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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The difference between a "quiet time" and an "all the time". His Word and His Voice.

One thing that has occupied my mind lately is this thought: "How do I know I'm hearing from God?"

I know that many will say, well just read His Word and you'll hear from God.  This is very true, but I think I want to take it a step further.  Reading God's Word and Hearing God's Voice seem connected but unique.  Almost like the Trinity, one God in three unique persons.

The voice of God is a mix of the presence of God, the heartbeat of God and what I would call the nudge of God.  It's the calm assurance that when a decision needs to be made and the Scriptures don't tell you with clarity what to do about that specific situation, that you lean on your understanding of the principles of God's story found in the Bible, you make sure you have an unobstructed connection with Jesus, and then you trust your conscious & God's Spirit to guide you in the application of those aforementioned realities.  Not an easy answer, but one that I find is closer to the truth than "God said it, and I believe it, and that settles it for me."  So true, but so insufficient in helping me discern God's will in a conversation with someone that is complicated.  So inept to give you the practical hand holds and foot holds you need to navigate the situational ethics of a multi-layered conflict.

This is where God's voice is imperative for me.  It never contradicts what God has said in his Word, but it does elaborate on the actionable steps that need to be taken in a unique situation.  Sensing God's tugging and his whisper is crucial.  Asking for him to speak into your heart before a meeting makes all the difference in the world.  Hearing him say, "Wait before you say that." or "Ask them this question." or "What they said isn't truly what they feel." or "You're not actually hearing what they're saying, listen more deeply." or "Don't let them leave before you address what I've laid on your heart."  Things like this are what I mean when I talk about hearing his voice.

I can think of several other whispers of God:

"What are you so angry about right now?"
"Where did that thought come from?"
"Take the conversation this direction."
"Stand up for yourself right now."
"Say you're sorry."
"Don't take that personally, something else is going on behind the scenes."
"When are you going to stop worrying about that?"
"Why won't you trust me right now?"
"Stay in the conversation a little longer."
"That word they just said is the key to this conversation."
"You're a people-pleaser.  It's time to confront them."
"Why aren't you taking your day off?"
"Read that passage again and this time think about ______ while you do?"
"Why did that affect you so much?"
"Help them out...this isn't an enabling situation."
"Don't back down...stand your ground."
"Swallow your pride...and back down."
"You need to get away from the situation to see it clearly."
"Trust me, I won't let you down."
"I love you, even if you think you've bombed."

God's Word doesn't say any of these things...and yet it does, in not so many words.  God's voice is what translates His Words into something that makes sense in "our moment".  If we don't cultivate the ears to hear what God is saying to us, we will function in the flesh.  No if's, and's or but's about it.  God said, "My sheep hear my voice."  We know the shepherd of our souls, the husband of our hearts so well that when he speaks, we know His sound and tone like we know our own parent's or children's voices in a crowd.  We know when our child is crying out of a playground of 50, we know when our parent is calling our name out of a room full of 200...we know the voice.

The longer I live the more I realize the need to hear God's voice.  To stay so in tune with him that even when I don't have the time to open my Bible and find a passage that talks about my present need, I lean toward God and His Spirit guides me into all truth.  He makes sense of a moment and gives me the words to say or the decision to make or the question to ask.  On the spot.

That's what I'm talking "on-the-spot" God that joins you in the journey and whispers audibles to you right in the fat middle of a moment.  He doesn't wait for your quiet time, he comes to you when it's "go time" and speaks a word "right in the nick of time."

You need this in friendship, marriage, parenting, relationships, decisions, and momentous moments that don't give you time to prep a speech or a thesis.  You need God's friendship that comes through His Spirit's fellowship to speak to you in ways and with words that make it so you don't "lean on your own understanding" but instead to "acknowledge him" letting him "direct your paths".

Not sure if I'm making sense to many people who are reading this, but I'm finding this distinction to be a matter of life and death in the daily grind of my days.  His voice is the difference between success and failure, life and death, grace and truth, me or God, instincts or precepts.  And sometimes, you don't get a "do-over" so it's essential to abide with Jesus, and to let him abide with you.

Jesus, speak to me in my mundane moments.  I will not lock you into a quiet time.  You are free to talk to me whenever you'd like..."all the" time.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Life is Beautiful.

I'm about to doze off after a beautiful day off.

I took Aly out for breakfast and enjoyed some beautiful conversation with my beautiful middle child.  I walked around my yard and had a beautiful conversation on the phone with a friend who has a beautiful heart.  I took my beautiful family to the new Pixar movie and had a beautiful time snuggling and snickering together as we watched a beautiful masterpiece of creativity.  We headed home to pick up our beautiful house before spending the evening with one of our closest family friends.  We enjoyed a beautiful evening meal out on the back deck and then took our kids to the bike trail and had a beautiful walk where we shared beautiful conversation surrounded by the beauty of nature and the beautiful scenery of the countryside.  After our walk, we came home and had some scrumptious ice cream and watched Tim Hawkins as families sharing laughter and absorbing in the beautiful cure of community.

