Just Shut U

“The very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6: 63). They are not judged by human understanding. They are not spoken to impress others, but to be heard in silence and received with all humility and deep love.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 605-607). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

We make hearing the voice of God a tremendously difficult spiritual exercise requiring years of monastery life to master. Certainly being completely comfortable in hearing God is a lifetime experience. The first step is pretty easy: Just shut up. I guess that’s a lot easier in a monastery. 

Our failure to hear most things, including the voice of God, is founded in our failure to stop talking. I remember some years ago I was at an organizational meeting of a Kairos weekend. One of the newbies was going on and on about how he didn’t know if he would be able to talk to the inmates. I advised him to “Just shut up.” He kept on talking. I advised him again. He kept on talking. My comrades who had also done the ministry for years knew what I was saying but were a bit uncomfortable with my bluntness and his failure to get the message. Eventually he shut up and never returned to the ministry. I guess I won the battle but lost the war.

Generally we are not great listeners. We are uncomfortable with listening. When others are speaking we aren’t absorbing; we are usually planning our response. There is something that makes us think that the sound of our own voices is superior to every other noise.  We know that what we have to say is so much better and wiser than what we are hearing. 

If you want to be popular and thought to be a great and wise conversationalist, just shut up. Giving others the floor and feeding their own love of their own voices will make you a conversationalist superstar. People will tell others how they love talking to you. Why? Because you listen.

It’s really no different with God, except that what He has to say is much more important and wiser. Why do we think prayer is about us talking? Why can’t we pray quietly, listening not talking.  We, too, can be great listeners and followers of the word of GOD, if we will just SHUT UP.

Acts of Charity

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” Matthew 25: 37-40

The “righteous” ones were pleasing their Lord and didn’t even know it. You would think it shouldn’t be necessary to force folks to feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked or visit the sick or those in prison. Nevertheless, we don’t do those things. I am not sure why.

There is so much need out there that we tend to block it out. Since we can not address every problem; we decide not to address any. Charitable acts are, by their nature, selective. We sometimes say we are “called” to particular acts, and not to others. 

Successful charitable acts require discretion. We need to learn to hear and respond to the voice of God. It’s necessary to remove ourselves from the selection process. We will tend to seek acts which satisfy us either by their accomplishment or by the recognition that comes with their performance. Really charity requires the removal of self. 

Acts of charity are acts of love. 

Without love, no work is beneficial. But whatever is done in charity— no matter how small or unheralded— will bring forth good fruit. For God knows what each person is able to do rather than the greatness of what is done.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 526-528). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

We are saved for good works. Our job is to remove ourselves, listen to God, and do as He commands, for His glory.

 

Silliness of Self-Love

But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless— like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. Ecclesiastes 2: 11

By every sign we are great lovers of self. Our checkbooks show on whom we like to spend. Look in our bath rooms at all the “personal” products. We love to talk about ourselves (Facebook) and we get a charge out of being liked (Facebook again). For most of us, we are number 1.

I am not sure that it’s really self-love. Look at how much time, effort and money we spend on improving ourselves or in making us seem better than we are. Perhaps we realize that we are not as great as we make out.

In many cases, in fact, we are our own worst enemies. Look at what we eat, how little we exercise or take care of ourselves. Consider how we fail to plan for our futures or act in our own best interests. 

Our attempts at self-love pale at the efforts of others to love us. Nothing warms us like the smile of a loving grandchild or the touch of a life-long partner. We can’t produce those feelings within ourselves. 

Know that the love of yourself is more hurtful to you than anything in the world.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 495-496). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Probably the best test of love is the beneficial effect it has on the one loved. We benefit, not at all, from self-love. We get good feelings and often concrete benefits from the love of others. However, we are most benefited by the love of God, whose love saves us, sanctifies us, and prepares an eternal place for us. All the love we attempt to lavish on ourselves will never do that. 

Hearing the Voice of God

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30: 21

A few years ago I was headed home from work when I thought I heard God telling me to take a route home that I never take. I followed the instruction. Along the route I came across a lady having car trouble. I was able to get assistance and during the conversation learned she was a Christian who had been asking the Lord to send some help.

I’m not one of those who claims to hear God frequently. In fact, I am having to go back several years to come up with an example of me following the voice of God. My point is that God does speak to us. It’s question of learning to hear his voice.

How often have you had a “feeling” that you should do something and later discover that you missed an opportunity by failing to listen? It happens to me frequently. I don’t think that God speaks more often to other people. I believe that other folks do a better job of listening. They learn to recognize His voice. When you respond to a voice and it turns out to be a positive thing, you will more easily recognize that voice in the future. 

