Discernment

How do we know when God is steering us, versus when it’s just what we think we want to hear?

My daughter’s been wrestling with a pretty major school decision, and in the next couple of weeks she’ll have to make a decision. She’s been in prayer about it, but asked for advice on how to tell if it’s God’s will that she’s hearing, or if it’s just her own preferences that she’s picking up. We talked it over, and talked with our pastor, and here’s some of what we came up with as ways to tell if it’s God we’re hearing.

  • Does what we’re hearing draw us closer to God, or push us further away? Jesus said there are false prophets, liars in our minds, and that we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). If what we’re feeling urged to do helps advance the Kingdom, that’s a good sign. If it tends to make us focus on our selfish desires, then it’s not.
  • Meditative, contemplative prayer. Emptying the mind is a fiendishly difficult thing to do (and I do mean fiendishly–the tempter is always there to draw us away from focusing on God), but if it’s possible to do so, pay attention to the words and images we may get in our minds. Then try to erase them, and see if they recur. Words, images, or feelings that keep being brought to mind could be God’s efforts to break through the noise of our lives, and for his “still small voice” to be heard (1 Kings 19:11-13). I find it very, very difficult to turn off all the noise in my head–my brain is always running. But this might work easier for some who are more blessed than I with the ability to turn that faucet off.
  • Trying it on for size: If we think we get a sense that God is nudging us in one direction or another, then in prayer we can “try it on”–“God, I seem to sense you saying yes, we should go on the trip…is that right?” And then being still, and seeing if you feel affirmed in the choice. And if not, if you still feel uneasy, then perhaps it isn’t.
  • Closely related: do you find peace in the decision you’ve made, or do you feel still in chaos? God brings peace with him, and so a sense of peace with the decision may be a strong indicator it’s God’s will coming through.

What other techniques do you know for being able to tell when it’s God’s voice you’re hearing?

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Love is Patient and Kind

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

Happy Valentines’ Day!

Before leaving the office, I texted my bride and my daughter to see if I could treat my two valentines to takeout dinner tonight. I received word that S. wanted Panera, and Mary wanted Indian from the place we like in Kingstowne. So I dutifully navigated to Kingstowne to pick up the Indian–man, the traffic was atrocious! It was as if everyone else in Northern Virginia, for some reason, wanted to go out for dinner tonight. Imagine that!

So it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get there, and of course the restaurant was mobbed–I couldn’t even get in the front door for a minute. Scooped up the takeout, headed back to the car, and started off for Panera. Now, 99.9% of the time we go to the one in West Springfield, so I drove there, enduring every red light known to man, with our dinner cooling in the back.

Only to find…huh. There’s no order here for us. On texting to find out what was up, only then did I learn…she’d put in the order for the Panera in Kingstowne. Yep, the one about 50 feet away from the Indian place. The one I never think about because we almost never ever go there.

So, backtrack another 15 minutes, park, await food, drive again… It’s late, I’m getting thirsty and hungry, I’m tired after a long day, and I have to backtrack and drive all over because she didn’t tell me which Panera to go to?!?!? Like I’m supposed to read her mind?!?!?

Or…

I can feel Jesus shushing me. This isn’t about you and your inconveniences, you dope. This is about an evening sharing love. And yes, even though everything good gets opposed, the love of your marriage is worth far more than the inconvenience of driving an extra half hour. In these moments of frustration or annoyance, we have a choice: we can react, or we can choose to respond in love.

The Indian was a bit cool by the time we got to it, but it still tasted good. And being able to spend a positive, loving evening together, instead of getting angry or blameful, is worth far more than the ability to be “right,” or to put on an injured face. Because love is patient and kind, and refuses to keep score. And that’s more important in the end.

“Can You Really Be Christian and Support This Regime?”

“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

You might not have noticed it, but the recent change in Administration in the United States has occasioned a little bit of comment on social media. I know, shocking, right?

Recently, a non-Christian friend of mine posted this question on social media. He quoted Leviticus 19:33-34 and asked (in part), “Christian friends – what do you think about this? Can you really be Christian and support this regime?” I was struck by the genuineness of his question. He genuinely seemed to be coming from a place of trying to understand Scripture and what Jesus would have taught, instead of merely trying to make a political point. In hopes of meeting him at his place of honest searching, I tried to respond: what would be a Christian response to that? Here’s a slightly expanded version of what I told him.

I start from a place of affirming that Christ came to call humanity back to a full relationship with God, and that through grace and his death on the cross, the path back to God is open again for you, me, and anyone else to choose it.

Nowhere in what I just said–indeed nowhere in the Gospels–do we see Christ coming for the Republican party, or for anything having to do with temporal political power. In fact, he taught in Mark 12:13-17 that we’re to render appropriately to the powers that be, but that’s not the same thing as his core message of repentance and the kingdom of God–not at all. And so I as a Christian should obey the laws of my country, but my focus needs to be on God. I do that in part by seeing the essential humanity in everyone, the trace of “let us therefore make humanity in our image,” that started so long ago.

Changing my focus to God means seeing, honoring, respecting all of humanity, without regard to immigration status. But it’s essential to remember that at its heart, Christianity isn’t a call into politics, in either direction. Instead it’s a call back into holiness, back into one-ness with God the Father, who created all that we are. Part of what confused the Hebrew people of the time of Jesus was that they were expecting a political messiah, one who would demolish the Roman state and institute a new world order in political terms. Jesus came to open the door to a new world, but it wasn’t the one we were expecting: it wasn’t a political door, but a spiritual one. There’s a distinction that needs to be made between the two.