As I tucked the girls into bed, Kami asked me a beautiful question: "Dad, what is your favorite childhood memory?"  What a beautiful heart she has!  What a beautiful gift my girls are!  What a beautiful wife I've been graced with!  What a beautiful town I live in with a beautiful church community to pastor!  What a beautiful life.

What a beautiful day off.

Friday, June 08, 2012

I haven't led anyone to Christ or discipled anyone this past year...I just noticed that.

I have not led anyone to the Lord this past year or discipled anyone.

Some would say I have because as a pastor many have come to know Jesus under my teaching and many have been discipled within the larger church construct or through my facilitating in life groups or casual conversations.  But I'm not talking about evangelism or discipleship in those generic and general terms.

That's like saying you pray every day, but prayer to you is just being conscious of God throughout the day or letting your life be "lived as a prayer" to God.  Again, you can dance around that mulberry bush if you want, but I'm not speaking toward discipleship of this ilk.  These modern modifications of biblical disciplines are jukes, shortcuts, and often, for me, lazy loopholes.

The truth of the matter is that I have been very busy with church, but I have not been the church in my community.  If I brush shoulders with people, most often they are catching me "on my way to or from" church, a church-oriented activity, or a preoccupied mind focused on something churchy that I need to get done.  When I'm at the coffee shop, I'm getting things ready for a sermon or putting together the agenda for a Ministry Team meeting or volleying emails back and forth regarding who is supposed to be where doing what and when.

The result of this kind of Christianity isn't deadly, but it is deadening.  Is say it isn't deadly, because it's not really hurting anyone intentionally or damaging anyone with demonstrations of militant fundamentalism.  It just goes without notice.  Nothing remarkable, because no one remarks on something that "doesn't matter" or "make a difference".  You have to be different to make a difference.

When you just blend into the scenery and adopt a "Christian subculture-oriented" life, you don't hurt anyone because you don't exist in the people's minds you're trying to reach.  When I'm busy with getting God-stuff done for church, people are peripheral fixtures, background noise.  My mind is concentrated on a tick-list and if there is a momentary interaction with a civilian, I find my mind trying to figure out how to get through the conversation and back to the task, the destination.  Yuck, it just sounds sick saying it out loud.

I don't want to wallow in the quagmire of my failure this past year, I just want to acknowledge that church has distracted me from people and that is tragic.  It is a travesty when church activities and church services cause a pastor to lose his heart for what drew him to ministry in the first place, people.  

And not just people, but broken and lost people.  It's easier to just accumulate "found" people who are "together" and to hang out with the already convinced, preaching to the choir so to speak.  We are all prone to this default.  Lost/broken vs. Found/together.  Where do you feel that you would naturally gravitate if you didn't constantly take on the "heart of Christ"?  The flesh always moves toward convenience and expedience.  Easy and Fast.  But this is not the purpose for which Jesus came.

He came "to seek and to save those who were lost".

I want to seek people. (I know God does that...but you get my point.)
I want to save people. (I know God does that...but you get my point.)

I want to see people come to know Christ, and I want to see people baptized, and I want to see people discipled.  I want to see people flooding the church building who a desperate, dying inside and dead as a doornail in their soul.  I want to welcome them warmly.  I want to invite people to know Jesus more and I want to be inviting as a Christ-follower out on the streets where it matters most.  Not behind the pulpit.  Not on church turf.  I want to be a part of the "street team" this year.

I want to be bolder about my faith.  I want to lead people to Christ this year.  One.  Two.  Droves, if the Lord wills.  I want to meet with people to disciple them.  I want to meet with groups of men to disciple them.  I want to see hundreds saved this year.  Lives salvaged from the brink of disaster.  Lives snatched from the fire.  Lives noticed and touched and invited and engaged.  But you've got to notice them first.  And in order to notice them, you have to make room to notice people.

And the first step to noticing people is noticing that you've stopped noticing.

This is a note about noticing.

Note to self:  Notice.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The mental machinations of a mere man...

It's awesome when God speaks to you.

You don't have to crank out product by the sweat of your brow.  Oh, there's a time for perspiration.  But man, oh man, inspiration is where it's at!

When God puts the plan together it happens without guile or grind.
When God weaves his web of connections all your positioning looks silly.
When God leads you to the well, it's never dry.

