A Whisper Past My Heart

Feb 26th 2009

At a church in Minnesota, the children’s sunday school was going through a curriculum focused on prayer.  During one stretch the children learned that prayer is conversation with God, which means that God also speaks to us and we should be able to hear Him.  Shouldn’t we?  I mean think about teaching children the reality of something we so often fail to value.

Anyway, a number of weeks later, a mother shared this story about her six year old son. After one of the classes he had come home quite thoughtful, somewhat concerned.  He finally asked her, “Mom what does God’s voice sound like.  Our teachers said that God talks to us, but I’ve never heard Him, what does God sound like?”

Not an easy ?…but she did her best.  Over the next few days, her son’s concern intensified, this little six year old, so badly wanted to hear God speak, but could not.  The mother was ready to go ask the Children’s Pastor for advice, when one day, her son came running into the kitchen yelling, “Mom it finally happened. I heard it. I heard it.”  “Heard what dear?”  “I heard God’s voice.”  “Oh,” she responded, “and what did it sound like.  He paused, then looked up at his mother and said, “Hmmm, It sounded like a whisper past my heart and out my ears.”

Wouldn’t take much to miss a voice like that would it?   Listen maybe the first word we need to hear Jesus saying is, “Would you just slow down?  In your pursuit of all you want, you are missing the one thing your heart craves and your life lacks.  Would you just slow down.  Don’t worry about all you have to do.  I’ll let you know if the world is going to fall apart without you.  But meanwhile I just want to be with you.  I miss being with you.  Be still, it’s okay.  Take time to listen to me.  I will tell you wonderful things that you never imagined.”

Listen.  Maybe God is whispering to you right now.

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Christmas Experts

Nov 28th 2008

Experts Still Predict Dismal Holiday Season — I just read that headline in our Centre Daily Times — black Friday issue — and before I read the article, the first thought in my mind was…which experts?  Was it the Kindness Experts and were they predicting that this Christmas season fewer people will do something nice this Christmas season?  Was it the Generosity Experts and the prediction is an increase of the Scrooge-like mentality?  Was it the Family Experts predicting that fewer families would gather on Christmas day to spend time together?  Or perhaps it was the Worship Experts predicting that fewer people would be moved by Silent Night, Holy NIght, that fewer people will ponder the incredible wonder of God-in-the-flesh born in a manger, that for some reason Christmas Eve worship gatherings would lack a sense of awe?

Local Kohls 4am rush

Local Kohls 4am rush

No of course not, it was the Economic Experts.  Black Friday ushers in the holiday shopping season —  This is NOT a black friday rant.  Many people whom I love, celebrate the day in many diverse and unusual ways, have fun mom :)  — and the concern is that the dismal economic outlook threatens to keep shoppers credit cards securely in their pocket.  All I want to say is that as counter-intuitive as it might seem, keeping our credit cards in our wallets might ultimately lead to great Christmas and a much less dismal new year.

If our Christmas is to go deeper than the economy, we probably need to start with some true Christmas experts, like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  That’s right, go back to the beginning the ancient, authentic stories of Christmas.  Then check out a couple of websites like Rethinking Christmas or Advent Conspiracy.  Then take a moment or two…or three or four and dream about the kind of Christmas season you would like to experience this year.  Finally make a plan, don’t overdo it… this isn’t meant to be an added stress-list.  Start with just two or three things that you want to do differently this year.

Let me know what you come up with… and let’s confound the experts.

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A Call to Prayer

Nov 25th 2008

I came across this very insightful call to prayer for President-elect Obama.  It compares Joseph, Solomon and Daniel to democrats, republicans and the kind of leadership we need in these times.  Then it ends with a call for prayer.  It is written by a friend and fellow Kingdom-worker who has also ministered here in State College.  His name is Ed Silvoso and his passion is revival and city transformation.

Check out his blog article here: Ed Silvoso

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How I Voted

Nov 04th 2008

I had a number of people asking me over the course of the last few weeks… How are you going to vote? And if you have read any of my blog posts, you may have picked up on the fact that I’ve been pondering whether or not I should even vote.  More specifically I’ve been pondering, What is the proper way for a citizen of the Kingdom of God to be involved politically as a citizen of the United States?

So I just wanted to let those who care know… I did vote.  It was about 1pm.  There was no line.  I slipped in and out of 1250 University Drive — our church facility — without even being recognized.  Filled in my circles, put it through the scanner, told the wonderful volunteers thank you and headed out.  Final step still to be completed, getting my free cup of coffee at Starbucks.  I also thought about driving to Altoona for my free Krispy Kreme but decided it was too far.  So let me tell you how I voted.

