Enjoy the Silence

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NOTE: I get how pretentious this post is going to seem – especially since I don’t have a gazillion followers who may be worried about why I’m not posting. I understand. I thought maybe some would find a little value in working through the same issue.

Years ago, I read a book called The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg. In it, Margaret (I had lunch with her one, single, solitary time so we are totally on a first-name basis) describes how God echoes when he wants to get our attention. A friend might mention something that makes you pause. Then the same concept comes up in a sermon. Then, you catch it again in the lyrics of a song.

Or sometimes you see three internet posts in the span of three days that reinforce thoughts that you have been having for a few weeks.

The first was a long, but important, read from Andrew Sullivan. In his article, I Used To Be A Human Being, he chronicles his struggle with technology, having established a highly sucessful web site and social media presence only to see it taking the life out of him. In that article, Sullivan wrote:

I tried reading books, but that skill now began to elude me. After a couple of pages, my fingers twitched for a keyboard. I tried meditation, but my mind bucked and bridled as I tried to still it. I got a steady workout routine, and it gave me the only relief I could measure for an hour or so a day. But over time in this pervasive virtual world, the online clamor grew louder and louder. Although I spent hours each day, alone and silent, attached to a laptop, it felt as if I were in a constant cacophonous crowd of words and images, sounds and ideas, emotions and tirades — a wind tunnel of deafening, deadening noise. So much of it was irresistible, as I fully understood. So much of the technology was irreversible, as I also knew. But I’d begun to fear that this new way of living was actually becoming a way of not-living.

I was shocked with how much I could identify with Sullivan though his involvement in the blogging and online world was exponentially greater than my own. I used to read for hours on end, but now can barely handle a few pages at a time. Believe it or not, seminary didn’t help this skill. I would often read the assignments in short blocks unless pressed by a deadline. And, the noise he mentions. I know that noise!

After that, I noticed another article being posted frequently by friends. In this one, Lore Ferguson Wilbert wrote about the writer’s tendency in the media age to write without processing through the stories of our lives. She wrote:

As writers, we often hand over our souls and stories for the price of approval, advances, page-views, speaking opportunities, and more book deals. But sometimes (not always) the best thing to do is to be silent. To listen. To hear. To experience emotions without immediately finding a place for them. To resist the urge to make a story with a beginning, middle, and end out of our ongoing brokenness and frailty. None of this will sell books, of course, but it will help us to understand the discipline of God, the grace of God, and the hard, deep work he is doing in our lives and will continue to do until we reach eternity’s shores.

Then, in a blog post referencing both of the above posts, Ed Cyzewski linked to a post by Russell Moore that reflected on Sullivan’s post, adding this important insight (emphasis added):

In our wired world, times of silence and inactivity will feel “awkward.” Such times will disorient us, just as we find ourselves nervous when on a long plane ride with no Internet connection. We will wonder what we’re missing out on. But that’s just the point. Churches should be places to remind us that what we’re in danger of missing isn’t really communicated by devices.

Churches can see what our smartphones are doing to us, and say to an exhausted world what Jesus once told us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” That’s a good word for a web-weary world.

With that, I had to admit to the Lord and to myself, “Message received.”

I have been spending more time than I thought would be necessary to untangle myself from social media and smartphone apps. I’ve been unsubscribing from email newsletters at a furious rate. I’m evaluating nearly everything I do online to determine if it is necessary to my work or to my volunteer ministry. I’m deleting Twitter, and deactivating Instagram (because that is the one social media app I do enjoy though much less so since it ditched the chronological feed.) My underused Pinterest and Tumblr accounts have bit the dust, too.

In a few days, the blog will fall silent for a season as well. The timing is ironic. I was so excited to be free of all the assignments and classwork of seminary so that I could focus on writing for my blog. Now, I am certain that I am being called away from that for a season to rebuild what has been deteriorating since I first started using social media more than 10 years ago.

I’m not sure how long that season will be or if a blog will be at the end of it.

Until then (as one of my favorite college bands sang), enjoy the silence.

 

Wednesday Selah: Song of My Father by Urban Rescue

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We’ve all heard the voices. Those voices in our head that sometimes whisper and sometimes scream that we don’t measure up.

  • “I need to do it all.”
  • “My life doesn’t have a purpose.”
  • “I don’t belong.”
  • “I don’t have much to offer.”
  • “I’m not smart enough.”

But, to each of these lies, God speaks the truth. Holley Gerth explores these truths in her new devotional, Do You Know You Are Already Amazing? Holley pairs the lie with a passage from Scripture that reflects God’s truth as it was revealed in the life of one woman.

