Audiologists have been warning for years about the dangers of listening to music through earbud speakers or noise-canceling headphones. Yet, they still dangle from the ears of runners with I-Pods strapped on their biceps, connect iPads to a business-person making a table at Starbucks his office for the morning, or a laptop to the student finishing her paper in a corner of the library.
This constant soundtrack of our lives is enjoyable, but because the sound source is so near the ear drum and we (not just the teenagers) tend to play our music loudly, it has a negative impact on our hearing. It damages the tiny hairs inside the ear that channel sound waves to the hearing nerves and reduces our ability to process high and low frequencies. The damage happens slowly, over time, and it is irreversible.
And that doesn’t include the television with its blaring ads echoing through many homes for multiple hours a day, the radio in the car, the shopping music over the speakers in every retail outlet and more.
We are living in a world that battles silence and beckons us to dance towards deafness.
But for me, the largest threat of the world’s noise is not the diminishing of my physical hearing. There’s something far worse.
If I’m not careful, I can edge towards spiritual deafness.
I can become so immersed in the soundtrack of the world that I begun to live without hearing the voice of God. As a matter of fact, I can go days without being consciously aware of having heard God’s voice speaking to me.
And that’s a dangerous place to be, because Jesus Himself said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt.4:4) I may exist, but I will not truly live apart from the word of God.
Jesus also insisted that “my sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (Jn.15:27) I am haunted by that verse because it is so clear: it is impossible to live the Christian life in any measure without regularly, clearly hearing the voice of God, through the Son and by the Spirit.
There may be few things more important to my soul’s health than battling spiritual deafness and pleading with my heavenly Father to “awaken my ear to listen like a disciple” (Is.50:4).
Now, why are there seasons when my spiritual hearing grows dull and sleepy, so that God’s voice sounds like an indistinct and distant rumble?
I know and affirm the doctrinal truths of a personal, revealing, speaking God. God speaks and His word is eternal (Is.40:8), living and active (Heb.4:12). He speaks with authoritative power into nothing and a universe appears (Gen.1:2, Heb.11:3). God continually speaks in creation— sunrise and star, winds and snow, animals and flowers (Ps.19:1) God speaks by His prophets (Heb.1:1) and most clearly in His Son, Jesus (Heb.1:2) who is the Word made flesh. (Jn. 1:14) As we read or hear it, God speaks in His written word, which He breathed out (2 Tim.3:16), is the means of eternal regeneration (1 Peter 1:23-25), the headwaters of faith (Rom.10:17), the means of sanctification (Jn.17:17). and the equipment for every aspect of Christian character formation and mission. (2 Tim.3:17)
Yes, I believe.
But doctrinal accuracy and hearing the soul-deep voice of God are not always twins. (Remember, the Pharisees had impeccable doctrine.)
So, why do I go deaf to Him? Why can I walk through days where I only hear the echo of my own opinion and experience, but have no sense that the God of the ages has spoken to me?
I think I know. It can happen to anybody who has walked with Jesus for a long time, and can be summed up in one word: assumption. My identity as a Christ-follower shapes the way I do everyday life. I read my Bible and pray. Worship and interact with my church family. Do ministry and serve others. Give to meet needs and read Christian-themed books. Order my moral and ethical decisions by Christ.
All good stuff, right? Yes…
until it becomes dully predictable. Safe. Ordinary. Organized. Controlled.
Until I figure out how to do the Christian life with a detached proficiency and a certain cool efficiency.
Until living for Jesus becomes a set of religious skills that I have mastered more than the wild, untamed sweetness of being radically loved and formed by my Master.
Until I think I can do this on my own— and have no desperation to hear that Voice.
A desperate-less soul is a God-deaf soul.
Peter, James and John were on the mountain with Jesus and He opened their eyes to see the blinding beauty of His glory. Remember Peter’s response? “Let’s build something” (Matt.17:4) Bless Peter’s heart. He is so like us. “Let’s get busy doing something Jesus-y. Something religious. Something we can design and count and visit and admire and polish and promote and control.”