1) I voted with gratitude. As easy as it is to see the problems in this country — that is not my final destination but is my current home — we are one of the few places on the face of the earth where there is consistently such a people-directed smooth transitioning of power.  I am thankful for that.  In addition I am thankful for all the Jesus-followers who are living out their calling in areas of government.  It is an incredible mission field.

2) I voted with a bit of heaviness on my heart. There are so many issues facing us as a people, as a culture and as a country.  But my heaviness comes less from the issues and more from my conviction that if our nation is in an unhealthy place the responsibility lies first at our feet — the church.   An early Christian author once wrote, As the soul is to the body, so Christians must be to the world. Or I would put it this way — the church is the heart of the city.  As the heart goes, so goes the city.  So if our cities are sick with greed or other diseases, doesn’t it start with the heart?

3) I voted wishing that I could trust that whoever won would tell me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear. Enough said on that one!

4) I voted with a sense of satisfaction that no matter who wins, we take a small step in a healing direction. What do I mean by that?  I mean that we will either vote into office a woman or an African American.  Less than 140 years ago, you had to be a white male just to vote, let alone run for office.  Discrimination has brought so many wounds to the hearts of people and our culture.  To elect a woman to the vice presidency or an African American to the presidency is a small healing step.

5) I voted with a sense of relief. The ads, the debates, the news articles, the ads, switching between CNN and Fox to hear both sides of the story, the ads, the yard signs, the late night jokes, a billion dollars spent on ads… did I mention the ads?  Anyway…it’s all done.  (Unless of course we get a tie. :)

6) I voted with not one bit of anxiety over who wins. The first presidential election I remember was Richard Nixon’s second.  From Nixon to Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush, Clinton and Bush, I have yet to see one president who is purely evil or one president who is purely righteous.  I have yet to see a president who hasn’t made me glad that Jesus is King.  I think that’s the main reason I’m not very anxious about what tomorrow holds. Proverbs 21:1 says that the King’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs like a watercourse wherever he pleases. I pretty much believe that!  Takes away a lot of the stress.

7)  I voted as a guy with permanent citizenship in the Kingdom of God and guest citizenship in the United States. I’m still trying to figure out everything that means but I know it means this:  I did not vote as though the Kingdom of God depends upon my vote.  The hope of the world is not the United States and the hope of the United States is neither John McCain or Barack Obama.  The hope of the world is Jesus and we get to partner with him in transformational callings every day.  There were issues in this election that I am very passionate about…but I believe that the only way to bring change is by Jesus working through the church.

8)  I voted with a determination that tomorrow, no matter what, tomorrow I will pray for and honor whoever is President. I cannot find a place in the Bible where it says that all committed Jesus-followers should vote.  But I do find in 1 Timothy 2:2 that I am called to pray for all those in authority and I do find in Romans 13:1-7 that I am called to honor, respect and submit to governing authorities because they have been placed there by God.

9)  I voted in anticipation of getting a free Starbucks coffee. Sorry just had to throw that one in there.

10) I voted with these words from Jesus as my foundation. They will know you are my disciples (not by your party affiliation, or by the placard in your yard, or even by the issues you hold dear) by the love you have for each other. Tomorrow (hopefully tomorrow) when the last vote is counted and the last pundit has spun his/her spin.  It is still ultimately about the capacities of our hearts to love God, love each other and love our world.

So that’s how I voted.  Oh, you wanted to know who I voted for?  That’s a whole other blog, which will probably never be written!  :) 

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The List

Oct 22nd 2008

Last weekend I talked at Calvary about being “with God.”  Talked about two steps to being with God; learning to listen and practicing gratitude. Talked about two very practical steps, take a media fast and make a gratitude list. So here is the thought that I’ve been thinking the last couple of days.  It’s somewhat of a combination of the ideas of fasting and lists.

No — I’m not talking about fasting from lists, although that might not be a bad idea for some of us.

I’m talking about making a “Not To-Do List.”

Jim Collins uses this exercise.  He calls it the 20-10 assignment.  It goes like this: Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you have inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you STOP doing?

It’s kind of the opposite of the day-dream question, “If you had a day to do absolutely anything you wanted to do, what would you do?” Instead the question is, if there is anything in your life that you would stop doing if you could stop doing it — what would you stop doing?  I know…about 90% of the people reading this post are filling their list with things like toilet cleaning, cooking for kids that complain about eating, paying the bills, and my job.

I realize there are some things we can’t put on our NOT-To-Do list…at least not at the moment.  Though the reality is that if your job comes to mind as the thing you would quit doing if you could quit doing anything — maybe you should start looking for a different job.  But enter into the assignment with the right heart.  What can I consistently stop doing, that will give me time to do stuff that really matters.