I spent last week putting together a series for October through November.  It's a huge series in our body each year.  My first idea just crumbled like a cookie when I tried to spec it out.  My second idea took 8 hours to arrange and when I got done, I sat there and thought to myself, that's not doin' nothin' to me, in me, for me, and I'm almost sure it ain't gonna do didly squat through me.  All this labor was leading to more labor.  I was going back and forth completely dizzy between ideas and the mental machinations of a mere man.  A man trying to pull something off, pull something together.

And then God came.  I was waiting for my daughter to get out of school and I heard him whisper into my spirit the book of the Bible that He wanted me to read.  I read it on my iPhone and in less than 15 minutes God downloaded the whole Fall series into my heart and I wrote it on the back page of a piece of my daughters homework.

Cause when God takes you to the well, you don't ever come up dry.

When will I ever learn?

Friday, June 01, 2012

When my wife is gone...

Initially...when your wife is gone you feel like nothing will really change.  But this initial feeling is dead wrong.  Emphasis on "dead".

"How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways."  Remember that quote?  Well, let me write my own version as I recount the ways I miss my wife when she's gone for a few days.

Let's call this "How do I miss thee?  Let me count the ways."

When my wife is gone...the house almost immediately turns into a disaster area.  No kidding, it's like someone comes into the house while we're gone and sets off a pipe bomb in each room of the house.  Clothes strewn about and draped over open bathroom drawers, cups and plates and silverware left wherever the girls (or the husband) took their last sip or the last bite.  Literally, I think they drop the utensil immediately when they have no need of it anymore.

When my wife is bags packed with homework and schedules and homelinks and upcoming events are propagated on the dining room table as if flung from a manure spreader.  Some need to stay home, some need to be signed and taken back to school, some need to be magnetized to the refrigerator for prideful display, some aren't due until next week, some required parental assembly and guidance, some need nothing but your child's common sense (a faculty that shuts down upon their mother's departure).  Suffice it to say, school bags are a mess especially in the last week of school.  Heidi holds this together with her "motherly mind powers", I look at it and wonder what's what.

When my wife is gone...the girls don't take showers.  I don't know why this is, because I take 2 showers a day, so it's not like I'm the unbathed savage dad who has an aversion to cleansing himself.  I just don't think to enforce this simple daily discipline upon the girls because usually Heidi understands the hygienic balance of each girl.  There is a subconscious reason that I think I subversively avoid showers and

When my wife is gone...doing the girls hair and getting them ready for school or church is nigh unto impossible.  Note:  I think I can pull this off, but my daughters have adopted the warped belief system that I don't know how to blow dry, run a brush through their hair, and create a straight part.  I don't know who indoctrinated them with this falsehood, but they reject any notion that I can help them get ready in the morning.  Picking out their clothes (matching) is a whole other story, but I will spare you the melodrama.

When my wife is gone...healthy patterns of food consumption goes out the window.  We eat standing up in the kitchen.  We rummage through the cupboards looking for food and each of the girls want something entirely different leading to grub-gridlock.  We begin to negotiate and I try to encourage compromise among them as the diplomat.  We have plenty enough food, but they each want something different at every meal.  Last night was a perfect example of this culinary paralysis.  We spent 10 minutes going back and forth between food groups until we hybridized together three plans into one.  I'm not equipped to be the executor of food distribution and consumption.  I'm content with raw hot dogs, icy pops and jumbo pickles.  Seriously.

When my wife is gone...the schedule of drop offs and pick ups gets complicated.  When you include into those standard procedures the end-of-the-year field trips, fields days at the park, soccer practices, soccer games, dance practices and performances during the weekend services at Impact, and the plethora of spontaneous chauffeuring that takes place during a given are bound to miss something when normally it's not on your radar. (yesterday, I got caught in Grand Rapids traffic and had to call in back up to get Kami from Middle School)...crazy.

When my wife is gone...I lose a point of reference as to when to go to bed.  One night I'll stay up late, the next night I'll go to bed along with the girls at 9pm.  When I slip into bed, it's weird to have the whole bed to myself...I like it at first and sprawl out sideways like I own the place until I realize that our mattress has ruts worn into it where we normally sleep and the center is a protruding hump that bends me backwards when I try to slant sideways and take advantage of Heidi's empty side of the bed.  Before long, I'm laying there thinking about how much I miss the balance she brings to the bed and how lonely my left side is without her filling the right side.  I tried to sleep on the right side last night and it took me about 5 minutes to move back over to my side of the bed.  That's her spot.  And when she's not there, the presence of her absence fills the room.  I lay there thinking about her while thinking about how I'm going to navigate the next day without her parental mastery.

"How do I miss thee?  Let me count the ways."  The dilemma is knowing where and when to stop counting.