“He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him.” (Matt.17:5)
Don’t be deaf.
Listen. To. Him.
I don’t know about you, but I am desperate to hear His voice.
I need to hear from Someone bigger than and beyond this world.
I need to hear from One whose thoughts are beyond my own.
I need to hear God speak this day and not merely in past echoes.
I want soul-whispers that startle me with the huge holiness of godly fear.
I need unignorable Spirit-promptings that mess with my schedule and keep me scrambling to join with His delight-full dance of surprises.
I need to hear the One who alone can speak something out of my nothings.
I need to be overwhelmed by the power of a voice that tears down my movie-set faith-facades so I can live faith that is real, right-now, up-close, personal and transforming.
I need to hear God’s voice to me, in me, around me, for me—-so I can live.
The mercy of our heavenly Father means that spiritual hearing loss need not be permanent. He hears and responds to the cries of the desperate, the drowning — and the deaf.
So, my one word to focus my life and discipleship in 2014 is…LISTEN. To simply be intentional about pursuing the space and silence and time in the Bible and willing obedience that will help me hear my Father’s voice clearly and regularly.
Will you join me?
So, after the countdown and kisses at midnight, there are football games and parades to watch for fun, black-eyed peas and greens to eat for luck. New calendars are being hung on refrigerator doors.
This morning, I opened a new journal and carefully wrote “January 1, 2014” at the top of the very first page. But all the rest of the pages are blank. The days ahead are yet to be lived and so the story that will fill those pages is yet to be written.
It’s the same for you. Those pages—real or imagined— await your story. They are crisp with possibilities and yet-unseen opportunities. They are not yet marked with the rapid scribbles of joy or the slow scrawl of grief.
They will be filled with
love and rage,
certainty and confusion,
accomplishment and failure,
romance and betrayal,
faith and cynicism,
promises and disappointment,
hope and despair,
crowds and loneliness,
ordinary and abnormal,
wonder and boredom.
Those pages will be filled, because we will live. And as we simply live these 365 days, we will write the story of our lives.
What story will I tell with my life in 2014? What will your story be?
On the one hand, that question can be so overwhelming as to be nearly paralyzing. But then again, it is a lovely aspect of being fully human.
The God who created us men and women stamped a unique calling on our souls. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen.1:27) We live our stories to display God— His reality, goodness, sufficiency, kindness, wisdom and mercy. God has “fearfully and wonderfully made” each of us and wrote in His book the days that were formed for us “before one of them came to be.” (Ps. 139:14,16)
Our Creator has a design and calling for our days on the planet. He is sovereignly writing our story.
And yet, that calling is more than a mere nod to human dignity and nobility. At the same time we are called, we are given real responsibility for our lives. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth’…. (Gen.1:28) God placed the man and the woman in the garden “to work it and keep it.” (Gen.2:15)
In other words, the story God means for us to live involves something for us to do. “So whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor.10:31)
To say that God is writing our story does not mean there is a (Holy) ghost-writer who does all the work in the background and we merely slap our name on the cover and call it our own. No, it means we delight to live and choose and act and relate and work and play and spend and talk and prioritize in a way that matches God’s heart and most fully displays His glory.
There is real sovereignty for God over our life stories and real choice, real responsibility, real accountability for us in the stories we live.
Do you see why we are so drawn to make New Year’s resolutions? It’s not about just being a better person or dealing with that troublesome issue once and for all. There is a deep ache in our souls to live the life our Creator has in mind for us. To live His story in our history.
Yes, your 2014 story pages may fill up with
losing weight and getting in shape,
getting a grip on your finances,
finding that special girl or guy,
finishing a long-delayed task,
taking the next step-in your career or education,
pursuing face-to-face relationships more than screen ones,
stepping into some brokenness of life on earth,
watching less tv and reading more Bible,
being bold with gospel conversations,
serving a gospel ministry here or with an unreached people in the world….
…but underneath it all is a soul-deep current of longing to become the person and live the story that God has for you in 2014.
