David started out with some significant yes wins. He didn’t always have everything in order the moment he said yes, like when he said, “I can take down Goliath.” Five stones later, the flow and the yes made sense. Years later, that win was countered by another yes (Bathsheba) that resulted in lifelong losses. The level at which he flowed with God determined the win or loss of his yes.

Abraham is another example. When God first asked him for a yes, Abraham had no idea how it would work out. But he followed and reaped the benefits of not expecting to understand everything ahead of time. The bumps in the road between then and saying yes to sacrificing Isaac certainly had some losses, but Abraham learned from them and improved his flow and yes to an ultimate level of sacrifice (Genesis 22).

Determining the unity of a yes with Holy Spirit flow can be tricky. One key is discerning where the wish to answer yes is coming from-my own desires or his. And often that discernment can look like asking these three questions:

  1. What is God telling me?
  2. What is God not telling me?
  3. What do I want God to tell me?

None of these questions are bad questions. But I’ve found that the only one that really matters is what is God telling me. Without the answer to that question, a yes or no shouldn’t even be given. I’m also finding that my best understanding of yes is pretty simple. If God is asking for a yes, it’s the best answer. His higher ways and thoughts support my yes. My understanding, secondary to his glory, will come when he’s done with my yes.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Whispers to a Hot Minute

A hot minute about anger.

This morning I was angered by a social media post by a friend. This post, without a doubt, did harm. That in itself causes anger. This post, without a doubt, did harm to a mutual friend. That causes more and deeper anger.

And the reality is, social media posts can cause us anger just about every minute of the day, giving us the opportunity to feel like the whole day is one hot minute. These posts don’t necessarily have to be by people we know. Unfortunately, we are leered into getting hot from posts by people we don’t even know. We can believe the lie that we know their intentions, but reality is that’s impossible.

This morning, I had the same impulse most of us do. “Why don’t I point out the harm and basically put my friend in his place?” Thankfully, I refrained. Then my hotness said, “Well, sure, don’t put it out there for everybody to see. Just send him a private message.” Very tempting, but thankfully I still refrained. So what did I do? I went for a run.

So let me explain. Rarely do I run at 1PM. And rarely is going for a run a solution. But I know myself enough to know that one way to keep me from doing something stupid is to do something good. And some of my best thinking is while I’m running.

Sure enough, the hot minute subsided and the angry rebuttal left the front of my mind. Some call that regulation or de-escalation. In spiritual terms, I’d say it’s dropping your ego in order to let God have a say.

So here are God’s whispers while on my run:

  • “One person’s lack of turning their cheek doesn’t give you the right to do the same.”
  • “A fool is better left alone. I don’t need your help setting them straight.”
  • “Offer forgiveness rather than advice or judgment.”
  • “Consider how Jesus approached the harm Judas created.”

And that’s how I’ll be able to go to sleep tonight. Listening and following the whispers cooling my hot minute.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Let’s Seek a Better Understanding

Last week I was given a book to read. Each page has grabbed me, but none like the start of chapter five, “Defending Slavery at the Onset of the Civil War.”

Let me share a few lines.

As historian Mark Noll has written, no single individual characterized the conflict better than Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln was inaugurated for his second and very brief term as president in 1865, a Union victory was on the horizon. Robert E. Lee would formally surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, just a month later. Rather than gloat about his military success, Lincoln’s address struck a somber and reflective tone: “Both {Union and Confederacy] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully”…Throughout the conflict, Christians of both the Union and the Confederate forces believed that God was on their side.

This startled me. Change a few elements of the storyline, and I feel like he’s describing today’s America.

We should be startled. We should not be divided.

We should be humbled. We should not be puffed up.

We should be listening. We should not be yelling.

In his review of Tisby’s call to repentance, Daniel Williams ended with these words:

Racial reconciliation, Tisby argues, won’t occur without confession of sin and repentance from white Christians—a repentance that some Reformed churches have already started to model, but which hasn’t yet occurred en masse. With God’s grace, it can occur. For those seeking a better understanding of what this confession and repentance might entail, Tisby’s book offers a helpful guide.