I don’t believe this voice gives you lottery numbers or suggests that you do something contrary to scripture. That’s a completely different voice. The voice of God is usually a gentle nudge to do something you should be doing anyway. 

“You have the words that give eternal life” (John 6: 68). Speak to me for the comfort of my soul, for the transformation of my whole life, and for the praise, glory, and eternal honor of your name.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 597-598). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The Voice Inside

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. … He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. John 16: 13-14

The world is really loud and full of distractions. Look around at any public gathering and see all the folks noses buried in their phones. We have television, radio, and smart phones all shouting at us 24/7. The voice inside sounds like a myth.

Truly blessed are the ears that listen— not to the sounds surrounding them— but to the voice of Truth inside.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 570-571). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The sad truth is that all the noise contains very little truth. The Resurrection we celebrate today made possible the installation of a voice of TRUTH inside, to guide, direct and encourage us. It’s not so loud and demanding as to rob us of free will. We have to decide to listen and decide to follow. But if we do take that path less travelled we will be led into truth, peace and joy. 

On this Resurrection Sunday let’s remember and celebrate the defeat of sin and death and the fulfilment of the great promises of God. Let us also, however, celebrate and listen to the great gift of the voice inside that the sacrifice and conquering of death makes possible. It heralds an end to noisy lies and the beginning of quiet blessed truth.

Justice – Mercy – Humility – Possible

O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6: 8

It surprises me how unappreciated the old testament is. I know we worship newness and don’t respect “old.” It’s just not right. The old testament is full of wisdom.

Justice, Mercy and Humility. If we could just grasp and apply these principles in life.

Justice.  It is so easy to let injustice to prevail. Why should we attach more value to sports figures than teachers? Why do we ignore the rich are much more likely to receive justice in our courts than the poor? We don’t value life in those least able to protect themselves, the unborn and the elderly. Those are universal problems, but we don’t do any better at doing “right” at a personal level.  We often don’t really know what is just. 

Mercy. Mercy is something we expect but are reluctant to give. It was the subject of Jesus’ parables. We want justice for others and mercy for ourselves. Offenses pain us and we are reluctant to forgive that offense. What is really silly is that we suffer more from our refusal to be merciful than our offender ever will.

Humility.  We love to claim credit for good and find blame for bad. My favorite example is that when “our” team wins we say, “We won.” When they lose, we exclaim, “They loss.” It would be an enlightening study to consider what “good” we are actually responsible for, as well as what “bad” we have caused. 

Justice, Mercy and Humility were ideals in the old testament. They are achievable states for new testament people. We met these attributes face-to-face in Jesus. He took the just punishment so that we might receive mercy and He did so as a man, obedient to the Father unto painful death. 

We can be just, merciful and humble. We need only to look to Jesus for example and to his grace for empowerment.

Good Fridays

I love Christian music. I sleep with ear buds and an iPhone playing K-Love. I was awake a good bit of the night last night and I noticed something about the lyrics. They are more Friday than Sunday lyrics.

By that I mean the songs are saying things like, “When you don’t move the mountains I need to move, I will trust you.” Titles like “How can it be?” “Trust in you.” “Chain Breaker” “I have this hope.” and “Forgiven.” Those aren’t Sunday songs. They don’t proclaim a victory won, but a fight in progress. Those are Friday songs. Those are lyrics that say that there is still a fight going on. There is still work to do. Sin is still significant, but there is hope. It’s still all about the blood. Unlike earlier in the week; however, there is a clear hope and an expectation of joy real soon.

Isn’t that what Friday is? It’s a day on which the weekend and relief shine close and bright, but there is still work to be done. There are still sacrifices to make. I suspect most successful folks make good use of Fridays. They don’t stop working on Thursday night. 

This is Good Friday. There has been much written about why a day that memorializes torture and death  “good.” It’s “good” because it reflects most days in the Christian era. There is hard work and blood and suffering. There are tests and struggles. There are also very real elements of hope and a peace that it’s going to all work out and that we will see the victory, that though unseen, has already been won.

Have a Good Friday, not just today or even every Friday, but every single day. 

Good Works

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” Matthew 25: 37-40

Nothing has blessed me more in this life than the time I have spent at Angola ministering to the inmates there. I realize that sounds like a selfish motivation, but I think it’s important that Christians realize that feeding the hungry, showing hospitality, clothing the naked or visiting the prisoners is a blessing like nothing else. 

I don’t know why we think that because Jesus commands us to do something, that it will be something hard to do. I freely admit that I dragged my feet when first asked to do prison ministry and I was more than a little nervous the first time I pass through the gates at Angola. Now I look forward to opportunities to return to see the friends I have made inside. 

Don’t miss the opportunity and blessing that comes with being the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s more than an honor. It’s a great joy.