So, how do we bring those wordless deeps into the pages of our stories, so that they last and change us— and we enjoy the story of our lives, no matter what comes?
BELIEVE that your heavenly Father is sovereignly in control of all things, loves you and is at work in your story for your good and His glory. (Ps.103:19, 1 Jn.4:16, Phil.1:6, Rom.8:28-39)
TRUST that your heavenly Father will help you and provide all you need for life and godliness— everything you need today, and in every moment, to live your story for His glory. (Ps.103:2-5, 20:7. John 15:5, Matt.6:33-34, 2 Peter 1:2)
OBEY your heavenly father’s Word and the promptings of His Spirit. It’s the only assured wisdom and place of guaranteed security. (Matt.4:4, John 8:31-32, 2 Tim.3;16-17)
DELIGHT in the extent of your heavenly Father’s gospel of grace. You will probably blow it this year. but His forgiveness and help in weakness is never the end of your story —it may be the loveliest part of it. (Ps. 103:9-14, John 21:15-17, Eph.1:3-2:10, 2 Cor. 12:9-10)
The blank pages will be filled with the story you will write this year. What will your story be? It may be romance, mystery, adventure, a quiet series of ordinary days— or a combination of all of them!
You will write that story and it does matter.
Do this: Believe God, trust God, obey God, delight in God.
And….relax. If you’re a child of God, Your heavenly Father has a Story you’re a part of. It’s a really good story, with a great ending.
So, go live— and enjoy —your 2014 story.
For some time now, it has been apparent that uniquely Christian & Biblically-informed values were becoming less welcome in our nation’s ongoing cultural dialogue. Those who hold such views are being squeezed to the edges of the conversation in the public square. And that pressure is growing more intense as time rolls by.
For instance, in the past few weeks, we have again been hit with a series of news items that seem to present (or are interpreted to present) the fact that homosexuality and the accepted norm and that full-on national approval of same-sex marriage is inevitable. Or that late-term abortion is merely a necessary medical procedure of which no woman should be deprived, of little more importance than guaranteed access to emergency care for pneumonia.
+Pope Francis, in an informal conversation with Vatican pool reporters on the flight back from his appearances in Brazil, was asked about rumors of gay priests and a so-called gay lobby in the Vatican. One phrase of his response was hailed as breaking news: “If a person is gay, seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?…They should not be marginalized.”
Major news outlets around the world (and especially in the US) described this as “revolutionary” and “a remarkable change of tone”. They wondered aloud if this would lead to openly gay men serving as priests, or to women being allowed to serve as priests, or even to a less strict approach to abortion. Never mind that the full context of the Pope’s remarks indicated nothing of the sort, and were in fact a nuanced and transparent discussion of Christian faith, sin, repentance, confession and grace that never retreated an inch from the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.
But that larger,more truthful context simply did not fit the social change agenda of news editors.
+ A few days later the headlines had changed to “Cosby kid comes out”. In a statement releases through her representatives, Raven-Symone,the actress who played Olivia on The Cosby Show in the late 1980’s and has since starred on Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven, strongly hinted that she was a lesbian and was excited about recent court rulings on the legality of same-sex marriage.: “I am very happy that gay marriage is opening up around the country and is being accepted.I was excited to hear today that more states legalized gay marriage. I, however am not currently getting married, but it is great to know I can now, should I wish to.
This article was the lead on CNN’s newsfeed for a couple of days. Interesting placement for news of a relatively minor celebrity. Again, editorial choice.
+ On the other hand, the press was almost completely silent while Dr. Kermit Gosnell was being tried for unspeakable horrors at an inner city Philadelphia abortion clinic. Healthy babies were delivered and then brutally, capriciously murdered by Gosnell. Yet until there was pressure brought to bear on the journalistic guilt reflex, not a word was reported.
