Tuning in to God

Some things are hard to describe – like the smell of a thrift store. (I just smelled that particular smell while walking down a long hallway at the hospital where I work. I recognized it right away, but I’m still trying to figure out why the otherwise empty hallway smelled that way…)

How about the sound your tires make as they’re wearing down to the no-tread zone? A faint roar? (Or a loud roar, depending on just how worn they are.) If you’re not prone to procrastinate or else take a trip to the land of denial, then you will recognize and respond to the sound pretty quickly, however you feel it or describe it.

My son and I have been on a bit of a Star Wars kick since we saw Episode 7: The Force Awakens over the holidays. Since then, we’ve re-watched episodes 1-3 and now we’re finishing up 4-6 (the oldest ones.) Episode 5 (The Empire Strikes Back) is the one where Darth Vader famously corrects Luke that he’s Luke’s father. (Luke’s reaction at 2:20) After several death-defying slips and falls, Luke speaks to Leia telepathically or through “the force,” and she hears him, just in time to rescue him from certain death. (Click here to see the scene. You know you want to see the whole movie again now.) Sorry, I am digressing …

Whether through certain smells, or sounds, or through other clear-yet-difficult-to-explain messages we receive in our head, I think we have all experienced a sense of recognizing something that is relatively hard to describe. It’s important for us to recognize the normal nature of this when we begin thinking about the notion of hearing from God. Does God still speak to us today? Well, I have to say, “YES!” As a matter of fact, I wonder about the person/people who ever started the nasty rumor that God doesn’t speak to humans any more … (I suppose “if it doesn’t happen to me specifically, then it doesn’t happen to anyone?” I’m sure we all can think of several hundred ways that line of thinking has played out in history. Ex: “Racism doesn’t exist any more …”, “Everyone has access to jobs and food!” Get it? It’s called “bias.” And it wrecks your perspective when you don’t weigh your bias against the experiences of other people.) And I digressed again ..

tunerI believe the question of how to hear from God is less about whether or not God is speaking and more about how well we are tuned in. We could be so distracted that we simply don’t sense God (the way some people don’t smell or hear what another person smells or hears until it’s pointed out.) We may get a message that we don’t like or don’t trust, so we just dismiss it. (When you do that very many times, dismissal becomes your default mode.) The fact that we miss it does not mean that communication was not attempted. It merely means we’re not listening.

I am currently on a journey – along with the members of the church where I serve – of very intentional discernment of what God is saying we should be and do. Spiritual discernment comes when we engage in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, study of scriptures, silence and reflection – both individually and collectively. These disciplines are life-changing not because of what we are doing but because of what GOD DOES through us in this process of opening ourselves up to the Spirit.

If you have been seeking to hear from God, I assure you, God is speaking. Take the time to quiet your mind and get away from the distractions that would deafen, mislead and blind you. The Spirit of God is very much at work in these days and times. The message God sends is recognizable because it is always – ALWAYS – based on genuine, sincere love and a desire to lead others into that knowledge and experience.

The Spirit of God never contradicts the teachings of Jesus but instead reminds us of what Jesus modeled. If someone hates his or her neighbor and claims to be following Jesus, then you can know you’re dealing with a confused person – not someone to follow on your journey toward faith in God lived out in the context of your world.

Practice listening for God. You might “hear” that voice in unexpected ways. The more you listen, the more you will recognize the voice of God in contrast to the screaming, contradictory voices that vie for your attention on a daily basis. Once you get tuned in, you won’t want to ever change the dial …



Give It Up

It’s that time of year again – time to figure out what to give up for Lent. Of course, not everybody does that, but if you live and work around Christians of any variety, you’ll surely run across someone who is abstaining from something you might generally know him or her to enjoy.

20140305-221037.jpgIf you ever find yourself interested but in need of help figuring out how to begin the practice of sacrificing something for Lent, then your answers are as close as your computer. Last year as the season of Lent approached, a CBS affiliate in Charlotte, NC published a list of the top ten most popular things Americans give up for Lent. You’ll probably find no surprises there. The list might be helpful or interesting to some. However, the list of things people typically give up doesn’t give good clues about why Christians make these intentional sacrifices for the 40 days before Easter.

And isn’t it more important to know why?

Growing up in rural North Carolina in what I would call a blended Baptist church – mostly Southern Baptist believers with a sprinkling of “charismatics” withholding tongues in public worship – we never talked about or practiced any form of Lenten sacrifice. We didn’t even acknowledge the season of Lent or the liturgical calendar outside of lighting Advent candles during the four Sundays before Christmas. As far as I was led to believe, Catholics worshiped Mary and weren’t even real Christians, so why on earth would we feign interest in following any Catholic practices?

After studying the history of the Church (before and after the Reformation), I find myself in a far more ecumenical place. And I’m so grateful for my fuller understanding of the Christian faith and tradition.

The tradition of fasting in the season of Lent started as early Christians prepared for their baptism, which occurred on Easter Sunday. During those days – not always 40, but always some number – before Easter, new believers fasted and prayed. Other believers joined them as a sign of unity in the Body of Christ. The practice is not mandated in Scripture, however, the tradition is strong and earliest Christian writers documented it. Though details of the practice have evolved across eras and lands and subsets of Christianity, the focus has remained: Lent is a season of prayer, confession, and remembering (or getting ready for) one’s baptism in preparation for the celebration of Easter – a time to acknowledge the mystery and the power of the death and resurrection of Christ and how it impacts our lives.

A large majority of Christians will give up things like Facebook, or soda, or chocolate this Lenten season. And you will likely hear or read some criticism of those supposedly shallow sacrifices. Lent isn’t meant to be a 40-day diet plan. However, if you find yourself addicted to certain foods or substances and feel that this is a great transition period in your faith journey toward a greater consciousness in making healthy, wholesome choices in your physical life as an outward manifestation of increased spiritual devotion, then I say go for it.

I began my Lenten fasting several years ago by giving up certain foods I became convinced were bad for my physical body. And, after Lent was over, it was clear that I had given up those things for life. Even though it involved giving up physical things, I count the practice as spiritual because my purpose was entirely toward being made whole in the fullest sense of the word – mind, body, and spirit – and because I believe God called me into it. It was and is an experience of participating with the universal Christian community and with God Almighty. In other words, the practice of fasting is transformative.

Wherever you find yourself in terms of spiritual growth, give yourself an opportunity to experience transformation through spiritual disciplines such as fasting.

Is something still holding you back? Give it up.