Sure you could stop cleaning the toilet, but how much time will that really open up.  Sure you could stop cooking for the kids, but they would die.  Sure you could stop paying the bills, but then you would have time but not the ability to do what you want — it’s called jail!  But what can you put on your NOT-To-Do list that will truly give you time to do what matters.

Because the reality is that time is one of our most valuable resources.  It is a treasure, that the stockmarket cannot diminish.

So, take some time.  Make a list.  Make a NOT-To-Do list.

I know.  Some of

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Where Do You Get Your Energy?

Oct 18th 2008

It’s Saturday night and I’m home after finishing preaching at my first of five weekend worship gatherings. Penn State beat Michigan for the first in about 10 years.  It was a bit rough in the first half but Penn State roared to life in the second half while Michigan just seemed to lose gas.  Now at 11:01pm, I’m doing some web-surfing (regardless of my hair, the web is as close to surfing as I get).  Ran across a msn site which gave me the cheapest gas in the region — $2.87 in Lamar, $2.83 in Milroy.  Then looked at a blog that was talking about spiritual energy…and so I couldn’t help but ask the question, “Where do you get your energy?”

I’m talking about personal energy.  Why are some people more energized than others?  What is it that drains us of energy?  What fills us up?  How much does it cost to get filled up?  What does the Bible say about being energized?

There is the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17-19.  He fought the prophets of Baal, called fire down from heaven, and then ran in fear from Queen Jezebel.  He ended up somewhere in the wilderness with a deep case of depression.  He had lost all his energy.  So what did God do, he led him to a sacred place and then spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice…and the word of God brought fresh energy.

Then there is Ezekiel’s vision, “The Valley of Dry Bones.” Check out Ezekiel 37.  The valley was filled with dry bones.  The dry bones of the people of God.  So God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.  What did Ezekiel say?  “Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.” And the bones came together…but the draining had been so complete that it required something more than the word of God…so God breathed upon them and the bones went from dry to a living army.

How about the disciples after Jesus’ betrayal and death.  Read the gospel accounts.  Peter denies Jesus three times.  Then their eyes lock across the courtyard.  The rooster crows.  Jesus dies.  Peter is barricaded in his room for fear of the authorities.  Friday and Saturday are draining days.  Then Sunday comes two disciples are on the Emmaus road and they have no energy…their dreams have been drained until they meet Jesus.  What did they say to each other after that experience?  Our hearts burned within us. Being in the presence of Jesus brought new energy.

So where do you get your energy?  I get energized by a great PSU win, but it doesn’t last.  I get energized by a good night’s sleep, but about 16 hours later, I need it again.  I get energized by spending time with my family.  I get energized by being a pastor.  I get energized by interacting with a good idea.  But the energy I gain from even the best of those activities is of far less power than what I get when I plug into the Word of God, and soak in the Spirit of God and warm myself by the presence of God.

Where do you get your energy?

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Baptism at Harvest Fields

Oct 15th 2008

What a glorious day.  We baptized seven people last Sunday afternoon at Harvest Fields.  Listening to their God-stories I was reminded again, how powerfully God will work in our lives if we let Him.  Each one had a story that God is in the process of writing on their hearts and through their lives.  Baptism was their opportunity to tell the world that God’s-story is the only story they want written in their lives.  You know baptism is not a magical moment.  It isn’t a ritual that takes away all our future problems.  But it is a statement by each participant that they are headed on a new journey with a new destination, and they are living with a new source of power — some of the same ol problems, but a new hope, a new power for living.

The pond was not crystal clear.  It was a little green.  The pond was not wild-life free, a snapping turtle here, a harmless snake there, a few fish.  The pond was not heated, it was refreshing.  On the other hand baptism is a statement that we are willing to follow Jesus — wherever he leads. :)  I guess the Harvest Fields pond was just a little test.

All I can say is that it was a God-awe-full moment to join with these seven as they told all of us that they believed in Jesus and had decided to follow Him.  If you haven’t been baptized maybe you should check it out.

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A Missing Rhythm

Oct 06th 2008

One of the rhythms of life that many (most?) of us are missing is the rhythm of silence… listening, waiting upon God.  This rhythm is found throughout the Bible.  For example, Psalm 46:10  Be still and know that I am God; Isaiah 40:31  Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; and John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

The problem is that we have so many voices in our ears; friends, celebrities, authors, singers, political pundits and ____________ (fill in the blank).  And it’s not just voices, it’s word noise; tv, facebook, ipod, text messaging and ________________ (fill in the blank).  Now honestly, everything I’ve listed, I enjoy — even texting.  That’s why silence is so rare and listening to God is so hard to do.

And yet it is so vital to our life.  You know in the gospel of John, Jesus is called The Word.  This might mean that the most important rhythm of life for the follower of Jesus is the rhythm of listening.  What time do we take to listen?  When do we spend time listening?  What can we do on a daily basis to find the silence which will enhance the rhythm of listening. 