But then, when Texas state legislator Wendy Davis filibustered against proposed legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeksof pregnancy (five months!) and require clinics to have access to hospital care should something go awry, the same press treated her as a moral, even patriotic hero on the order of Patrick Henry. They profiled her and made sure that that we considered such important details as the brand and color of her running shoes and how she would stay on the floor for hours without going to the restroom (yes we went there) Little to nothing was written regarding the legal, ethical and moral positions of those who supported the legislation, which was widely described as enforcing new “restrictions on access to abortion”.
Why the discrepancy? Editorial decisions and reporting choices explored a complex issue through only one lens.
Now without going into the whole culture war thing, without doing the whole Palin “lame-stream media” line, it’s crucially important to realize why news items are presented in this way in the popular press– and how it relates to our calling to live as Christ-followers in this present age.
First, it is difficult for anyone to separate their moral values and viewpoints from their communication. I know we expect journalists to report all issues with a balanced, unbiased, and emotionally detached perspective. You know, “just the facts”. But that ain’t gonna happen — not for those with Biblically-informed values, nor for those who adhere to more secular ones. People see and say what they most genuinely believe.
But even more important is to note that that there is an external pressure being brought to bear against Biblical truths and values. It has always been this way. This world is no friend to grace and is under the sway of the enemy of our souls. He is the deceiving Serpent and also the one who not ironically, is called “the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph.2:2) His purpose is to resist all that is godly, holy, and gospel. To use all the means at his disposal to further that resistance–individual, institutional, technological–even though he is the “father of lies”.(Jn.8:44) To make that resistance seem the most rational, natural, helpful, just, loving, patriotic and widely accepted position– even though he is a master of disguise, “masquerading as an angel of light” (2 Cor.11:14), giving unspeakable horror a lovely mask.
Those loyal to Christ and His Word are being constantly squeezed by the sense that, on ethical matters like homosexuality and abortion, the majority of our fellow citizens have decided to affirm opposite values. It’s all we hear. Same-sex marriage and abortion without restriction are fine with most people, and if we do not approve,we are mean-spirited, intolerant, out-of-touch bigots from another age, those who are “on the wrong side of history”. We need to get over our old-fashioned selves and join the real world.
This pressure is like having your mind and heart in a vise in which the screws are being tightened and the pressure gradually increased. It began with changing language (ie sodomite to homosexual to gay to GLBT), moved to television normalizing these lifestyles in dramas, added celebrity endorsements, embraced public applause for approving and public shaming for opposing, and now legal and policy changes. The assumption seems to be that pressure over time wins the day.
Where is this headed? Those who do not want godly, Biblical ethics reflected in our public discourse and policy are counting on Christians succumbing to the insistent pressure and responding with:
–Comfort: in which we are no longer outraged by the open display of ungodly values, words, images, attitudes, behaviors. In other words, we grow used to it and consume it, like a frog in the kettle.
–Communication: in which we adopt the language of the culture and jettison the unique moral language of Biblical witness. In other words, we we allow the world to define for us words like tolerance, love, marriage, family and citizenship.
–Concession : in which we yield a point in an argument or the ground in a moral / ethical discussion. In other words, we validate and accept as fact what is ungodly and unbiblical.
–Conciliation: in which we soften our stance or the expression of our beliefs in order to placate, win over & become compatible with ungodliness. In other words, we want to be liked and accepted by the culture more than we want to bear witness to it, so we become increasingly like it it. Witness the so-called Christian denominations which have, in recent days, voted to allow those practicing GLBT lifestyles to serve as priests and pastors. It’s Christians acting as middle-schoolers in the first week of school, desperate to be liked by the cool kids.
–Compromise: in which we completely cave in to the pressure. coming to what the dictionary says is “an agreement is reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims or principles, by mutual concessions…. something intermediate between different things”. Except that the concessions all seem to be headed one way and nothing is more different than a holy God and sin.
Compromise may feel good because the tension is gone. But the tension is gone because we have simply switched sides in the battle. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
Make no mistake. The only thing that will satisfy secular people and their cultures is compromise, which is unconditional surrender to ungodliness and hell’s values.