  • “I only need to give Jesus my all.”
  • “I’m here for such a time as this.”
  • “God has a place for me.”
  • “God can use whatever I have to give.”
  • “God makes me wise.”

Each day’s reading ends with questions to help the reader explore the lies that shape their own life. Honest reflection ultimately tunes us in to the voice of God rather than the voices in our heads, and Holley does a superb job of gently guiding the reader to hearing the Father’s voice.

The message of hearing God’s voice of truth over the noisy lies of the world reminded me of a song from one of my new favorite bands, Urban Rescue. The chorus is not only a declaration of where I am in my life, but it’s also a prayer that I will always remember that I am loved no matter what my circumstances or what lies I am hearing.

In the middle of the night
I look up to the sky
I can hear You singing over me
Through the fire and the flood I know that I am loved
I can hear You singing over me

I encourage you to listen to this song as you reflect on the truth Holley shared for whatever day you happen to stumble upon this post.

And know always that only God can show us who we really are.

Disclosure: Holley Gerth was gracious enough to provide me with a copy of her devotional in exchange for an honest review.

Faithful to the promise {The Sarah Series 5}

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Abram had been renamed Abraham. Sarai had been renamed Sarah, but there was still no child in the tent when the Lord visited his chosen couple by the oaks of Mamre. As Abraham entertained the guests, as was proper in those days, one of the mysterious guests asked about Sarah. She wasn’t far away. Curiosity drew her to the entrance of the tent, where she overheard the unexpected guest’s bold announcement: He would return in a year and Sarah would have her long-awaited son.

Sarah did what any nonagenarian would do when confront with the prediction of a pregnancy. She laughed. It is not a surprise that Sarah laughed at the idea of having a child. Genesis 18:11 makes it clear that Sarah had aged beyond child-bearing years when the Lord made his visit. When her laughter (which I always imagined as a wry chuckle) subsided, she muttered, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”

Imagine her shock and embarrassment at the Lord’s next words.

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:13-14 NIV)

In response, Sarah did what anyone of any age would do. She denied laughing.

But it doesn’t work to make such a denial to the Lord. Sarah and the Lord presumably never lock eyes during the encounter, but the Lord is fully aware of Sarah’s laughter and he calls her out on it.

He called her out on her sin. In laughing at the Lord’s words, Sarah wordlessly called her Lord a liar – just like we do when we talk ourselves out of the dreams God puts into our hearts. Silently, the barrage of excuses overwhelm us when we know his calling.

“Go serve in the nursery.”
“I can’t. I’m terrible with little kids.”

“Sing in the choir.”
“No way. Other people sing better than me.”

“Give that homeless man your takeout.”
“I could barely afford it myself. I can’t give it away.”

“Quit your job and serve me.”
“What about the bills?”

Through our laughter, through our questions, through our doubt, and through our rebellion God remains faithful to his promises – just as he remained faithful to his promise to Sarah. Her unbelief did not negate the blessing of Genesis 18:10, which echoes the blessing given to Abraham, “I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her.” Within a year, God’s promise of a child would finally come to pass. Despite her doubt, God provided.

The LORD came to Sarah, as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. (Genesis 21:1)

May he do for you what he has promised …

Sarah and GodThis post is part of an ongoing series, The God of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. All of the posts in the series can be accessed here.

Write me into your story

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Note: This post from an older incarnation of my blog popped up today under Facebook’s “On This Day” feature. It’s hard to believe another nine years have passed since I wrote it in 2007. I hope you don’t mind a little trip through the archives as we remember the life of Rich Mullins.

Christianity isn’t about being self-sacrificing – it’s about being self-forgetting. Forget yourself once in a while, and open your eyes. Focus on this big, beautiful world God has made. If you walk to school, learn to identify every plant that you pass on the way. At night, learn to identify every constellation in the sky. Get to know birds by their feathers, flight patterns and songs. It’s a big world – and it reflects the character of God.

People who become self-centered lose contact with the outside world. They spend all their time and energy worrying about bad grades, or unfriendly friends, or mean parents. Forget about those things once in a while, and allow yourself to become involved in the lives of people who have equally bad situations. Open up and let other people matter to you.

When we take a bigger view of things, God will give us more grace and love for others. We’ll find ourselves responding to the needs and to the goodness; we’ll find ourselves angered by injustice to others.

And we’ll have a bigger appreciation of even small things, like the smell of a wet dog on a mucky day. Let go of yourself – and God will show you a whole new world.