As I come back from my sabbatical, perhaps one of my strongest convictions is that I need to develop a better rhythm of listening to the WORD of God.  How about you?

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Our Christian Duty

Sep 25th 2008

So this won’t be a long post, mostly just a question.  Here it is:  Could it ever be our Christian duty to NOT vote in a presidential election? I’m just asking the question, not making a statement.  I’m wrestling with this more this year than I have in the  past.  Why?  It’s NOT because I’m watching the campaigns more than ever and I’m just getting fed up.  It’s NOT because I don’t like anyone on either ticket.  It’s NOT because I don’t care about the issues.  It’s NOT because I feel that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics.

It has to do with transformation, Kingdom-of-God theology, and my hope for revival.  A few days ago I watched an interview with Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of England.  He has started a faith foundation to battle global poverty and he is teaching a class on religious globalization at Yale.  But what caught my theological imagination happened at the end of the interivew.  Mr. Blair was asked who he would prefer as the next President of the United States.  Mr. Blair declined to comment because he is not a citizen of this country.

It reminded me of some challenges Paul made like,  For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for the Savior who will transform us… (see Philippians 3:20) and then also Hebrews 11:13-15 where we find that our heroes of the faith were people who viewed themselves as strangers and pilgrims on this earth who were seeking a better country.

I read the New Testament and see our roles characterized as ambassadors for Christ, soldiers for Christ, citizens of heaven, pilgrims and strangers seeking a better country… and I am reminded…

We do need hope.  We do need to be saved.  But we do not need hope in the political process and we do not need to be saved by our country.  Ultimately we need something more than either the powerful words of Barack Obama or the heroism of John McCain.  What we need is Jesus and a single-minded focus on the Kingdom of God.  What we need is people who will live, love and give like Jesus did.  What we need is a passion revolution.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying.  We need more theologians/politicians.  We need more servant leaders.  There is not one square inch of culture that Jesus does not declare, this belongs to me.  Don’t hear what I’m not saying.  I’m not calling for a retreat to our Christian ghettos.  That goes against everything that a church-without-walls is all about.  I’m simply challenging us to ask ourselves, do we seek first the Kingdom of God? (Matthew 6:33)  And if we do not, is it fair for us to expect that all the other good things we are looking for…will be added to our lives?

Okay, so it wasn’t such a short post.  Oh well.

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Beautiful Fight — Part 2

Sep 18th 2008

So all week long — with these pastors from Estonia — we’ve been talking about how to see our lives, and our world transformed by Christ.  Why is that transformation so difficult?  Why is the beautiful journey of becoming like Jesus, such a fight?

In my last blog I talked about the way that our consumer-culture has us looking for the quick fix and transformation is not necessarily a quick fix.  Here’s another potential reason:

2) In a text-message culture, we can loose the art of meaningful conversation. Now the reality is that I don’t have to pick on texting.  I could just talk about the way that we are always connected, our souls are always online, and it simply leaves us with less time to be online with God.  (Maybe I’ll talk about that one tomorrow.)  But texting is a different kind of online — it’s communicating, without communion.  It’s words without conversation.  And it really is changing some of the ways we relate.

Did you know that 10 billion text messages will be sent in 2008 — oops that’s just by the Australians.  I didn’t even know they had cell phones.  (jk)  In fact, it’s estimated that world-wide 2.3 trillion text messages will be sent in 2008, up almost 20% from 2007.  Now the .3 (trillion) comes from four people in my family (Sarah, Katy, Jake and Josh) so I know something about texting.

Now honestly, I enjoy texting, iming, facebook chat…and various other sms opportunities.  Sometimes it’s the only contact I have with my kids.  :)  There are positives.  Texting helps me feel connected.  I don’t have to be alone when I’m alone, if I have my phone.  And those little check-up messages between friends can bring a positive lift to my day.  And when I’m out in public if I want people to think that I have friends I can hold my phone and just hit buttons really fast, pretending to be a world-class text-messager.

But I just want you to consider for a moment, if there are any ways that our text-messaging culture shapes our relationships.  Maybe not, but maybe…  Here’s the point and if you don’t think text-messaging affects you, still hear the point.  Discipleship, transformation, involves a conversation with Jesus.  One time Jesus said, My sheep (meaning my followers, my disciples, those who want to be like me) know me and they hear my voice. Transformation involves a conversation with the one of whom the disciples said, You have words that bring life. Becoming like Jesus involves a conversation that takes time, is deep, requires listening, and meaningful response.

If we want to change, we have to take the time to join Jesus’ conversation.  Do we have the time?

More tomorrow…unless I sleep all day because of jet lag.  :)

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