How can we withstand the pressure of this cultural C-vise that seems to increase by the day? We must exert a stronger pressure in the opposite direction. What is that pressure, that power?
It is CONVICTION, which is, by definition, “ a fixed and firm belief”.
Christian conviction means that we have lashed our souls to something, a Someone, more real than the breaking news of today’s newscasts.
Christian conviction arises from a Word more true than the loud and insistent claims of our age.
Christian conviction expresses and embodies the values of an eternal, heavenly Kingdom which will tower strong long after the sad ashes of self-important nations scatter in the breeze of history.
Christian conviction holds on to fulfill God’s design for humanity to the point of bloody sacrifice, because the One whose name we bear did that with nails, thorns and spear — and calls us to the same. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor.5:19)
Christian conviction keeps loving in the face of opposition, betrayal, hatred, name-calling, unpopularity, put-downs and rejection, because that’s exactly what God’s reckless, generous, pursuing, Grace did for us.
Yes, Christians can stand strong under the pressure of an opposing culture and its values. He has given us His Spirit– the fulness of God indwelling with all His power, presence, wisdom, and grace. And He promised: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 Jn.4:4) The Spirit in one Christian of conviction is stronger than the combined power of the media, of courts and lawyers, of ad campaigns and celebrities, of assumptions and falling dominoes.
Even when the pressure comes, hard and even painful, we can keep living, telling, sharing and showing the ever-true, ever-loving gospel of God to people who can’t see or hear it yet.
Jesus did, and because of His Spirit in us, so can we.
Recent headlines sure seem dark and hopeless. The bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The explosion of the fertilizer plant that essentially destroyed West, Texas. A new ruling by a California legislative committee removes all gender distinctions from bathrooms and locker rooms in all public schools. The horrific details emerging about the murder of dozens of full-term babies in a Philadelphia abortion clinic by Kermit Gosnell—a crime which has, until this week, been utterly ignored by the national media. Add to that local stories of government corruption or drive-by-shootings or just plain meanness or the ordinary troubles that break the hearts of so many people.
It’s enough to dull the smile of the most optimistic person. It can weigh us down with despair. It can begin to feel like, as an old friend of mine used to say, the world is going to hell in a handbasket and I can’t find a way to scramble out. It can make it hard to face another day.
What can we do? How do we handle living, working, loving, and raising our kids in such a world?
The answer is Easter.
Remember? We celebrated that wonderful day just a few weeks ago, marking the day that Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over sin, hell, death, and all the mess of a broken world that make our headlines scream and our hearts ache.
But the best part about Easter is that it never ends. It’s not just one day with glad songs and worship, new clothes, egg hunts and chocolate.
Easter is the breaking in of a new sort of life, the new reality of heaven’s King, His forever life and eternal Kingdom.
Easter is meant to change everything.
And those of us who have a relationship with Christ are His Easter people. We can live out this new life and its implications in every aspect of our ordinary lives. But here’s the thing: our resurrection lives are simply not ordinary human lives. We have been set free to live, really live, empowered by the truth and promises of the resurrection.
The apostle writes: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead.” (Eph. 1:18-20, NIV)
Does that stun you? The power we have for everyday life is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. So, what difference might it make to live your life as if Jesus’ resurrection power is at work in and around you?
If you have Jesus’ resurrection power (and you do), there must be some difference in how you
…think about the broken mess we’re in (this is not all there is!)
…deal with that nagging problem at work;
…love people who are unlike you or difficult to love;
…battle that anxiety, temptation, addiction or besetting sin;
…approach current challenges with your marriage or family;
…persevere in health or financial difficulties;
…express emotions like anger, joy or uncertainty;
…grieve when losses mount (not as those who have no hope)
…pray and feed the faith you have for change;
…make decisions and plan the steps of your life journey.
…interact with people who don’t know Jesus;
…get out of bed in the morning and enjoy life!
The disciple’s life is always a resurrection life.
So here’s the news:
No matter how dark, you live in the glow of resurrection’s daybreak..