(from Campus Life, June 1991)

More grace. More love. Fascination with the wonders of creation. Anger at injustice. Responsive to the needs of others. All are part of worship in the broadest sense. All are characteristic of the life of Rich Mullins, who died 10 years ago today in a car accident en route to a benefit show in Kansas.

Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins

I barely knew of Mullins while he was alive. His career was beginning as I was going into college and away from the church for a time. I remember, though, when I heard that he had died. I had been back into the church for a couple of years by then. I had been at the women’s fall retreat the Saturday the news came out. Leaving the retreat, I got in the car and turned on the radio in the middle of the DJ’s sentence. All I caught was something about remembering someone’s music and his ministry. I also caught the sense of sadness, palpable even over the radio. I couldn’t fathom who it could be so I stayed tuned to the radio until the DJ finally repeated the news.

Understandably, many youth have no idea who Mullins was even though they undoubtedly have heard his most recognizable song, Awesome God. Yet, he expressed insights into the Christian life that were ahead of his time. He was living a missional life, it seems, before it became a buzzword. There’s a story that in 1983, when he was nominated for his first Dove award as a songwriter, he took the place of one of the servers in the dessert line at a post-Dove party to give the server a break. He explained it like this in a biography at Christianity Today:

The Christian faith is not about mere intellectual assent to a set of doctrines, but about a daily walk with this person Jesus. It’s about living in awareness of Christ risen, resurrected, and living in my life. Even though doctrine is important, wisdom in the Bible has more to do with character and the art of living. Christianity is about living out the will of God, and living abundantly.

Maybe not so strangely enough, Mullins was going to be a youth pastor until he came to a crossroads at which the choice had to be made. In the end, the choice brought not just the youth, but the church as a whole closer to the Jesus he so loved as reflected in his music.

No project, however, most captured the desire to draw closer to Christ than his final project. Nine days before his death, Mullins took his band to an abandoned church and played for them what he called “ten songs about Jesus.” The session was recorded on an old cassette player from which came The Jesus Record, a double disc that includes both the original cassette-recorded demos and a studio set that brought together a variety of Christian artists to sing the songs Mullins said were “needed.”

From the first time I heard it, My Deliverer was my favorite track on the CD, probably because of the way it connected Christ to the captivity of the Israelites under the Egyptians and the way it reinforced the presence of confident faith even when doubts surface.

Joseph took his wife and child and they went to Africa
To escape the rage of a deadly king
There along the banks of the Nile Jesus listened to the song
That the captive children used to sing . . . they were singing
My Deliverer is coming, My Deliverer is standing by (repeat)

Through a dry and thirsty land
Water from the Kenyan heights pours itself out from Lake Sangra’s broken heart
There in the Sahara winds Jesus heard the whole world cry
For the healing that would flow from His own scars . . . the world was singing

My Deliverer is coming, My Deliverer is standing by (repeat)
He will never break his promise – He has written it upon the sky
My Deliverer is coming, My Deliverer is standing by
My Deliverer is coming, My Deliverer is standing by (repeat)
I will never doubt His promise – though I doubt my heart – I doubt my eyes
My Deliverer is coming, My Deliverer is standing by
My Deliverer is coming, My Deliverer is standing by (repeat)
He will never break His promise though the stars should break faith with the sky
My Deliverer is coming, My Deliverer is standing by

Tonight, the CD of the original demos has been playing in the background as I write. Tonight, it’s two lines of a song simply titled Jesus that offers a final worship thought and maybe even a prayer for all of us. It’s a prayer that was answered for Mullins and one that is still being played out in the lives of all of us.

Jesus – write me into Your story – whisper it to me
And let me know I am yours

Wednesday Selah: One Thing by Hillsong Worship

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Sometimes I need the most encouragement with all is well in the world.

When everything falls apart, it’s easier for me to call on the Lord. Friends instinctively step in to offer words of encouragement, helping hands and sometimes stunning dishes I could never hope to make in my kitchen. The church family will pray – oh, will they pray!

But, when everything seems to be going well, we’re sometimes more alone. No cards. No random offers of food. Maybe, just maybe, no one praying for us. They believe – and I even think – that I have it all together and don’t need their help.

But, I do.

I need them to remind me that Jesus matters above all. When life is at its best, I need people to remind me that Jesus is there just as much as I do when life is at its worst. That’s when I need someone to speak into my life by asking how I’m doing with prayer and Bible study. That’s when I need them to say that they are praying that I remain strong.