And so, Christ came for everyone. He came for me, he came for you, and he came for the immigrant, with or without papers. He came because we are of absolutely incalculable worth to the Father, and that same God who bemoans our human weaknesses still loves us enough to send his son to die for us. That’s the Christian message, of hope and love for all humanity. That’s what Christ still speaks into the current morass: not preferring one party over another, but honoring the institutions that exist while working to save lives, one at a time, for the Kingdom.

So How’d It Go?

I wanted to loop back on my last post about my daughter and godson heading off to Chrysalis, and share that God was most definitely on the move that weekend!

I lost track of all the God-sightings during the time. It was great to have them share the time, and my godson even commented in his testimony at the end how meaningful it was to spend it with his sister in Christ. It was moving, frankly, to have prayed over their crosses after I dropped them off, and then to see them wear them home at the end. It was wonderful to share Candlelight with them, and to have been able to bring my wife up to be a part of both Candlelight and Closing, her first exposure to the Emmaus community and hopefully a positive experience for her that might plant, a little deeper, the seed of wanting to have that same experience. It was tremendous to hear each of the kids testify about what the weekend meant–both the kids I know, and some of the ones I didn’t. One, who said he really hadn’t wanted to be there, found his heart transformed by the Spirit over the weekend, which was just so powerful to hear. It was so, so thrilling to join with everyone in Closing and singing “Great I Am,” the kids’ theme song of the weekend, in one gigantic circle of love. And then on coming home, to hear them telling so excitedly of their experiences, sharing with their moms, and talking of wanting to go up on team sometime. And it didn’t end there: my godson’s Facebook posts have been sharing bits of his weekend ever since!

The more I see God move, the more I feel my own inadequacy at trying to wish for anything specific for them ahead of time. He knew exactly what each of them needed, and he came through in his own way for each of them, just the way he always intended. I thank God for the chance to have been at the periphery of it, and I look forward to what he will do in their lives next.

Who’s In Charge? (Hint: Ain’t You.)

As I mentioned last time, my daughter and godson have the chance to walk on Chrysalis weekend C-94. In fact, we all drove up last night, and so they’re 24 hours in on their adventure with God. I’m so excited for them!

I’ve found myself thinking about them a lot today. I’ve been wondering how various events have gone; I’ve been thinking a lot about how powerful my own Emmaus weekend was last spring, and I’ve been really, really wanting the kids to have that kind of amazing experience of God’s love that I had.

And then it hit me: that’s what I wanted to have happen. It’s not my weekend; it’s not even the kids’ weekend. It’s God’s. The way he came into my heart that weekend–well, that might not happen for either of them. Because the way he touched my heart–to reassure me of his unending love–might not be the same way either my daughter or my godson need to be touched.

I was busted. I had dropped off the kids, but I hadn’t let go: I was still trying in my heart to stage-manage their experiences, to tell God what I wanted to have happen for them today and this weekend. How the Spirit and Jesus show up in their worlds isn’t for me to prescribe, and if I tried to make it into my own weekend, it would fail. It’s one more lesson in the (seemingly never-ending) course of learning to let go, and to place the whole thing, not just the parts I want to give up, in God’s hands.

Come, Holy Spirit; come, Lord Jesus. Come into the C-94 weekend and fill the hearts of your children. You alone know what it is each heart needs, and you alone are capable of binding their wounds and restoring them to what you would have them be. I quit trying to manage the weekend on your behalf; I let go and I let you come into their lives as fully and as much as you know you need to. You know what will most powerfully affect each life up there on the mountain, and I know in your own time you will make yourself known as each one needs you. Forgive me my arrogance, and let me pray for them all in your mercy. Amen.

New Year, New Opportunities!

I love the cartoon that shows someone making a list of New Year’s resolutions: “1. Gain weight. 2. Keep smoking. 3. Make lists. 4. Set reasonable goals.” I think that person went 4-for-4!

Already in 2017 I’ll have a couple of new opportunities to help bring about the Kingdom, and I’m looking forward to them. This weekend I’ll start teaching a new class at our church, intended for young adults who are either new to the church or who are reengaging with church after awhile. Called “Navigators,” it’ll be a chance for folks to explore Christianity–not a Christianity 101 class, but more of a 102 or maybe a 151 class, basic enough to make sure no one’s overwhelmed but engaged enough with where people are in their walk to make sure we’re covering what’s relevant. Sunday mornings at 9:45…come on by!

The other happens the following weekend: I’m fortunate to be able to have my daughter and my godson both walk at Chrysalis weekend C-94. As you may recall, in the spring I took part in an Emmaus weekend; Chrysalis is the teen version. I’ve been getting more and more excited for them as it draws near: I remember the incredible power of the weekend in revealing God’s love and in the work his Spirit still can do through me, and I’m praying they’ll be able to enjoy it similarly. Stay tuned!

But in the end, this is what a new year needs to look like: new opportunities to engage with Jesus, to be open to where he may be leading in building his kingdom. I’ve never taught a class before; I’m nervous about it, but also looking forward to it. In the same way, I’m excited for the kids to walk and to have powerful experiences of Christ, and to strengthen themselves as part of the Kingdom.

How are you opening yourself to hearing where Jesus needs you this year? How are you making yourself available to the Spirit to build the kingdom here and now?

“Can’t Somebody Tell Me What Christmas is All About?

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

“Lights, please.”

“‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”‘”

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Merry Christmas from our home to yours, and may the truth of that first Christmas light your day, your year, and your life.