No matter how dead, His life always wins.
No matter the date, it is always Easter.
We disciples are Easter people.
Let’s live like it, starting today!
Every one – from the bouncing elementary school student to the confused and newly-divorced thirty-something to the 102-year-old in our town who still lives in her own home – has a concept or perception of themselves. It’s a complex mixture of the past we’ve already experienced, the present we’re in and the future that we will live. As we move across those times of our lives, we live our story.
We are obviously carry the same identity across the course of our own story. Everybody also knows that, over time, we change- physically, intellectually, emotionally, relationally, politically, socially, spiritually, and in our tastes and personality..
But how much? How much will you change?
A recent NY Times article “You Won’t Be the Person You Expect to Be” revealed new research asserting that across your whole life, you will change a lot more than you think you will. In a huge study of 19,000 people, from age 18-68, published in the journal Science, psychologists discovered that all people maintain what they call the “end of history illusion”. That is, we remember our pasts with a mixture of hazy nostalgia and bemusement. But it never seems to occur to us that in another decade or so, we will look back on our present selves with precisely the same feelings. Or as Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University wryly noted, “At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age, we’re wrong.”
Another way to say this is that we always tend to gild our past, blissfully thinking that we have “reached the peak of our personal evolution”, while greatly underestimating or downplaying the potential changes ahead for us. We seem more comfortable recalling what we used to be than “imagining how much we would change in the future.”
Why? Researchers present two possible explanations for this. First, we have a tendency to “overestimate our present wonderfulness” (if I’m doing OK, why do I need to change?}. Second, a lot of mental energy is required because imagining or “predicting the future requires more work than simply recalling the past.” (Dealing with today is hard enough, so why press into the future?)
Dr. Dan McAdams from Northwestern has a sobering summary: “The end-of-history effect may represent a failure in personal imagination”. Warm memories of our past, when coupled with satisfaction (or even unreflective toleration) over our present, dulls our imagination for the potential of our future.
Now this study was not done from a Christian perspective, but the truths here have application for our lives as disciples and for our churches. After all, Christians and churches are not exactly known to be comfortable with change.
What the psychologist calls a “failure in personal imagination”, we could easily call a lack of faith. It is limiting yourself to what you already hold and know.
Lack of faith imagination for an individual disciple results in being dully satisfied to slog through a “Christian” life with the same rhythms, activities, words, practices, struggles and involvements year upon year upon year. You like your faith the way it is, but can’t really be described as transformation, because
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!….we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 5:17, 3:18)
Lack of faith imagination for a church family results in a warm fuzzy view of the past, a white-knuckle grip on the comfort of the way things are (or we wish they still were), and a reluctance to do the hard work of imagining the future. It’s fear on steroids. We’re terrified by, and terrified to, change. But, the Lord of the church pleads,
“See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is.43:19)
We may not like it or be uncomfortable with it, but as the study shows, change will happen. Change comes – more than we think, often deeper and broader in our experience than we expect. Change – social, technological, relational, the ways we think or learn or communicate, in virtually everything that shapes our lives – comes.
Yes, there are some truths that withstand the inevitable rush of change. The gospel, Jesus (Heb.13:8), and all that is in the Word of God. (Is.40:8) are among the few things that never change. Everything else we encounter in life is likely to change.
What do we do? We can either fight the change that comes or embrace it.
Fight the change that will come, and every day may become a succession of battles – dominated by fear, anger, and a creeping weariness of heart, soul, mind and body.
Embrace the change that will come (not as an act of compromise or surrender, but as an opportunity for exploration) – and every day may become an adventure, dominated by joy, optimism, and a growing sense of confidence in the sustaining proimises of Jesus.
You and I are going to change, along with the world that we’re in. Change will shape who we are and how we live out the faith and mission of Jesus.
So, if you’re a Jesus – follower, consider this:
To remain boldly faithful to your call
across the years of your life journey,
you simply must embrace the change you will become.
Do you embrace or resist change? What helps you process and deal with it?