There’s work for me, too. I need to remember that what I am experiencing, the blessings I am receiving, the goodness that I am seeing is nothing compared to knowing Jesus and making him my “one thing.”

Because, as the song says, everything I have means nothing if Jesus is not my one thing.

 

Ahead of time {The Sarah Series 4}

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“Abram got two things down in the land of Egypt which really cause him trouble: one was wealth, and the other was this little Egyptian maid.”

This is how the late Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee introduced Hagar into the story of Abram and Sarai. In time, she became a key – but divisive – figure in the family, as did her son.

Years had passed since the initial promise and Sarai was still barren. God had even expanded on the promise when he made his covenant with Abram, declaring his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Month after disappointing month, Sarai waited. Her patience waned along with her hope until she struck upon a culturally-acceptable solution that defied the will of God.

In Abram’s time, maidservants were not only considered property, but also legal extensions of their mistresses, even in the most intimate of ways. Children born to them, then, would be considered legal heirs to the father’s estate. This, Sarai reasoned, would give Abram his long-awaited heir, and fulfill the promise made by the Lord.

But – as happens so often when we presume to act in the place of the Lord – the plan did not work out as Sarai had hoped. Abram agreed, and Hagar became pregnant. Hagar’s contempt for her mistress grew along with the child in her womb until Sarai could bear it no longer. Too late she confessed her plan had been conceived in error, and took out her anger and frustration on Hagar. The situation became so volatile that Hagar fled into the desert, expecting to die. Sarai’s plan brought unintended consequences throughout her lifetime as conflict remained between her and Hagar and her son, Ishmael.

Sarai’s scheming coupled with Abram’s willingness to acquiesce to a dubious plan reveals a lapse of faith. Sarai had enough faith to follow her husband as they left Haran without direction, but her faith was not strong enough to believe that God would deliver the child he said he would. To be specific, God wasn’t acting on Sarai’s timetable to have a child. Who can blame her? Sarai was a senior citizen, to put it kindly. The tick-tock of the biological clock was barely audible if it was happening at all. To her reasoning, the only way a child could possibly come into their lives was through her own intervention and her own planning – and it ended in disaster.

Too often, I find myself rushing ahead of God’s plan. There are times I do more planning than praying, more scheming than submitting. More often than not, the plans and schemes do not work out as I had hoped, and then I turn to prayer and submission in hopes of salvaging the mess I had made.

Though we tend to think about God’s timetable as it related to major life choices, we also must understand that God operates on his timetable every single day. Please understand I have no intention of over-spiritualizing the little annoyances of everyday life. Our God cares enough and is big enough to preside over the details of our lives and still have an abundant capacity to take care of the larger issues facing the planet – more often than not through our willing hands and spirit. Is he behind the delay at the office that caused you to miss the pile-up on the highway? I don’t know. Maybe. Or, it could just be that co-worker that waits until the last minute to spring a project on you.

What I do know is that God has prescribed rhythms for our lives to draw us closer to him. This, too, is God’s timing. In his timing, we rest for the Sabbath each week. We not only pray over someone’s needs; we also do what we can to help. We spend precious time in his word daily, seeking to know him better. Even our vacations – when we take them – can be a way of drawing closer to the Lord. Entering into the rhythm of God’s timing in the mundane prepares us to trust his timing in the extraordinary. Sarai learned this in time, as do we all.

Read the beginning of Hagar’s story in Genesis 16.

Sarah and GodThis post is part of an ongoing series, The God of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. All of the posts in the series can be accessed here.

Saturday Shares: “God”, numbers, and do you want fries with that …

I love podcasts – probably because I am so very in love with storytelling. This week, there were a couple that caught my attention that I want to share … along with some other curiosities from the Internet. Have a lovely Labor Day weekend.

Playing God

This week’s episode from Radiolab stopped me cold with its stories of hospitals in New Orleans and Haiti dealing with limited supplies and overwhelming disaster. It’s more than worth an hour. Here’s the introduction to the episode from the Radiolab website:

When people are dying and you can only save some, how do you choose? Maybe you save the youngest. Or the sickest. Maybe you even just put all the names in a hat and pick at random. Would your answer change if a sick person was standing right in front of you?

 

Numbers

More stunning storytelling. This from the Memory Palace as Nate DiMeo paints an audio picture of the night in 1969 in which draft numbers were drawn. I honestly can’t describe it. It’s that good.

 

And, finally, the video of the week:

You’ve probably seen it. McDonalds recently threw a retirement party for Freia Davis, a woman with Down syndrome who worked for the company for 32 years. Here’s the video, though, just in case you missed it.