History does not have to be repeated. Let’s seek a better understanding.

Groaning (Part 2)

This morning in his message my pastor shared a story about some friends who have a young daughter. Around the age of two, she was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. As they were dealing with that reality, other diagnoses came taking them down a very uncertain and unpredictable path. His purpose for sharing their story was to illustrate that their shared journey through uncertainty brought them closer to each other and to God.

Theirs is a story of groaning. As parents, they groan. As children of God, they groan. As spouses, they groan. When they choose to groan together, recognize each other’s groaning, they are actively choosing to draw closer together.

Sounds perfectly natural for a couple to do. But you and I both know, that’s not what all couples do. Not all relationships survive such trials. And when you examine similar challenges that a larger group is facing together, the possible response scenarios are multiplied.

  • How might responses be chosen if the challenges were seen as “the whole creation groaning”? (See Part 1)
  • How might we listen to one another if we viewed other’s words as groaning prayers?
  • What if we shared groanings without trying to win?
  • What rewards would be received if at least once we chose to listen to another’s groans without demanding they hear ours?

Most likely, all the answers to these questions have a common thread-choosing grace. Grace says, “I hear you. I see you. I’m willing to listen to you. Your groans matter. You are allowed to groan however you want, how loud you want, about whatever you want.”

We are all born groaners. We all have the opportunity to become gracious groaners.

Who is a gracious groaner?

  • That person that you know is in pain, but they refuse to suck the life out of the room.
  • That person that shares their groans along with the lessons they are learning, the questions they are asking, and the hope they have anchored.
  • That person that understands everyone around them also groans and offers the grace they desire to receive.

How did that person nurture such grace? Most likely, they admired someone else with it. Or even better, they grew from being gifted undeserved grace in return for their lack of grace. They received the benefit of shared grace.

More about that in Part 3.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao 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.

“They Changed My Life”

Twice in the last 24 hours I’ve heard the same accolade given to a man: “He changed my life.”

One was in an episode of “The Good Doctor.” A character, grieving the loss of a coworker, said he had changed her life. Her grieving caused her to see it.

The other was in a devotional. A high school senior gave this praise to a teacher. Many teachers get this opportunity-to change a life.

As you read this, I’m guessing someone in your past comes to mind. A teacher? A coach? An employer? A family member? A pastor? A friend? A coworker?

This person, although living their life with purpose, most likely didn’t look at you and determine, “They need changing. I’m going to change them.” Not that literal. What they most likely did was simply see you. Listen to you. Answer you. Value you. Honor your place in the world. Give you a place in their world. And it was enough to foster change.

May we all see, listen, answer, value, honor, and give enough to foster change. May we all have said of us, “They changed my life.”

Photo by Zazen Koan on Unsplash

Participating in Mystery

Recently a colleague referenced this book by Pat Schneider:

After doing my usual thing of sampling it on Kindle, I purchased it. (NOTE: “Usual thing on Kindle” means if I’m enticed to highlight while reading the sample, it’s more than likely an eventual purchase.)

At first I wasn’t enticed, but then came these two lines from the same paragraph:

When I achieve true waiting, true listening, something happens that I experience as a gift…If I am made in the image of the creator, then I am myself a creator, and my acts of creating participate in mystery.

That first line grabbed my attention. It aligns with several messages I’ve heard recently, the most recent while driving to Orlando yesterday. (NOTE: To radio DJs, your words carry power.) I’ve lived most of my life feeling like I’ve taken on a burden when someone shares intimate stories with me. I’ve been eased and encouraged lately to see these sharings as gifts, completely altering how I listen and experience the moment.

And that second line, it’s a different way to say what I’ve often told others. We are creators. We are creative. We were created to create. Opening our minds to that truth and expanding our definition of creativity frees us to “participate in mystery.”

16 more chapters. What light awaits?